Midway up the drive to Rocky Mountain National Park for my first try at fly fishing, my friend Dan asked an important question: “Do you want to keep your fish, or catch and release?”
I hadn’t thought about it. In fact, I hadn’t considered a bunch of questions: Would I clean a fish? How did I feel about killing a fish, or even watching one struggle before I catch and release it?
I’d simply said “yes” when Dan had offered to teach me how to fly fish about a month ago.
Jenn Fields blogs about Colorado’s great outdoors all week at fieldnotes.pmpblogs.com.
It’s an easy answer. When someone offers to teach me something new in Colorado’s great outdoors, I usually say yes and think later. But when I think later, it’s often, “Huh, that could be dangerous,” not, “Is it silly to worry about a fish?”
Dan and I had chosen perhaps the worst week of the spring to fly fish. Boulder Creek and the Big Thompson were raging. So we hiked up to Dream Lake and stopped on a snowbank to practice casting.
I had to learn everything — a good distraction from my dilemma. (That I would catch a fish at all was a big assumption anyway.)
Dan taught me how to tie a fly to the line — easy. Then Dan attempted to teach me how to cast –difficult.
“You’re bending your elbow.”
“You’re whipping it.”
Only when he put his expert hand over mine did I start to get a clue. I’d been told it’s all in the wrist. Like ice climbing, I’d thought. I was flicking the fly rod like I was sinking an ice tool — wrong.
In hindsight, I’m amazed I didn’t sink a hook into my back. Or ear — Dan once pierced his (and kept fishing).
A few times, when the line sailed fluidly through the air, I caught a fleeting glimpse into the art of fly fishing. It felt good.
(Truth: I’d still rather flick my ice tools into a frozen waterfall. But this was peaceful and nice.)
We moved up the shore. Dan spotted trout, but there were too many trees there for me to continue my wild experimentation with the subtleties of casting. We decided to stop for a moment anyway; Dan had me drop my line into the water. It felt like a clumsy way to fish after casting practice.
My line pulled.
“I’ve got one!” I cried. “What do I do?!?”
We hadn’t gone over actually catching a fish. I was flush with adrenaline. In moments, an 11-inch greenback cutthroat trout — a native species, catch and release only — was in Dan’s hands.
“Do you want to hold it?” he asked.
“Yes!” I grinned ear to ear.
“Have you ever held a fish?”
Dan slid the fish into my hands. It wiggled; I yelped but held on for a photo. Then it was still, fruitlessly trying to breathe. I cast one last look at the lovely living thing gasping in my hands and slipped it back into the water.
We each caught two — I caught another greenback — and released them all. As we walked down from the lake, I confessed that while it was thrilling and I felt proud, I didn’t know why.
“It was total chance,” I said. “It required no skill.”
“But you tricked the fish,” he said with a sly grin.
I laughed. If anything has been tricked, it’s me. I eat fish (and animals) but have never killed one. I buy it de-boned and pretty and cook it without a thought.
I’m a pesca-hypocrite.
Next time, I told Dan, I want to remove a hook from the fish’s mouth myself.
“So you’ll do it again?” he asked.
I nodded. I want one more chance to find out whether I’m a hypocrite or a vegetarian.
Jenn Field’s Field Notes column appears in the Colorado Daily every Monday.