Elbow in. Forearm up. Now cast. But not too hard. And please, try not to lunge.
"You look like the Statue of Liberty," said my fly-fishing instructor, Erin Crupier, shaking her head as she walked past me.
I stared helplessly at my line, which was resting on top of the water, and tried to will it to move. Rain was falling, and my boots were squishing deep into the mud. I began to question my sanity. What was I, a New York City woman by way of suburban Connecticut, doing here anyway?
Last winter I had read an article about women-only sports camps, and it mentioned a 2�-day fly-fishing course at the Orvis school in Manchester, Vt. I couldn't understand why anyone would shell out several hundred dollars to spend hours trying to catch a fish, only to put it right back in the water and watch it swim away. Might as well give back the toy surprise you've dug out of the bottom of the cereal box.
My image of fly-fishing owes much to A River Runs Through It: generations of fathers and sons bonding on the rivers of their lives. There was no chance of that happening in my family. My parents were raised in big cities, and though I grew up near Hartford in a town with plenty of lakes and streams, getting up before dawn and sitting still for hours while mosquitoes feasted on me wasn't my idea of a good time.
Maybe I was missing the point. More and more women, I was told, were taking up fly-fishing. And of course, I was used to barging into No Girls Allowed environments. That's how I make my living, by going into locker rooms, sitting in press boxes, speaking the language of mostly male athletes and the games they play.
I do not, however, speak rod, reel or fly, much less PM-10, drag-free drift or woolly bugger (though I think I've dated a few of the latter). Still, my curiosity was piqued. So I sent in my $395, packed my duck boots and lucky baseball cap, and, on a cloudy Friday in late spring, pointed my rental car toward southern Vermont.
Upon arriving in Manchester, an outlet-stocked town that draws skiers in winter, I checked in at the Orvis retail store. I half expected to be denied the fishing license I had applied for several weeks earlier. They would certainly have run a background check on me and realized I wasn't competent. The only live fish I had gone eye-to-eye with were behind glass.
I must have fooled somebody, because I was handed the official license, a white piece of paper with a yellow stamp issued by the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife. Then I was asked to fill out a survey that said, at one point, "Please indicate the type of fishing you plan to do following your Orvis course." The choices were trout, steelhead, bonefish, redfish, pike, striped bass and bluefish. I checked the only ones I had eaten: trout and bluefish.
We 37 students gathered on folding chairs in a classroom with our eight instructors, also women. The teachers looked freshly scrubbed and oozed confidence and clean living. I oozed subway grime and recycled office air.