Fly Fishing as an Olympic Athlete
Fishing is a fantastic way to take your mind off things and take a breath. Or at least immerse yourself in a different pursuit outside of the daily norm.
Some small background about me. I am a Biathlete. I compete in the unusual winter sport combining cross-country skiing and target shooting. I was a member of both the 2014 and 2018 Olympic teams. Biathlon is my full time job as strange as it may sound which makes it hard to find that work/life balance that is such a common topic. I jump at any opportunity to get out on the water and fish.
A big part of my racing career involves traveling extensively which significantly limits fishing at times. To cope with the separation, last winter I packed a fly tying kit in my luggage. Trying in the same way to take my mind off of the racing for a bit. Lots of deer hair and wisps of marabou floating around. A strand of flashabou on a sock somewhere. A trail of breadcrumbs from country to country dotting my way throughout central Europe. Hopefully, I didn’t make life too tough for the housekeeping people. It was a great way to break up the down time.
What do I tie? I tie predominantly predator streamers – articulated and large. Some would consider them ugly flies, but I fish them as often as possible. I know nymphs and dries are the way to catch trout and that is a proven method, but the hits that really get my heart pounding are the strikes that come on a big streamer. A purist might disagree but then again, how often does he commit to fishing a Drunk & Disorderly?
Why I tie? Initially, I was drawn back to tying by the price tags of the streamers and other popular patterns in the fly shops. Thinking dang I could tie these. Naturally, this thought process led me to justify spending far past the point of just saving some money on my streamer box. But every addiction has to start somewhere. Then I got more engrossed in tying, especially of streamers geared towards predatory trout. I really liked the innovation involved. It is a very creative process to scheme up something. Once you are detached from the traditional patterns, there are much fewer rules. Then you can really let your imagination go. You don’t have to be delicate or subtle. In fact, the desired effect is much the opposite. There is a lot of innovation coming into patterns and it’s exciting to experiment with how something moves in the water or reacts to UV or catches the attention of that certain bruiser lurking in a deep pool. But it always seems to me that the fish are getting smarter at a similar rate.
What my teammates think, well it varies. When the Korean police tried to confiscate my tying scissors as they are a danger to society, they were less amused. Some of them fish, so they think it’s cool. Others like to call it arts and crafts because they don’t fish and like to get on my nerves. Either way tying on the road has been fun and hopefully, if I play my cards, right I’ll be able to become a product tester and have another excuse to get out on the water. But for now, I’ll just cram my suitcase full of deer hair for my free time and focus on biathlon the other 23 hours of the day.
About the Author
Sean Doherty is an American biathlete. Doherty competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia and the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Among other competitions, he participated in the Biathlon World Cup opening 2015 in Östersund, Jämtland, Sweden in November and December.