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

by | Aug 1, 2018 | 31 comments

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

We have comp guys who can’t help recruiting others to join their world. Because hey, if you’re really serious about fly fishing then the next step is to join a team and enter a bracket with other fish-counters, right? No, not really.

We have hatch matchers who do nothing but cast to risers and tell you that it’s the only way to fly fish. And while looking sideways at the rest of the pack, the truth is they never put in the time to learn any other tactics.

It’s an industry that can’t stop repackaging an old idea as new, slapping a fresh label on it and charging twice as much as any gear-angler would ever pay.

This is the sport that gave you indoor casting ponds and distance casting trophies, as though that’s something that’s going to put trout in the net anyway. We are an angling bunch who came up with long-arming fish selfies, the buff, rod vaults, the streamer junkie and purists of all sorts. We have musky anglers hash tagging pictures of juvenile fish and fitting four anglers into the frame, all posing like it’s the beast of the year. (The gear guys chuckle at this.)

Fly fishers, all too often, are in fact a little much.

But this is also the industry that developed breathable waders. And dammit, those are wonderful. Likewise, the crazed energies of competition fishermen, streamer junkies and musky guys have spawned the development of more fishing gear and fly tying materials than could ever fit on the walls of our old fly shops. So we now have shops with taller walls and more options. More gear and materials gives rise to even greater ideas. It’s progress. It’s personal growth, and you gotta love it.

But, undoubtedly, this is a sport that breeds arrogance too. Everything I do is the best, and yeah, I’ve been doing that forever. It comes from comparisons, from all the judging, and from our fragile insecurities. None of us knows everything about fly fishing, but we all know someone who catches a lot more fish than we do.

“Fly fishers, all too often, are in fact a little much.”

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.”

Stuff like this . . .

That’s not a new loop knot. That’s what I used as a boy. Nobody taught me any fishing knots, so I came up with this knot to tie flies to the leader.

Drop shotting? My old man fished with lead sinkers tied below the bait for lake fishing. The surf fishermen call it a high-low rig. Been doing that for years.

Jig hooks? Yeah I’ve been tying flies on those forever. I bought them at the bait shop, and for the smaller sizes, I just heated up the wire and bent them into a jig with pliers.

Nothing new about your rubber legged flies. We pulled those little strings off spinner baits for bass fishing and tied ‘em onto our trout flies way back in the Eighties.

Long leader nymphing? When I was a teenager we strung up minnows or maggots and fished them with monofilament on a fly rod. I’ve been doing that forever.

I think we all say these things sometimes. And it’s not necessarily our arrogance showing through. We say, “Yeah, I already know that,” just to show that we’re not an idiot. In the fly fisher’s case, it’s an effort to communicate our experience, to signal to someone else that we’re no rookie, that we’ve worn out many boot soles, gone through dozens of fly lines, burned out the drag on a couple reels and filed warranty claims on as many fly rods.

But we’ve also fallen into the river a hundred times. So don’t forget that part either.

I’ve been in conversations with fly fishers who need to tell me, at every turn, that they’ve been doing all this for a very long time. And it’s not just from the retired crew. Twenty-somethings often hold up the same conversational roadblock. It’s an attitude that says, Yeah, I already know that. I already do that. Nothing to learn here, so move on.

But a closed mind gains nothing, and old ideas grow stale. The feet-stuck-to-the-ground mentality is stubbornness that stands in the way of progress. It keeps us from opening up to new things and enjoying the fly fishing game with a fresh start.

At his best, the I’ve been doing that forever guy also keeps us grounded. He’s there to remind us that every new thing is connected to the past. He’s there to point out that fishermen like Joe Brooks and Joe Humphreys had some big things figured out too. He bridges fly fishing’s future with its past. And while moving forward at an ever-accelerating pace, it’s important to remember where all of this came from anyway.

Fish hard, friends.

Photo by Austin Dando


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Domenick Swentosky



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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.

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  1. Great article. That comment on the musky guys got me to chuckle out loud. Keep up the great work!

  2. Great point! Solid article! I think another issue in fly fishing is exclusivity. At some shops, or with some people asking simple questions that you need to get started in the activity can be viewed and answered with an “are you serious” glance, or a “look a this fool” tone. Fly fishing is a truly awesome activity but the “all knowing” attitudes that you mention in this article can turn people away quite quickly.

  3. I’ve been involved with the running and golf cultures also and have seen parallel attitudes. I think it’s endemic to ventures shared by those who wish to be the “gift” to a particular venture or feel that they’ve got some sort of priviledged purchase on the sport that precludes them from teaching or being generous with their knowledge.
    To be pure is to be generous. Thanks, Dom for being generous.

  4. Condescension and arrogance are ingrained. We are imparted with the stuff from the first moment a rod is put in our hands. Even up here where there is no fly fishing culture, no fly shop within a four hour drive, we manage to manufacture our own virulent strain of it. Here it comes in the form of feeling perpetually ignored and under appreciated by our brethren. We thrive on it, it’s heady and addictive stuff; we’re the fraternity of the terminally aggrieved. We’ve had to make do with the institutional knowledge handed down by our elders. Some of those techniques you mentioned have been in play here as well all along; they just went by different names. So naturally we sit around and go “Yeah, …so?” Omniscience is better than any opioid.

    It can be hard to swallow your institutional pride and slide the curtains open to let a little sun light in. Opening yourself up to new thoughts and ideas is to bare your piscatorial soul to the various slings and arrows of strangers. Gaining knowledge isn’t for the faint of heart. But when you do… you will almost certainly be better off for having done it. I try, but sometimes I fail. Thanks for the reminder, Dom.

  5. This reminds me of an idea that my dad always preached to me, and that I tell my sons (who ignore me now but will adopt it some years in the future) is, “When someone who knows more than you tries to teach you something that you already know – don’t tell them. Just say, ‘OK.'”

  6. Been there, done that…and I still know nothing…but I have a problem. Years ago (like 50) I tied maybe 300 nymphs and wets, and just stuck them in my fly boxes. Now when I try to pick one that matches something…there is no match. How about you illustrate the many ties that simulate each nymph style i.e. what shapes/style represent caddis, stone fly…etc.

  7. I don’t fish to catch fish, I fish to learn. Fish are data.

  8. Rummaging through my fly tying materials this summer, I unearthed a faded card of basic chenille. No sparkle, no frills. Long ago, this had been my go to body material for my always dependable fore and aft.
    Chenille body, hackle front and back, done.
    Thompson vise, then and now. Simple.

    Time travel back to the previous century, previous millenium.

    So, paying homage to my youth, I tied a few old school flies with that long neglected chenille, fished those flies and caught fish!

    Price point on the chenille card: 15 cents.

    Fly fishing catalogs used to be about tying materials, not 8X10 glossy photos of faraway fishing venues.

    Always wet waded in faded clothes, Lava Dome shoes. No SPF 50 fancy shirts. My catch was dropped through the slot in my wicker creel. Those trout rested on ferns gathered streamside.

    Simplicity is liberating.

  9. So true. I figure this is a sport, way of life, skill, whatever that can be a never ending source of learning. I find joy in that. Your writing goes well with my lab snoring at my feet, me drinking coffee and updating my fishing journal. Have a wonderful day.

  10. Crazed energy. I love it. I live it.

  11. “We have hatch matchers who do nothing but cast to risers and tell you that it’s the only way to fly fish. And while looking sideways at the rest of the pack, the truth is they never put in the time to learn any other tactics.”

    As a self-admitted dry fly guy I beg to differ. Most of us did not start out this way. We used all of the common methods before we were enlightened. Once one becomes addicted to the rise and the surface eat, the thought of using nymphs and streamers feels like cheating. To satisfy the addiction we tend to fish bug rich environments like the Upper Delaware system where surface feeders can be found on just about any given day. We are not snobs or elitists and I have yet to meet a fellow dry fly addict who has ever told anyone else that it is the only way to fly fish. In fact, we readily admit that a good nymph guy will easily out fish a great dry fly guy almost every time – but numbers just aren’t our thing. We simply prefer to hunt or stalk our quarry at the interface of our two different environments while leaving trout the sanctuary of the deep they deserve. For dry fly guys, the visual rush of the rise and surface eat is just too sweet ignore for even one cast. And to be honest, most of us do occasionally stray, despite the guilt.

    • Hi Rick,

      You don’t need to explain yourself, and you obviously are not a “hatch hatch matcher who do nothing but cast to risers and tell you that it’s the only way to fly fish because you never learned any other tactic.” That’s not you!

      I didn’t say that all dry fly guys are this way. Not at all. Just like I didn’t say that all comp guys, streamer guys, musky guys, etc, are as I described.

      Know what I mean?


      • Us DFGs do seem to have a bad rep; did not mean to sound defensive.

        Now, speaking of comp fishing, curious about your take?

        • Same thing, really. I think if that’s what your into and it makes you a happy fisherman, great. But just like the dry fly guys, the streamer junkies and more, fly fishing too often breeds some kind of arrogance or superiority complex as soon as guys have a little success putting fish in the net.

          “Fly fishers, all too often, are in fact a little much.” That’s my main point.

          But you’re not. And none of the guys I choose to fish with are like that either.

          The last thing I want to do while on the water is make it a competition of any kind. I think fishing is a great place to get away from all the things that comparing and competing lead to. But that’s me. And I fully recognize that others get enjoyment from the game by doing things a totally different way.



    • Right on, Rick.

  12. Great article. Some of the best experiences Ive had were during the first year I started fly fishing. I was so inclined to learn and catching just one fish would make my day, I still remember those trout. I have spoke to many anglers on the water who only talk about success/numbers/ their tactics. I guess everyone has their own reasons to get on the water. My best friend just got into Fly Fishing, sometimes he gets overwhelmed by other anglers. I explained to him to forget all that and enjoy the experiences that fly fishing provides. Seeing his reaction after catching just a few fish is what makes the sport so special.

  13. I’ve thought the same thing about those kinds of anglers for forever

  14. I’ve just come back to tight line nymphing after 20 years away. Wow, I was a space oddity back then! Not so much anymore.

    I have to mention another fisherman type – the “secret angler”, who’d rather die than divulge pattern, location, time of day, or any other pertinent information. Like most fishermen, I’m not going to give up my favorite spots easily but I do enjoy sharing information, flies, success. We should be more inclusive rather than stuck up jerks 🙂

  15. I just found your site a week ago and love the insight of your articles. I’ve been addicted to the sport since the late 90’s and have to say I’ve become a bit of a dry fly purist. The thing that has always cracked me up is there seems to be only 2 kinds of anglers I run into……newbies who acknowledge they are newbies and soak up everything you tell them – and know it alls that have seen and done it all and know every thing that can be known. I myself am a know it all…..along with the other 90% ……LOL

  16. As a retired fly fishing guide( dry flies only) I had to chuckle as I read.

  17. Great article, except that you forgot to mention the anglers who pose with a fish while clenching their fly rod in their teeth. I can’t stand that! What a cliche.

  18. I remember in my early fly fishing days, I caught a few fish. A passing aner asked me what I was using, and I told him “a royal coachman”. He turned to his buddy and smirked that he hasn’t seen that fly for years, and didn’t know they were still in use. I actually felt like I was doing something wrong after that. BTW, I still use that fly today.

  19. Funny, but true. For me a part of fly fishing is learning and evolving. But, mostly trout live in beautiful places and thats why I am there.
    As Dylan said,” he not busy being born is busy dying”.

  20. As usual, spot on.

  21. After fly fishing 44 yrs and counting, I’m more of a “yeah I tried that” guy. I’m still open to NEW ideas, however rare they are. New tying materials are great when used properly.

    With that said, I’ve taken the best ideas and materials I’ve experienced that helped
    me catch more fish. A technique may help someone be a better fisherman, but sometimes one’s talent is at a point where a particular change doesn’t result in improvement.

    2 things I’ve noticed….
    1) Experience is STLL the best teacher.
    2) keeping things simple is much more effective. I use the same flies I’ve been using for over 30 yrs. and they still work!

    Jim Parks

  22. I agree with Tomas and his dad about the best way to deal with them, and add, move far away from them slowly and as non-threateningly as possible.
    But two valuable things can be
    learned from them; how not to be and things not to do.


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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.

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