Whenever I close my eyes, I transport myself back to the scene of the crime.
White sand. Gin-clear water. Big, angry animals patrolling the surf zone.
You know, that place where everything started unravelling with a fly rod in hand. The place where you knew you’d be ruined from here on out and no drug would ever equal the high.
Covered in slime and sand, heart pumping, knees shaking, hands broken from a combo of too much fly line and salt….a shit-eating grin from ear to ear and a powerful creature swimming back to where it belongs.
Yeah, that one.
I never went on trout trips as a kid. Never floated on the famous rivers of The West. Never learned that dry fly fishing was the end-all be-all, and that trout (those silly spotted fish) were the holy gospel. I’ve slowly come around over time to accepting them as “a fish”, but trout were just another critter growing up and I never really got the itch to figure out what the fuss was about. I am eternally grateful for that.
As I’ve immersed myself in fly fishing, I’ve come to realize that there are both two distinct paths in this sport, and two types of “HUGE FLY FISHERMEN”. You either start as a trout guy and never learn to cast in the wind, or you dive right into the salt, start throwing lasers, and are a fly fishing god. I may seem biased, but I am. Fly fishing in the salt isn’t merely a “change of pace”. It is the reason backing was invented.
I’ve never done things by the book. Like, ever. From the start, there was always this urge to do things differently and that ethos has reared its head in everything I’ve ever done. Baseball? Submarine pitcher. Fishing? Fly-fisherman. Trout guy? What are trout? Job? Fly fishing guide in the District of Columbia, turned niche marketing professional.
At my core, there is probably a reason for this. But I really don’t like psychoanalyzing myself – I’d rather fish.
The salt always provided me a sense of escape and true belonging that few parts of my life ever have. From age 9 through college, summer was devoted to baseball. Fishing was my first love but baseball was a means of getting into a college I had no business of attending and for a while, I was good at it. Despite the time commitment, I always found time to fish each summer.
As a creature of circumstance, this meant fishing as hard as humanly possible for whatever amount of time I was given. Whether that was trekking up to the Cape with my mom and stepdad for a week, or heading down to the Gulf Coast of Florida to see my dad – those precious few days and nights spent roaming the beaches and backcountry were the highlight of my year. They were those few moments where I could get away from the familial drama and the needless bullshit of SAT prep and batting slumps and arm injuries and do what came natural.
At its core, fly fishing the salt is similar to baseball. It is a simple game filled with complexities that ebb and flow like the tide. Once you’ve figured it out, there is a relatively easy pattern to follow for success but more often than not, you’ll still fail more than you’d like to. There are good days. There are bad days. There are days that are simply unforgettable. All you can do is control what you can.
I certainly sort-of remember my first trout on fly, but I will never forget the days where it all came together. That first tarpon out of the mangroves. That first “keeper” striped bass. Hell, even that first fish - a lizard fish. They are all moments that are irreplaceable. Tangible mile-markers on a life-long journey with potential akin to an empty beach and fly rod in hand.
I will never forget the chaos. The sounds. The stunning visuals and the random explosiveness of an ecosystem in chaotic harmony. The cold-blooded murder of a streamer and the rhythmic pulse of a square tail fading into darkness.
I’m sure there are parallels somewhere in trout fishing. Some sort of similar experience to hooking into a fish on a fly rod that has no business being hooked on a fly rod. But to be honest, I just don’t care. Fish are fish…and I just closed my eyes.