The Same Cloth in the Bavarian Alps

There’s a saying that people can be “cut from the same cloth.” That might be difficult to see when it comes to my friend Brant and me, but we come from similar backgrounds. In a lot of ways, I think that saying is an accurate portrayal of our friendship, although I think that we are inverted in our colors.

I met Brant when I first began in my profession. We worked at different companies, but closely together on several projects. Brant was a seasoned vet despite only being a few years older than me. I knew I was incredibly lucky to land the gig I had, so I was eager to do a good job. To say I didn’t have a clue what hell I was doing when I started would be entirely accurate. Had I not had him in my court in those first years, I’m convinced I would have failed.

Brant has since changed employers and we are now at the same company. Speaking to the quality of our working environment, last Spring, every employee of our company received a trip to Munich, Germany. I strongly contemplated not going on this trip. At the time, I was traveling through a very dark period of my life. I agreed to go after Brant persuaded me; assuring me that it would be a welcomed getaway and convincing my dear wife that he would help me keep my head up.

I have never traveled outside of North America. When we first started planning for the trip, I promised Brant I would be “little spoon” even though we had our own rooms. He was casually annoyed with me, which is fairly normal. Brant, being a dedicated fly fisherman, suggested we head to the Bavarian Alps with a guide so we could do some fly fishing. I had politely informed Brant that I hadn’t the slightest clue about how to cast a fly. Somewhat sarcastically, as Brant usually is, he said, “What better place to learn?!” Now in the Bavarian Alps trying to fly fish, I was once again clueless with Brant guiding me along. I was eager and green just like when I first started my job.

Germany is interesting in that if you own the land you also own the stream that runs through the land. Because of this, you’re required to fish with an “owner” of that land, or someone that is approved to fish that water. In this case, the guide worked for the fly shop, Rudi Heger. The owner of the fly shop owns the land and streams, which had been passed down several generations.

We rented a car that I was forced to drive so that Brant could enjoy the views. And because I was tired of him killing the engine. It’s amazing a person that has so much knowledge drives a manual transmission like a teenager learning for the first time; I was embarrassed for him and for a change got to get my own jabs in. Neither of us had ever driven in Germany. I was able to guess my way through the speed limit signs and not get us pulled over. It took us an hour to get to the fly shop to meet our guide, Fritz. He, likely in his mid-fifties, showed up on his BMW motorcycle. He gathered his things from inside the shop and handed me my waders and boots. This was an entirely different ballgame than putting on waders for duck hunting. Instead of the boots and waders being all one piece, the boots are separate. You put the waders on and then pull the waders down over the boots to keep them in place. It took me far too long to figure it out in comparison to Fritz and Brant swiftly putting theirs on. Struggling with my waders had me suddenly realizing that the idea of casting a near weightless object several yards seemed impossible.

I should inform you that before we left I did a quick search of the Bavarian Alps. The things I found about the Bavarian Alps gave me the impression that we would be fishing in streams overlooked by castles from the 12th century in the middle of nowhere. As we made our way into the town, I was perplexed why we were not that close to the mountains and I certainly didn’t see any castles. We were in the middle of the village and I realized we would not be going up into the mountainous, castle-filled cascading hills I envisioned.

We came to a stop near a concrete bridge that overhung a stream. The stream itself was quite wide, maybe 35 yards across, but very shallow. The water gently rippled over the smoothed rocks. The type of stream we were in is known as an alpine river. The part of the river we were in is called Traunstein, it sounds much more intimidating than it was, but nonetheless is an ideal place for brown trout. I should retract the “brown” part there. In Germany they’re just known as trout since this is their native range. It’s only in the U.S. that we refer to them as brown trout.

Now, on to the actual fly fishing. Fritz and Brant discussed tactics and indicators for a while. This was all foreign to me but I caught on that this was a type of bobber used to “indicate” if a trout had taken the bait. It was obvious Fritz disapproved of this idea. My inclination was that Fritz thought using the indicator was ‘cheating.’ I learned that the indicator allows the nymph, or bait, to make its way to the bottom of the stream in a way that makes it not interrupted whatsoever, which is more enticing for the trout to bite. Indicators are sort of cheating, at least to purists of fly fishing. All of that sounded amusing and all, but I still had no idea how I was gonna get this damn weightless fly to hurl through the air.

After Brant talked through his strategy with Fritz, it became time for my lesson to begin. Fritz is a man who knows a shit-ton more about fly fishing than I might ever be able to learn. He’s been fishing and guiding for decades longer than I have been alive. We worked through the motion of moving the rod from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock, along a perpendicular plane to the stream, somewhat like what you might have seen in A River Runs Through It (if you haven’t seen the movie I strongly recommend it). I was moderately chastised for using my wrist while being taught, which made me feel like a child who had just colored on his mother’s kitchen wall. Fritz sternly instructed that your arm must be one piece, moving together at the shoulder. He then took the rod from me and showed me what it was supposed to look like. After he handed the rod back to me I felt a little better about the motion I was supposed to have. Fritz then let out a little line so I could replicate what I had been taught just moments before.

I would imagine that fly fishing is just as frustrating as taking a wet piece of spaghetti and trying to shove it through the tip of a mechanical pencil. That’s not exactly how you fly fish, of course, but it has to be just as frustrating. In fly fishing, you have a rod and reel with several feet of line wound on the reel. The line runs from the rod through guide holes that are attached to a flimsy stick. Now imagine having to somehow throw that sucker out in front of you with a near weightless object attached to the end…For the first hour I struggled to get the line five feet in front of me and not caught up on my backpack.

The day moved on. Slowly my casts began to reach out farther and farther. Meanwhile, Brant caught a few fish. He made it look entirely too easy. At this point, catching a fish on the nymph was as simple to me as reading a menu in a foreign language. We moved onto a spot where we were able to see fish riding in the current from on top of a bridge. It was amazing to see how the fish were seemingly unmoved by the speed of the current. When we got down into the stream, Fritz guided me into a spot underneath the bridge that led to my first glimpse at fly fishing success.

I could claim that I cast the line. Maybe it was really Fritz who cast the line. My memory is conveniently fuzzy in this instance. What I remember is that a fish was on and I was quickly learning another lesson.

With the fish hooked up, Fritz instructed me while I walked down stream. The current was quite fast, making my first battle with the trout an even more difficult task. Fritz called out, “Don’t touch the reel. Keep the tip up. Let some line out.” My adrenaline was pumping so hard with excitement and anticipation. Miraculously, I was able to land the fish and snap a few pictures with it.

Catching that fish was great; it really was. But in the grand scheme of last year it was merely a victory equivalent to conquering a small peak. Thankfully, small peaks build on each other to make big wins. With the mountains off in the distance, I recalled various bits and pieces of the traverse that life had brought me on. It wasn’t the details of the mountains and valleys that were emblematic at this time, but rather the reflection of how we deal with adversity and are forced to go around, through or over life’s challenges. As much as we want to attempt to navigate these moments on our own, there will always be someone, somewhere, that helps you — be it the mapmaker, the compass, the family member, or in this case, a great friend.

I find it difficult to allow others to help me. I mention this because great opportunities, like landing that first job that I talked about earlier, builds all kinds of excitement in me because of the newness of it all. That newness is like a road untraveled for me; mysterious and ripe for adventure. These “new roads” can be anything that presents an opportunity for lessons and struggle. Fly fishing in Germany, for example. Notice, though, that I used the word struggle. Earlier I mentioned that I didn’t initially want to go on this trip because I was going through a dark period of my life. My life leading up to this trip was a life that was overwhelmed by all the things that surrounded me. But when I looked at everything that surrounded me I realized something very liberating: Nothing under the sun is so new that it has not been untouched or experienced. Even if we are to go to the woods, make our own house, or chisel our own axe, all of that information was learned, and not a new idea. Someone out there has traveled that road. Someone can lead you down that road. Sometimes life works like that. You have a person right behind you, guiding you, instructing you, encouraging you, and it might not all translate into your mind in that exact moment and maybe at some time it will, but that’s not what really matters. The significance lies in the fact that there is someone there for you. More often than not, Brant tends to be behind me, barking instructions and encouragement that I sometimes hear, and sometimes tune out. But the important part is that he is there, just like someone is there for all of us. Learn to accept help, just as you would extend help to those in need. We’re all human and our interconnectedness is all that matters. In the end, we’re probably all cut from the same cloth, an important note for how we interact with each other. Some pieces tend to be sewn closer together, despite their differences, and for that I am forever grateful.