Tag: Women Fly Fishing

Tohi

Tohi

I’ve been searching for a way to describe what I feel when wading small, pristine, remote creeks while fly fishing. As a writer, it’s been especially frustrating not to be able to find words that adequately express my experiences. 

Last weekend, I came to understand that the English language would, if I were to attempt explanation, put boundaries or limits around my experience and the Mystery would be lost. I surrendered the idea of labeling my profound experiences of renewal and peace. I accepted that they would simply remain unexpressed through language and in a feeling state within me.

Just after giving up and accepting that there were not adequate words to fully convey what I was feeling, I was reminded of the Cherokee word Tohi. A beautiful smile erupted from within as I sat and listened to Dr. Tom Belt, a Cherokee elder, describe the meaning of the word.

Tohi is the Cherokee word for wellness, the ideal state of being. It’s a word full of meaning…peace, harmony, balance. Lisa Lefler, in her book Under the Rattlesnake: Cherokee Health and Resiliency, wrote: “Tohi is a fully confident sense of a smooth life, peaceful existence, unhurried pace, easy flow of time. The natural state of the world is to be neutral, balanced, with a similarly gently flowing pattern…All aspects—physical, mental emotional, and spiritual—figure into the Cherokee concept of good health.”

So, there is a word—one word—that fully describes my experience in the sacred creeks of this place. It’s in a language that is based on verbs instead of nouns to communicate. It doesn’t label life but rather describes the connections and expresses an active way of being in the world. 

Tohi—one word tells the story about what is taking place within me as I wade, fly fish, and open myself to the beauty around me. It doesn’t take away the Mystery to use this word, rather it deepens the Mystery and draws me ever-closer to It.

Another Way Around

Another Way Around

This pool was calling me…

The large stack of logs looks the same as it did the last two times I stood here but that pool above it is calling me. Their position in the river, with large rocks, rushing water, and overhanging branches, makes it appear impossible to navigate. But the water is just 25 yards above this mess….and I really want to cast the fly I tied yesterday into that pool. But….can I do it?

I walk to the upstream side and the moss-covered rocks offer a steep approach. Nope. I walk back downstream and look again. Maybe I can wade around the logs, downstream, and navigate the swift water near the far bank. I stand here….comtemplating, studying….and then the thought comes: Get down on the level of the water and see what it looks like. Maybe the different perspective will help me decide.

From water-level, it looks so different, so doable.

Carefully, I make my way down the slippery bank, again grateful for my wading staff. Once I am downstream from the log jam and see the water on the far side, I realize that it’s definitely doable. 

The first cascading pool comes quickly and I cast a fly. BAM! Dance and release. I wade a bit further upstream and cast into a delicious pool from the lower pool. BAM and it tossed the fly. Then immediately another hit and connection as the rainbow dances over the ledge and into the pool where I’m standing. Carefully, the fly is removed and off she swims, with a beautiful, feisty attitude.

I wade on, stopping before the bottom of each beautiful pool. The dancing is fine. One especially clever rainbow dives under a limb caught under a rock. It’s a deep little pool but I can’t leave a fish on a fly and line, tangled under the limb. I ease into the butt-deep pool and reach under clear water and pull the limb up. The fish removed the fly and left the fly hooked on the limb. I laugh out loud and blow on the fly to dry it before I step up the rocky ledge to move upstream.

Beautiful pools as far as I can see offer more opportunities to dance but I’m in a good place to stop and bushwhack through woods to the trail. I walk up the trail another mile but mostly just to enjoy the morning, the green and reflect on the wisdom offered by Nature.

What if I hadn’t taken the time to really look at the apparent blocked way? What if I had given up without trying? How sad to contemplate missing all that beauty, interaction with trout, and the rocks and water that made me work hard to achieve the goal of visiting these amazing pools where cold water nurtures my master teachers as they swim with wild abandon.

When faced with obstacles in our lives, do we give up and turn around or do we take the time to explore and wonder? The choice is ours to search and find another way around.

River Wisdom Keepers

River Wisdom Keepers

A wisdom keeper with his student

We stood at the edge of Humble Hole, the place where big trout hover suspended in the cool waters of the Davidson River and watch as your fly floats by…dry, nymph it doesn’t really matter. This might frustrate many fly fishers; for me seeing those fat fish relaxed, unspooked by the fly line or movement of the two humans on the bank was beautiful to behold. After all, I’m not there to catch fish—I’m there to witness beauty. And those trout magi are the wise elders. Except that day the other human was also a wise elder in the art of fly fishing.

The largest fish hatchery in NC is located at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. They raise rainbow, brook and brown trout. It’s open to the public every day except Sundays….and worth the visit.

The past two mornings were spent at the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education near Brevard, North Carolina. I took part in a women’s fly fishing school presented by the North Carolina Wildlife Commission. They have various fly fishing offerings that include a kid’s program, casting classes, fly tying. Our two day school included the basics of fly fishing and casting on day one and fishing with a river wisdom keeper on day two. 

Steve was my mentor for the morning. I learned so much and improved my casting a lot.

I call these volunteers river wisdom keepers because they offer their experience and expertise as fly fishers to those wanting to learn. Veterans of being snubbed by trout, they offer solace to those of us eager to learn how we, too, can be humbled by a rainbow or brown or brook. But they gift us with so much more. After all, fly fishing is creating art while fishing.

It’s good to know what nymphs are living in the place where you are fishing. Steve shows me a nymph that looks like the pheasant tail fly that I’ve caught a lot of fish on in my endeavors thus far.

There are many elements to fly fishing…selection of the fly or flies to use (dry fly, nymph, streamer), tippet length, strike indicator placement, stealth, casting (without catching rhododendron, brush piles, rock edges, submerged sticks, yourself, your guide, your rod/line), water flow, ledges, holes, riffles, seams, shadows. The river wisdom keepers volunteer their time to teach about all of these elements and more.

Too often we fail to take advantage of the wisdom held within individuals who have spent years learning this living art. As I stood beside Steve yesterday, I felt honored to be one of those lucky enough to learn what he had to share. As I glanced upriver and downriver, other mentors were with their students…what a beautiful sight.

Steve was very trusting of me to hold the rod still as he changed flies. Once he even held one fly attached to the line in his mouth to add another one below it on a nymph rig…he did remind me not to move the rod. Trusting soul isn’t he!?!

The North Carolina Wildlife Commission provides these programs free of charge. Yes…free of charge (unbelievable, I know). The programs are paid for with funds generated from fishing license sales for the most part. According to an article in the Citizen Times several years ago, trout anglers gave the state’s economy an estimated $383 million from direct sales on fishing equipment, food, gas, lodging, and guides. That same 2014 study found 3600 jobs were supported by mountain fishers. A 2009 study showed a total impact of trout anglers in North Carolina impacted with $174 million boost to the economy. That’s a significant jump in five years. Considering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park had the highest visitor numbers ever last year, it’s difficult to imagine what economic boosts fly fishing is providing the state present day. A drive along trout creeks and rivers or a hike into even more remote creeks gives evidence to the high demand for fly fishing in our Western North Carolina cold creeks.

Women are the fastest growing demographic among fly fishers and our wildlife commission acknowledges this by providing dedicated classes for women. Because fly fishing has been a male-dominated endeavor, it’s sometimes challenging for women to enter into it. In the four months I’ve been involved with it I’ve visited several shops or outfitters just to see how a woman is welcomed. Some have been amazing and supportive beyond imagination. One was so full of testosterone and loud, vulgar stories I will withhold any support of that particular place or their guides for anyone. In April, when I started practicing art while fishing, I connected with several guide services for instruction (since classes were not happening due to Covid). Every one I ‘interviewed’ was asked how they felt working with women clients. My favorite outfitter, Little River Outfitters, recommended a company (Trout Zone Anglers) and I went with them after emailing the owner and checking out the bios of their guides. I chose one with a wife and two small kids…I mean, he must have patience. It’s important for women to feel supported and respected, especially when entering an arena that has been dominated by men for so long. But the smart outfitters, stores, and guides realize that supporting women means their business will prosper.

I didn’t intend for this writing to meander like one of our mountain creeks so I will bring in the line, so to speak, and simply thank the instructors and the wildlife commission for being so progressive in their putting education for all as a priority and especially to those river wisdom keepers that volunteer their time to spread the love of fly fishing.

Trout are some of the most beautiful fish. I hope to be able to paint abstracts that are inspired by their colors and patterns.
Forgetting the Script

Forgetting the Script

In a dream: I was the director of a Harry Potter play being presented in the old Baptist church where I grew up. Everyone was asked to bring their talent into the production and I was to write the script. I did write it but when I got to the presentation I had forgotten it and worse still, I couldn’t remember any of it…the theme, the general idea of what was happening…I had absolutely no clue of what to say or do. But everyone else had used their creativity to design two amazing, small sets that were colorful and delightful. At first the crowd was small but it grew to be a large gathering, all waiting to see the play. I kept asking others what the play was about, what were my lines even though I had written the script. The good news…it was a success even though I had forgotten everything I had written. Each person, bringing their own talents and simply going with the flow of the production, made it amazing. 

This dream really captured my attention and mirrored my frustration at wondering what I’m doing to make a difference on the planet, what I’m doing with my talents and skills. Sometimes it seems I’m walking a continual trust walk through dark woods in hope that the guidance is true. Anxious, sometimes fearful, but letting go of control and allowing my life to unfold into the highest expression of love I can offer is the only thing I know to do.

Today, as I was walking in the woods, I thought about the journey of the soul through incarnation. What if we have a glimpse into the life we are about to be born into and have goals of what we want to do with our life and then, as we come into physical form, gradually forget. And what if that’s intentional, the forgetting, so we learn to trust and not operate from ego but come from a place of soul expression–unattached to outcome, willing to trust our trajectory.

We get little cookie crumbs that guide us from one place to the next if we pay attention. Many times the crumbs come in the way of everyday challenges that seem much bigger than they ‘should.’ For instance, the recent influx of tourists, thus many fly fishers, have made my usual fishing creek seem crowded and overrun and over-fished so I began looking for other locations to fish. In doing this fears arose that made no sense. The fears seemed so much bigger than the experience. When that happens I know there is a much bigger issue that wants healing.

As I explored this issue of changing fishing locations, I found myself always going back to the one I was comfortable with instead of going to a new one. The night before I would feel anxious about a new spot. As I explored this through meditation I saw an image of fear  represented as sticks given to us at birth. Society teaches fear as a control mechanism and teaches us how to beat ourselves into submission. I saw how fear has been used by me to contain myself, to keep me from moving forward in life. This isn’t the fear that keeps me safe, to warn me of real dangers; this fear is a way of thinking and behaving that is so deeply rooted I am not aware of it. 

When we begin to consciously walk a spiritual Path, many times our lives fall apart and continue to do so. When we ask to grow and heal, opportunities arise that invite us to do just that and rarely is it all white light and warm fuzzy feelings. That happens and is amazing; however, usually it’s really hard work to excavate the true self. There’s a lot of conditioning and programming we have to clear.

Throughout my life I have used outdoor experiences to help heal my life. Usually they bring up fear and then I work with the emotions that arise to heal old wounds. Everybody has their own formula. Mine happens to be partnership with Nature. The following poem came from this recent experience of changing fishing locations…okay, from excavating old fears.

I

The place I love to fly fish is too crowded

Now with summer tourists and trout lust.

Other nearby creeks are better options

But I find myself paralyzed by fear to make

A change. What the hell?

II

They gave me sticks at birth, like they do us all;

Beat yourselves with fear—their control method.

And now, changing creeks and rocks and familiar trees

Seems too scary. Can I really cast my fly line in these

New waters?

III

Whirling, twirling like a dervish I dance

The sticks of fear from my bones

And burn them in the fire of purification

Opening the way for new life born

From ashes of the old.

IV

Light dancing on new waters,

Green and yellow glow in early morning

As I cast my line and release the old

Fears that kept me stuck and small.

Freedom to fly.

V

It isn’t the water or rocks, they are my 

Allies. It isn’t the trout, they are my 

Teachers. The act of expanding helps me

See the fear as the manipulation it was…

To keep me small.

VI

Dropping into the flow I feel boundaries

Disappear. Ashes from the stick burning

Stirs as fear tries again but this time I

See it for the monster it is and call it out:

Oh, sinister demon.

VII

All the drama, all the effort to keep me

Small? I must be immensely threatening to

Status quo. The deprograming is going well.

New creeks receive my line and trout are

Nodding their approval.

Perhaps the greatest fear I’ve discovered is the one my dream revealed this morning. What if I’m not doing what I came here to do? What if I’m not helping the planet? What if I’m failing?

Yet the dream also revealed that it is in letting go of the script and surrendering to the process of life that yields true beauty. And this is backed up by a recent meditation.

In the meditation I heard that the foundation of all fear is expanding into our true self and releasing the ego’s need for control. When we do this, we let go of everything familiar and step into the Unknown. The ego is all about control while the Soul Self carries the unlimited potential of The Universe where everything is possible.

Diving into the Unknown is the Spiritual Warrior’s Empty-Handed-Leap-into-the-Void. There are two cliffs and in between them is the Unknown. Can I let go of the familiar place of ego—the script—and reach for the other cliff, the place where my Soul Self has unlimited connection to Source? That’s the question we all face. Over and over again.

Wild Turkey on the Bridge

Wild Turkey on the Bridge

It felt good to gather the gear and head to the creek. But today, I felt a call to a different section of water. Before I even stepped one foot into the water, a beautiful and huge wild turkey hen lit on the old bridge railing and peered downstream. I love it when magic happens from the start.

After she flew off over the water and disappeared into the trees, I walked down to the place where the Oconoluftee and Bradley Fork merge. Heavy cloud cover made the air beautiful, like only the Smoky Mountain air feels and smells. Rocks thickly carpeted with green moss, a light mist and overhanging tree limbs made wading especially pleasant. The fly rod was a prop today–an excuse to wade in the water with the trout and crayfish. I had a few good strikes but today was really about being with the creek and her creatures and learning from them.

I waded upstream to the trail gate with just a few bank walks. There’s just something mystical about quietly walking in a mountain stream. Sure, I look for likely trout hangouts; however, mostly it’s about getting quiet.

At one point, far up the fork, I was walking and somehow caught my fly (which was secured to the rod…ummm, not) with my foot. It came off the line and I knelt down and spent over 15 minutes looking for the tiny nymph fly—not one designed to float but one to sink and look like insect larvae going with the flow of the creek. I looked at my boot but it wasn’t there. I kept feeling it was on me but didn’t see it and so gazed into the very shallow water for a long time. Suddenly, I saw movement and as I kept my focus on the tiny pool, a baby trout—not even an inch long—swam among the small pebbles. He or she didn’t seem to mind my fingers feeling for the fly. It was so sweet to connect with this infant who had yet to become pouty and moody like the wild trout I have met thus far.

Like the one who jumped and flipped a tail at me as I cast a bit further upstream. Really…make fun of me? Just because I stepped on a fly and lost it? I laughed as I moved upstream, glancing up to see people with umbrellas walking in the campground. I had no idea it was raining. I was too into the baby and the fly that got away and the smarty trout that was trying to show me where to cast.

A few hours passed and I was getting hungry and a bit tired. Walking in rushing water over slippery rocks isn’t the same as walking on dry anything. Plus, as soon as I put my waders on I had to pee…never fails. It seemed a good time to end my morning in the cathedral of Nature when I reached the gate at the end of the campground. But that one sweet spot called so I went a bit further into that one magical place where I caught the big trout a couple weeks ago. Thought I’d visit her again…yeah, well, she didn’t care a bit that I was there. But it was still nice to visit and recall how she scared me when she hit the nymph fly. 

I walked back through the campground smelling wood fires, coffee, bacon…that never gets old just as moving through the pristine waters of the national park. 

I got back to the car and started removing gear. I checked my boots to make sure the fly wasn’t embedded in them. Nope. Oh, well. But after taking off the waders I checked that left leg and shazam! There was the little fly. It caught me well and survived wading through rushing water and kneeling down to play with the baby trout and a bit of bushwacking. I laughed out loud and probably caused a few campers to gaze up from their rainy-day reading.

Every time I fly fish I understand more about why I’m doing it…today it was about connecting with a baby trout, listening to bird song, gazing at mountain laurel gracefully arching over the creek, feeling soft, green, mossy rocks and finding the wild turkey on the bridge.