Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lords of the Fly - Christian Advise for Fly Fisherman and Sportsmen

I’ll admit it. Pretty much everyone who knows me also knows about my passion for the sport of fly fishing. In fact, it’s usually among the first things people learn about me. If I spend days on the water, I spend more at the vise tying up new creations. I also devote a fair amount of time talking, writing, and recruiting stories about fly fishing as an editor for Blood Knot Magazine.  Because of all this, I've found myself, on occasion, tempted to refer to fly fishing as an obsession. Others probably say so often. To be sure, it’s a well established fact that I love the sport, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the experiences I’ve had while pursuing it. Given any legitimate excuse or opportunity where I could manage to provide for my family I would, without hesitation, trade a successful career and much I’ve worked for in exchange for a simplified existence as a fly fishing guide. At least in my mind, it would be about as near to heaven as one could come in this life, under the sun. 

As I reflect on fly fishing as a beloved hobby, which for some becomes an obsession, I find something disturbing lurking in the shadow. There are many stories of fanatical sportsmen we hear or read about. For them, the love of thrill or game or mastery has come at a price far beyond purchasing loads of expensive gear. For them, fly fishing has been at least partly responsible for neglected and frayed relations, botched careers…even divorce. I’m speaking of extreme cases here – the ones that eat, sleep, breath, and dream it. Fly fishing, in this context, has gone from hobby to passion to all consuming. While it's rare and obsessive behavior, it can and does happen.  Among these professionals are those who unashamedly wave a banner of agnosticism while claiming fly fishing as their god and a favorite body of water the sanctuary where they worship this god. Beyond the tongue-in-cheek humor of it all, there is a disturbing truth.  It is something all sportsmen (and women) must be wary of. I dare say it is a pink elephant about whom no one speaks of among my fly fishing brethren (least of all retailers).

Human nature dictates that we are made to worship something. This is because, according to the Christian worldview, God made humans for a relationship with Him.  Some project this nature in rebellion by worshipping other things.  Things like self, other people, money, careers, education, possessions, and even fly fishing. At least for me, it’s on this point I have to take pause concerning my favorite hobby and the enjoyment and amount of fulfillment I get from it. I say this because for all the love I have for fly fishing, it is a poor substitute for a relationship with the God of Heaven.  This is perhaps why I get an instant gag reflex when a person takes an otherwise healthy enjoyment of sport and turns it into a twisted form of religion. It's sick and I mean that quite literally. While they may claim to be "Lords of the Fly" and god of their own destiny, they are in fact bending their knee daily to the temporal and the created, rather than to the Creator.  It might sound strange to brand it, but what we’re talking about is idolatry – so for fly fishing, instead of a block of wood carved in the image of a god, it’s made from high modulus graphite.

Famous Christian evangelist and pastor, Billy Graham, once said, “Give me five minutes with a person's checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is…” That wasn’t sneaky innuendo to say all your money should be going to some big haired TV evangelist huckster selling “holy water” - it just means people will invest in the things they hold dearest. It also means that while I may love fly fishing, it isn’t something that I should allow to consume me. Arguably, there is nothing more tantalizing than the allure of fly line drifting atop gin clear waters, over rock or sand or grass, with a life-like fly drifting in the current - the inner sanctum of our query. But for all the love of fly fishing, it can never love in return.

I realize the majority do not fall into this categorically obsessed state, so perhaps by now you think I am being melodramatic or bigoted, but you and I would likely have an engaging conversation. If you met me at a sea side lodge, I imagine we would enjoy one another’s company a great deal. Statistics say we likely come from a similar socio-economic status and have attained higher than average levels of education. We enjoy fly fishing because we are drawn to its artistic nature and like the challenge. We don’t care much about what others think, but strive to excel at our craft (whatever that might be). Yet, at the end of the day, some of us worship the sport and others merely enjoy it immensely. If you are convinced I am contriving this and fly fishing can’t become idolatry, then I challenge you to spend a few hours reading the profile of the fly fishing enthusiasts you’ve befriended on Facebook, talk to the guys in your local fly shop, and get back to me when you finish your investigation. Perhaps in your mind, not being fully consumed and immersed in the waters of fly fishing fanaticism means I will never enter into the holy of holies that is fly fishing mastery. If that is true, then so be it. I can only be broken hearted by such irony, since no one being controlled by obsession was ever master of anything for long.

The question is simple, so judge for yourself: do you think more about fly fishing than God? Which would you be willing to let go of? It is not a comfortable question to ask even myself sometimes. It will likely invoke a lot of stuttering and stammering and if it sounds like a loaded question, that's because it is. It’s loaded with an inescapable and piercing reality check. For folks like me, it’s a sobering reminder that everyone worships something. Even sports like fly fishing.  Does the one who created our beloved lakes, streams, and oceans deserve less of our attention and admiration than the fish that swim in them? If God is real, then He alone deserves our worship. If we put anything above Him, we are guilty of idolatry.

As for fly fishing, I know I will always be passionate about it, but at the end of the day, the flies in my box are for catching fish. Fish were created for our pleasure, whether by giving a tug at the end of a line or by putting food on the table. It’s as simple as that.  I have been told on occasion by a salty old fly fisherman or two, that while my church meets in a stuffy building (he’s never been to my church by the way), his church is on the water among creation. Confidently and defiantly he says, “I can worship God anywhere I want, man.” And my response is, “I couldn’t agree with you more friend…but in your church do you find that you spend more time worshiping God or fish?” I’m thankful that God doesn’t care where I worship, but I'm still mindful that He cares about the object of my worship. Love fly fishing, love sports, and love life...but remember to be thankful enough to love the One who gave it all.


  1. "Does the one who created our beloved lakes, streams, and oceans deserve less of our attention and admiration than the fish that swim in them?" - so good. I may not be as avid about fly fishing as you, but this is a great reality check to remember we all worship something. Only Jesus deserves our worship.

  2. How awesome would it be if mankind celebrated Jesus Christ with the same enthusiasm Americans celebrated the superbowl? How awesome would it be if just Americans celebrated Jesus Christ with the same enthusiasm they celebrated the superbowl? I can only pray that one day our nation and world will spend as much time, spend as much money, and put forth the same effort in celebrating Jesus Christ.