This year's first-place winner, Hugh, tells us about how he tried to learn to fly fish just by reading books. Read about how everything finally fell into place when he got to go to camp. I suspect that this weekend, Hugh will be outside again, continuing to practice the skills he learned from TU volunteers this summer, and using the new Scott rod he won as this year's top essay-writer. Congratulations, Hugh, and thanks for sharing your transformation with us.
Camp: New HampshireTrout Unlimited Fly Fishing Camp
TU Chapter: Thames Valley Chapter
Favorite Waters: The headwaters of the Connecticut River. This is where New Hampshire Trout Camp is located, where I learned to fly fish and caught my first trout.
Thoughts on Being Outside: What I enjoy most about being outside and fishing is escaping the busy world of today and entering a much more quiet, stress free environment. There is also the obvious allure of catching fish, the pull on the line and the exhilaration of knowing that you fooled that fish completely, using only fur and feathers, with a bit of luck and skill.
One night two years ago, my family headed to the pier in Old Lyme to see the sunset. When we arrived there, I saw a man holding a rod that arched in half. I walked quickly up to him to see the cause of the commotion. In the dark water, a large fish thrashed. I asked the man “What is that?” “A bluefish”, the man said hurriedly, panting from the fight. “Hold the line so that I can gaff him” he said and reached for his tool. I held the line like a vice as the fish thrashed under me, while the man hauled the fish over the railing. I bent down to look at the huge bluefish as it twisted and turned, its scales flashing. My imagination ran wild. Could I learn to fish?
Soon, every book I read was about fishing. I read Field and Stream, Outdoor Life, and New England Fisherman. I became obsessed. Book after book flew through my hands. My family jokingly shouted “Fish!” whenever we passed a body of water. Before long, my parents bought me my first fishing pole, and I biked to the lake near my house.
As soon as I got on the water, I realized that books were no substitute for experience. I had no clue how to fish. I didn’t catch anything that first day. Not even a bite. The line had a mind of its own, finding every tree and bush in the area. More time was spent untangling lines than fishing. Undaunted, I returned the next day. The outcome was the same. Nothing. The next day and the next, and still no fish had found my hook. The remaining weeks of summer continued in the same way. Occasionally I would catch a sunfish, but never more than one or two. Soon, I was the butt of all my family’s jokes. I questioned myself. Why keep fishing when my efforts go unrewarded?
Over time, I found a bit more success, but I had learned a valuable lesson; there is no substitute for great teachers. I may have been able to define a Texas rig, but I had no idea how to use one. I didn’t have the uncle who would show me just how to lip a bass. Despite all my reading, I was pretty ignorant when it came to catching fish.
Then, I found the New Hampshire Trout Unlimited Camp. My first day at Trout Camp was daunting. As I attempted to cast my line it formed knots that haven’t yet been discovered. To my right stood Andrew, who has fished since he was little, catching monster bass and gar in Florida where he grew up. To my right stood Buhle, who had fly fished for nine years with his family. I felt a bit out of place. My father and his father before have never caught a fish, never even felt a bite. My mother and her family are at home on a barn, not on a lake. My brother yearns to play ball constantly. My sisters just don’t get it. So there I was in late July, surrounded by others who were completely at home in a world I longed to be a part of. I had read all of the books from cover to cover. Studied all of the techniques along the way. Why couldn’t I do this? All around me lines sailed while mine flopped.
Slowly, painstakingly, I improved. My counselor Walt showed me how to time my casts. Jake commented that the Ds on my roll casts weren’t large enough. Over time, my line moved from cracking like a whip to smooth and crisp. My roll casts started laying themselves straight. Each day I was accompanied by seasoned guides who mentored me. They demonstrated highsticking and mending. They waited patiently while I figured out knot tying with hair thin tippets. Each night as they sat nearby, I worked on my flies. Gordon sat with us and gave just enough advice when we needed it. I realized I was coming into my own.
On many Saturdays this fall, I will step out onto the banks of the Connecticut River, rod and gear in hand. I’ll be alone, but not really. I’ll be thinking of my time at Trout Camp. I’ll have in mind the people from whom I learned so much. I’ll remember the wisdom of my counselors, and I’ll treasure the knowledge shared by so many volunteers. So I’ll flick out my line, and this time, I just might catch something.