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The Red Vest

The Red Vest

I love fly-fishing. There’s one thing about fly-fishing that I don’t like to admit. There are a lot of accessories to buy. Since it’s more about the art than the catching fish, it’s important that you look the part.

I remember my first fly-fishing purchase. It was a vest. Most fly fisherman have vests with lots of pockets to keep things in. At least most start off this way. Then you learn that you can get by with a lot less and you go to smaller waste packs or neck packs. But my first purchase was a full vest with as many pockets as I could find. I was convinced that more pockets and zippers meant a better vest. It was also very, very red. Someone forgot to tell me that fish can see bright colors, and when they are spooked, they don’t bite. For the first two months, as I fished alone, I wore this bright, fire engine red fly fishing vest to the Red River in Arkansas. Not only could the fish see me, but everyone up and down the mile and a half stretch of shoals could see me. I thought I looked great, but really, I looked like a beginner. Now that I’ve matured some in the art of the fly, I can spot a beginner a mile off just by his equipment.

I still have that vest hanging in a closet downstairs. I guess I’ll keep it and play a joke on someone … some beginner.

To go along with the red vest, I had all the latest pliers, floatant, fly boxes, hemostats, soft weight and strike indicators, and of course, a net and rod. I was having a hard time catching fish, and felt 20 pounds heavier, but I sure looked the part.


I was really concerned about how I should change after I was baptized. Surely my life should look different—at least that’s what I heard. Should I buy different clothes? Could I still wear my Led Zeppelin T-shirt? Should I cut my hair? I knew I had to stop cussing and smoking and thinking the wrong things and driving too fast. There was a laundry list of things that God must hate about my life. I needed to figure out how to please Him more by changing how I lived. So I started doing what I do best; I observed the experts.

What I noticed was that everyone in church had a certain type of personality and appearance. They all kind of talked the same and walked the same and thought the same. I guess this is what happens when you become a Christian, I thought to myself.

I went to a local Christian bookstore the next day and bought a Bible (yes, a red one) and fish T-shirts and fish bumper stickers and fish magazines. I looked Christian.

So many people start off something new by making sure they look the part.


I love the movie City Slickers. It was a movie about some businessmen that hit mid-life crisis and decide to experience an adventure together—something they’ve never done. So they pay a dude ranch to take them on a cattle drive. When they show up, they have all the right clothes and equipment, but you soon find out that they are far from being cowboys. The look is there, but the heart and know-how is not. You can’t create real knowledge without experience. Sure, you can learn the verbage and the slogans and the rules, but you can’t really “be it” until you “experience it.” Real-life identity doesn’t come from a store clothing rack or bookshelf.

We all have a choice when we become Christians. We have the choice of trying to become something we’re not, or becoming something that God created. We can force the look, or we can be ourselves and let the “look” happen within us. I see to many red fishing vests on Christians today. People trying to hard to look like something that they haven’t taken the journey to become. Even some people, that have gone to church for years and know all the right things to say and have a big Bible with notes all in it, still many times look like beginners. It makes me sad to know that they are missing out on an adventure, to know that they may never step into the stream of the authentic Christian life and know what it feels like to hear the Holy Spirit, that speaks like water running past trout and over freestones. There are no shortcuts to connecting with creation and with God. It’s a journey filled with practice, patience and time.

I have transformed over the years to being a minimalist when I fish. I go for very lightweight waders, simple tools and a smaller rod. And yes, I got rid of the red vest and now just wear a small fanny pack. It seems that my identity as a fly fisherman has transferred from outside to inside, and this transfer took time. It took time standing in the stream, living the life and making new discoveries—new discoveries about fishing, but more importantly, new discoveries about myself as a fly fisherman. Fishing is about what I feel inside, not how I look, not even how many fish I catch. It’s about engaging with creation and challenging the instincts of one of God’s creatures. It’s about connecting with the living, breathing, non-human part of God’s creation that says to you that you are still alive and still experiencing things bigger than yourself.

When I stand in a stream, listen to water over the freestones and hear the whispers of God in the mist, I realize that fishing now happens within me.

The journey of fishing and the journey of living the Christian life are not defined by clothing, knowledge or even length of time practiced. The real journey starts when it’s transferred from external appearance to internally lived. The journey starts when you are comfortable without the external identifications. At that point you realize that what’s outside is really no definition at all …it’s just a red fishing vest.

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