How to stay in the fly fishing game for a lifetime

by | Jan 29, 2020 | 25 comments

I meet a lot of anglers who used to fish. Some of them were die hard, passionate and persistent, often for many years or even decades. But somehow and in some way they gave it up. Maybe fishing was pushed aside for other interests or responsibilities, or maybe they simply burned out.

“I used to fish a lot,” they tell me.

And inevitably, the next sentence follows . . .

“I wish I still did.”

It’s natural to go through phases in life, and the average person who gets into fishing probably treats it as another hobby, where interest is bound to wane over time. But fishing also attracts the outdoorsman with a tendency toward obsession. There are so many facets of fly fishing, that the intrigue can easily sustain our interest over a lifetime. Mix in the majesty of the places where wild trout take us, and you have a formula for fishing, not just as a hobby, but as a way of life.

It saddens me when I see friends gradually leave this game, or when I meet someone who says they “used to fish,” with that regretful tone to their words. I’m not here to be anyone’s life coach, but 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.

I see what a life dedicated (in part) to fishing has done for me, what it’s done for my relationships with friends and family, and what it’s given to my sons. For anyone who casts a line, we’re granted a connection to the natural world. And these things should not be missed.

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.

Photo by Matt Grobe

Why

For those passionate anglers who feel the same, how can we stay in it for a lifetime? There are plenty of distractions and circumstances that pull us out. And without some intention and forethought, you’ll find yourself looking back and wondering why you don’t fish much anymore.

What follows is a short list of ways to make a lifestyle stick.

Physical Fitness

This one is first. Because without your health, there’s nothing in life that you can pursue to the fullest. No matter the interest, whether it’s hunting or backgammon, health problems make us miserable.

Some of it is up to fate, but there’s plenty we can control. Many years ago, my friend, Matt, told me he got up every morning and exercised, getting the push-ups out of the way so he had the strength and stamina to keep fishing. Fishing itself was his drive to stay healthy. And Matt was in his thirties. Another friend, Trevor, is a family doctor who tells me that the number one problem he sees in his office is obesity. It affects everything. And I’ll say candidly, I have very few fishing friends who are significantly overweight. Fly fishing (and doing it well) is too demanding, too taxing to be carrying around an extra fifty pounds. It will grind you down until you stay home, sitting in the easy chair.

Take care of yourself, or nothing else matters.

Friends

For me, fishing is most often a solitary activity. Through the years, my schedule has been the opposite of average. I fish weekday mornings, leaving Saturday and Sunday for the weekend-warrior crowd. But I’m also fortunate to have a group of friends who love the same things I do about a river. We keep in touch and fish whenever possible, because good fishing friends are hard to find.

Here’s the truth: If you fish often enough, it becomes part of your life. And eventually, even the introvert finds himself with a handful of fishing buddies. Fishermen just seem to find each other.

Those like-minded friends serve as inspiration, as motivation and a reason to get up in the morning. Deep friendships are good for the soul. And sharing the things you love with others might very well be the meaning of life.

Explore

Every good angler wonders what’s around the next bend. We all make one more cast that becomes a dozen, and we fish one more spot that keeps us out there till dark. We have the heart for exploration. We seek answers as much as we seek to discover water that we might call our own.

So keep that adventurous spirit alive. Set a goal to fish your favorite river from the mouth to the source. And once you’ve done that with every river in a reasonable travel radius, then pack the truck with a sleeping bag and expand your perimeter.

Hop on a bike and go where your feet can’t take you. Find marginal water on a map — the stuff that isn’t even supposed to hold any trout — and go prove that wrong.

Fishing is for explorers. So don’t ever surrender that drive.

READ: Troutbitten | Explore — Learn — Return

Photo by Matt Grobe

Learn

Available tactics on a fly rod are endless. Options are unlimited. You could spend a lifetime on tight line nymphing tactics and never fully understand them. And if you do get close to a complete understanding of your tools and how they match the river’s currents, you’ll still be far away from any complete facility to drift with precision.

It’s hard. That’s why we love it. But, with every new fly change, rig swap or brisk walk upstream, there’s a reason to believe that the catching part of fishing could become pretty easy — because it’s happened before. “The fisherman is eternally hopeful,” as my dear friend, Rich, repeated. And it’s our endless learning that fosters that hope.

Set out to study and understand every possible tactic on a fly rod. Take the time — the seasons — to learn everything within reach of your abilities. And then push it further. Chasing trout is a game that never ends, because the learning doesn’t either.

READ: Troutbitten | Calculated Fun

More

I believe that your health, your friendships, the drive to explore and learn are the fundamental ways to stay in the game for a lifetime. But there are others . . .

Most of the lifelong anglers I know are also fly tyers. Building your own bugs is another commitment to the sport. It takes you deeper into this game, because now, the trout eat your creations. You may spend hours wondering if a few wraps of CDC at the collar of the fly might make a difference for the trout that refused your flies the last time. What color CDC? You’ll figure it out.

Something happens to a die-hard angler around the seven year mark. I’ve been around long enough to see the pattern happen with friends and acquaintances over and over. The seven-year-itch is a popular idea that marriages and relationships tend to fizzle out after seven years. The correlation with an angler’s fishing habit runs true. But many make it over the hump because they become part of the industry. That doesn’t necessarily mean guiding or working in a fly shop. Any connection seems to make a difference. And becoming involved in your local Trout Unlimited group is a good way to stay involved.

READ: Troutbitten | What Can You Do for TU? How Trout Unlimited Can Save Your Soul

For Life

I know there are a hundred more ways to stay in the fishing game for life, and you’re welcome to drop some words of wisdom in the comments section below.

I often say that fly fishers are, all too often, looking for reasons not to fish. It’s too hot or cold. The hatch is over. The creek is too high or low, etc. And like anything else, dedication requires motivation. All of the ideas above are ways to keep that stream of motivation and inspiration alive.

In truth, these ideas apply to anything you love in this good life. It’s the message that finding ways to challenge yourself, to improve and share with others is the key to being happy and involved in your world.

And, just maybe, a life spent fishing is a good way to live it.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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

 

 

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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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25 Comments

  1. HI DOM, YOU ARE SO RIGHT! BEEN FISHING SINCE I WAS 9 AND WON’T GIVE UP. I’M 66 N IN GOOD HEALTH. LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERYDAY N FISH TILL YOU CAN’T.
    THANKS, BRUCE B

    Reply
  2. Well this article sure hit close to home for me… I love to fish but my outings specifically for stream trout really took a nose dive the last 5+ years for all the reasons you mentioned and a few more.

    The good news (for me) is I found your site earlier this winter and it really peaked my interest on a new (to me) trout technique. Also purchased the Modern Nymphing videos and book. So with renewed interest I’m looking forward to much more time on the trout streams this year and want to say thanks for sharing so much great information.

    Reply
  3. I’m one who has let time and circumstances control when & where I could fish, and didn’t make the time to get out to the water.
    Now due to just the luck of the draw can no longer count on my legs to navigate the waters I once did.
    I will find a way to get out the little pontoon and get out as best I can.
    My take away is don’t wait! You may not have the control to catch up on all those missed days! Live in the now! Get out to those beautiful Haven’s of the trout any chance you can “make”!
    John M.

    Reply
  4. Great post. Friends often ask me why I get up so early before work and hit the gym…same response from me: I want to be able to fish and wade the river in my retirement.

    Reply
  5. I’ve often reminded myself and my family “That our time together is finite. Make the most of it.” At 69 with a reawakened interest in trout and a renewed love for fly fishing those words are emblazoned on my fishing consciousness. “I won’t be able to do this at this level forever so let’s try and get it “right”.

    The surprises keep coming with the rekindled passion. New fishing friends, the surprising support and encouragement of my partner, non-fishing friends volunteering spare bedrooms close to desirable waters, the thrill and stimulation of learning new skills and acquiring fresh knowledge. The satisfaction of solving trout puzzles and landing and releasing fish big and small. The beauty and wonder of running water and adjacent scenery.

    Thank you, Dom, for putting into words that gorgeous priority: “Fish On!”

    You may think you know where the river is going but you really don’t know where it will take you.

    Reply
  6. I fish a lot (200+ days per year include some fishing) and plan to keep doing so until I can’t. (Age 58 in a couple weeks).

    That said there are things I do to slow the decline.

    — Cardiovascular/wading muscles. The elliptical machine is your friend. Doesn’t hurt the knees and the motion is very similar to wading in moving water. You can work up a pretty good sweat on it. So do it. Especially in winter when fishing is slow or non-existent.

    — Stretch before fishing. Ever had your foot shoot out suddenly when wading? And have something go “pwang” while you are lurching around trying to regain balance? Ever get a sore shoulder or elbow after the zillionth cast? Ever stagger out of the stream feeling like you’ve been hit by a bus?

    Then stretch. I got a set of those stretchy band things, and I keep a couple in the big “Everything Else” box in the fish car. It takes five minutes to limber up with one of these gizmos. I do it with my waders on. I even do a yoga stretch, with waders on. I call it The Barfing Crane.

    Reply
  7. Well done again. All so true. At 63, I fish 90 days a year, mostly in the high country. What I’ve noticed in my friends (many in their 70’s) is the importance of learning. Those who stop learning, also seem to lose the zeal for fishing. I fish with a guy who turns 80 this year. He’s constantly learning…and outfishes me regularly.

    Reply
  8. Dom….for an old guy who fished a lot in his younger years, I find reading your blog, and looking forward to the next delivery, satisfies the daily crave to be at waters edge, and enhances the experience when I do manage to spend part of my day in pursuit of my favorite escape. Thanks for your words, information, instruction and encouragement…..that give me something to think about other than —– oldness.
    Thank you sir…..and CHEERS to you also

    Reply
  9. For me, its the only way to live.

    Reply
  10. Good things to keep in mind, Domenick. I had the great previledge of spending a few hours in a pub with some fishing guides when I was in Ireland last fall (Co. Kilkenny). Over some pints they told me that the physical capabilities of their clients are a significant factor in how the day will go, where they take them, and how successful they’ll be. I’ve never had to consider that (knock on wood). One said, “I can’t take a guy who’s 50 pounds overweight, or with a bad knee, to where I took you today. No way.” It’s true we did a bit of hiking, in and out of the river. The scenery was gorgeous, though. We also caught a lot of wild fish. 🙂

    Reply
    • Tomas—I read your comment to Domenick –on the Ireland guide experience and the importance of staying fit for fishing !!!! so true cause the last thing a guide needs is have to a client have health issue during a trip.
      I was able to bonefish/permit fish in mexico this past January . One of the guys on the trip was extremely heavy—the poor guides had to pole him/us around all day —over the course of the week —each morning they pray that would not get him on their panga !!!!
      It was really sad cause the guy is a great guy but his weight prevented him from a 100% experience.
      tomas —we were planning a family trip to Donegal Ireland in may (of course now canceled ) I was planning to trout fish …! can you tell me more about your fishing in Ireland !
      thank you ,
      joe gallagher
      jgallagher@flynnco.com

      Reply
  11. “If you fish often enough, it becomes part of your life. And eventually, even the introvert finds himself with a handful of fishing buddies. Fishermen just seem to find each other.” Yep. And this has been one of my most significant learning experiences. I still like to fish alone, but I now treasure trips with friends. I don’t get to fish exactly where I want to at times, as long or short as I would if I were alone, and I probably don’t catch as many fish, but trips with fishing buddies are just as fulfilling as time on the stream alone these days, and perhaps even more so. Thanks, Dom, for this thread, and thanks to all the old guys like me who posted on it. I enjoyed reading your thoughts–all of them–and finding some more guys working to stay in the game. Fish hard, friends.

    Reply
  12. Beautiful writing as always Dom. I’m comforted by the knowledge that there are others who see the epic role fly fishing can play in a life. I see a lot of dubious faces when I explain the grandeur of the sport and where it takes me. Most non-fishermen see it as an idle hobby and even enthusiastic fishermen often think of it as an occasional social outing, akin to a round of golf. For me it’s so much more, and I really appreciate the sense of belonging pieces like this bring me.

    Reply
  13. The ONLY time I won’t go out is if its too windy and /or flood stage high/muddy water

    Reply
  14. Great article Dom a joy to read “ fishing lessons for life”they all ring true. Now I’m 69 and returned to trout fishing a couple of years ago after a long gap mostly due to cycling so thankfully I’m in pretty good shape and can still get about exploring. The real exciting thing is there is plenty to learn that keeps mind and body active. “ Live long and fish”

    Tight lines AJ from NZ.

    Reply
  15. Amen brother! Everything you said is true. And the older you get the more relevant it is.

    Reply
  16. Wonderful article, thanks!

    Reply
  17. Hey Dom!
    Greetings from Oklahoma! Your article reminded me of our conversation while we were on the river. Get/stay in shape so we can keep fishing…
    All the best!
    Steve

    Reply
  18. Yep. About 7 years ago I had a lapse in fishing for about 3 years. After discovering Devin, Lance and Dom ( The Holy Trinity) . Now I’m back in the game for the long haul. If my legs get to wobbly from walking over and throwing rebar around for most of my life, I’m just going to buy an amphibious wheelchair. Ha.

    Reply
  19. Dom, another inspiring article. In Colorado, a lot of fly fishermen ski in the winter and fish the rest of the year. I have been known to ski until 4pm in the spring, change out of my ski attire, don my waders and fish in the nearby creek going through town. At 71, I’d rather do that than getting drunk at the bar.

    Reply
  20. I’ll be 70 in a couple of months. The streams I love to fish are mostly heavy pocket water. I work out, and my trainer’s instruction is to keep me upright in the stream as long as that’s possible. One of the anglers I most admired died in his doctor’s office a day before his 90th birthday, but he fished up until the end. I’m beginning to understand why older guys join clubs with their own water, where wading is easy and they can retreat to the clubhouse when they get tired. I’m certainly not there yet, but I know that it’s coming. I’ll accept it when it comes, but it’s not going to be easy. But even if I can’t wade as I did 30 years ago, I’ll know that I’ll learn something every time I fish.

    Reply
  21. Such a great piece! My dad, 82 and up until recently the picture of health was diagnosed with lung cancer. That’s given me renewed interest and commitment to everything you say here. I do not intend to have to pass up a trip or a Day quail hunting bc I didn’t take care of myself! Thank you for an extra dose of motivation!

    Reply
  22. Good piece…inspiring for us old guys. Lyme disease did me in last year, and it still lingers. My feet are trashed from decades of steelheading, etc. That said, I can still get into a kayak. At 74, I fish for peace of mind and plan on going till everything stops.

    Reply
  23. hello Domenick—just a general comment about your Troutbitten site !!!!
    I have found it to be the best web site (at least for me) of almost all I have encountered over the vastness of the fishing web world. I guess maybe because your based in my home state of Pa. might have something to do with my enjoyment !
    I am not new to fly fishing, but a rookie to trout fly fishing . (10 years or so,but only a few times each year)
    I just purchased the Keystone fly fishing book!!! I know it is very good !!!
    hope to meet you for a guided trip in the near term .
    thank for for the great articles —very helpful to me !
    regards,
    joe gallagher

    Reply

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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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