• Chris O'Byrne

The Scents Of Angling

Happily, Fly fishing distracts us from our troubles. It takes us outdoors. It shifts our focus from our concerns to pleasant tasks. It rewards us for moving at the calm speed of the created world. And it washes us in nature, including a variety of scents.

On a fresh December day, I took a short trip for bass and bluegill in a central Florida wildlife preserve. While walking a short distance, a striking perfume sweet smell coaxed me off the trail. I stopped the hike for several minutes, admiring what I later learned were water spider orchids. The delay meant that I caught only one nice bluegill. But the sojourn was a reward of a different kind.

Not all pleasant disruptions from our fishing are voluntary. All too often, in the warmth of a morning on the water, our cast forces us to take the boat into a patch of water lilies to retrieve a fly, leader and even fly line. One consolation (actually, not being attacked by an alligator or cottonmouth is a good consolation) of this chore is the delicate aroma of flowers on these plants that are so strong that even Monet would cuss them.


Cold water mountain trout fishing has other distracting scents, that begin before we reach the water. Walking up a trail, an angler will catch the faint, infertile smell of the red clay soil covering the rocky structure of the mountain. Even when casting below the froth of a small waterfall, the angler will be struck with the absence of scent in this water. Perhaps the best part of the eastern fishing experience is leaving the tent in the dew-cleaned morning and being encased in the light perfume of rhododendron. And when those days of fishing have past, the strong aroma of confederate jasmine, wherever we encounter it can be a surprising reminder of an eastern high-lands trip.

Of course, salt water does have a scent. If one is outside stringing a rod, the air will let you know that you are near a beach or bay and the aggressive fish that swim in that harsh water. The angler who stays near enough to the water to smell the sea and long enough to forget that the scent is there, is blessed. That pungent scent is everywhere during these trips, as Kramer noted, we even carry it on our skin.

We’ve only heard of some scents; For now, I can only imagine the fragrances of purple loosestrife and yellow flag flowers that will accompany my chase of British brown trout.

And some scents carry other meanings; If I have gotten safely off the water, I enjoy the smell of ozone just before an electrical storm. And who doesn’t enjoy the scent of the air before a refreshing rain.

The scent of gasoline fumes floating in the air around a boat dock prime me for a day fishing in the same way that team introductions and the national anthem prime a ballplayer for the game.

And, if that player equates the scent of champagne with victory, maybe the angler’s victorious scent is fish slime. Except for the smell of gar!

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