Grace is defined as: Simple, Elegant or Refinement of Movement.
Grace is something that, for me, has been lost in modern fly fishing. When every rod built today is all about speed, power, and hauling massive amounts of line in the air to target some exotic species in a foreign country, or to just make oneself look cool grace is not part of the equation. The boys club culture that tends to form in a male dominated sport also leaves little room for grace when ego, pissing contests, and general bro-like properties run rampant during fishing adventures. It’s hard to be graceful when you’re intoxicated…just saying.
Now…do I hoot and holla! Do I get excited…yes…more than most people out here I would say. But there is a time and place for that. It’s typically before or after the fish is hooked. Do I still curse trout that won’t eat, lose my cool, get overly excited with big trout…well ya…I’m mean there’s always gonna be that energy with me. But I do have Grace, on days off, solo days, days with my children, and certain days with clients and friends that are looking for that more low key, less intense, more subtle kind of day on the river.
It took me years to find even a little Grace as an angler. Grace does not just show up. It must be learned, and it comes with experience, not only casting thousands upon thousands of times, but also experience with wary and wild trout that demand respect and perfect presentation. After thousands of refusals because your cast and presentation were off by the most minuscule thing…only then does Grace begin to develop. You start to learn that the fish demands it. Simple, elegant, and perfect. In my experience, the most respectable trout are tricked when Grace is a key element of the equation. A trout that requires perfection…is by my trout logic…the perfect trout…no matter the size or species…if the only way to trick it with a fly is to do it perfectly, then it is the perfect trout. It also requires an anglers ability to create that perfect moment between angler and trout, and in my experience both as an angler and a guide…Grace must be present for perfection.
An anglers ability to change their attitude and demeanor and find Grace in the presence of these…perfect trout…will lead to more success in the encounters. At least…that’s what I have found. It typically takes me a little bit to get there and I have to take a few deep breaths and simmer down, I am an adrenaline junky at heart. So when I get it in my system when the perfect trout presents itself…I lose my shit a little bit. But these trout usually give you one or two shots to trick them. They are perfect for a reason. Could be the size, could be the species, for me…its the perfect moment. Fly Fishing is filled with these amazingly perfect moments between human, nature, and wild animal. There are these times in fly fishing when everything just syncs up…and the fish eats the fly, the angler counters, the fish yields, and the moment between angler and trout is sealed with a release back to the natural order of things. Its my prayer, when I feel anything that is sort of spiritual if you will. These moments that I have experienced as angler and observing anglers…are always filled with Grace.
I see Grace from anglers from time to time. Typically in the older generation clients that I fish with. Such as Lou, who is one of the only anglers I know that can make a Sage One 6wt. look graceful. Or when my fishing partner Ross simmers his cast down after the first hour or two of our floats and he begins to smoothly sling casts through the air and gently land them on target. Or when I myself can feel the rod load slowly behind me, and as I bring it forward its like my whole body clicks into place, or shifts into gear, and it’s as if the loop in the air is just an extension of my arm as I lightly place a dry fly at the top of the drift. You can feel Grace, its that juicy part of the cast that makes ya feel good, calming, but intense.
I was witness to Grace this weekend. I had the pleasure of with fishing with an amazing group of people for two days this weekend while putting on an F3T event to benefit our local TU Chapter. One of those anglers is someone I look up to as an angler and teacher of fly fishing. Molly Semenik, is an amazing angler and teacher. I learned a lot from her during a clinic a few years back where I also had the privilege to work alongside her teaching casting to new anglers. Her methods, her demeanor, her enthusiasm, and her attention to detail are everything you could ever want out of a teacher. I was incredibly intimidated to work with her. Her name was familiar to me at the time, and her reputation in the angling community was something I knew of. Everything from her use of props to assist in teaching anglers, to how fish fight, to the ease in which she explained and demonstrated how to achieve the casts were second to none in my experience. Her cast is precise, methodical, thought out, and elegant. Like my mentors cast. A cast I strive for every time cork touches my hand. I learned so much from her during the clinic and apply many of the lessons and skills learned for both casting and teaching with my clients in my guide operation.
I had the opportunity to fish with Molly this past weekend for a few hours on the Cle Elum. Absolutely nerve racking hanging riverside with Molly! I couldn’t believe I was getting to fish with her. I almost left my fly rod in the car because I didn’t want to cast in front of her. I hung back while Molly and J. Michelle fished. J. Michelle who also accompanied us is an absolute blast to be with both on and off the water. I look forward to more days chasing fish and memories with J. Michelle this season. I watched the two anglers fish and took photos as Molly threw casts in between trees and dropped them into position. But it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that things got silly. Many have seen the photos of the large Brown Trout that we met that afternoon, many have seen the video of the whole ordeal. But it was the stuff before and after the event that really stuck with me…well…except when that greasy slab of buttery brown trout ate the shit out that purple chubby size 10 Molly slung over its head…ya…that is seared in my trouty brain forever.
We were sitting eating lunch chatting about the things anglers chat about. I touched on my plans in conservation personally and the whys and hows of getting to where I was. Some fishing stories were swapped, but then this trout kept rising off the seam, river right just up from us. I watched it rise a handful of times aggressively while we ate. I get this itch, like the damn thing is teasing me, this need to go and remind this fish that if its gonna show its face….around here…there’s a high chance its gonna get tricked. We all noticed the fish at this point. And I could sense that everyone else was starting to feel the same itch I was. Molly had the right bug on, and I wanted her to catch a fish. So I told her that it was her trout.
As she walked down and set up on the trout she was slow and watchful. The trout decided to put on a show and came full out of the water on an insect and we saw its immensity and everyone lost their shit…except Molly. She told me to calm down at least 4 times as I made my way down to the river so I could see…the guide in me getting the best of me, and a trout that size…it was gonna be good no matter what happened and I wanted a front row seat. We discussed the position and she cast. This is when the video cuts in. The film starts right as she starts her second cast.
Watch the video, its sweet. But I am going to describe it the way I saw it.
There was power, as the line lifted of the water, the back cast extended but its was effortless, and I mean effortless. But it cut the air like a sickle, it was light but powerful. The cast was quick, precise, simple, and elegant….it was Graceful, as graceful as the women slinging it. A casts does not need to be flashy, it is not for the angler…it is for the fish, and watching Molly cast instilled that belief in me that much more. It reminds the younger less experienced angler in me that a cast done perfectly once…will typically trick the fish. The first cast tricked the fish so much it moved 5 feet down river tracking the fly before it got drag and the fish still went for it but Molly had already started her recast. The next cast…three false casts, the delivery, Molly’s elbow lift and flick of the rod tip to mend the line, which by the way is unique to Molly. Everyone has a thing about their cast that makes it there own. Like a fingerprint. Molly flicks her elbow and rod tip very aggressively but with perfect control when she mends. It gives the cast flavor as I like to say. You can see it in the video. We both think the drift is off but the fish had moved out of its original position and as the fly approached the trout was already tracking it.
I mean, to some it may not look like much of a cast because it’s not 60 feet, its not after a bonefish with the ocean in the backdrop. No, its a short 30 footer maybe, with a reach and a mend across the river to the other side from a down stream angle. Set up perfectly to the quarry. A quintessential trout cast. Perfect…and the trout was fooled instantly. When Molly set the hook…the fish had no chance, everything was in sync and perfect…I mean…as perfect as it gets people! I mean watch it…how could you not wanna be there! The fish eats, and then she sets, insuring a perfect hook set.
Molly had all the advantage in her position. The trout was played perfectly, it stayed downstream the entire time and every time the trout made a move, Molly made an effective counter move, the battle was just as elegant a dance an angler and trout could have. Aside from my net dancing of course. Molly was intense the entire time, the fish was amazing, not only in its fight and size, but because it was not a species we were expecting. A Brown Trout, to which we all were amazed by and I won $5 from J. Michelle betting on Brown.
After releasing the trout, the cool down was pretty fun, the immediate talking and dissecting of the entire encounter…trout nerds. With another fish rising not long after I was up, and let me tell you, having Molly and J. Michelle watch me cast to fish was totally tripping me out. A mixture of stoke on a whole other level and intimidation like I have never felt in this sport. But to be able to fish with them was an experience. To be a part of catching such a memorable fish, to be able to net and introduce Molly Semenik to a rare Brown Trout here in the Yakima River Basin, and one of that size, on a dry fly, I mean….shit….what else is there? Getting to ‘guide’ an angler and teacher you look up to as an angler, just for that one fish…that was enough…and to have her want to book a real trip with me later in the year…made my heart skip like when a big ass brown trout smacks your fly dudes. I’ll count the days until I am able to be riverside again with such an angler. One as Graceful as I have ever had the pleasure of fishing with. I mean…Molly even says “Shit!” gracefully when a trout gets squirrley on her.
That’s what its all about people. Those moments you share over trout. So much can happen in those moments. Things to learn, to enjoy, to just bare witness to. Fly Fishing is still one of the only activities that has this strange and unique ability to connect people, rivers, and the trout that call them home. To be able to experience these places with anglers that have Grace makes them that much more enjoyable for me. An angler with Grace, to me, is the epitome of a trout fly angler…something I strive for in my abilities as an angler, a guide, and a teacher. To be able to cast, play, and land trout with Grace…that is a skill I can always strive for as I chase trout. To be able to see it and learn from it only makes me want to chase it that much more.
The river is in shape…Let Go Chase Some Trout!