I’m on a perpetual quest to simplify my life. I keep my inbox at Ground 0, each correspondence neatly sorted into a file or—as I prefer them—permanently deleted. I have exactly two flannel shirts, four pairs of jeans, and five sports bras. When I run out of hangers, I donate clothes to my friends instead of making more space in my closet. My “junk” drawers are void of junk.
Simplicity is what first drew me to fly fishing. Like any sport, there are intricacies, nuances, and techniques that take time to master. But it’s a centuries-old practice, and in its least-complicated incarnation it involves just a rod, a line, and a fly (this is tenkara, the Japanese sect of the sport that uses rods naked of any sort of reel).
It took me years to actually try to fly fish, though. I had a rod, a few flies, and some line, but I just never got around to it. Or maybe I was intimidated, I’m not sure. Then, Will and Kelly Watters of Western Rise invited my husband and I on a last-minute camping and fishing trip in Utah’s Uintas mountains. Within fifteen minutes of meeting our new friends, we were standing knee-deep in a river, learning how to cast.
“You can’t hide behind your camera all day,” Kelly called out to me as I crouched in the weeds with my Canon. It was what I needed to hear: affirmation that there’s no perfect time to start something new. You just have to start.
Two weeks later we found ourselves in Montana’s Glacier National Park, under a thick cover of fog that shrouded the mountains from view. There’d be no hiking that day. We’d fish instead—this time from our kayaks. It would be my first solo fly fishing experience, but I’m in good company.
In 2015, 2.5 million people had their very first fishing experience, and 46 percent of them were women. That’s nearly half of the sport’s newcomers, and freshwater fishing saw the highest rates of female participation. In fact, after jogging and trail running, fishing was the most popular outdoor activity that year.
For me, the allure of fly fishing was the simplicity, but I discovered more reasons to love it almost immediately. To know what fly to use or where to cast, you spend a lot of time in quiet observation, connecting with your surroundings. It’s something anyone can do, almost anywhere. It’s a reprieve from the sweaty, pulse-pounding, muscle-and-bone-straining activities I’m used to. When you catch a fish, it’s a gentle experience, a catch-and-release relationship that helps conserve the ecosystem of place.
Not that I’ve caught anything. Yet. But catching something was never the point for me.
Like rock climbing and kayaking, I choose sports not for the sports themselves, but for the places they take me and the experiences they offer. Take Glacier, for example: During one of the most crowded years on record, during the month of the National Parks’ Centennial celebration, all it took were two kayaks, a few flies and and a rod to escape to a quiet, secluded oasis all our own. And it’s just that simple.