fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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fly fishing, faith, and “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”

While fishing in the Eastern Sierra last year, a buddy more spiritual than I commented that he had no worries about missing services that Sunday, figuring he was closer to God when casting a fly. I figured he was simply commenting on being outdoors and close to majestic and magical natural wonders, though he might have been thinking that we were closer to heaven at 9,000 feet in elevation.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor

A most romantic gesture by a fly fisherman: presenting a fly named after the woman who's caught his fancy.

At one time or another, those who fly fish have come across references or realize themselves that fly fishing can be a journey of faith. In some respects, this faith — call it unrestrained optimism if you wish — is reflected in the everyday of most fly fishermen. This is a central point in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” with two of the main characters (Ewan McGregor as an English fisheries expert and Emily Blunt as a representative of the Yemeni sheikh played by Amr Waked) overcoming everyday problems such as loneliness, anxiety and lack of direction. Though tagging a movie as one with an uplifting story may be akin to damning with faint praise, it is; just as much as it offers a real view of fly fishing as a part of life, as I’d think it is for many of us.

I don’t think it’s a reach to call fly fishing a sport of faith, albeit with a side of skill involved.

Faith that the fish are where we think they are. Faith that the right fly is on the end of the line. Faith in our presentation. Faith that all those hours and all those casts will lead to something. And this year, in California, faith that already stressed trout will survive what’s shaping up to be a dry year.

Faith is quickly spelled out in “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” as Sheikh Muhammad (Waked) equates his belief that salmon can be introduced to a country with no permanent rivers when asking reluctant fisheries expert and fly fisherman Alfred Jones (McGregor) how many casts he’s made before hooking a salmons. Jones’ answer of “hundreds” illustrates the faith held by the sheikh.

Even fly fishermen — part of a relatively conservative bunch in terms of techniques and fly patterns — who ‘break the rules’ do so on faith. Most fly fishermen start out utilizing the practical experience of others as a foundation, but it seems to me, that at some point, the confidence in the knowledge that one is doing everything properly gives way to a faith that allows departure from the norm and tradition. However outrageous this change might be, it may offer a crucial adjustment that will turnaround an otherwise fishless day. I’d go so far as to posit that the fly fishing of our grandfathers — a sport of rules mandating only upstream casts and high-riding dry flies — has shifted, for better or worse, to a more inclusive and adventurous pastime that only demands a little bit of faith.

Sure, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a soft love story about people brought together by a common interest, and while the fly fishing is peripheral, this story reminds me of the connections, relationships and little things that bring people together, as fly fishing so often does. (The book by Paul Torday offers more pointed satire.) The laughs are easy because the actors lend realness to the characters they portray. The film doesn’t have the same sharpness as the book, and a subplot disrupts the main storyline, but I walked out of the theater glad for the experience.

P.S. As for the fly fishing displayed in the movie, it’s okay and only tangential to the story. I’ve not fly fished for salmon, but one scene did leave me scratching my head.

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hopefulness of fly fishing reflected on celluloid

I have a confession. I didn’t see “The River Why,” despite the claim that fly fishermen would flock to see Amber Heard’s décolletage the movie and that I can be a bit distracted by most things that entail fly fishing.

Sometimes it’s all about presentation. Doing everything, just so, being subtle, to sneak up on your quarry. Too many false casts or slapping the water will draw initial interest, but soon desensitize those who you most want interested in your offering. The same can be said of the latest and greatest fly fishing film; long before it’s screening in my neighborhood, I reach saturation through trailers and highlight reels, and articles and blog posts.

Liam Neeson Fly Fishing

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s mentor Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) fly fishes in real life; Ewan McGregor does so in “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen.”

Subtly is lost in the clamoring for attention. There a lack of attention to presentation; something done well will have the fish audience wanting what you have to offer. Regardless of the effort, it can all boil down to that presentation.

There’s the stumbling through the muddled, pre-dawn darkness and the tentative stride, the missteps on mossy rocks. Stooped in a half effort to conceal my profile, I’ll select a fly. The selection is a combination of a modest understanding of entomology and gut feeling. And not every cast, particularly that first cast of the day, will offer the perfect presentation of the fly du jour. It takes me some time to work up to even a decent cast.

My first cast, tinged with too much expectation, sets the fly down too far away. I judge subsequent casts unacceptable or unworkable long before my line falls to the water. Often, it’s too long since I last wet a fly; but slowly, and with effort, a rhythm is rediscovered and precision returns. (Admittedly, my version of “precision” is plus or minus eight or nine inches or so.) Once again, a renewed focus on my cast displaces all that comes with everyday life.

That (almost) perfect always seems to sneak up on me; perhaps the result of not thinking about what’s being attempted. Simply, it feels right. The fly settles on that one current seam suspected to be a conveyer belt delivering bugs to an as-yet unseen trout.

The fly slips downstream, held steady by hope. A nose emerges. The fly disappears. Often, I’m more surprised than the trout.

That’s a bit how I feel about the trailer for “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen,” a movie based on the book by Paul Torday. It snuck up and surprised me with its upbeat hopefulness. Unlike “The River Why,” it was bandied about as the next version of “A River Runs Through It.”

“Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” has some star power and apparently some respect on the independent film tour, and seemingly is without the focus-group formulation that sucks the soul out of anything. There’ll be no admission to somewhat of a man crush on Ewan McGregor. See “Long Way Round” and you’ll understand — he comes across as a guy who’d saddle up the adventure bike for a day of fly fishing, followed by a friendly evening at the local pub.

Though always risky, judging by the trailer, the plot of “Salmon Fishing in The Yemen” echoes the hopefulness that’s all too often required of fly fishing without directly being a film about fly fishing. It’s got Mr. McGregor (as the fisheries biologist hired by a fly fishing-obsessed Yemeni sheikh to bring salmon to the wadis of the Yemen), Emily Blunt (as the Sheikh’s representative), Kristin Scott Thomas (as a British government spokesperson promoting the project to draw attention away from the government’s latest blunder), salmon, English charm and wit, and fly fishing. While it might benefit from a more mainstream title, I like the title; it’s likely to keep the riffraff out of the showing you know I’ll attend.

It’s nice to have a fly fishing flick to look forward to while waiting for Ms. Olive (the Woolly Bugger) to make it to the big screen.