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  • Matt Reilly


Everyone is endowed with a calling. A passion or purpose. Something that makes you individually and definitively you. Something that makes life richer when pursued. A great many people don’t chase theirs, either for lack of opportunity or lack of action. Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way and making us lose track of the important things. But I’m making the first move

I was lucky to have discovered my passion as a child. Thanks to my dad—who introduced me to the outdoors at the precise moment that I became efficiently bipedal—I had the opportunity to witness the majesty of a mountain brook trout stream, the wonders of warmwater rivers large and small, and discover the value of wild places and adventure before life could drag me elsewhere. I had the opportunity to become obsessed—to fall in love with a pursuit that has come to define my life.

Throughout the middling of my childhood I grew in my independence outdoors. Before I began working summers, I spent several weeks every year in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom exploring the many lakes, ponds, and streams within mountain biking distance of my grandparents’ cabin from the spiritual platform of an aluminum canoe. Every other free day was spent hunting trophy smallmouth at home on the Rivanna and James Rivers, and learning everything I could on all the other fisheries within striking distance of a driver’s license-less teenager who could think of nothing else. It was during those days that I vowed to myself and anyone that would listen that I would make the outdoors my sustenance. In 2012, I launched my career as an outdoor writer and photographer into professionalism, and have spent the rest of my autonomous life in the business of being young and relatively inexperienced in an older man’s game. I began penning this column almost 300 editions ago when I was 15, a few months after selling my first magazine feature, and I worked doggedly to shake the tainting of inexperience from my name as quickly as possible in humble respect for the industry icons I look up to. After working under it for years, that self-inflicted pressure has taught me something invaluable about being young and inexperienced in any field—that not everyone jumps in young, but everyone jumps in inexperienced. That inexperience is no reason not to take a leap, as long as you wear it the right way and allow it to drive you.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that writing—storytelling and instructing, really—,not to subtract from its importance to me, was a more-doable-at-the-time extension of the vocation that I have always known to be the one most true to my self. Sometime in early elementary school, we were charged with creating a business card for a business of our dreams. I made myself a fishing guide on a lake in Vermont—the place where I knew the most freedom—commissioned to help clients chase smallmouth bass daily. The modest success that I have seen as a part-time freelance writer and photographer over the past five years has given me hope that the life I imagined in my childhood is attainable through hard work. I’ve watched many a friend and family member struggle in jobs that don’t fulfill them, that rob them of time doing what they love with who they love. And it seems to me that I have an amazing opportunity on my doorstep to avoid such a tragedy. So I am making 2018 the year that I hang up my shingle as a fishing guide, the first stepping stone in the road towards accomplishing the dream that I have always maintained. A dream where I call a boat on the river valleys and quiet waters of our great state my office, and the variety of fish that fin them my co-workers. A dream that forges relationships with people from all walks of life on the water, where some of their happiest and most memorable moments transpire. A dream that enriches my being and gives me a daily opportunity to employ scientific understanding in pursuit of adventure and discovery. A dream that puts me in the environmental ring and expands my voice to fight for and protect our natural resources. Like everything that I’ve done in my life, it’s important to note that none of this would be possible without community, those that believe in me. So to the readers, I thank you for following all these years, and hope you will continue to read this column in those to come. I will always continue writing, probably more than I do, now. But this year marks the start of a new venture. I hope you’ll reach out and bring our circle closer.

*Originally published in The Rural Virginian

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