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.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.