Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things? Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence. Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, arise and shine.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
After taking up fly fishing, I've tried to pinpoint exactly what draws me to the sport; for a while, I couldn't figure out if it was the art of it all, the way you prepare your flies with keen precision, the way every action to get your rig ready is a painstaking step, the way a perfect cast sends a loop into the air fairer than any french curve. I thought it might be the excitement of landing the next trout, like a drug, wanting just one more spine-tingling hit of cerebral ecstasy — equal parts heady and soul-felt.
While true, each of these, what I realized drew me to fly fishing is not fully evident to the casual observer, but only visible and felt after having partaken, and even then only after careful scrutiny of one's motives. It is different for many, I'm sure, but in essence, basically the same.
Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.
— Henry David Thoreau
For me, the appeal lies in the spiritual, almost supernatural experience of fishing. It begins with the quiet drive into the mountains. The silent anticipation and blossoming wilderness, gradually increasing and taking over the landscape builds anticipation as you are transported from urban chaos to rural calmness. Once you're near the river, it is time to adorn yourself with the necessary accouterment and prepare your rod and reel with the chosen presentation. Each step here is ruined if it is rushed; one must painstakingly tie surgeon's, blood, and cinch knots in the minuteness of a hair's breadth — it is ceremonial, like the priest who dons his ephod and breastplate, silent in serenity and violent anticipation of the rites about to be partaken in.
Then it is time to slowly enter the river, the first foot a test to see if the angler will be struck immediately smitten for trespassing into holy water. From then on, there is nothing else in the world besides the gentle swish and tick of the line looping the air, the almost undetectable white noise of the water molecules running over rock and branch, and the mental determination of finding where a fish might be hiding. One man described it as "playing chess with nature."
You stand there, alone in the world and begin compiling your thoughts into two columns; things that matter, and things that don't matter. The first column gets shorter while the latter grows increasingly longer, until at last it is cast off quietly, undetected, into the water to wash downstream, never to be seen again. Like sins washed away by holy water, this is true baptism and renewal. This is cerebral and spiritual. This is why I go down to the river to pray.