0510 Fly Fishing
Diaz teaches casting at the Colonnade.
I consider myself, relative to most people I know and grew up with, to be somewhat of a city slicker. I am more comfortable on a sidewalk than I am a nature trail, and my experience with the great outdoors likely pales in comparison to most people in Alabama. I did not grow up camping, hunting, or doing much fishing. And most of my time I have spent outdoors in my life has been on a baseball field or a golf course. That being said, I do enjoy going fishing when I can, being outdoors and enjoying what nature has to offer. But in all of my years on this earth, I had never attempted the art of fly fishing. I have been dying to learn, as I have watched people doing it on television or in movies and let’s face it, it just looks “cool.”
Luckily, I found Dr. David Diaz, one of the best instructors in the country, right here in Birmingham.
Mountain Brook’s Rob Rogers, owner and operator of Deep South Outfitters in Altadena Square, has Diaz on staff to provide his customers with one-on-one instruction on what Diaz believes is one of the finest ways to spend your free time.
Diaz, who is a certified instructor by the Federation of Fly Fishing, started this hobby when he was 10 years old, and perfected the art while a student at the University of Oregon. “Oregon has some of the best places anywhere to fly fish,” Diaz said. He said he was able to spend a great deal of time perfecting his craft in the streams and lakes in and around Eugene, where the university is located, and was pleased to find that Alabama offers plenty of location as well, if you know where to find them.
His love of this pastime – a method of fishing that can be chronicled back to 200 AD – is enhanced by teaching others. Diaz has, for several years, held a fly fishing clinic at Cherokee Bend Elementary School for 6th graders, and said he gets a tremendous amount of joy seeing younger people take up the hobby.
“Kids are eager to learn,” he said. “And they are easy to teach because of that. They seem to ‘get it’ by imitating what they see.” He said the week-long program at Cherokee Bend has received a lot of support and has grown in popularity each year.
I wondered if Diaz was telling me about this because he was wary of teaching an “old dog new tricks,” so to speak, when I approached him for a lesson. I am easy to coach and eager to learn, but I feel that regardless, Diaz could teach anyone to not only learn his craft, but learn to love it as well.
I had no idea I was about to not only embark on a fly fishing tutorial, but also a lesson in physics, geometry, golf, and even marriage. To Diaz, fly fishing incorporates so much of what we do in our everyday life, which is why he says, “It is the most exciting way to catch a fish.” So with fly fishing lessons also come a great deal of soul searching and life lessons as well.
We proceeded to his “casting pond” in the Colonnade Office Park (where, incidentally, no fishing is allowed, bit Diaz is allowed to give his casting lessons). I had watched fly fishing several times, so I assumed I could just pick it up and take to it like I would anything else. But there is so much more to it, which is what made me realize why so many people develop such a passion for it.
Dan Starnes, this newspaper’s esteemed publisher, and I accompanied Diaz to the pond, where we went through a series of lessons on where to hold the fly rod, how to hold it, how much line is needed, threading the line, etc. We turned away from the water to first learn the perfect cast. I was wearing a New York Yankees baseball cap, which Diaz asked to turn backward temporarily for one particular exercise in casting. “I know it feels silly. And we all look like our IQ lowers a lot when we do this, so don’t worry this is temporary.” I wish I had remembered that, because I foolishly kept my hat turned that way for most of the lesson.
Diaz has a wonderful way of patiently allowing his pupils to make mistakes while correcting those mistakes with stories and philosophies that make sense to anyone. He talks often of simple lessons we should all remember from school, that all apply to fly fishing. Angles, force and resistance, speed and accuracy – all tangled up in what appears on the surface to be an easy task until you try to do it.
I struggled a little to remember my high school Physics classes and formulas I had once written on my hand so I could remember them for quizzes in Fred Stephens’ class many moons ago at Mountain Brook High School. I attempted to recall Geometry lessons and angles and vectors. But it all came together once I made the perfect cast.
And nothing pleases Diaz more than a perfect cast. “You felt that, didn’t you?” he asked with a smile as I stood on the bank looking goofy with my hat still turned backward. I did feel it. And like a perfect tee shot in golf or that feeling of hitting a baseball right on the sweet spot, it just felt right. Like everything was aligned. He looked at me and said with a stern look, “Remember what you did and how that feels and repeat it.”
Unfortunately I did not. I was giving too much slack on my line, which is strangely similar to some of the criticism I give myself in many of the things I do in my life. Doing something right, and then allowing too much leeway when repeating the task. Again, a wonderful way that this activity is so indicative of how we are as people.
“It’s about resisting and then giving a little,” Diaz said, and then looked down at my left hand and noticed my wedding ring. “You’re married, so you should know a little about that.” Diaz says there are several correlations between fly fishing and marriage, because they are both a “partnership involving cooperation and compromise, with tremendous rewards.”
The thought made me smile, and brought me a deeper understanding of why so many people develop a passion for fly fishing and why it becomes a part of a person’s life. Diaz wouldn’t be an instructor
if he did not love what he instructs, but allowing others to share his love for the sport so easily is another one of Diaz’ gifts.
While I explained before that I do not get to fish as often as I would like, I also was once an avid golfer – not very good at it, but avid nonetheless – and Diaz was able to put simple fishing terms into golf terminology to help me understand what I was doing wrong and how to do it right.
“We all want to hit the long drive and power everything through. Swing hard and muscle it in there, don’t we?” he asked. I agreed. But I knew where he was going with this. Letting the club do the work in golf is one of the first lessons you learn. And making sure your short game is just as good – if not better – than your ability to crush the ball off the tee is a recipe for golf success.
It is also completely applicable to fly fishing. He explained that accuracy, and letting the rod do the work for me was what would make me a better fisherman. It was about finesse, and patience and timing. He was right.
I was able to perform a flawless cast four times in a row, which is when Diaz announced that the lesson would conclude there. “I think that is a good note to end on,” he said. “Wouldn’t you like to always finish a round of golf on a good shot?” (again with the golf analogy). The intertwining of golf, and relationships and poetry and physics and baseball and everything else that makes my life wonderful was also what made my lesson so enjoyable.
And that, I believe, is what makes Diaz such a successful instructor. He is able to apply the techniques and philosophies of his hobby to what your interests are. And he can do it with an intuitive knowledge that makes him one of the more likable guys I have ever met.
This article is the first part of a series – watch for the second portion in the June issue. For more information on how to set up a lesson with David Diaz, visit Deep South Outfitters at 4700 Cahaba River Road, or call 205-969-3868.