Tides   

Finding My True North in Fly Fishing

There is this sound. It is calming, cooling, and beautiful. It goes back and forth, up and down, and all around. It swishes, it sways, it curls, and it runs, too. But it never stops. It never slows. It never really ceases to exist in my head. And I should be sleeping. I should be doing something else. However, the long walks, sand on my feet, the sounds of clear water rushing over the rocks, have me sitting up straight in bed. It is this sound that keeps me awake at night, wakes me up at dawn, and has taken me on this beautiful journey.

As some of you may or may not know, I was raised by professional musicians. We traveled all over the country, near and far, from the beautiful flowing rivers out west to the crystal clear salt flats of Florida. My father, a lifelong committed fly fisherman, gave me my first fly rod at the age of five. We fished all year, long and hard. And even at that tender age, casting a fly rod came very naturally to me. But it wasn’t the cast or even the fish that kept me going back for more.

01 fly fishing allison helen keeble

As a young adult and even into my late 20s, I really didn’t fish much or even have my own gear. I would just hook up with my parents wherever they were camping and fish with them for vacations. It was an old friend I’d spent most of my time with while living in Florida that got me back on the water. A hardcore fly fisherman, he told me one day when he was heading out, “Hey, let’s get you back out on a fly rod again.”

I hadn’t really thought about fishing as an adult. You see, I’d tried so many different careers, searching life for my true north, and it wasn’t until that magical day that I found it. He handed me a fly rod and, standing close together in the waters of Tampa Bay, I finally heard it. It was his cast that brought back all of those years on the water, up at dawn and tying flies all night. I heard his loop and I knew at that moment this is what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life. I cried the first time I cast his fly rod, knowing that every moment of my life had led to this.

02 fly fishing allison helen keeble Image by Hunter Ledbetter

It was shortly thereafter, when I relocated to Texas, that I got my first fly rod from the same friend with whom I’d explored every body of water, from fresh to saltwater. Even as a singer for many years, a first assist for 17 years in surgery, and many other odd jobs, nothing fit or felt quite right to me. It was fly fishing that gave me the perfect joy I’d sought. The early mornings, the late returns, the failed relationships for the all-too-common complaint, “You fish too much,” became my life. I’d show up for my surgery shifts covered with bug bites, wind burns, sunburns, bleeding fingers and everything else, but there was always a smile on my face. It was magical. Fly casting is magical. Fly fishing is magical. My life had become truly magical.

Soon after that, all the things my father had taught me about fly fishing throughout my childhood and as an adult came back to me. I’d cast for 14 hours, fishing the bays to perfect myself. Hang out in fly shops buying way too many flies and gear trying to perfect myself. And then one Sunday at church, one of the young pastors approached me. He’d heard from the congregation that I was an avid fly fisherman and wanted me to take him fishing and teach him how to cast. It was my dream come true. Me? Someone wants the nurse, singer, follower of who-knows-what to teach them to fly fish?

So we headed out to fish. I taught him to cast and he caught all sorts of Redfish, Trout, and Flounder. And on this day, in the old bay where I ended up being a guide, casting instructor, and writer for several years, it all came together, I began my story. The thrill of knowing that someone could have that much fun, learn from me, and that I could later write about it at night, was my north. I had finally found my place in the world.

I set out to be a guide, teacher, and writer about this beautiful thing called fly fishing. And although freshwater was also my thing, I was pushed more to be a guide in saltwater. I moved back to Florida, a little further south into the Lower Florida Keys, and began my journey. And now, as a published author, freelance writer for several magazines, guide in my now home waters of the Florida Keys, and casting instructor, I had finally made my dreams come true.

03 fly fishing allison helen keeble Image by Hunter Ledbetter

I spend my days on the water teaching locals, clients that fly in, and friends I’ve made along the way. I guide clients from all over the world during the day, work at a local restaurant in the evening, and spend as much time as possible in between with my husband. What little time I have left I spend writing, working with companies in the business, cast, cast, cast, and smile the whole time. To think all those years ago I followed my bliss and now get to do it all–be on the water with God, hold my father’s hand and cast, fish with my husband, and hear that joy all at the same time.

04 fly fishing allison helen keeble Image by Hunter Ledbetter

Do you remember the sound I was talking about? The thing that drew me to what I was supposed to be doing? The sound that is calming, cooling, and beautiful. It goes back and forth, up and down, and all around. It swishes, it sways, it curls, and it runs, too. But it never stops. It never slows. It never really ceases to exist in my head. It’s the loop in the fly line that brought me all this way–from Indiana as a child, to Idaho as a young adult, to Oregon as an adult, to Florida, Texas, and finally back to Florida, where it all began. And in its loops throughout fishing and guiding all over the country, the dreams, the love, and the endless bounds of joy, it has literally saved my life, given me my love, and continues to show me the way to my north.

I thank God every day for this amazing gift, for without it, I wouldn’t ever have found my true north. And to my friend from years ago, who brought this joy back into my life and with whom I still talk fishing; I am forever grateful. I thank you and am forever truly blessed.

Allison Helen Keeble

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