We all think about quitting. At some point, the long hours on the road, the terrible weather, the cost of flies, leaders, tippet, the endless cycle of patching holes in waders you can’t afford to replace – it all piles up.
That’s not mentioning the days when it feels that the trout are smarter than you. The days when the only thing worth remembering is the scenery, and not the fish you set out to catch.
Not all of us are comfortable speaking about quitting. The idea spurs an existential crisis.
Who would I be without fly fishing? Where would I be?
Many of us embody the spirit of the band Spinal Tap, from Rob Reiner’s documentary of the same name. Just like the band’s amps, our enthusiasm for fishing goes to 11.
Imagine removing something so defining from your life. Where would it leave you?
A few years back, I held court with this idea.
The setting was Oregon, next to a famous trout stream. A fire crackled loudly in the chilly autumn evening, and everyone else laughed and talked and drank beers while I ate a hot dog and sipped at a Mountain Dew.
I was with “Mysis” Mike, his brother Brian, and their friend Sheldon. The three of them were recounting a day for the record books. Mike netted the biggest rainbow any of us had ever seen come from that stream, while Brian and Sheldon both put trophy browns in the net.
I never hooked into anything worth writing home about. Everyone else fished streamers or nymphs, while I stubbornly walked a few miles in search of rising trout.
I’ve found that, as I’ve piled up years of fly fishing, I have more fun fishing the way I want to, rather than catching tons of fish. That’s the beauty of this sport. No matter how long you’ve fly fished, your age, or your background, you can mold fly fishing to be truly your sport.
We see that with the diehard Euro nymphing crowd. That’s their jam, they enjoy the heck out of it, and most importantly, they all seem to be having fun. The same goes for my friends who fish streamers almost exclusively, or my buddies Chris Cutler and Bryan Allison, both of whom have the most fun throwing mice in the dead of night to big brown trout.
I grew up fishing a spring creek, then graduated to tailwaters and high-mountain streams. My stillwater skills are lacking, and I’m the guy who ties on a dry fly and wills a hatch into existence. At the very least, I reckon that by drifting a dry through a run often enough, one fish might get fooled into thinking there’s a hatch of some sort happening.
So, why would I give that up? Why was I sitting next to one of my favorite rivers, contemplating leaving this whole lifestyle behind?
Even a few years removed from that night, I’m still not completely sure what spurred that train of thought. I was mostly broke – no different than any other time in my adult life – and without a significant other. Most all my friends were married with kids, which meant I fished alone more than with fishing buddies.
I felt like I was falling behind my friends from the small high school I attended, the majority of whom served two-years missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, returned home, started college, and got married.
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I didn’t spend two years on a mission. Health problems sent me home after three months, then I found work as a feature writer in the NBA. Sports writing is fun, but it’s not the career for me. I left the NBA full-time and bounced from one marketing job to the next, trying to carve a living out of the fly fishing industry.
All my perceived failures piled high after a day when I fly fished how I enjoy it most, with only a few small trout to show for it. Compared to my buddies – all of whom put a personal best trout in the net that day – I felt every bit the young, arrogant kid I was.
Maybe I should just quit, I thought. I’m not any happier fly fishing than I was when I worked full-time. At least then I could afford to keep my truck running.
Before hitting the sack that night, I told Mike, Brian, and Sheldon that this was the last time I’d ever go fishing.
“I’m done,” I said. “It’s not fun anymore.”
They laughed it off, said I was acting like a little kid, and told me to shut up and sleep.
I woke up the next morning, still resolute in my decision to stop. It was the last day of the trip, and we were packing up the trailers for the long drive back home. Everyone asked if I was still done with fly fishing.
“Yep,” I said. “I’m done. This is the last time for me.”
Mike seemed concerned. He tried to talk me out of it, but I just tuned him out.
By the time I made it home at 1 the next morning, I was sure I’d made the right call. I resolved to find a real job, and leave this fishing nonsense behind me.
I failed to recognize that I was still embodying the same “turn it to 11” mentality I’d had about fly fishing; this time, however, I was simply redirecting it.
Then, when driving from my house on the side of a mountain – picked out precisely because it was 20 minutes from a half-dozen trout rivers – I crossed a bridge in town that spanned one of my favorite streams.
As I always did, I glanced at the end of the pool on the right side of the bridge.
A trout rose.
I pulled off the bridge, parked, and grabbed the fly rod that’s always in the back seat of my truck. This was my element – small water, small fish, and dry flies.
I can’t let a bad day in Oregon be the last time I fly fish, I thought while tying on a caddis. I need to end on a high note.
A few browns came to the net that afternoon. I was late for whatever errand I was running, but I distinctly remember thinking it was worth it. More importantly, I’d realized something that had escaped me for most of my life: balance is key to enjoying everything.
For some of us, that balance looks like 200 days a year on the water, long trips to every famous trout river, and guided floats for tarpon and permit.
For others, our balance is a couple days a week, and maybe one long trip during the summer.
The key is to find your own balance of life and fishing, because if I learned anything from the days in my late teens when I fished almost 500 days in a two-year span, it’s that you really can have too much of a good thing.
Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, guide, and bamboo rod builder from Utah. He’s the News Editor for MidCurrent, a columnist for Hatch Magazine, Lead Guide for the Utah Fly Fishing Company, and host of the podcast Spencer Durrant: Unhooked. Connect with him on Instagram/Twitter, @Spencer_Durrant.
Jesus, I thought you had lost your mind. By the way LOVE reading your posts, and your pictures.
I thought I had, too. It’s easy to get burned out when you fish or guide for a living, and that’s what happened to me, I think.
Thanks for reading and commenting! I’ll try to keep the content coming.
Hey Spencer, good reading. Balance and no overendulgance is the key to many things in life. It’s easy to get burned out on almost everything, Keep writing, I’ll keep reading. Jim.
I think this wonderful essay pinpoints precisely one of the most critical aspects of fishing (or hunting, or woodworking, etc.). And that is finding your own personal pace and having your own truly personal goals. All too often, we lose our enthusiasm for fishing or hunting because of the pressure (subconscious or conscious) of what others do or think or say. It’s difficult to extract ourselves from competitiveness or popular ideals that don’t fit us. This is especially true for younger outdoors people who are still developing their own style and sense of self. This essay strikes deep into a significant problem and finds the perfect solution. Well done!!