Several years ago a woman gave me a grocery bag full of fly-tying material after her husband died.
For a long time the bag sat untouched in the corner of my office.
Over the years I’ve tied a few miserable looking flies, but eventually my hobby quietly disappeared into a basement corner.
Then I stumbled across a cheap metal and plastic desk headed for the dump and something clicked. Now it’s the centerpiece of my resurrected fly-tying hobby. Just in time for me to dig through that dust-collecting grocery bag, several other containers swallowed by a deep closet, and a bin full of memories.
Most of us have hobbies. They can be as far-ranging as quilting, stamp collecting or growing roses. Among those who hunt and fish some people try reloading, skeet shooting or fly-tying.
Hobbies generally make no sense. In theory they are meant to give us relaxation and contentment. In reality they steal our time and money like a bank robber. Fly tying certainly fulfills that wanted poster. Still, some fly tyers look on their hobby with reverence, equating it to a higher level of education, akin to a Ph.D.
In hunting there are five recognized stages of development that many hunters go through. The stages are meant to reflect the maturing of a hunter from youngster to elder, from active doer to reflective thinker.
The stages are: shooting, limiting out, selective, method and philosopher.
Fishing has no set stages of development that I’m aware of. Yes, many anglers start by using a bobber and worm, graduate to casting a spinner and end up in an expensive boat loaded with thousands of dollars of equipment, or stalking the banks of a renowned trout stream dressed in designer fishing duds, handmade bamboo fly rod in hand.
But countless men and women of all ages are just as happy to sit on shore and cast a worm or minnow, then sit back and watch the world go by.
There are as many reasons to fly-fish as there are rainbow trout in the Missouri River: the physical reward of catching something to eat, the chance to escape our daily humdrum lives, the challenge to outwit an animal whose survival instincts make it much more wary of its surroundings than we are.
Hobbies can certainly become addictive, even dangerously so. Fly tying, however, seems so genteel, so constructive, so expensive.
There are aspects to fly tying that make perfect sense, like trying to imitate the insect, crayfish or minnow that fish are feeding on.
Or you could just catch a grasshopper on shore and put it on a hook.
For me the old desk, a dead man’s grocery bag of fur and feathers and a closet full of long-forgotten equipment offer a chance to reconnect, to relive a more joyful time, to chase wary fish and disappearing memories.
As with all hobbies mine does not require a why. But if pressed about the need to fly-fish on an isolated stream with something I’ve created, I would turn to Shakespeare who said it best when he wrote:
"And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
"Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
"Sermons in stones, and good in everything."