Over the years, I have found that one of the major deterrents for someone interested in picking up fly fishing has been the perceived complexity when it comes to the gear, flies, fly tying and virtually every other element of the sport. Fly fisherman tend to celebrate the history of their sport, more so than other anglers do I think, and sometimes in their attempts to excite or inspire prospective anglers, this approach comes across as daunting or intimidating.
I was reminded of this point roughly over a year ago, when I entered into the world of spey casting for steelhead and salmon, and found myself “back at square one”.*Note: Spey casting is basically a 2 handed fly fishing technique which utilizes longer rods, generally between 11 and 15 feet). Every article I read, or person I spoke to seemed to have their own take on the “best” approach to covering water, or the “best” way to assemble your gear, and to be honest, it was a little disconcerting to me, to feel like after more than 10 years as a fly fisherman, I knew nothing.
It was also though, oddly exciting, as it provided me with an opportunity to become a student of the sport once again. Not that I had ever stopped being a student while working as a guide, or while angling for trout, but I did have a knowledge base from which to work and build upon.
So last August, I started fresh, as a complete rookie in the fascinating world of both steelhead and salmon, and also spey casting, which is a world unto itself. Now, as I approach the one year anniversary of this adventure, I have 2 observations that I would like to make.
1) New fly-fishermen need to enjoy the process.
In an age where we expect, and often receive immediate satisfaction, new anglers need to remember that any type of angling, but especially fly fishing, is a sport in which there is no guarantee of “success” (assuming that we define success as catching fish). If we change these criteria to include the completion of a great cast, successfully getting a fish to take a dry fly, or visually seeing more feeding fish, then much more enjoyment can be derived from the sport.
New fly fishermen should also expect to have to undertake the learning process themselves. I have yet to find a fly shop or fellow angler that is willing or indeed able, to tell a new angler everything that they will need to know to get out and catch fish. Successful anglers have often honed their abilities over several years of patience practice and knowledge acquisition, and may be unwilling to share all of their secrets. When someone does share a piece of knowledge or a particular pattern with you, be sure to be sincere in your thanks, and treat that trust in you accordingly.
2) Existing anglers need to be willing to share their knowledge and experience.
Now I am aware that this may seem somewhat contradictory to the above point, but I do genuinely believe there is a balance. It is possible to help a new angler have a more enjoyable time on the water without giving away your most treasured secrets. We need to remember that we were all “rookies” at one time, and should remember how futile our efforts might have felt until someone was decent enough to provide some instruction or suggestion. This can extend to matters of courtesy on the river as well. Rather than fuming and yelling at a fellow angler who has disrupted your angling, take the time to calmly explain to them that the proper thing to do would’ve been. I have found that the vast majority of these “rule breakers” genuinely did not know better and are quite embarrassed at their mistake.
In order to secure the long term success of our fisheries and our sport, it is imperative that we continue to attract new anglers to the sport, and that they in turn become advocates of the long term sustainability of our lakes, rivers and fish! This vision will require a partnership between anglers old and new, young and old, and is achievable I believe, if we all remember what it was like to be new to the sport, and are willing to share some of our knowledge with those just starting out. Accordingly, you will find that this will be the first of many articles in which I will share what little knowledge I have of the sport of fly fishing. I would be happy to cater these articles to whatever questions the readers have, and would appreciate your comments and feedback.