Monday, October 6, 2008


One of the key tenets of many outdoor sporting pursuits is deception, whether one thinks of fishing lures, decoys, camouflage, cover scents…or kitchen passes.

I suppose then it should be no surprise that it was through deception that I was introduced to the fraternity of fly fishing…though probably not in the way you might think.

I was in my late 30’s when I discovered that my spouse had been deceiving me. Years of mistakes by both of us culminated in the disintegration of our marriage.

While going through the painful process of separation, divorce and recovery, I was blessed with a wise counselor who challenged me to rediscover some of the passions of my earlier years, or discover new ones. That challenge resulted in me picking up a guitar and beginning to play again after nearly 25 years of repose. But it also was the catalyst that launched me into the passion of fly fishing.

My grandparent’s farm in south central Iowa was a far cry from fabled fly fishing streams. But their small farm pond was where I was introduced to popping bugs and floating lines. Even as an untrained fly caster, I caught bass after willing bass on that fiberglass rod…a rod that my father recently gave me to restore. It now sits in a place of honor in the corner of “the man room”…the name my girls bequeathed to my home office that also houses my gun safe and fly tying desk.

At the time on the farm pond, fly fishing was just a different way to catch fish. I didn’t know anything about its storied history, or that it was supposed to be hard to do. I just knew that if I could get a bass popper just past the weed line on any given summer evening, I was going to catch fish without having to go hunting for grubs under bales of hay.

In the intervening years between that first experience with fly fishing and my divorce, I only picked up a fly rod one other time. It seemed to me that fly fishing was a lot of work, required skills I didn’t possess, and was pretty expensive. I would cough up $40 or $50 for a combo spinning rod and reel, but I heard rumors that a fly rod ran several hundred dollars; far too expensive for a father with a young family. So my fly fishing experiences would have to wait until my income caught up with my interests…or so I thought. Since that time I have discovered that frugality exists even among the fly fishing community, and much of my perception of fly fishing elitism came through books and magazines.

All of which brings me back to suffering, loss, and rediscovery. Since I had time on my hands on the weekends my kids spent with their mom, my interest was piqued one day when I noticed an ad for a free introductory fly fishing class to be held in my home town. The stars were aligned, so I made my reservation and showed up Saturday morning…the first student to arrive.

There are some places that just ooze outdoors experience in my mind, and a fly shop ranks near the top of the heap. Since I was the first to arrive for class, I had time to browse through the store. I had no idea what most of the stuff was, but to me it was all exotic. Today, I am pretty familiar with fly shop equipment, but it still is one of my favorite places to be when I can’t be outdoors.

Stacy, our instructor, soon had the small class together, and over the next few hours introduced us to fly tackle, knots, and flies. She also took us outside for a casting demonstration, and allowed the brave few to try their hand at casting. I declined, not wanting to make a fool out of myself quite so soon. Plenty of time for that later.

That simple introductory class opened up a whole new world of experiences for me. I discovered a passion for fly fishing that continues to this day. I visit parts of this country I would have never travelled to without the draw of fly fishing. I meet new friends, new rivers, and new species I was previously oblivious to. I have even picked up a bit of Latin here and there. To be sure I have other outdoor pursuits, but none that consume as much of my time and attention. It has brought me hours of pleasure, pain, frustration, and accomplishment.

Looking back I realize I was blessed to have someone with the wisdom to help me see that sometimes in life, even the most hurtful of deceptions can also be an invitation to grow, to learn, and to discover. And have an abundant life.

P.S. Nearly ten years after my acquaintance with Stacy, I received a call from her a couple weeks ago. Stacy now manages a local fly fishing shop (a different one than the one I took my first lesson in), and I am the local area representative for Trout Unlimited.

One of my duties is to present some of the trout fishing opportunities in our area, and Stacy was calling to set up a time for my presentation. It was fun to let her know that her teaching had taken root and now is bearing fruit.

Tight Lines…


Anonymous said...

Wow, Mark.
Such a thoughtful post.
I fully believe that we have as much to learn from our mistakes as our 'great accomplishments' in life.
We can choose to be thankful for our mistakes.
Excellent post!

Mark said...

Thanks Pinky...
I agree...and I am glad because I have more mistakes than great accomplishments!

Salubrina said...


why does it seem that we always have to learn things the hard way?

wonderful post. your girls are luck to have such an eloquent father.

as for the fishing - my aunt and uncle own a lake house around winnsboro. i took my son fishing for the first time there this summer. my uncle feeds the fish the table scraps, and they, in return, hop to the hooks within seconds for the kiddos to reel in. the look on my son's face when he caught his first fish was truly amazing!

me, as usual, caught the poor turtles.

Steph said...

Brother! You are doing so well! Between this and making the Field and Stream blogroll, you got it goin' on. :)

I loved reading this and always enjoy learning more about you. Keep it coming!

Mark said...

Sal, yes, those first experiences with nature are often life changing...and affirming. Good for you!

Steph...your kind words mean much to me. Thank you.

Sara Lisch said...

I'm going to assume you also meant to add to your posting how much you enjoy sharing your love of fly fishing with your better half (I'm always watching out for her!)

Mark said...

My better half and my stepsons!

tdillow said...

Thank you my dear friend Sara for looking out for me! I truly appreciate that!

My dear husband, yet another wonderful post which again makes me proud to be your better half!

LY ;)

Carrie said...

wow mark, that's excellent food for thought!