Fly fishing within the concrete confines of Manhattan may seem paradoxical to the typical urbanite. How can a city noted for its noise and excitement offer the tranquility required to cast a line in anticipation that a fish will rise and take the waiting fly? However, I have discovered that armed with a fly rod and reel, I can find a relaxing respite from the everyday headaches of living in the Big Apple by casting my fly line into one of New York City’s many freshwater lakes or even the New York Harbor.
As soon as I begin to retrieve my line, the gray, concrete, Manhattan skyline fades into the background as I am transported to an idyllic suburban park or busy seaside boardwalk. While fly fishing, I am no longer a distant observer of nature—I become part of the overall landscape. Even on a day when the bluegills or bass aren’t biting, I can still delight in watching the mallards preen for their prospective mates or observing seagulls dive for dinner, fawning over the ducklings going out for their first spring swim, or chuckle as city-bred dogs fight with the street smart squirrels over who’s king of the park.
Unlike the passive relaxation of a spa, fly fishing provides anglers with a chance to escape their hectic urban lives, while still exercising their minds and bodies. According to Pennsylvania fly fishing guide Mary Kuss, when compared to spinning or bait casting, fly fishing is more complex, challenging and infinitely more fulfilling. The fluid and graceful art of casting a fly line to a waiting trout requires the mastery of subtle nuance to perform well. Mary, who practices Tai Chi, sees distinct parallels between the two sports. Both fly fishing and Tai Chi relieve stress, while promoting mental and physical balance.
Eric Newman, author of Flyfisher’s Guide to New York, finds he’s attracted to the details of the sport, such as entomology, tackle and technique. One can spend a lifetime learning how to match an artificial fly, so that it mimics precisely the ants, minnows, leeches and other tasty morsels that attract a particular species of fish. A quick trip to any flyshop will reveal there is an endless supply of “must have” fishing gear designed to delight any gear aficionado. And even advanced fly fishers find they can benefit from a clinic led by a fly fishing expert.
For Eric, both golf and fly-fishing possess many similar characteristics. While both sports are detail oriented and take time and practice to master, you can enjoy learning either sport while surrounded by a tranquil, naturalistic setting.
Although fly fishing is not an aerobic sport, you’ll be surprised by how much energy you burn; expect to return from a full day of fishing pleasantly fatigued—the combination of fresh air and light activity is perfect for an active rest day. The physical exertion of this sport can vary depending on whether you choose to hike to a remote location, cast your line into the pounding surf on a rocky beach or wade into a crystal clear stream. Even standing in a stream provides a good workout, as your thighs resist the rushing water.
Nancy Zakon, a Federation of Flyfishers certified casting instructor, noted that the art of fly casting stretches and exercises muscles in the upper and lower arms, as well as the lateral muscles on the upper body. Casting for Recovery (TM), a U.S.-based organization, finds that the casting motion mimics the exercises prescribed by surgeons to women who are recovering from breast cancer surgery. Also, fly fishing helps you develop eye-hand coordination and improves your reflexes.
According to Newman, while ideally, aspiring anglers should take a hands-on class offered at one of the weekend schools that Orvis, L.L. Bean and many lodges and fly shops now run, even a one-day class will give beginners a good head start on learning the basics. A local flyshop can offer advice on choosing the fly fishing gear suited to your particular budget and fishing goals, information about area fly fishing guides and local fishing conditions.
Also, check out Discover Fly Fishing, a program developed by the American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA). If you register at their site, they will send you a copy of Fly Fishing Tactics, a 50-page how-to book on that covers the basics of the sport.
While fly fishing by its nature invites solitude, joining a fly fishing club can provide prospective anglers with a supportive environment to learn while having fun, sharing successes in the sport and making wonderful friendships. Anglers interested in supporting conservation issues while enjoying fellowship can join their local chapters of Trout Unlimited and the Coastal Conservation Association or ask their flyshop for suggestions.
So the next time you find the need to relax, instead of grabbing the remote, pick up a rod and head for the nearest body of fresh or saltwater, and before you know it, you’ll be hooked.