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The path of the spiritual fisherman – An interview with the author of Fly Fishing – The Sacred Art
Sportfishingweekly interview With Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, co author of Fly Fishing – The Sacred Art.
Praise for Fly Fishing – The Sacred Art.
“Clearly [shows] we are all united in our spirit…. A great read for anyone who cares about people, the conservation of our planet or learning to fly-fish.”
—Sherry Steele, communications chair, Federation of Fly Fishers National Board of Directors.
Fishing is far more than catching fish.
It is an experience that involves the entire body and engages the whole mind. There is simply no room in the focused fisherman’s consciousness for self doubt. If the fish are there then the successful fisherman will find them and will, more often than not land them.
However, peel back this total commitment, strip the fisherman of his or her focus on the job at hand and more often than not there is a calm core, an inner peace that is the mark of those who spend much of their leisure time in the embrace of Mother Nature.
Fish for long enough and gradually you will find yourself dividing your time between an appreciation of your quarry and its habits and a growing realization that you are privileged to be part of web of life that spreads across rivers, ponds, oceans and dams. Once the fisherman has taken the first step on this journey of spiritual discovery, it is only a matter of time before deeper questions on the nature of existence begin bubbling to the surface.
Fishermen are surrounded by nature’s splendid tapestry from the early sunrise to the dipping of the last rays below the horizon. Wind, rain, the smell of grass crushed underfoot, damp earth and the sound of flowing water are all part of a sensory experience that promotes deep thoughts on the nature of reality and mans place in the universe.
Many of us are lucky enough to share our passion with peers who seem to be predisposed (certainly in my experience)to a strange combination of introspection and forthrightness. An older fisherman, an ounce or two of the good stuff and the mysteries of existence can provide engrossing conversation for hours.
Some of us are lucky enough to have a spiritual foundation that fishing seems to enhance and bring into sharp focus. One such man is Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer, co author of Fly Fishing-The Sacred Art, published by SkyLight Paths.
This fascinating spiritual journey is the result of a collaboration between Rabbi Eisenkramer and Episcopal priest, Rev. Michael Attas, MD.
Sportfishingweekly was lucky enough to catch the Rabbi (who we’ll call ‘EE’ during the interview segment of this article) at his home in Connecticut, where he gave us some insight into the inspiration behind Fly Fishing, The Sacred Art, and how some of his waterside experiences have shaped his spirituality.
SFW: “Thank you for agreeing to speak to us Rabbi. Your book has been tremendously successful due in part to what you have called ‘the inherently compassionate and philosophical nature of the fly fisherman.’ Could you give us some insight into how you came to this conclusion?”
EE: “After Fly Fishing for around two decades I realized that most, if not all people who Fly Fish come to the conclusion that they’re part of something greater. They tend to feel as sort of harmony with the natural environment. Stand around in your waders, waist deep in freezing water for long enough and you begin to ponder the meaning of life. As Fly Fishers we are surrounded by beauty and solitude in equal measure, the sunsets, the changing color of fall leaves, and the sound of running water and we begin to feel a harmony with the natural world. Many people myself included begin to believe strongly that these places are almost sacred, a modern day reflection of the Garden of Eden. This is where my strong belief and commitment to conservation has its roots.”
SFW: What was your inspiration to begin on your Fly Fishing journey?”
EE: “My childhood experiences fishing the Bass lakes of Missouri with my father, casting night crawlers with an off the shelf Zebco rod was an introduction to fishing and I guess that the sport gets into your blood. Like many other Fly Fisherman I was entranced by the beauty of the sport when in 1992, as a young man I watched ‘A River Runs Through It.”
The themes of family unity, forgiveness, charity and inner strength touched me deeply. I was hooked, the grace of the casting and the scenery sealed the deal. Within a couple of weeks I was on the water, tucked into brand new waders, St Croix 5 weight in hand and a store bought Black Woolly Bugger tied on.”
SFW: “So you took to it like a fish to water?”
EE: “That’s good, like a fish to water. I’d love to say that I was a natural but I decided to take the challenging route and teach myself the sport. All the self taught Fly Fisherman out there will sympathise when I tell you that I would strongly recommend taking an experienced friend along with you when you start out.”
SFW: “On the subject of friendship, can you tell us a bit more about how you met Reverend Attas, the co author of Fly Fishing-The Sacred Art?”
EE: “ Rev. Mike and I met through his nephew, Sam Snyder, who has a PhD in religion and is also a devoted fly anger. Sam now lives in Alaska and is working to protect Bristol Bay and the salmon that live there.
SFW: “It’s a small Fly Fishing world. Can you give us a little more insight into how Fly Fishing has influenced your connection to a higher power?”
EE: “(laughs) “Well aside from the fact that most Fly Fisherman are comfortable with the power of prayer, especially when the storm cloud gather or when you’re into a trophy fish, I suppose I feel that a Fly Fishing rod is a sort of a conduit to a deeper understanding of our place in the world and even of a divine presence when we’re at the waterside. I feel more connected on a spiritual level when I’m Fly Fishing.
The rituals that we go through when we prepare for our day of casting the fly are also like a journey toward a spiritual goal. The excitement of preparing the gear, shaking out the waders, checking my rod and reel, even thinking about what fly I’m going to tie on, and then setting up for that first cast all contribute to a certain mindset.
When I leave the water and head for home I always have the sense that I’ve spent some time communing with nature, I’m much more settled and at peace with the world after a day spent Fly Fishing, even if not a single trout could be seen.
Every Fly Fishing experience is like a journey, it’s not a great leap of imagination to make the connection between what we experience as Fly Fisherman and our journey towards a more spiritual connection with the world around us and even to a higher power.”
SFW: “Your chosen target species on the fly is trout, are you looking to expand your horizons to include any other species?”
EE: “Well, trout were almost a default choice for me. I do most of my fishing on the the streams of Connecticut and New York, so it just makes sense. I’d like to try to get some more salt water fishing experience under my belt, but like most Fly Fisherman it’s a case of balancing my other responsibilities with the opportunity to get onto the water. I’ve got two young children and my responsibilities as a husband and Dad, as well as to the community in Ridgefield, so I grab whatever time I can to get out onto the water.
SFW: “You have ventured a little outside your comfort zone at times. We understand that a trip to Argentina some years ago further influenced your thoughts on Fly Fishing as a spiritual journey.”
EE: In 2008 I was lucky enough to find myself at the side of the San Jose River in Argentina at 5:30 am. The stream is protected by the Cordoba Trucha (Trout) Club and fisherman guiding me, Lucas Darsie was one of the founding members of the club. During the course of the day, I caught and released numerous wild Rainbows, as well as catching a lunker, which felt like a safe on the end of my line.
By the time I left Argentina I had become even more convinced that I fly fishing is an international language. Lucas and I grew up in different countries, spoke different native languages and have different religions. But as we fished for truchas, spoke about our families, and reflected on our passion for preserving rivers and streams we became friends.
Fly Fishing knows no international, religious or ethnic boundaries. Through the miracle of the internet, I keep in touch with fly fishers in Israel, the UK, Finland, New Zealand and all 50 states. When fly fishing brings us a greater appreciation of nature, inspires us to protect our world, and forges connections across continents, then it is no longer just a hobby. It’s a passion that gives us common ground for exploring natural beauty and the spiritual side of our nature.
SFW: “You’ve said repeatedly, both in your book and on other forums such as public radio that you’re passionate about the conservation of the waters you fish, can you tell us a bit more about that?”
EE: “It’s not just the waters that I fish. I’ve been lucky enough to be given the opportunity to reach out to a wider audience through the book and at various speaking opportunities to try and get both fisherman and ordinary folk to make conservation part of their journey. I’m not talking about donations or supporting a large conservation organisation, although that helps, but rather about what we do at the waterside every time we throw a line.
Every little bit helps, when I see an empty packet of chips or a soda drink can lying on a river bank I simply put it in my waders and dispose of it later. When Mike and myself were writing the book we wanted the conservation message to come through loud and clear, and I think that we succeeded in that. We were also lucky enough to connect with Chris Wood, CEO of Trout Unlimited, who kindly wrote the forward to ‘Fly Fishing – The Sacred Art’. Trout Unlimited does great work in conserving and restoring North America’s cold-water fisheries and their watersheds, and he helped bring our conservation message to life.”
SFW: “As an author and Fly Fisherman you’ve read many different books on your chosen hobby, care to share some of your favourites with us?”
EE: “There are just so many great authors out there, and so many fantastic works that it’s difficult to choose, but if I had to choose just a few I’d have to say ‘The River Why’ by David James Duncan is a book that I return to again and again. The story of Gus and how he retreats to a remote river to pursue his passion for Fly Fishing and his thoughts on the degradation of the natural world and his own spirituality mirror some of my own thoughts on the sport. The themes of a reluctant quest for self-discovery and meaning are very powerful.
SFW: “Last question, can you give us some insight into the tackle that you are currently using?”
EE: “My first and still favorite fly rod, a St. Croix 9 foot 5/6 weight that I have fished with for now over 20 years. I also use an 8 foot 5 weight Orvis Clearwater Rod for smaller streams. My favorite dry fly is the brown elk hair caddis and I am partial to the Copper John, especially in red. ”