How one man has found both loneliness and salvation in fly-fishing

Mark Engler fly-fishing
Despite having gone through three marriages in his devotion to fishing, Engler said he doesn’t regret any of it.
Mark Engler is a lifelong fly-fishing and backcountry guide who lives just outside of Durango, Colorado. As a kid, he told his mother that his dream was to go hunting or fishing every day for the rest of his life. Now, a new short film from YETI Coolers released Monday is examining the effects, both negative and positive, that have come from his relentless pursuit of that dream:

“What fishing and hunting did for me was it allowed me to forget about all the pain I was going through physically,” 51-year-old Engler told GrindTV. “Growing up, I had a horrific problem with psoriasis, which was very painful. I spent gobs of all my young years in the hospital, and I didn’t have many friends. I developed a shyness and an insecurity of being around people, so being alone in the wilderness relieved me of that.”

Engler said that when he found out he had a knack for fly-fishing, he became hooked — no pun intended. He dove headfirst into life as a fly-fishing guide, leading tours more than 200 days out of the year, and eventually developed what is known as the WD-40 fly, which is renowned for how effective it is in catching trout.

Unfortunately, that tireless commitment to the outdoors came at an expense to Engler’s personal life — namely, his romantic relationships. Engler has already been divorced three times.

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“I never wanted to get divorced. I always wanted to find a life partner to hang out with and accept me for who I was, and that didn’t work out,” Engler said of his three ex-wives. “I tried to make it work with all three of my wives; I tried to make my dream and being with them work. I made sacrifices while I was with them; I didn’t go hunting and fishing as much as I really wanted to.”

Still, the strain of being in a relationship with a partner who was constantly away in the backcountry was too much for his ex-wives to handle. And while it might seem like Engler is quick to defer the blame for those failed relationships on his partners, he readily admits that pursuing his passion has been an obvious cause for his divorces.

Mark Engler fly-fishing
Engler claims fishing gave him a way to escape from his painful psoriasis as a child.
“I think you could look at it as me being selfish, for sure,” said Engler. “Having a partner that’s away from home in the wilderness all the time — there aren’t a ton of people who can find someone to make that relationship work.”

Now, at age 51, Engler said he has given up on trying to find a soulmate. He doesn’t try to date or meet new women, and admits that he has “given up on the idea that I will find anyone who wants to be with me.”

RELATED: The wild life: Fly-fishing in Montana

While coming to that conclusion might seem lonely or depressing for some, as a
man who has suffered from social anxiety and insecurity for much of his life, Engler said it has been freeing.

Mark Engler fly-fishing
Despite what might seem like a lonely existence to some, Engler claims he is content.
“I’m as happy now as I’ve ever been,” said Engler. “I’ve matured to the point where I realize a romantic relationship is not happening and I understand that. I can still do what I love and have friendships with the people I guide.”

When asked if he had any regrets, or if he thought his devotion to fishing has hurt his personal life, Engler was quick to dismiss the notion.

“No way,” he said. “Fishing and hunting have been my saviors. If I didn’t get to spend my time outdoors, I might have gone crazy a long time ago.”

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