Shelley Lorenzen is a first-year law student at Georgetown. On Monday she took a break from her books to try fishing for trout. It was her first time, and that attracted my interest because a survey in the current issue to Fly Fisherman magazine found that fly fisherpersons are still 99 percent fly fishermen.
Lorenzen and a friend who had outfitted her met Chuck Allen on the Patuxent River near Damascus. Allen runs Orvis Sporting Adventure, a fly-fishing shop, in Ellicott City. He is one of the most knowledgeable trout fishermen on Maryland waters and provides free casting instruction at his shop or on the Patuxent if you arrange to meet him where he frequently stops to fish on his way to work.
Allen first taught Shelley basic casting, which she mastered in 10 minutes. He then told how he uses flies that imitate the mayflies, caddis flies and minnows that inhabit the Patuxent and are food for the trout. "His manner was gentle and patient," Shelley said, "and a sense of companionship was there even when we were quiet and it seemed sacrilegious to speak."
"I wish it were otherwise," said Allen, "but I teach few women. This sport has produced Joan Wolf, Helen Shaw and Mary Orvis, all prominent anglers, artists and outdoor writers, but women on the trout streams are still about as rare as salmon in the Potomac."
I thought of Dame Juliana Berners, who wrote "Treatyse of Fysshynge Wyth an Angle" in 1496, 157 years before Izaak Walton wrote "The Compleat Angler." Hers is the earliest known work on fishing, but because of pointless socialization fishing has remained as male-dominated as football.
Seeing Shelley wading the river reminded me of Allen's remark: While salmon will never be in the Potomac - they never have been - a few are coming back to the Connecticut River, from which they have been absent for decades. Those salmon give me hope.
So what about Shelley? How successful was her first day?
Very. She learned the basics. She landed and released one rainbow trout. And she felt good." Fishing was the key to getting outdoors," she said, away from the books, to see the violets, the clear stream and to feel the solitude. I loved it, and I don't want to quit."
Salmon in the Connecticut again. Dame Juliana would love to hear it.
WHERE TO GO
Orvis Sporting Adventure is on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City. The Patuxent River is best reached at Route 94 northwest of Tridelphia Reservoir and at Mullinex Mill Road northeast of Damascus. The stream is managed as a fish-for-fun project; fly fishing only, and only one trout over 15 inches a day can be kept. The river is excellent for beginning fly fishing because it is well stocked, and the trout are not as fearful, wild or as hard to catch as those in the southern Pennsylvania or Shenandoah Park.