Guest Blogger: Phil Rispin, fly fisher, photographer & more, find Phil’s photography here

I have, throughout my life, been afflicted with myopia, that is, short sightedness. This was first discovered in my grade six year when my teacher, Mr. Bishop, and I did not get along. After one altercation, I was sent to take up residence at the back of the room, where presumably I would cause Mr. Bishop no more trouble. At the back of the room I was a little confused in that Mr. Bishop appeared to be writing in a deliberately faint sort of way on the chalk board making it hard to read. I can’t remember if it was falling grades or whether I complained to my mother about not being able to see the black board but I do remember going to the Hudson’s Bay store in down town Edmonton to get my first pair of glasses. I put these glasses on my face and the world changed. There were a number of posters on the walls of the office with images of beautiful women all wearing glasses of various styles and they all had wonderful smiles on their faces. I marveled at how clear and sharp each one of those pictures was and I wished I could take one or more of those pictures home with me and put them on my bedroom wall.

glassesI had a similar experience during a fly-fishing trip with my young family years ago. There was a time when I would rig up the rod at the tent or the car with whatever I had available in my meager supply of flies then run down to the stream and immediately begin to thrash the water. For me fly fishing was more of an athletic event than it was a contemplative sport. My father had taught me that if you don’t get a fish in the first couple of casts move on to another likely spot. I covered a lot of water and my tactics were most often unsuccessful and frequently frustrating because many of my fishing partners were catching fish. I never slowed down long enough to watch the water or my friends and to actually “see”.

It wasn’t until I read a book published by Nick Lyons Books called “Reading Trout Streams” that I began to understand the folly of my methods. Another book published by Nick Lyons Books “In The Ring Of The Rise” taught me more about using my eyes to see what was going on. This information came to me after a bit of a hiatus from fishing.

I had fished all through my growing up years with my Dad and then during my undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary with my coach but had stopped when I moved to Pennsylvania for graduate school. My lack of success as a fly fisherman combined with the many other things that were on my plate at the time made it easy to leave fishing behind. However after I was married and started having a family my wife and I took our children on canoe camping trips into the Northern Saskatchewan wilderness where there were all kinds of fish to be caught and my interest was revived. Initially I purchased a spin casting rod and caught Jack Fish and Pickerel but in the back of my mind these were second class fish and a spin casting rod was a second class rod, neither of which could be compared with the fish or the fly rods found on trout streams on the east slopes of the Rockies in my home province of Alberta. I guess that I was a fly fishing snob even before I knew there was such a thing.

Karen and I eventually took a trip to an Alberta trout stream with the kids. To celebrate the occasion I purchased a red fiberglass fly rod, a reel, some line and a few flies. I also purchased and read the books mentioned above as preparation for the trip and off we went. We camped at Elk Creek just above it’s confluence with the Clear Water River. This was a small creek with a few beaver ponds and an abundance of 12 inch trout.

There were two trout on this trip that taught me a huge amount about seeing and being patient.

My daughter Jennifer pointed out the first one. Jennifer saw the trout feeding in a small hole behind an obstruction that caused the water to eddy there. She was very young at the time and she had seen the fish feeding and knew somehow what it was. I think if she could have she would have taken me by the ear lobe and brought me to the place. As it was she took my hand and excitedly brought me over to the spot where, sure enough, there was a trout rising regularly to whatever bug happened to be on the surface.

Despite having fly fished for many years I was just beginning to really learn about the sport and I wasn’t yet privy to all the lore about matching the hatch so I tied on, a #14 Adams. Jen stood beside me as I cast the fly upstream of the feeding trout and she was at least as excited as I was. She stood bent forward from the hips with both her hands just in front of her mouth concentrating on the spot where the trout was feeding, hardly daring to breath. The trout obliged us both by taking the hook on the first cast and we had a nice fat fish to take back to Karen to cook for supper. I felt especially happy because my child thought that I might be some kind of good fisherman and I didn’t have to relate the story to anyone, Jenn did it for me.

Catching that fish was like the experience of putting on that new pair of glasses in grade six. A number of things became clear. I had seen the fish, watched it for a time, decided on a strategy to take it and was successful. Later that evening I watched as another trout rose regularly to surface bugs just up stream of where I was standing. I was fishing a beaver pond and not having a lot of success when I noticed this fish. He was resting in a channel about 20” wide that had been made by beavers getting into and out of the water. What little bit of current there was flowed past this point bringing bits of food with it and the trout would dash out into this gentle stream grab whatever had taken his interest and return to his hiding spot.

I watched for a few minutes and then cast a fly well upstream of the trout’s hiding spot and watched as the fly arrived just in front of the trout and sure enough the water erupted and the fly disappeared. I had another one. This time there was a young boy on the bank up stream of me who had witnessed the whole drama and he was very generous with his praise. There was a warm glow inside of me that night as I went to bed. It was the glow that comes from having learned something. I looked back on all the fly fishing I had done up to that time and realized that if I had just paid attention to my friends, read a few books and slowed down and watched I would have learned these things much earlier; I certainly had the opportunity. I had turned a corner on this trip and the world became a better place.


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