Up Around The Bend: Fly Fishing and Perspective
All of my fly fishing and tying recently came to a screeching halt.
I consider myself an avid fly fisherman and seemingly constant fly tyer, and I've often said my time on the water is my church.
However, a double meniscus and ACL tear and the surgery to repair it can slow down even the most enthusiastic angler.
For those who don't know, this entails arthroscopic surgery to the knee; in my case, the damaged ACL was replaced with a cadaver ligament. Thank you to the unselfish donor who in essence gave me the ability to navigate more freely on two legs again.
This bend in the stream of life has changed my perspective on many things I used to take for granted and the little changes that affect our day-to-day lives.
Like many of us, my tying materials reside in my man-cave, AKA the basement.
A full set of stairs was impossible for me to navigate.
After surgery I recruited my kids to take photos of my fly tying area with my smartphone. I would then send them back downstairs to bring up materials and tools from the photos that I would need to keep tying.
This was pretty entertaining and my children now know material names and uses better than the average fly tyer.
Problem solved, I'd be able to sit at the dining room table with my vise and tie for hours on end!
Or so I thought.
In the beginning I could only tie for thirty minutes or so before the pain would win over.
I worked tirelessly for weeks to improve my own well-being at physical therapy. Daily exercises and stretches were my routine, then trying to tie faster and longer each day.
I eventually gained enough strength to navigate the basement stairs. A milestone so it seemed, for something I took for granted prior to this debacle.
As the weeks turned into a month, I began to dream more and more about time on the water.
It was certain that wading was impossible due to weakness and the fact that putting on shoes was a challenge. Any slip or twist on uneven ground could potentially set me back even farther.
I assure you I wasn't ready mentally or physically.
Once I was cleared to drive again, I found myself scoping out local water, even if it was to look from a distance.
Eventually I remembered a nearby stream that had a handicapped access. I remember telling myself that if someone was fishing there, I would just politely watch from a distance.
Amazingly, the spot was free. With trembling hands, I gingerly walked to the access spot, sat on the bench, and rigged up my gear. It was surreal to think such a simple thing could bring such a mental level of accomplishment.
Slowly, I began fishing the pool.
Eventually a passerby inquired about the fishing.
"Slow," I replied.
He watched and we were talking for a few minutes, when my indicator stopped and I set the hook into a beefy Great Lake tributary run brown trout.
The fish came unhooked and I sat down as adrenaline coursed through me. I can't even describe the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment over a lost fish.
I didn't fish much longer after that since I was happy with the small accomplishment.
It wasn't but a couple days later that I found myself at the same handicapped access. This time I was joined by an older gentleman angler. We exchanged casual conversation.
It wasn't long before he landed a small stocked brown trout. I commented that it was better than a skunk.
Eventually my indicator dropped and I locked into a solid steelhead as the water surface thrashed.
My fellow angler shared in my excitement and watched the battle unfold.
He asked if I had a net, to which I replied, "no".
He went to his vehicle and reappeared with a net.
I was locked in an epic battle to keep the chrome steelhead contained in the pool. I knew full well that if this fish went lake-bound, I wouldn't unable to pursue beyond my limited confines.
Everything fell into place and my newfound angling buddy scooped the five-pound steelhead into the net.
We exchanged congratulations and thanks. He quickly took a picture for me and I returned the greatest fish in the world to the water.
I sat down, sunglasses hiding my tears of accomplishment. I commented to my fellow angler how incredible that fish was to me. He inquired as to why and I explained my recovery from surgery.
He smiled knowingly and lifted his pant leg to show an elaborate ankle stabilizer. He had been struggling for close to two years to try and get mobile.
From there we shared stories and laughs. I encouraged him to fish the entire pool as I was completely overwhelmed with such a tremendous feeling of joy.
I soon departed knowing that no other fish would surpass what I had just experienced and shared. I've returned a couple of times since then and have even encountered my fellow angler who assisted in netting my fish again.
No other fish have come to hand for me, but I replay that day over and over. It was more than a fish. It was a shared experience and a sign that healing comes in many forms.
I am truly grateful for the park that installed the access and the people who share it.
As for my recovery, it will take several months before I'm able to safely wade the rivers I desire. With that said, I'm content fishing the edges.
No matter what lays around the next bend in the river, take every day that comes as a new adventure and never give up on those things you hold sacred.
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About VERN-O Burm:
LeVern "VERN-O" Burm has been fly fishing for 15+ years, and fly tying for nearly as long. He's lived in the Upstate New York area his entire life and fishes the Finger Lakes, Great Lakes, Catskills, Adirondacks, and all the waterways in between. Fly tying soon developed from a hobby to a passion, and eventually into a side business, Custom Flies By VERN-O. He's been tying commercially for 5+ years. His love of tying comes from a background in science and art. He puts his heart and creativity into his fly tying, and what he produces at the vise is an extension of what drives him from inside. VERN-O enjoys tying soft hackle flies and fishable spey flies, but also dabbles outside these realms as well. He has a fondness for chasing steelhead and fish that swim. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Comments on this post (20)
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Thanks for the article! I can understand what you went through – I had tennis elbow surgery on my casting arm, took a long time before I could cast again and now I need knee surgery. Oh well, take each day at a time.
— George Miller
I’m in the same boat. Wheelchair bound for 2 yrs. A new brace is almost done. I’m also getting a machine that releaves pain. I want to be walking with a cane by summer. Hope to order a kayak for fishing in June. You might like to check out the fishing kayaks. Fastest growing sport!
Hope to keep in touch …. Deborah
— Deborah Briggs
Great read. Thanks for sharing your story and some perspective. Many of us take far too much for granted. I hope 2017 is particularly fishy for you!
Thank you ,Merry Christmas
— James Sciecinski
Get better soon and never give up! I am recovering from hand surgery to repair a “blown ligament” in the right index finger so I do understand our situation myself being right handed. cant even tie my shoes much less tie flies. Father time gives us lemons…We just got to make Lemonade out of them!
One day at a time…We will Be Back!
— Mike Mattia
I feel your pain. Because of MS I’m slowly but surely losing the ability to get around. The nice thing is that we humans are highly adaptable so we take it any way we can. For me that means being content to sit on a rock and fishing the heck out of my little world while your friends bound off and rock hop. It honestly isn’t that bad and a far cry better than watching TV or surfin’ the web.
Just know some of you, you will heal and heal faster if you don’t push it or overdo it while recovering. This I know from two prior, non MS ordeals and hope to spare you the misery of pushing your recoveries back when you could have been fishing worry and pain free.
Take care and thanks for the nice tale.
Been fishing since thefifty’s.My nabor got into salmon fishing.I was fooling around with a fly rod trying to catch brown trout. Tha’t fall I bought a vice and some feathers from Herter’s. I tyed some Blacks Ghosts and Micky Fins .Wen’t to the Marimachi with my nabor in the first of may and caught four black salmon and kept one .I was hooked on tying flyes,because I tyed my own flys. I even caught the first fish it was a miracle. thanks for bending your ear. Ron
— Ron Myers
Your words have captured a life-changing experience for a fly fisher. It’s funny how physical setbacks in life teach us to appreciate what we often take for granted. Just take your wading a bit slower and more cautious, and you’ll continue to enjoy the spiritual outdoor journey we call fly fishing. I know from personal experience with three knee surgeries and a total knee joint replacement. Thanks for taking the time to share your story. Best of the Hatches!
— Greg Hoover
Great story, I’m at that age where I can’t take the cold anymore, everytime I get up my knees go crack. I go to that local church also here at home; we have at least 5 streams and rivers around. Heading for the tropics next month; keep the stories coming; and tight lines.
— Rob Krausse
Wishes for a speedy recovery. I know exactly what you’re going through May of 2016 I had tge first of two knee replacements done, the second in July. The simple joy of being able to just make it down tge stairs to my tying room still makes me smile. Was able to actually fish for a while in Late November-the absence of the normal pain I had had for do long was worth all the down time. One byproduct is a renewed appreciation of fly fishing after 40 years of chasing fish teith a fly rod I am truly excited fir spring to come
— Steven Babbitt
Been there…Had both knees replaced at 67 in 2012 and now able to continue my fly fishing, elk and deer hunting without pain.
Listen to your body and keep up the PT, it all pays off to keep doing what you want.
Great read and good fishing,
— Michael Whitney
I GO TO THE SAME CHURCH – BE IT AT THE NEXT BEND OR SIPPING COFFEE IN THE TREE STAND THAT I STUGGLED TO GET IN – IN THE DARK – WAITING FOR THE SUN RISE . EACH SUMMER I HELP AT ONE OF THE DEC SUMMER CAMPS HELPING YOUNG PERSONS HOW TO TIE FLIES ASSEMBLE RODS,LINE REELS LEADERS AND APPRECIATE THE GIFTS THIER PARENTS AND SPONSERS HAVE GIVEN TO THEM AND THEIR FRIENDS . THE OUT DOORS IS REALLY THE BEST CHURCH TO SHOW , TEACH AND LEARN POSITIVE LIFE VALUES —SEASONS GREETINGS .
— ROBERT EWALD
I wished I could share something as wonderful as your story – I am not a fly fishing person but I hear a lot about it from my neighbor, coffee friend on Fridays and the person who gave me this web site.
I had similar surgery on my right should, yes, I am right handed, the last week of Nov 2016 so I am just finding out what you cannot do. My goal will be to spend time in my yard and do the digging etc that must be done when raising vegetables and flowers and mowing the lawn.
I am 79 and retired and wondering if I will ever be able to do some of the things that I really enjoy along with wanting you to know your story has inspired me to look forward to spring when I will have 120 to 150 days of Physical Therapy under my belt.
Thanks again for you story,
— Larry Marvin
— Dave Studeman
Great story! Hope that you heal soon and are able to go back to a true blessing that we take for granted….being able to fly fish! Merry Christmas!!
— Wess Sharp
Good story. Keep em’ coming!
I loved reading this article mainly because i have a fly fishing bug as well. Also i just had rotator cuff surgery and can/t fish or tie flies for several weeks to come. It does allow and cause one to reflect on many things and gain an appreciation for lots of things including being able to fish. Great article thanks. YOU have my complete sympathy and admiration for persevering. AWESOME!
— Tom Millman