Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #35 — How to Fish With Friends

by | Mar 25, 2018 | 5 comments

“We like companionship, see, but we can’t stand to be around people for very long. So we go get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again.”
― Chris McCandless, Into the Wild

Fishing with a stick and line is a solitary endeavor by nature. It always comes down to the two hands of an angler: one on the rod and the other in control of the line. Sharing the water with friends is great. But fishing, inherently, is not a team sport. It’s more like pole vaulting than a football game because it’s really about individual performance. And at its root, fishing is just a contest between one man and a fish.

However, we fish together to share our experiences, to learn from one another, to catch up with old friends and make new ones. We choose to fish together because the bonds formed on a river are like none other, and because flowing water and shared moments can heal friendships and mend grievances.

It’s hard to find good fishing friends who see eye-to-eye or accept your own philosophies. Tougher still is finding another angler who follows the same protocols and norms about sharing water. No one likes to be front-ended by a stranger, but it can be even tougher to accept a friend jumping ahead to fish the water you had your eye on.

All of this is easily avoided, of course, with a little communication and some agreement on the terms of the day. There are a bunch of ways to fish together, so let’s sort through them . . .

Don’t count me, man

First, an important question: To compete or not to compete?

That’s up to you and your friend, but I’ll mention this: Many would-be friendships go awry when one guy counts but the other doesn’t care to keep track. If you like to compete (if you’re a numbers guy) just be sure your partner feels the same way before you bring a competitive element into the exchange. Never volunteer to keep track of another man’s fish count.

Pairs

Good fishing often happens in pairs. Many of the following strategies are best when fishing with a partner, and adding a third person makes things a little crowded. With more than a trio, most of these methods fall apart from the center.

Lastly, all of the approaches that follow are based in a need to cover water. You can go out there and stand in one pool all morning, chatting with your fishing buddy, but to catch a few fish you need to move — usually.

So here are a handful of ways to share the water with friends.

Photo by Austin Dando

Side-by-side

Most of us didn’t grow up with a fly rod in hand. We started with some means of conventional gear and later moved to the fly rod. And some of the cultured habits of spin fishing cause problems if transferred over to fly fishing. Let me explain.

It’s easy to spin fish right next to your buddy. But fly fishers need room for the backcast, and our casting range is much shorter with a fly rod. We need a good bit more personal space to sling the line around, and that’s really the essence of the clash — we simply need more space for success.

So the side-by-side approach can work well for spin fishers, but it doesn’t often crossover well to fly fishing.

Sometimes, on larger rivers with plenty of casting room, two anglers may work a river side-by-side and continue to move upstream. And even on medium-sized creeks, two fly fishers can set up across from one another and fish together, with one guy working the right side and the other working the left. If the water is stained enough, you can even stay within conversational distance of your friend without spooking too many fish. It just requires some cooperation.

Side by side is great, but on many waters it’s not practical.

Leapfrog

When the river is too small for a pair of angler to fish close, then leaving your buddy and hopping up to the next honey hole is probably the most common way of doing things. Working upstream or wading down, leapfrogging is a good way to spend a day of fishing and still keep in touch with your friend, because there’s a new opportunity to catch up and share a few words with each pass — with each leap — toward new water.

The leapfrog rules can be troublesome, though. You may find yourself relying on the generosity and selflessness of your partner. Your idea of enough space and your friend’s idea may be pretty different, so it helps to agree on some guidelines.

On most rivers, my suggestion is to level up . . .

Levels

The waters I fish have enough gradient and structure to provide clearly defined levels on the stream. Levels are natural breaking points in the river. Basically, a level up is the next place upstream where you can wade into the water without spooking the fish your partner is working. Lips, ledges and rock formations often provide these breaks.

If my friend is fishing a tailout, then I may give him the whole pool, and I’ll jump up to the run above.

But levels aren’t just riffles, runs and pools either. Within a one-hundred yard stretch of good pocket water, there might be a half dozen or more levels. Anything that breaks up the water, anywhere you can put in and not disturb your partner’s fish, is the next level. Sometimes it’s fifty feet away. Sometimes it’s five hundred.

Either way, I find it a lot easier to agree on a level up system than a on particular distance. Using levels as markers allows the river to make the decision about how far ahead of your friend you should be.

Tag Team

I was eleven years old, and I’ll never forget: One Saturday night in 1986, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat teamed up with the Junkyard Dog to take back the belt in a no-holds barred WWF tag team title match. The Junk Yard Dog pulled out the brass knuckles, and it was all over.

Tag team fishing takes patience, and taking turns on the river isn’t for everyone. For certain, the retired crew takes up this strategy far more often than the flat-brimmers.

At whatever age, if you’re out there to fish hard and learn something, it’s tough to sit back and watch somebody else fish. But after some long river hours, and on multi-day trips, even the youngest, most ambitious anglers out there may really sink in and enjoy tag-teaming the water.

Watch your buddy fish for a while, enjoy a good conversation or keep it silent. You’re there with each other. Watch and learn from your partner. Bust his balls for missing the hook set. Net his fish. Drink a beer until he’s ready to tag out, and then take your turn while he relaxes and watches.

See you later

Avoiding any conflict about river space is easy if you split up at the truck. It’s also a good way to fish with friends and still clear your head for a while. For many years, this one has been my favorite.

“Hey, I’ll go way downstream, around the bend and below that long run against the hillside. I’ll put in right at the feeder stream and start working back up. I’ll meet you back here for lunch.”

Sounds good. Of course, the downside is less time spent communing with your friend, but if you fish together enough, you’ve probably run out of things to talk about anyway.

Boat float

There’s nothing finer than a float. With two friends (or three, or four) floating downstream together, anything can happen. You’re forced into cooperation with one another. And for any real success out there, the angler fishing must work with the guy on the oars.

Floating a river together defies the individual-sport rule. Instead, two guys work together to find, track, hook and land the fish. And nothing brings people together more than teamwork.

A boat opens up a host of possibilities that are wholly unavailable while wading. Floating is a commitment and cooperation between friends, and that’s a good thing.

However you do it . . .

Whatever way you choose to share the river with friends, it’s always worth calling up a fishing buddy. Because feeling good and lonely only lasts so long.

 

 

Fish hard, friends.

 

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

The I’ll just lay my rod here for a minute mistake

The I’ll just lay my rod here for a minute mistake

People do the same things. The instincts of fishermen find identical paths upstream through the river — watery trails lead to the best water with the greatest efficiency. You can easily see where everybody else fishes. And I guess the flies and tippet-tangles in streamside branches signal that we all make the same casting errors too. Presented with the same problems, fishermen come up with the same solutions, and we make the same mistakes.

That’s all pretty harmless and kind of fascinating. But then there’s that thing we (all) do where we leave our rod on top of the vehicle and drive away. WTF?

Two Percent — Penns Creek Needs Your Voice

Two Percent — Penns Creek Needs Your Voice

Just two percent of Pennsylvania’s 83,000 river miles receive the state’s Class A Wild Trout designation. Two percent. Wild trout are rare. They are rare enough to be special, to be highly valued and protected. In short, we must be careful with the resource.

If we’re objective about the meaning of “Exceptional Value,” if we stand back and decide what’s best for the stream, separating ourselves from tradition and ingrained culture, it’s clear that Catch and Release regulations are the next step for this section of Penns Creek.

Now, the PFBC is accepting public comment on the proposed Catch and Release regulations for this area of Penns Creek. The comment period ends on September 1st, 2018. The motion will be voted on in October . . .

Angler Types in Profile: The I’ve been doing that forever guy

Angler Types in Profile: The I’ve been doing that forever guy

Fly fishing is full of it — full of anglers who take themselves too seriously, and full of others who support it. Everyone knows everything.

So as fly fishing churns out newish concepts like articulated streamers and euro nymphing, it’s no wonder there’s some resistance to it all. No wonder  at every turn we find guys with arms folded, shaking their heads and saying, “Nah, I’ve been doing that forever. . .”

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #50 — Fish Hard

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #50 — Fish Hard

Here we are, at the end of fifty tips. Just two weeks shy of a year ago today, I started this series with a plan. Determined to publish every Sunday, I wrote these tips to be a little different, trying for something unique, and with a new take on some stuff many of us may not have considered for a while.

. . . What brings us back is the trout. Fishing without catching only goes so far. It only lasts so long. We dream not just of the woods and the water, but the trout too. And catching those fish brings in another art, another appreciation for the challenge and a new way to be creative. It also fulfills our human need to learn something. And without a trout on the end of your line once in a while, you’re just hiking through the water with a ten-foot stick . . .

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #49 — Your Line Hand

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #49 — Your Line Hand

Ever feel like your dominant hand has all the fun? It holds an ice cream cone, throws a football and sets the hook on your biggest trout. Your off hand is so neglected that at times you might forget what it’s used for. Fishing with a spinning rod keeps your other hand busy — constantly doing the reel work. But we aren’t reeling in line much while fly fishing, right? And at the close distances we often fish for trout, it’s easy to forget to keep the line hand involved.

So this is another one of those “Duh” tips. It’s the kind of thing that seems obvious. And yet, by considering all of the tasks for the line hand, we become better anglers. It’s always the little things that make a difference in life. It’s the basics, refined to perfection (or something close to it) that make us better — that bring more fish to hand.

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #48 — Fish the Other Stuff — Fish the Weird Stuff

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #48 — Fish the Other Stuff — Fish the Weird Stuff

There’s a canyon stretch on my home stream with a gated, gravel access road used by dog walkers, runners, hikers, bird watchers and crazed fishermen. It’s a wonderful three-mile walk up into the canyon or down from the other side. In some sections the path bumps up against the towering limestone walls, and you can feel crisp cool air pushing aside the heavy heated blanket of summer.

There are huge chunks of those same rocks that have broken off through time. They remind you how many centuries this place was here before you were, and how long it will remain after we’ve all turned to dust. The eternal boulders were separated from the crest of the cliff through the earthly power of spreading hemlock roots that infiltrated every available crack, until eventually an enormous boulder fell to the forest floor and rolled into the river, providing a landmark and a constant reminder of how small your space in time really is.

So it’s a good walk up in there. And lots of anglers make the trek. But here’s the funny thing: people stop and fish the same places, day after day, year after year. All of us do it.

What do you think?

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

5 Comments

  1. As always, great points, Domenick. In Columbia county here in PA, most of the brook trout streams in the mountains are less than a few feet wide so it’s, naturally, hard to fish the same pool. We rarely bring a third person because it’s like third wheeling at a dinner date – doesn’t work out. Like you said, if my buddy is fishing a pool in front I’ll skip to the next one and work down. Sometimes I’ll leave the better-looking pools for him if I feel like I’ve had the pick of the lot. Have yet to take on a float trip, what streams do you typically drift on?

    Reply
    • Hi Nate. We usually need to travel to get a boat on a river.

      Reply
  2. They say there are four stages of a fly fisherman’s life.
    1. You want to catch fish.
    2. You want to catch a lot of fish.
    3. You want to catch big fish.
    4. You just want to be out there.
    It took me many years and a couple years in a club to reach stage 4, but it gives you a whole new perspective on fishing. I am just as happy to see a friend catching a fish as catching one myself. Especially when in a partnership you have helped your friend catch that fish by guidance or spotting. I hope someday all of you can reach this level of fly fishing.

    Reply
  3. ….what’s or who is a flat brimmer?

    Reply
    • It’s a term for a younger generation of angler due to the trend of wearing flat brimmed hats.

      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