Language can be a funny thing. You have people that only speak the language of the country they’re from. You have others that speak many languages that are experts in accents and dialect. There are people who sign and others are fluent in “body” language. But all of the have one thing in common: it’s a means to communicate with others.
Let me introduce Riichiro. Riichiro is a fly fisherman from Japan and a damn good one at that. He travels all over America, Fly fishing some of the most desirable waters we have in this country; Colorado, Montana, Wyoming… All without a solid grasp of the english language. I’m not sure if you all have traveled much abroad, particularly in countries that don’t speak english, but its not easy.
I met Riichiro for the first time last year when he chose to check out the Roaring Fork and The Frying Pan rivers in my part of the world. I remember that day last year very well.
I get a call from Taylor Creek, the shop I have guided for for 24 years and Scott Spooner is on the other end of the call. “Glenn, We got an interesting trip today if you want it? We think you’d be perfect for this one..”he said, then silence. “Ok” I said, “what’s up?” ( I want to preference this with, I always get the out of the box clients or trips, so this one peeked my interest)
Scott responds with “Well, we have a very nice Japanese man here who, we think, would like to do a trip tomorrow, You up for it?”
I am so up for it! So to my understanding after I agreed to take the trip, we all agreed on a time, (by pointing at the numbers on the clock) “at 10:30 am, tomorrow, Wednesday” was when we would start our day.
I get to the shop 45 minutes early, like I always do, to get all my shop stuff in order, get the flies for the day and shoot the shit as usual. I walk in the door, standing there eagerly a cool 55 minutes early was Riichiro, smelling of a freshly smoked cigarette.
I knew it was my guy. I confidently walk up to him…) keep in mind that I am 6’4″ and he was maybe 5’6″)…with my hand out to say hello and introduce myself. His eyes light up, shook my hand and bowed ever so slightly in response, and because he knew we were soon to be out on the river and I was his guide. But this is where things start to get interesting.
I do not speak a lick of Japanese and he only spoke almost incomprehensible, broken English.
Challenge #1 presents itself.
If you haven’t taken a guided fly fishing trip before, there are a number of things that have to happen even before we cast the first fly. We have to get release forms signed, get the client fitted in waders, order lunches, make sure the client has what they need; sunglasses, fishing license, warm socks, whatever they need forgot to bring.
He and I worked through that like a guy trying to teach a puppy a new trick, with repitition and by example. The real question became evident, Who was the trainer and who was the puppy. He was doing his best to translate whatever visual examples I was giving him, and I was doing my best to take what I have been doing for 24 years without thinking about it and translate it into the most basic form of communication. Much harder that it sounds. I honestly was a bit embarrassed. How come this was so hard to do? Why can’t I simply explain what needs to happen?
20 minutes later, we got it pounded out. He’s licensed up, dressed up and ready to go. Hurdle #1 compete. Now comes the challenge, How do I find out his skill level? Can he wade ok? Does he have any limitations I need to know about? Has he ever done this before. I had no idea and nor did the shop. And it’s not like we live in a widely diversified area where there is a Japanese family that lives next door that can translate for me. I was completely on my own. “I can do this” I said to myself…It will be fun.
We load up in my truck and head to a big open spot on the Roaring Fork. I did this on purpose. I felt I could see his ability to cast, if he could. See if he knew how to wade on the rocks or even just know how to use the rod?
I hand him my 5 weight and he proceeds to rip off the line off the reel, starts false casting and places the fly exactly where it needed to be. Damn! I felt something that I wasn’t expecting, equalizing. What I mean by that is, because we couldn’t speak with each other, we could fluently communicate by a shared understanding of a common interest, Fly Fishing.
This was monumental. We now communicate by showing, respectfully, how to cast better, how to mend the line on our water, how to recognize a strike and how to land a fish. The ONLY words that came out of our mouths were “FISH!” “WooHoo” “fish???” and my favorite “Satisfied”.
Every time this guy caught, fought, landed or lost a fish, he would do something almost ceremonial; he would take a quick picture of the fish in the net, never touching it. He would take a picture of the place he caught it, light up a cigarette, and take a small swig of whiskey. Ever time. And then when he felt he caught enough fish, he would tap his chest with his fist and say “satisfied”. Then we would call it a day.
What I learned is that fly fishing is the great equalizer, a humbling sport, and a unspoken language that is understood by many who pay attention. I look forward to seeing my Japanese friend whenever he makes it back to my part of the world, and I promise, I will be brushing up on my Japanese.