Angler Types in Profile: The Rookie

by | Feb 13, 2018 | 6 comments

Sam surprised me.

“Let’s do it,” he blurted out when I answered the phone. “Let’s go fly fishing.”

The way Sam spoke the sentence was already awkward, as though he was uncomfortable with the words themselves. He slowed down every time he put the word “fly” in front of fishing, and then he sped up again.

“We’ve been talking about it long enough. I’m gonna buy that fly fishing kit — the one with the pole and reel and thick line and flies and all that other stuff that I need and . . .”

I tried to slow him down. “No, no. Don’t buy a starter kit, Sam. It’s better to find a good rod and . . .”

But Sam kept talking. He was an explorer now, set out for a new adventure, with all the world of possibilities ahead of him and the energy to take him there. I’ve learned it’s best to stay out of the way of someone with stars in their eyes. Why try to tame wonder and fervor with the reality of better gear choices? No, sometimes the best course is to stand back and let enthusiasm find its own direction. I was happy for my friend’s excitement.

Sam neared the tail-end of a run-on sentence about why he wanted to get into fly fishing. He finally slowed a bit, and I interjected.

“Sam, buy a pair of waders.”

“What?” He asked. “Are you sure I need those right away? I might not have enough money left over after the other stuff.”

“Okay,” I said. “Buy a pair of rubber hip boots with felt soles. You can get ‘em for fifty bucks.”

Sam paused, and I imagined him scratching his head at the other end of the phone.

“What are felt soles?” He asked.

I’m consistently surprised by the lack of river sense that’s missing in so many anglers. I mean that literally and not condescendingly. Just as a city kid marvels at the sight of deep darkness on a moonless night, fifty miles deep into a state forest, the country boy doesn’t give it a second thought. It’s experience. And that’s all it is.

People who are new to fishing just don’t know much about rivers. And I never really get used to that. Because so much of what a river does, and what fish do in response, is organic to me. I grew up fishing and playing in small streams. As a kid, I was drawn to every runoff ditch within walking or biking distance. I couldn’t stay away. And like anything else, you grow into your surroundings. I don’t think that can be changed, whether we’d like it to be or not.

Anyway, those without that same history with rivers see the water differently, and sometimes I have trouble remembering it.

On a cool April morning, Sam and I hit the water with all his new gear. And I was immediately thrust into the role of fishing expert, or as Sam kept calling me, the fly fishing expert. There’s no such thing as a fishing expert. The fish won’t permit it. But I knew a lot more about river fishing than Sam, and that’s the point, I guess. I helped him rig up, pointed to some good water, positioned myself nearby and pretended to fish as I watched him.

Sam wasn’t a city kid. He was raised in a woodsy part of northern Pennsylvania, but he’d somehow avoided an education of trout streams. He was a stillwaters guy who grew up fishing small lakes and ponds, from the banks or in a rowboat, catching “whatever swims,” as he put it, with a bait caster or spinning rod.

So when he first set his felt-soled rubbers into the river, his unmitigated greenness was glaring. Sam spent the morning unsteady (and I’m being generous with that term). He waded up and across the shallow water with the tentative wobble of a newborn fawn, and he glanced at me repeatedly, wide-eyed and doubtful. I really believe Sam thought he might somehow drown in eighteen inches of creek water.

But he stuck with it. He caught one trout which undoubtedly hooked itself by the divine mercy of the trout gods. And really, that’s all he needed. About five hours later, Sam and I walked the gravel road around the long bend, through a mix of shade and sunlight on our way back to the truck.

Sam was soaked with sweat, and I realized just how hard he’d been fighting to stay upright and not fall in headfirst. He had no wading experience. He’d never experienced the power and push of a river’s current against his legs, never felt pebbles and sand washed from under his boots, taking away the very base of his stance and shifting his position a half-foot downstream. The next day, Sam’s thighs probably felt as overworked as mine had the one (and only) time I went snow skiing. After I struggled and fought to stay upright on those two sticks for half a day, I could barely walk for the next three.

Back at the truck, Sam slung off his new fishing pack and we joked about how clean it still was. He wiped down the shiny, scratch-free rod and put it neatly in the branded aluminum tube it had come with.

“Man,” he said. “I really have a lot to learn out there.”

I smiled and nodded.

It’s been a decade since I introduced Sam to trout fishing with a fly rod. And he still fishes, although that was the only time we ever shared the river together. Some months later, Sam took a job in Oregon, where he now chases wild steelhead and Chinook on the fly.

I think he stuck with the fly game because he approached it with humility. Sam didn’t try to skip any steps. He asked a lot of questions at first, and I sent books and things with him to Oregon. He studied, learned and experimented on the water. Sam still fishes a lot — because he loves it, and not because it’s fly fishing.

We’re all rookies at many points in life: a new job, the first classes for a college degree, an unfamiliar sport, or a new way of fishing.

At best, the rookie with a fly rod is a voracious learner. Eager. A sponge in a river. Ambitious and open minded.

At worst, the rookie covers up his greenness with foolish boasts. He takes fishermen’s lies and storytelling too far. As a defense, he tries to hide his inexperience and becomes what a friend of mine calls a lifestyle poser.

Sometimes it seems like there’s a lot of that in fly fishing. But it’s probably no more than anywhere else in life. People are people. So trying and failing at something new brings out the best or worst, depending on your disposition, I suppose.

The anglers I call friends have stuck with it because they enjoy the challenges, the frustrations and the rewards, because they love the way the hemlocks smell in April, and not because the fly fishing stickers on their car windows look cool. (Even though they do look pretty cool.)

There’s an authenticity that you can distinguish in the most unseasoned of rookies. Some have a motivation to learn and create a life on the water. And when it’s there, you know the fishing game will be part of who they are for a long, long time.

Gotta love the rookies.

Fish hard, friends.

 

Photo by Hank Jefferson

 

Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

 

Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

More from this Category

Angler Types in Profile: The Gear Guy

Angler Types in Profile: The Gear Guy

I think every angler has some gear obsession. It’s part of us. Because fishing is the kind of activity that requires a lot of stuff. Big things and small. Clothing and boots, packs and boxes, lines and tools — and all the stuff that non-fishers never imagine when they think of a fishing pole. So it’s understandable that we pack our gear bags with stuff we know we need and then add in everything we think we might need. Time on the water is limited, and we want to feel prepared.

But nothing signals rookie more than a clean fisherman.

A Comprehensive List of Fishermen’s Excuses

A Comprehensive List of Fishermen’s Excuses

Fishermen are full of excuses for failure — because we get a lot of practice at not catching fish. Mostly, Troutbitten is here to share better ways to catch trout, but here’s a big list of explanations for when you don’t. Why’d you take the skunk? This list of reasons will help explain it all away.

These excuses can roughly be grouped into three classes:

Conditions — where you blame the weather or the water.
Fish’s Fault — where you blame the fish for not eating your flies.
I Wasn’t Really Trying — these excuses are centered around the inference that if you really wanted to, you could have caught more trout . . .

The Mismanagement of “Class A” Wild Trout

The Mismanagement of “Class A” Wild Trout

It’s time for the fish commission to truly protect, preserve and enhance our wild trout streams, whether that is easy, or whether it’s hard. Stop stocking over all Class A wild trout stream sections.

It’s the right thing to do. And sometimes, that’s where government policy should start . . .

Local Knowledge

Local Knowledge

You know the water level, clarity, the hatches, weather and more. That’s great. But local conditions are different from local knowledge. Here’s what I mean . . .

What Are You Working On?

What Are You Working On?

It’s a question I ask of my friends and those whom I’ve just met. What are you working on? Because, whether we realize it or not, we’re all working on something.

“What do you do for a living?” is a common small-talk question. But I don’t ask that one much. I save it for later. What do you love? What are you passionate about? And what are you working on? Those are the more interesting queries that get to the core of each person.

So I’ve asked these questions for years. And it surprises me how often the answer is a blank stare. Some people simply don’t know what they love — yet. And that’s alright. Maybe they’re still searching for some passion in life. But inevitably, it’s those who light up with enthusiasm that I connect with. Tell me what you’re into. The topic hardly matters. I can listen for hours to someone who knows their craft from every angle, who understands what they love, why they care about it and what they plan to learn next.

How to stay in the fly fishing game for a lifetime

How to stay in the fly fishing game for a lifetime

I know what the game of chasing trout has given me. For over forty years, I’ve had a wonderful purpose, a focus, endless challenges, and a reason to set my feet on wooded, watery paths often enough to call these places home . . .

Fishing is as big as you want it to be. From the beginning, I’ve been in it for the long game. And in the end I plan to wade upstream, toward the light at the end of the tunnel.

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.

6 Comments

  1. Very nice, thank you for writing it.

    Reply
  2. Damn dude, one of the greatest blog posts of all time.

    Reply
  3. Reading this completely reminded me of the time we took Scott fishing on Penns. He had my old lug sole bootfoot waders on which made walking in the stream like ice skating. I will never forget him slowly falling in until only his hat was floating on the water….HAHAHA

    Reply
    • LOL!! That was the best. He got stuck over on the right side, because the bank was too steep. No way out. 🙂

      Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Pin It on Pinterest