I have non-fishing friends and family who often question why I always feel the need to bring a fly rod along on every trip outdoors. I occaionally wonder if they have a point. Is it really necessary to bring fishing gear along? Being out on the water or wandering through the forests should be enough. It really should be enough but it is not.
Walking along a river, paddling the saltwater, or watching whales feed ten miles offshore are great visual feasts but I would be missing something without fishing. First, I would likely not found any of those places had I not originally planned on going there to fish. Fishing is the reason I am there in the first place and the sights and sounds are a great side benefit. We have all struck out on fishing trips due to high water or being too early or late in regard to run timing. These trips are often memorable due to the beauty of being outside but those unforgettable days would not have existed without fishing being the driving reason for even venturing into those special places.
The greatest whale and bird watching I have ever experienced all came about in search of fish. No one ventures to this particular place to view whales and birds because it is a fishing spot that requires a long run in rough water. It is virtually a private nature preserve only seen by offshore fishermen and possibly the crewmen on a passing freighter.
Have you ever noticed the patterns in the gravel bars that the river currents create? Every stone seems stacked at the exact same angle along the entire shoreline. You wouldn't necessarily see that from any other vantage point except standing knee deep in the river swinging a fly. The backpacker hiking a riverside trail will never view the river in the same way we do spending time right next to the water and spending hours observing relatively small areas.
A non-fisherman only gets the rare glimpse of life underwater. A waterfall where salmon relentlessly jump to access spawning grounds upstream or a shallow creek with spawning fish are a few of the rare spots that one can view fish in their natural environment. We fishermen get a glimpse of that every time we hook a fish. We learn to understand currents and the way rivers move in the hopes of increasing our knowledge enough to get better at hooking fish. This gives us not only an understanding of the fish but the environment underneath the mirrored surface of the water.
In bigger waters such as the saltwater we have to pay attention to tides, currents, weather, and run timing to get the reward that often feels like an distant handshake at the end of the fly line as one feels the initial grab and first couple headshakes of a fish. Learning run timing and the type of water the fish like takes time. Like a steelheader waiting for a grab, the time spent casting and exploring the salt give us plenty of time to soak in the natural world around us. We notice things that a person standing fifty feet away on the shore wouldn't see or even think to look for.
The act of fishing brings us closer to the natural world. The closeness and understanding of natural processes gives us a perspective no non-consumptive user can have. It is like our own little secret. The park overlooking a prime fishing ground has tons of visitors that look at the same water and see the beauty right on the surface. Little do they know about the beauty lying just under the surface.
So the next time you are asked, "Do you always have to bring fishing gear?" respond with a resounding, unapologetic "Hell Yes!"