Marriage takes a lot of work; no one will argue that point. Having differences in religion, child-rearing ideas, and/or politics can make it even more challenging. What I’m about to describe is even more serious: differing philosophies about elegant fly fishing and lowly bait/lure fishing! For some couples, this divergence is more confounding than any of those mentioned above. Allow me to illustrate.
My husband and I have been married 53 years, and in the early years, Jim was quite pleased that I would take up any fishing rod as the whole notion was new to me. I rather enjoyed fishing, especially with my new, blue spinning rod and lots of varieties of BAIT. As we traveled the country, moving here and there, both of us were pleased and surprised that I caught fish, had fun, and began to become more independent with my gear. I got over being squeamish about putting a worm or gooey fish eggs on my hook and managing my own occasional tangled lines (gutting fish would come later).
All this time, Jim smiled patiently as he, with his storehouse of knowledge and expertise, used his hand-made flies and fly rod to lure gorgeous fish from every stream and lake we visited. Then the honeymoon ended. Jim bought me a fly rod, deciding it was high time I learned to fish the “correct” way. Now, you must understand that my husband has taught many people to fly fish in his sixty-plus years of pursuing this activity, and, generally. He’s been successful. Not so much with me.
The words still echo in my head: “False cast from 10:00-2:00! Keep your wrist rigid. Focus! I do not want to be wearing that fly as an earring! On the forward cast, pretend you are striking a nail! Not that way! This is not a spinning rod! Stop releasing the line when it is straight up in the air! For God’s sake, woman!”
And so our lessons would go, occasionally ending with Jim shaking his head and me in tears, contemplating divorce proceedings. The worst insult to Jim (or best compliment to me, depending on your perspective) was that occasionally, as my line would ungracefully pool into a ball 10 feet from the canoe, a nice fat trout would weave its way through and suck in the fly. Jim would stare in disbelief, especially when his perfectly cast fly would fail, at that moment, to catch a fish. While he usually cheered all my successes, he would be a bit more subdued at these moments.
We did have one mutually successful day of fishing on Sapeye Lake, east of Williams Lake, B.C. The scenery was gorgeous, rivaling vistas of the Alps. The camping was pleasant, the day perfect with no breeze and lovely warm sun. For some reason, I was tuned into the mechanics of the cast. We had the whole lake mostly to ourselves, and we both caught beautiful fish. I had fun, and Jim was thrilled with my “advancement”, becoming newly hopeful for a positive future in this marriage of mixed philosophies: worms vs. flies.
Unfortunately, one good day does not a fly-fishing conversion make. Slowly, I gravitated back to my favorite method of fishing with a spinning rod and bait. I continued to bait fish with fair success, and yes, there were days when the fish would be rolling and leaping that I’d take out my fly rod and troll one of Jim’s beautifully tied flies behind the canoe. Compromise, after all, is the essence of a good marriage, right? (Did I mention that by this time, we had two canoes? Go figure). However, spinning gear and bait or lures just seem more sympatico to me.
I must say, although I still don’t claim to be a fly-fisher person, I truly admire the beauty of the art. When Jim is casting, it is like ballet. The line sings back and forth through the air, and he can place a fly far away, precisely at the edge of a riffle or in the shade of a shoal, right where the trout are lurking. His hand-tied flies are considered works of art, many of them his own inventions designed from decades of studying fish and their feeding habits. Fly fishing is a thing of beauty, for some to practice and some to merely observe.
Yes, this marriage can be saved, although my advice to young couples is, don’t try to teach your spouse to drive or fly fish; you’ll keep your blood pressure down and save a few grey hairs.
This reminds me of a story: A fellow was out fishing on the river when a funeral procession wound its way along the road some distance away. The fellow set his fly rod down, took off his hat, and stood quietly for a moment. Another fisherman observing this behavior couldn’t help but notice and said, “Wow, I’m impressed that you would show such respect for the departed.” The first fellow countered by saying, “Well, after 40 years of marriage, it seemed like the least I could do.”
The moral of the story? Be patient with each other, and enjoy your fishing trips no matter what gear you use!
In Memory of Jim Johnston, February 18, 1943 – June 13, 2021.
Judy Johnston is a retired educator, writer, mother and grandmother. She wrote a column for The Clinton Lariat for eight years and taught writing and literature at Sehome High School in Bellingham, WA. She enjoys long walks with friends, and is creating children’s stories with her grandchildren.