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 700+ 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

May We Have the Hook Dimensions, Please?

May We Have the Hook Dimensions, Please?

So, if there will be no industry standard on sizing and strength for hooks (and there won’t be), can we at least have the dimensions for each hook that we’re sold? Give us the measurements: hook length, wire diameter, gap width. Why is this so hard?

. . . Given the proliferation of hook brands — many of high quality — this seems the only logical thing to do. Give your buyer the information. Tell them what they are buying. This is the information age, friends! Yes, we can handle this!

Are We Taking the Safety of Trout Too Far?

Are We Taking the Safety of Trout Too Far?

At some point, our worry about the perfect protection of the animal we pursue becomes so involved, so extreme, so overbearing, that the only logical step is to stop fishing altogether. I don’t want that. And I don’t think you do either.

If we’re not careful, one thing will lead to the next. I think we’ve taken the safety of trout far enough. Let’s educate every angler to these standards and stop moving the goalposts.

Fish cold water. Fight ’em fast. Handle gently. Release quickly . . .

They Don’t Have to Eat It to Learn to Reject It

They Don’t Have to Eat It to Learn to Reject It

You’ve probably heard this a lot: “These trout have been caught on that fly before, so they won’t take it.”

Or this: “Once trout are caught on a fly a few times, they learn that it’s a fake.

But trout don’t have to be caught on a fly to learn that it isn’t real. In fact, just seeing one bad drift after another is enough to put trout off of a particular pattern . . .

Never Blame the Fish

Never Blame the Fish

When everything you expect to work produces nothing, don’t blame the fish. Think more. Try harder.

When your good drifts still leave the net empty, then don’t settle for good. Make things perfect. Never blame the fish . . .

Super Fly — The Story of a Squirmy Wormy

Super Fly — The Story of a Squirmy Wormy

Occasionally (rarely) something comes along that makes trout go a little crazy. Why? Who the hell knows. But it trips some trigger in trout that makes them move further and eat more than they do for just about anything else. In my life there’ve been only four of these super flies.

In dark bars and seedy internet gatherings, I keep my ear to the ground for rumors of the next super fly. Because those who find one can’t keep a secret for long. And I want to be in on the next fly from the ground up again. I want long months of virgin trout that lust for something original yet familiar, the right mix of bold but non-threatening, curiously edible and irresistible. I want to fish another super fly . . .

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. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

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.

Pin It on Pinterest