Dec 4, 2013

There are no fish here!

Like most of the population - at least the male population - I fell in love with a woman who is not at all like me. Most of my closest friends admit that's the good news. So does my wife.

Meet Ben and Ginger
Ginger with a nice Wyoming Rainbow
As much as I agree with everyone though, our differences present some challenges around fishing. I suppose that's the rub with all fly-fishermen. Our sport takes us away from home or other responsibilities, often at the least opportune times. I remember, in fact, sitting at the breakfast table when I was a kid, listening to my two younger brothers scream bloody murder as my Mom tried to get a little cereal down their gullets. My father, who was headed out to fish that morning, strolled through the kitchen, patted my brother Fred on the top of his head and said, "It's okay, my boy." Then he walked out the door. I can only imagine what my Mom was thinking at that moment. Probably not, "Hope you have a great day, Honey!"

In an effort to chart a slightly different path through my own marriage, and because I greatly enjoy my wife's company, I have spent many years slowly trying to indoctrinate her into the fraternity of fly fishers. I figured that was the way to go. She would grow to share my affection for the pastime. We would have yet another marvelous thing in our life together. And our fishing future would be assured. That was the theory anyway.

In practice, Ginger (no Gilligan's Island jokes, please) has indeed become a good and occasionally enthusiastic fisherman. She casts well, can handle a boat, and genuinely enjoys being on the water. In fisherman's vernacular, she's quite a catch. And I have tried not to follow in my father's admittedly insensitive footsteps ... with some success.

The problem - if you want to call it that - concerns our differing degrees of interest. Put bluntly, Ginger is far too reasonable and unselfish. Those are virtues, I know, but only in other endeavors. Where I will happily try to catch fish all day and much of the night, Ginger will try for only so long. If we have early success, her bloodlust is pretty quickly satisfied. I catch one fish and it just fires me up to catch some more.

That's fine, though. If she doesn't want or need to fish, she can still row. I'm happy to have her do that while I bomb away in the bow, an opportunity that I believe my wife genuinely appreciates giving me. Many a fellow fishermen has fired a smart aleck comment my way as we drift by with Ginger at the oars. Even heard a marriage proposal or two. You'll have to ask Ginger if she was at all tempted.

Unfortunately, her rowing, as wonderful as it is, defeats the purpose of the plan. How can Ginger become rabid about fishing if I am the one doing most of the catching? It's all about the quarry, right?

So I push her to keep fishing and let me row. On more than one occasion I have insisted, which of course screws everything up. You'd think I'd learn something in nearly thirty years of marriage.

What's more, my pathological optimism, which leads me to believe that every cast is a potential hook-up is not a pathos that my wife shares. Ginger will happily tell you that she'll plan for the worst, so if things go well, it's a pleasant surprise. And you can see it when she is fishing. A strike always produces a quizzical expression from Ginger, as though she had assumed that there weren't actually any fish in this river and she was simply humoring me by wetting her line.

Part of the reason for her skepticism may be because I have spent so much time assuring her that there are, in fact, lots of fish here. She knows me well enough to understand that more often than not I don't know what I'm talking about. Why should I suddenly be right when it comes to fishing?

On many occasions, I have "suggested" a drift over a particular run and been greeted after one cast with, "I don't know why we are bothering. There are no fish here."

On other occasions, like when she can see the fish, for instance, Ginger credits any catches to the extraordinary stupidity of the fish, rather than skill on her part. On one trip, in fact, to a lake in Northern Montana that contained a slew of voracious cutthroats, I watched Ginger land some thirty fish. When I commended her, she simply deflected.

"They were small. Anyone could have caught those morons." Meanwhile, there were lots of folks on that lake getting skunked.

It doesn't matter, of course, that I think my wife is a good fisherman and a good companion - especially if she does not believe it herself. And the fact that she has landed lots of great fish doesn't seem to make my case any stronger. More often than not those moments of apparent success produce an entirely unexpected set of responses.

Ginger hooked up with a nice fish
Like the time in New Zealand when Ginger hooked three big trout in an afternoon, only to have each one eventually break her off. She seemed crestfallen.

"It happens to everyone," I offered, "and those were really big fish!" Very politic, I know, and proof as it turns out that I didn't get it.

Ginger wasn't mad or upset that she lost those fish. She could not have cared less. Unlike her husband, Ginger isn't all that concerned with the fish she brings to the net. What bothered her was she knew that we would not stop focusing on her until she landed one. She didn't want the spotlight and she sure as hell didn't want me to stop fishing until she had one in the net.

When she did actually land a fish early the next day - a beautiful big Brown - Ginger was just relieved that she had gotten the monkey off her back. So delighted was she that as I plied the waters of the Clinton River in search of more such fish, Ginger sat on shore in her leaky waders and sobbed. Gotta love those fishing vacations!

Thankfully now, I get it ... most of the time. Fishing is my thing, and I think Ginger is touched that I want to share it with her. And thanks to my fiscal irresponsibility, she has all the gear she'll ever need, most of it with her name engraved or embossed on it. I even bought her a new pair of waders. But she only has to use the stuff when or if she chooses.

Ginger's first New Zealand Brown
Being on the water is important for me. Ginger knows that. And occasionally, she loves it too. But only when the experience is not burdened by the weight of expectation - hers or mine.

Besides, if she is always there with me when I am knee deep in a river somewhere, who am I going to tell my stories to? And you know what, she always asks me how the fishing was.

Damn lucky, I know.
Author, First time GFS Contributor
Ben Williams

"Fly Fish the World with Us"


  1. What a wonderful article ! Ben and Ginger do a lot of fly fishing while here in Montana....great people !!

  2. Look at that last picture! What a beauty! The New Zealand Brown ain't bad either.


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