My father’s lifelong anxiety seeped into everything he did with my siblings and me when we were growing up. I carry the legacy of that to this day: the stress and tension he brought to the games of bridge and chess as well as to sailing and square dancing have made all of those activities non-starters for me.
Nor do I fish. My father, thankfully briefly, took up fishing when I was around 10 years old. He bought the requisite gear, then headed off to a nearby river with a work colleague a few times. As far as I can remember, he did not ever bring anything home for my mother to cook up.
One-on-one time with either of our parents was rare in our family because there were so many of us, so one Friday evening I asked my dad if I could go fishing with him. He agreed, and we headed off before dawn the following morning. My only memory of the outing is that my stressed-out father issued constant instructions and warnings:
“Don’t step on that rock, it is wet and slippery. I think that might be poison ivy – don’t touch it. Don’t get so close to me. Don’t lean over the water. Don’t talk so much.”
Don’t, don’t don’t . . . I did not ask to go with him again and have not thought much about fishing since.
Fly Fishing in America
Izaak Walton may have been the first English language author to write about fly fishing, which he described as “the contemplative man’s recreation” in his 1653 book, The Compleat Angler where he described fly fishing as “the contemplative man’s recreation.
But it was the 1992 film A River Runs Through It, directed by Robert Redford, that introduced fly fishing to millions of North Americans. It presented audiences with a sense of the real beauty of skilled fly fishing (albeit surrounded by the familial tensions among the father and his two sons). Even I was swept away by the possibilities for contemplation that fly fishing seemed to present, although I did not take up the sport.
Make room for girls
A friend recently sent me a link to a New York Times feature called The Week in Good News. I was heartily in need of something cheerful to offset my ongoing malaise that I am blaming on the first few months of Doug Ford’s reign as Premier, so I checked it out. My eye was caught by the headline “A 14-year-old is a back-to-back world champion in fly casting,” with its accompanying photo of Maxine McCormick holding her rod and line.
Fly casting, which is essentially fly fishing minus the fish, is an international sport in which competitors are judged on the accuracy and distance of their casts.
Maxine began fly casting when she was nine years old, having already spent a few years fishing for trout with her father, who is also a competitive fly caster. By 2015, when she was 11 years old, she had won the American Casting Association (ACA) National Tournament with a total score of 289 out of a possible 300. That year, she became the youngest person ever named to the ACA’s All American Team.
“[Maxine is] already the best female caster with a fly rod in her hands on planet Earth.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Maxine became the world fly casting champion for accuracy. Not the women’s champion, not the under-16s champion – the champion of the whole enchilada.
Her reflection on her victory was understated, which seems appropriate for the contemplative sport of fly casting:
“I never knew I would be this good at anything.”