'How did you come to fly-fishing?" Anne-Marie Bakker, fortysomething, flicks a cast into the pool and says, "There was an old boyfriend who..."
I laugh, "Old boyfriends come in handy sometimes."
Bakker is president of the Golden West Women Flyfishers, a club entering its 22nd year of organized fish murder. I walked up to her because I've never seen a woman with long, rust-colored hair wearing a down-to-her-ankles red-and-black paisley dress and calf-length leather shoes, working a fly rod. * * *
"Here beginneth a tretyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle." (Here begins the treatise on fishing with an angle.)
The above is from The Book of St. Albans, originally printed in 1486, in England. The book has three sections: hawking, hunting, and heraldry. Fishing was added in the 1496 edition, which marks the first writing on fishing in the English language. The text was compiled, according to legend, by Dame Juliana Berners, said to have been the abbess of Sopwell Nunnery near St. Albans in Hertfordshire. * * *
Getting back to old boyfriends, Bakker says, "I was just learning how to fish and stuff. I didn't fish much with him. I was working on my master's in environmental management. I was busy with school, so, I treated myself to a five-day learn-to-fish class up in Northern California at Clearwater House. That's where I learned how to fish. One of the instructors ended up being a good friend. He introduced me to the Golden Gate Angling Casting Club and told me about Golden West Women Flyfishers. I joined them both right away."
"When was this?"
"Gosh, I've been fishing for 15 years." * * *
"Then foloweth it that good disportes and honest games: be cause of mannes fayre age and longe lyfe..."
"Thence it follows that good sports and honest games are the cause of a man's happy old age and long life. And therefore, I will now choose among four good sports and honest games: to wit, of hunting, hawking, fishing, and fowling. The best, in my simple opinion, is fishing, called angling, with a rod and a line and a hook." * * *
"What do you like about fishing?"
"I've always been an outdoors person. My family's idea of vacation was camping and hiking, and as we got older, backpacking. I've always been in the outdoors. Fly-fishing lends itself to that."
Hmm. "I can see camping, hiking, and backpacking. Fly-fishing is pretty to watch for awhile. But, most people catch and release, right?"
"I don't get that."
Bakker laughs. "You don't get that part of it?" More laughter. "After a few years' experience, you're not going to be able to eat all those fish. And, the areas that I fish are usually special regulation water, and sometimes I may not know what those regulations are." * * *
"IF ye wyl be crafty in angling, ye must first learne to make your harneys..."
"If you want to be crafty in angling, you must first learn to make your tackle, that is, your rod, your lines of different colors. After that, you must know how you should angle, in what place of the water, how deep, and what time of day. For what manner of fish, in what weather; how many impediments there are in the fishing, that is called angling." * * *
"So, the fun part of fishing is..."
Bakker says, "Understanding the river, understanding where the fish might be, understanding the insects in the water that the fish eat."
Doesn't sound like fun. "Are you usually the only woman on the river?"
"No. I belong to a women's fly-fishing club. There are 150-plus of us who are members. We are still the minority, but it's not that unusual to see a couple of women on the river."
"Do women fly-fish differently than men?"
"I don't know. I think women are less competitive about the number of fish they catch, maybe. But, I don't think it's a hard and fast rule. I think they're guys who want to be out there because it's peaceful, quiet. There's a meditation to fishing." * * *
"But the angler will not suffer cold nor discomfort nor anger, unless he be the cause himself. For he can lose at the most only a line or a hook, of which he can have plenty of his own making...at the very least, he has his wholesome and pleasant walk at his ease, and a sweet breath of the fragrant smell of the meadow flowers, to make him hungry. He hears the melodious harmony of birds. He sees the young swans, herons, ducks, coots, and many other birds with their broods.... And if the angler catches fish, surely then there is no happier man."