Lessons Learned while Fly Fishing – Ann Felton Gilliland
Anyone who knows me understands that my 27-year tenure as CEO of Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity, which is my life’s passion, can sometimes lead to a singular focus for me – provide additional affordable housing for limited-income Oklahoma families. I was prepared to share with Rotary readers the great need for the ministry that is so dear to my heart, and the minutia of the day-to-day operations that have the power to change lives and futures. And then I made a trip to Cow Creek Ranch catch and release fly fishing camp in New Mexico.
It was there that I was reminded of the importance of widening my scope once again to view what nature, and other individuals, can bring to our lives and the lessons that can be learned. With no cellular service (eek!), limited telephone access, and no television how would I distract myself? It did not take long to find the answer. Disconnected from technology, in unfamiliar territory, with old and new friends I was free from the confines of routine. Free to exchange ideas on a multitude of subjects, learn new skills, and get “schooled” by the wily inhabitants of Cow Creek. Fish can be wonderful teachers of life lessons. Who knew?
At the age of ten I was introduced to the pleasures of fishing by my mother. Fishing provided me with a skill that allowed me to briefly escape 1950’s era expectations for the Emily Post version of well-behaved young ladies. Now, don’t misunderstand, the expectations and teachings were always at the forefront of my parent’s minds, but exceptions were made when I carried a fishing rod in my hand. It also allowed me to interact with others in a way that might not have otherwise been possible, to appreciate nature, to be self-reliant through baiting my own hook and removing the caught fish, and it added to my vocabulary. After all, not everyone knows what a creel is.
New lessons were learned when I began fly fishing. For those unfamiliar with the endless pursuit of an elusive trout let me start by sharing the most important lesson I learned early on…trout are smart! Never underestimate the escape artist abilities of a fish on a mission to remain in the water. They will show us just how smart they are by repeatedly evading our hook even though their brain is roughly the size of a pea. In daily living we often underestimate those around us. Based on my experience with trout, and with people, this is not a wise practice. Sometimes all a person needs to be successful is a chance to prove themselves, and “the one that got away” is not always a fish.
I also discovered trout are easily frightened, so are quite adept at hiding. You may have to sneak along the banks of your chosen local on all fours just to avoid creating vibrations they can feel and shadows they can see. After all, you must get the fish to come out of hiding long enough to be tempted by the fly you have tossed into its path. Perhaps this less aggressive approach with people in our lives would create a more peaceful, less stressful avenue to achieve results as well.
As my fellow anglers and I gathered in the evening like children at our first summer camp, we talked of the prizes we had released back into the creek before returning to camp. We listened to music, laughed, and spoke of the days’ experiences while we exchanged tips for improved success the following day. It was in those times that I found some of the most inadvertent and profound teachings. We are all in pursuit. Success, change, meaning, love, happiness are but a few of life’s pursuits. As we chase our individual dreams we would do well to remember that at the end of the day we need to disconnect from distractions, connect with others in a meaningful way, release the challenges, and widen our lens to see the bigger picture.