A River Runs Through My Bucket List (or Learning How to Fly Fish Before It’s Too Late)

English: Green Highlander salmon fly. The hook...

English: Green Highlander salmon fly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to admit, I like creating lists. They help me remember things and when I cross something off one, it gives me a straight-lined sense of accomplishment. A few years back I started a “Things to Do When I Retire” list; not really a bucket list (things to do before I die), but a similar concept. The list contains things like volunteering for the Red Cross, taking painting lessons, taking classes at a local folk arts school, and doing more photography.

I was content to delay the activities on the list until I had time during retirement, which was probably about 15 years away. That was, until one of my friends died unexpectedly in his early 40s. A sense of mortality smacked me in the forehead and I realized how much I’d been putting off really living and making the most of the present. In my friend’s honor, I decided to stop PLANNING and start DOING.

One of the activities on my retirement list is fly fishing. I suspect the inspiration for that came from watching the 1992 movie “A River Runs Through It.” Directed by Robert Redford and featuring Brad Pitt, the movie centers around fly fishing scenes in Montana. It was also around that time that I visited Montana and helped fight a wildfire on the White River National Forest in Colorado. I saw people fly fishing on rivers in these places and it looked so idyllic, I knew I had to try it someday. Plus, the biological aspect of the sport appeals to me. You have to know how to think like a fish and be aware of what’s going on with the local bugs to be successful.

Well, “someday” came last week. Rogue, non-retired list-breaker that I am, I took a fly fishing class with a group of women along the banks of a river on the outskirts of town. The opportunity was organized by one of my women friends and taught by Katherine Lansing, a local fly casting instructor certified by the International Federation of Fly Fishers.  

Katherine Lansing

Katherine Lansing

Lansing became an instructor by accident. She had been fly fishing for a few years, then she signed up for a class she thought was about how to learn to cast better. Turned out it was about how to learn to teach other people to cast better. Although hesitant, she took the class, which led her on the path to becoming one of only 80 female certified fly fishing instructors in the U.S. at the time.

We met under a picnic shelter at a local city park on a 40-degree evening. As the five other women described how they became interested in fly fishing, I realized I was the only one there not introduced to the sport by a man. Everyone else had been introduced by a boyfriend, husband, brother or father. Not sure what that says about me. I do admit I had been hoping “some man” would take me fly fishing, but it just never happened.

Lansing started the class by giving us an overview of the various fly fishing equipment and showing us how things worked. Then she introduced us to knot tying. We learned two knots, practicing first on chunks of nylon rope, and then on the more challenging fishing line. Tying the knots became more difficult as the cold temperature took its toll on our fingers. But it wasn’t long before we were up and moving, practicing our casts on the lawn beside the river, which was roaring with melt from spring runoff.

Casting was fun, and people kept remarking that I’m a natural at it (preen, preen). If I am a natural it’s from a lot of practice casting regular fishing lures and maybe from throwing an atlatl (a prehistoric throwing spear), which is a story I’ll perhaps tell another time. As we casted, Lansing went around and gave us tips in her no-nonsense and helpful manner.

After about 2-1/2 hours outdoors, I could no longer feel my toes, so I decided it was time to head home. But I enjoyed the experience and I’m looking forward to actually getting out on the water to fly fish next time. Then I’ll be able to officially cross that one off my list, and I’ll have a new hobby NOW instead of waiting for my retirement or until I’m dead, whichever comes first. (Smile.)