Fly Fishing . . . the Comedy of Tragedy


Shakespeare was a fly fisherman.  This claim is in no way academically nor historically supported, but he must have drawn his dichotomous inspiration from somewhere.  And I’ll lay a bet that chalk-stream brown trout in those early English hills had a hand in it all.

What is fishing for trout with false yet hopeful imitations made painstakingly by our bumbling human hands all about?  Well, the equal parts chance that it may find the corner of a big fish or a low-hanging branch is at the center of our “sport.”

It is high drama, this fly-fishing is, always a battle for hope, for disappointment, for redemption.  Have you ever gone ass over elbow and found yourself filling an empty river with laughter?  I have.  I have also spiked my rod and reel like a trident into saltwater in frustration after a blown opportunity.  What separates these two scenarios, these two emotions?  Nothing really, nothing at all; for there is comedy in tragedy, and the most truly satisfying moments of deep laughter are a hair’s width from the absurd and even morose.

We tend to take ourselves too seriously.  This is, I hope, something that everyone can agree with (it is not of course).  I was recently enjoying a sunny day at the office.  My clients and I were making our way down a rocky bank on the Clark Fork.  We were, of course, in a boat.

I was keeping the boat at an angle to shore as my two anglers cast their flies.  I noticed a ways down the bank a few fishermen standing on the shore.  One was sitting on a rock, staring at something.  The other was fishing furiously, the sun reflecting off of his bald head.  His wrap-around sunglasses and undersized fishing vest visible at quite a distance.

We hooked a fish upstream of him and after a short fight, it revealed itself to be a squawfish or pike minnow…not the most worthy of adversaries.  I quickly released the ugly specimen and found myself confronted with a tangled mess of tippet and fly.  I mean a twisted-beyond-recognition sort of tangle that I proceeded to rectify.

I made three or four pulls on the oars towards the middle of the river and got to work on the nest of monofilament as the water was too deep for safely anchoring, and a big rock garden was around the next bend.

As I was working on the mess I looked from under my hat brim to see a fly attached to the end of a line hurling at my boat.  The fly landed about a foot off of the downstream side of the boat.  Come again?  “Get out of my water!” I hear squawking out from the man behind the glasses.

John Doe on the bank had taken offense to us being on what was obviously his river and thought he’d send us a warning cast, like a warship engaging in pre-fight sparring, only with a fashioned fly and not a deadly cannonball.

I knew the intentions of his act of petulance all too well.  He had assumed we had taken a nice fish off of…again—“his” bank and in a comedic display of frustration, opted to chase us off of his turf.  What a tragedy, for a grown man to be having such a foul outing on the water that he would act so irrationally.

We had given him plenty of birth…and even if we hadn’t, even if we had thrown cannonballs off the boat down the whole bank, the trout would have returned to their former lies within minutes.  Now I can be just as sassy as the next guy and we exchanged some classic back and forth banter.

We eventually continued towards the rock garden without it going to blows and just within view we hooked another fish.  This time it was a trout that leapt out of the river, greeted by exaggerated cheers from the mates of our ship.

Enjoy this blog? Please leave comments in the Facebook commenting box below and be sure to click the +1 button.   Be sure to visit our Make it Missoula fishing page.  And Check out Matt and Bryce’s other blogs: Fall Fly Fishing in Western MontanaOde to Brown Trout, and  The Four Stages of Fly Fishing.

If you enjoy western Montana lakes and rivers, you might also enjoy our page on Missoula kayaking and rafting.


Photos of Missoula Fly Fishing Experts Matt Devlin and Bryce McLeanBryce McLean:  (Right) I was born and raised in Montana, and have been fly fishing here for almost 20 years.  I first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when I was 10 my family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. I have been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since.  This will be my second season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which I consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet earth. Matt Devlin:  (Left) Matt is originally from Annapolis, Maryland and learned to fool trout on the technical waters of the Gunpowder River.  He has fished in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Main,e, Michigan, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho and Montana.  He thinks about flies and fishing a whole lot.