Hi, my name is Jason and I am an addict. Those words probably aren’t a big surprise to some of you but we’re not talking about drinking beer or the Kansas City Chiefs here. We’re talking about fishing, specifically, saltwater fly fishing.
Wait! Stop! Please don’t run away! This isn’t a post all about fishing, I mean, it kind of is but it’s actually more about my quest to find things that I enjoy doing and am passionate about.
A large part of the reason Deidre and I left our relatively stable, but ultimately unsatisfying, life behind and embarked on this insane adventure was to have more time to figure out what we are passionate about and then pursue that passion. I’m happy to say this part of our decision has been a unequivocal success. Since more often than not we end up house sitting in places where we know no one, have no friends or social life, we have had a lot of time to figure out our passions. I’m not crying here, just stating facts. I bet if you cut 20 hours out of your work week, eliminated time spent with friends and family, threw away your TV and then looked around – I bet you’d have a lot of free time too. Right now, some of you are probably salivating at the idea and I don’t blame you, it is pretty fantastic, but at times that’s a lot of time to fill.
So we’ve established that this lifestyle allows me time to pursue my passions, but I found I had one small problem. Up to now, my friends and family and beer and Kansas City Chiefs had been my passions so I realized I needed a new plan. After minutes of soul searching, I hit upon a stroke of genius, I’d learn to play the guitar. I mean, I have arthritic hands, no clue how to read music and have the rhythm of a child banging on the tray of his high chair. This was going to be easy.
I bought a guitar from a friend in the States, had my family mule it down for me and figured that I’d soon be sitting at a campfire on the beach, just strumming away. Two years (and several thousand miles later) the guitar had green, corroded strings and I could barely play the opening 8 seconds of Redemption Song (and I was afraid to play them anymore lest Deidre finally lose her mind after hearing them 47,982 times already). The guitar was starting to look like it wasn’t going to be my passion, so I had to rethink things a bit.
As I sat staring at the ocean mulling over the various things I felt strongly about, I realized it was staring right back at me. The ocean. The ocean is absolutely something I’m passionate about and always have been. But, it’s hard to have “the ocean” as a hobby so I had to narrow it down a bit. What do people do with the ocean beside stare at it? Surfing, diving and snorkeling all came to mind but diving is too expensive to do on a daily basis and I already snorkel when I can. That leaves surfing but the problem there is that we live on the Caribbean with no waves to speak of and I have a hard time staying on the sidewalk, let alone a surfboard.
Surfing was probably going to be even less successful than the guitar. But, a tropical storm brought us not only some waves but a surfboard to go with them so I I figured it was a sign from the universe and gave it a try. Once.
So, surfing wasn’t my thing either. As I thought more and more about it, I began to notice something. Most of my friends were these insane people who’d moved to Mahahual or Xcalak to fly fish here. Yep, they’d given up whatever “normal” lives they had to come here just to fly fish and they absolutely loved it. Sure, I’d fished here (and really enjoyed it) but I’d never fly fished because A) Only crazy people do it and B) It takes years to learn. These guys are world-class fishermen who’d been born with fly rods in hand and even they talked about how tough conditions could be along this coast.What chance did I have of just learning here? At least as much chance as a guy with achy hands learning to play the guitar, or a guy with no balance becoming a surfer. So I figured – why not?
About a year or so ago, I borrowed a fly rod and some quick tips from my buddy Alex and started learning to cast. I was instantly entranced. Casting a fly rod isn’t like casting a normal fishing rod (or doing anything else), it’s absolute madness. Imagine using a 9′ long stick to throw a piece of thread with a tiny lure on the end into the wind about 50 or 60 feet and you get the idea. It’s madness and there are much easier ways to fish but I was hooked (sorry) and soon I was out in the water nearly every day practicing my cast.
Immediately I began having dreams about casting almost every night and, even awake, it was never far from my mind. Twenty-four hours a day I thought (and dreamed) about long casts, pretty casts, ugly casts, perfect casts, casts I didn’t know the names of etc. The timing of my cast, the distance of the cast, the physics behind the cast, how the fly landed on the water. You name it, I was thinking it through.
Notice – I haven’t even mentioned fish yet. I was dreaming about “fishing” without there ever being a single fish involved! That’s when I knew I’d found my passion. I think there are two reasons for this – 1. There is something very zenlike and satisfying perfecting your fly fishing cast that has nothing to do with the actual catching of fish and 2. I wasn’t catching any fish. Did I mention saltwater fly fishing is hard? I think I did, I think I even referred to it as “madness” and it is.
Here’s why. After you spend countless hours learning how to throw thread long distances you’re not even halfway there, now you have to find the fish and then convince them to eat a hook covered in feathers and/or fur. For most fishing you just keep throwing your line out there until a fish runs into it, it’s really a game of if you have enough casts, you’ll probably catch a fish. Saltwater fly fishing isn’t like that, it’s actually more like hunting. The idea is to find and stalk an individual fish and then throw your thread 50 feet (usually against the wind) so that it softly lands about a foot from the fish’s nose, trick the fish into eating it and then hang on, trying not to break your thread, while a very angry oceanic predator tries to make his getaway. So yeah, it’s hard.
It’s also very, very satisfying. In a short time, saltwater fly fishing has affected me in ways that not many things ever have. I can spend hours walking the beach looking for fish without catching anything and be satisfied. I can spend hours just practicing new casting techniques and be satisfied. And when I do locate, stalk, hook and land a fish and then watch him swim away healthy after I’ve released him? Well, that’s way beyond satisfying, that borders on the ecstatic.
After literally hundreds of hours in the water, I’m still very much a beginner at this challenging sport. I still blow a lot of casts, continually get all tangled up in my line and hook myself on a regular basis, but I’m also finally seeing and hooking fish. The funny thing is if someone had told me that it would take me hundreds of hours of practice (and pulling hooks out of my back) before I began to catch fish regularly – I’d still have taken up saltwater fly fishing. And that my friends, is passion. Or madness, I still haven’t decided.