Angler Types in Profile Commentary Philosophy Stories

Angler Types in Profile: The Rookie

on
February 13, 2018

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 there). 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.”

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

 

Click here for details.

 

Angler Types in Profile

Read all of the Angler Types in Profile Series
TAGS

6
What do you think?

3 Comment threads
3 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
  Follow the comments on this article.  
Notify of
Jason Jon Derifaj

Very nice, thank you for writing it.

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

Jeffrey Hirt

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

Domenick Swentosky
BELLEFONTE, PA

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.

STICKERS
STICKERS
TAGS
dorsey yarn indicator reading water Trust regulations net solitude Little Juniata River Fly rods tight line nymphing time big fish silence Doh saltwater montana rigs Euro-Nymphing Memories Resources summer night-sighter tippet science matters wading boots philosophy Whiskey droppers Joey Camping brush fishing fly line Harvey Pusher dry flies leaders Backing Barrel etiquette explore mono rig last cast mayfly indicator nymphing flies brown trout winter fishing streamside front ended Dylan Fly Fishing Plans skunked wet wading mud giveaway Ask an Expert casting Streamers wading Headbanger Sculpin dog Fifty Tips shark high water travel dry fly fishing winter flood Sighter tight lining float musician tenkara bar boots snags Night Fishing Chapters DHALO Peace PSA traction walking fly patterns tips photography friends strategy DIY Davy Wotten fly box catch and release mousing thunderstorm the Mono Rig patience friendship Burke Streamer fishing posted land bite windows Night Fishing fighting fish mistakes Dry-Dropper Whiskey Drinker DJS angler types wild trout spot burning beadhead dead drift waders Night home-stream Grobe George Daniel Bad Mother One Great Tip small streams How it Started tightline Mystery Pennsylvania fishing tips nymphs swinging camera hiking PFBC PA Gold Floating split shot tracks BES Dad Fly Casting Quote nymphing History river wet fly fishing spawning gear fishing with kids Weather summertime fishing backcountry Baseball Central PA family fly rod rules tiny flies winter fly fishing TU knots LBI George Harvey Aiden efficiency Wild Mushrooms Sawyer Troutbitten Fly Box stinky bass Float Fishing backcast Stockies Fish Hard fly tying Presentations fall Big Trout Jeff cookout Rich marginal water nymphing tips boys Galloup Oakiewear trout bum Buggers drop shot nymphing rookies stocked trout brookies Namer fly fsihing suspender fishing fluke falling in comp fishing It's just fishing Press safety wildlife Discovery Christmas Lights surf fishing wet flies Industry Stuff Spring Creek Gierach simplicity public land carp Tippet Rings favorite Trout Unlimited indicator fishing drifting big brown trout Grandfather come on man Wild vs Stocked ice conservation Orvis Wild Brown Trout Boat club fishing