From Snags to Rats Nests: The Lessons of Time on the River

Days on the river provide something spiritual for me. It’s hard to describe or explain, but it’s true. There is a sense of total relaxation once I am out and in the water. There are times when I am alone on the water and everything else ceases to exist; there are times on the water and I am with a friend, where everything ceases to exist. That’s it…the ceasing of existence. The relief of worry about anything.

I don’t know if it is a gift or a curse to be able to lose myself in something the way I can when out on a river, casting. I’m the same way when it comes to napping; I can do it pretty much anywhere, any time. My wife thinks it’s a gift; however, on those days when I come home two hours after I said I would because I lost myself while fishing, she is definitely cursing me.

It didn’t used to be how it is now. I suppose that has a lot to do with time. When I started fly fishing, it was hard. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and typically spent more time on the banks, trying to unhook the snags in a bush or tree. Or untangling the incredible rats nest in my tippet; it’s stunning how easy it can happen and how nasty they get. But you learn over time.

You learn how to assess a snag in a tree, judging it by how high up it is hooked, to how bendy the branches are. After 30+ years of time spent fly fishing, you can much more easily evaluate the state of your disaster and just how much time is worth spending trying to resolve it. For instance, pretty much any snag in a pine tree is useless to try and unhook if it is out of reach. Something about the strength in those branches and the gnarly bark that just swallows your tippet and fly. No use in trying to salvage; just break it off and get to re-rigging.

The same holds true for the dreaded rats nest. I take a look at some of them now and just start snipping line. The frustration and headache of trying to untangle a knot with crappy vision just isn’t worth it. I’d rather just use the time to sit quietly on the bank, let the fish settle, and listen to the water’s soothing ways, while I set up my rig again.

Time provides you a chance to grow at whatever you are dedicating your time to. I’m not sure I would consider myself an expert by any stretch, as I can’t tell you many entomological terms. But I guess there is a certain expertise in being able to more quickly assess the sure to happen, no doubt disasters that happen to your line and flies during a day on the river.

Time has certainly made me an expert in that!

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