“Spoke ‘n’ Fly” – by Brian Ohlen

When people ask why I’m riding a bicycle from Canada to Mexico in winter to fly fish for steelhead I normally just say something like, “I like fishing and biking. Why not?” The more honest answer has somewhat deeper connotations.

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My wife is a social scientist, and loves seeing social theories working in everyday life. Small Group theory in recreationists is one of her favorites. I’m no expert, but the theory describes the natural progression of a new member within a small group: rock climbers, mountain bikers, kayakers, or, worst of all, fly fishers. The progression goes something like this:

  1. Newbie discovers April Vokey while ‘gramming one morning. Decision made to become a fly fisher. Wanting to look the part, novice purchases ALL the gear: the more expensive, the better, especially the accessories. Look for errant sales tags, multiple Buffs, shiny gear, and flat brims. All conversations revolve around fishing, both with non-fisher people and especially with identified experienced fly fishers. Even learns then names of the old grouches at the fly shop.
  2. Intermediate has a proven place in the group. The shiny newness of gear has worn off, but upgrades often, doubling down on a used raft or boat. Fishing vest is traded in for a hip pack. Makes a mental tally of all the fish caught that day and has no problem out-fishing you. Operates on a first name basis at fly shop.
  3. Expert develops a crustiness both in personality and in gear while reveling in the nuances of the sport. Catches fish “in the preferred method,” i.e. the harder way. Quality over quantity. Occasionally purchases new tube of SeamSeal to keep the waders going one more season. That old click-pawl reel will suffice. Unabashedly helps himself to beer and coffee from the fly shop’s “employees only” back room.

As we progress from novice to expert, it seems we often enjoy making things harder for ourselves. Eggs and worms are known fish magnets, yet many of us opt for watching a #20 dry sipped from the surface film, or the chase and pull of a streamer take. I’ve spent hours tying composite loop intruders when I know darn well a bead and hook will probably catch more fish. What is it about doing things the hard way?

Maybe the fact that we are fly fishers condition us continually to seek out new and challenging scenarios. When things become easy, they often become boring. As casting, water reading, and understanding of fish progress, we need to find new ways to keep our minds engaged and the challenge at hand.

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I’ve been working in bike shops for 16 years, and can attest that the progression of a bicyclist isn’t that different than a fly fisher. Someone recently asked me, “what came first: biking or fishing?” I didn’t know the answer. In my mind, they go hand in hand. So, as I sit in my Wyoming home, a week before I start an 1,800-mile bike-fishing pedal down the coast, I think the answer has something to do with bringing back some of the feelings and challenges that everyday life (or fishing) can’t provide: the excitement of being engrossed in a journey, the uncertainty of life on the road, the real, honest threat of getting skunked on a two-month fishing trip, and yes doing things the hard way. The next two months are going to be challenging, yet I’m confident the rewards will make up for it. After all, I like to bike and fish.

Brian is a bike mechanic and fishing fanatic who is currently pedaling from Canada to Mexico, to fly fish for steelhead. Follow his masochistic steelhead-bike journey at www.spokenfly.com or on Instagram @Spoke_N_Fly.

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