I’ve heard that question answered a lot of different ways in 23 years of flinging sharp wire & feathers at the finned ones. For some, it borders on the mystical. People talk of otherworldly feelings or suspension of time (as in time spent fishing doesn’t count against your allotment here on planet Earth).
For others it’s a religious experience. Closer to God in the form of Mother Earth, as it were. In fact, I know one long time fly fisher who says his brand of religion is practiced mostly standing crotch deep in cold water. And there are those who speak in tongues whenever they lose a big fish.
Then there’s the lady who, when asked why, simply answers, “Why not?”
For me it’s easy. Fish don’t live in ugly places. Whether it’s a wooded stream in farm country, an unnamed mountain lake, a famous Western river, a bay in Mexico, a reef in Belize, or an island near the equator in the Pacific, the places you go to fly fish are just plain beautiful.
If you’re a gadget freak, the gear alone is reason enough to pursue fly fishing.
And half the fun of fishing those places is they aren’t easy to get to. I fished in Patagonia once. It took just over 26 hours to get there, and I had to go through seven airports. Then, when I was done with airports, there were a couple of hours of bouncing in the back of a Toyota 4Runner, crawling along a road — more of a path, really — that wound along mountain cliffs and through roof-deep cuts in heavy woods. The trout at the end of that path were the strongest I’ve ever felt. My guide, a kid from Colorado, called them “nuclear”. They were.
And without getting all bro-mantic on you, it’s the guys you meet — the friends you make that bleed over in to other areas of your life. One guy I met when I first learned to fly fish ended up being best man at my wedding. We’ve pursued all sorts of intellectual endeavors together, stuff that ranges far beyond why fish are or aren’t biting, what flies to use, or the relative merits of this rod versus that one.
I have another friend who hates to see another human being when he fishes. He likes to rough it, and he wants to get as far away from civilization as he can, so he doesn’t much care for fishing in Minnesota. I kid him that his idea of a good fishing trip must be to parachute naked into the Idaho wilderness with six matches, a knife, and a fly rod. No doubt he’d come out fatter than when he went in.
For me it’s easy. Fish don’t live in ugly places.
Another friend, a retired newspaper copywriter, paints at least one painting a day, 365 days a year, all with a fishing theme. He just can’t not paint. On top of that, he has an incredible knowledge of fly fishing literature (one of the largest and richest bodies of sporting literature you’ll ever encounter, by the way). He can speak at length about the hallowed chalk streams of England, the history of the fly rod, how long the salmonfly hatch will last near Ennis, Montana, and the work of dozens of writers.
It’s just a ton of fun to know guys like that. If you can find one who will laugh at your jokes, it’s even better.
Then there’s the stories they tell. I heard of two guys fishing for steelhead in northern MN one ugly fall day. They waded upstream as far as they could go until they were blocked by sheer granite walls on both sides of a large, deep rushing stream. As they stood there contemplating what they should do, a dog came floating down in mid-stream, apparently somehow washed away in some disastrous event up above.
The dog managed to get to shore near where the two guys were standing, shook himself off and sat down, like he was waiting for something — or someone. A minute or two later, a fisherman came floating downstream the same way the dog did! He hauled himself out of the river in front of these two guys and stood there soaking wet. He told them (as they stood there with jaws hanging open, no doubt) the fishing was great up above. The secret to getting upstream was an underwater ledge along one granite face. Wade along this six-inch ledge and a ways upstream around the corner and you can wade the stream again, but the only way to get back down was to jump in and float down. I never did hear exactly how the dog got upstream, and I don’t know if that story is true. But it’s a good one, isn’t it?
There are as many reasons to fish as there are fishermen. Probably more. In the end, it doesn’t really matter.
What about the gear? If you’re a gadget freak, the gear alone is reason enough to pursue fly fishing. Rods and reels, waders and vests, and the 1,001 little gadgets that go in all those vest pockets. A tool to tie this knot, another for that one, still another one to tie a fly on a leader — yet another to clip the fly off. Fly boxes to hold all your hundreds of flies (wouldn’t want to be caught on stream without some damn little brown thing that imitates the one mayfly the fish are eating that day, would you?). A net, of course — you don’t look like a fisherman without a net hanging off your back. What about a backpacker’s stove & cookware, just in case you catch a couple of fish near lunch time? And, of course, a flask of whiskey & a cigar for the end of the day.
There are as many reasons to fish as there are fishermen. Probably more. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Playing hookey for an afternoon? Once in a lifetime trip to an exotic place? Semi-annual trip to Montana with the guys? Seeking inner peace? Want some good eats for the men’s club game feed? Pick a reason, or make up your own — or don’t — and just go.