Some of you will have to stop laughing before you can read the rest of this article. That's OK. I get it. But humor me for a few minutes and I bet I can change your mind.
At first glance comparing Fly Fishing and Yoga would seem strange to most, almost sacrilegious. It would appear that there could not be two more different pursuits. It's kind of like comparing fly fishing for Tarpon to jigging for Crappie. Just - different. However, in recent years I have begun to see some fairly striking similarities and more importantly, some significant benefits to having both as a part of my life.
It all started when "K" (the other half of K&E Outfitters) introduced me to yoga. Now, K is a fairly accomplished "yogi" (as they call themselves in the land of yoga). In fact, many of you may already know her as the #flyfishingyogi on social media. So, she knew right off the bat that when it came to indoctrinating her fly fishing man into the world of yoga, she was going to have to be gentle - kind of like teasing a carp with a slowly twitched, mid-water column damsel imitation. She started me off easy with a few demonstrations that she called "PDY's" which stands for "Public Displays of Yoga". Apparently this entails striking a yoga pose on the spur of the moment in unusual or interesting places. For example, once we were standing on a beach in Baja at sunrise watching the Sea of Cortez for any surface disturbance that might indicate feeding Rooster Fish when (for no apparent reason) she set her fly rod down, walked to the edge of the sandy beach and proceeded to contort herself into one seemingly inhuman posture followed by another. Yet another time she jumped up on a rock overlooking the San Francisco bay and struck a pose that had some local tourists gawking while trying not to look like they were starring.
Her strategy worked because I began to wonder what this yoga thing was all about and soon I found myself at a "yoga class". Mind you, I use the term loosely. It's not like a traditional class where there is some time spent in study and then a little practice and an attempt at the real thing. No. Instead, I found myself thrust into a world of mental and physical confusion.
As an experienced fly fisherman, I had prided myself on my hard won ability to maintain my balance while wading and navigating tricky rivers and streams all while keeping my focus on my prey. I felt that I had above average agility and could nimbly hop in and out of a drift boat or skiff without slipping and filling my waders (usually). I also thought of myself as an outdoorsman with a solid endurance that could take a whole day (or 3) of hiking, wading, slipping, and struggling to reach that perfect water. However, as the yoga class began, I discovered a few disconcerting truths about myself. I HAD MUCH TO LEARN, and, as I fought to keep up with the onslaught of directions and poses offered up by my instructor it became clear to me. I had no idea just how poorly adapted my "fly fishing body" was for the rigors of the very sport I loved. Like the soft light of dawn breaking over the Yellowstone River, I slowly began to comprehend that possibly....... Yoga could make me a much better fly angler.
Here is how:
Any fly angler can tell you that this is an essential part to mastering the art of fly fishing. We are constantly fighting the watery environment in which our adversary lives. We have to navigate moving water, uneven surfaces, slippery rocks, sucking mud, tricky vegetation, and wind; just to name a few. Often times we have to hike long distances without any real discernible trail just to get where we want to be which usually requires hopping over logs, stooping under brush, and dodging the occasional rabid squirrel. May of us fly fish from moving boats on fast running rivers or in open water with unpredictable waves. We have to maintain balance while simultaneously performing a subtle presentation to a spooky trout or a strong double haul to reach a tailing redfish.
Most of us can get the job done. But at what cost? I have found that most difficult days spent on the water result in some seriously stiff body parts and maybe even some aching joints the next day. Yay, I did the deed and had some success, but as I tally the physical cost the following day, I have found myself wondering if it is simply that I am getting older or if maybe, I'm just not as physically capable as I thought. Now, I don't consider myself old. And i admit that when I was 20-something none of this really registered. But in hindsight, I will bet that I could have avoided some minor (and sometimes major) injuries had I been a bit better with balance and more agile.
One of the more obvious benefits of yoga is a focused practice of balance. During just about any yoga session you are forced to try to balance in unusual body positions and then think about your body position and feel the neurologic feedback from your joints. With that information you then work to make adjustments to maintain that balance better and longer. The more time that I spend doing this, the more stable and confident I become when out fly fishing. I'm not kidding. I really notice the difference.
If I had a dollar for every time that I or one of my fly fishing buddies has made that groaning/grunting noise while ducking a tree limb, scooting off the edge of a boulder, or simply trying to climb back into a water craft of some kind, I'd be rich. Admit it, we all know that sound. It's kind of like the sound that a Jack Crevalle makes periodically while patiently waiting for the photo op to get over and to be released back into the water. It's reminiscent of a out-of-wind pig.
If lifting your leg to waist high while balancing on the other leg is a challenge, then yoga is for you. Yoga incorporates stretching in a controlled and safe way that simply gets better with practice. The more I do, the more flexible I become. I have found that even the simple activities like holding my rod with my right hand and netting a 3 pounder with my left is much less of a chore. Even putting my waders on is easier.
I'm not talking about the "I can bench XXX lbs" type strength here, I'm talking about functional strength. Yoga forces you to practice dynamic integration of of multiple muscle groups throughout large sections of your body. Think of it as "coordinated" strength training. Yoga helps remind all of the muscles in your body (even ones you didn't know you had) how to work together in a uniform fashion. This type of strengthening is well known to help athletes balance out their strength and be more proficient and efficient. This is the whole reason that we now often hear about professional football teams having yoga sessions during training camp. The benefit is real and can increase your muscular endurance and coordination.
One of the reasons that I love to fly fish is the quiet solitude and mental relaxation that comes from being "unplugged" and immersed in nature. Most of you know exactly what I'm talking about. It is simply good for the mind and spirit. But sometimes the experience can be clouded by thoughts of what is going on in life at the time. The practice of yoga is partly about managing your mind. Finding a quiet focus amidst physical exertion. Working to settle your mind no matter what is currently going on in your busy life. Seeking peace and acceptance with yourself - no matter where you are or what you are doing.
Making myself practice these mental exercises in my non-fishing life through yoga has trained my somewhat neanderthal brain to be quiet and observe things internally and externally with less noise. This has translated well to my time on the water and I feel like the immersion experience of fly fishing is a little bit deeper for me as a result.
Well, there you have it. Some of you may think that E has slipped a wing nut, but hopefully some of you are just a little bit intrigued. And if so, I would really recommend that you try to find a local yoga class to try out. Age and prior experience is not a factor and you will discover that people from all walks of life turn up at yoga. It might seem foreign and little bit scary, kind of like stepping onto the casting platform for the first time to throw to a 100+ lb Tarpon. But be brave, be willing to be different, and the results will speak for themselves.