Someone recently told me that fly fishing seems like a lot of work. They said it looks more like tying knots while walking upstream than it does fishing — that the whole thing seems like a lot of trouble just to catch a fish.
I thought about it a moment and replied with honesty. It is work, and that’s just one thing we love about it. Most of us would make the effort even without a fish dancing at the end of the line. And we’d come back to do it over and again. But when a good trout does take the fly, it’s enough to keep us going for a long, long time.
It needn’t be complicated, of course. Fly fishing for trout can be done easily, and done well with a couple of flies in an old box and a pair of hiking boots on your feet. That’s how I fished for years. Chasing small wild trout through steep mountain valleys was a simple affair. If they wouldn’t hit a Royal Wulff, then I was in the wrong place, or I was spooking trout before they ever saw my fly. Back then it was about exploring water. These days it’s about exploring tactics.
As the years pass, so do my obsessions. Fly fishing and pursuing trout remains the constant, but how I approach them with a fly is as varied now as it’s ever been. Boredom is impossible, because river time is too short to answer one question before the next one arises. Because trout are too guarded and mysterious to grant firm answers about much of anything.
While experience is the one true teacher, the ideas of fellow anglers help shine a light on the next path for us to follow. A good book leads you to the trailhead, fills you with a bunch of thoughts that don’t quite make sense and then tosses you down the rabbit hole— saying, have fun, you’ll figure it out.
Likewise, I remember far off fishing conversations with old fly fishermen who are now gone. They talked about rivers and methods that lost me along the way. But those ideas took seed in memory. And all these years later, some of what they taught me has grown limbs.
In large part, we choose our influences for fly fishing. We select a path of interest and find the tutors. Then we fish. Sometimes, while in the throws of testing and experimenting, I go through long spells where I deliberately avoid fishing with others or soliciting advice. I don’t want my opinions and conclusions, or my own direction, swayed by the bent rod of a friend upstream. But more often, I’m a researcher, a questioner, a seeker of any and all things that are possible while standing midstream with a fly rod.
From Sawyer to Croston, Humphreys and Harvey, Rosenbauer, Brooks, Daniel and Olsen, understanding their ideas through the decades is how I learn. It’s how we all learn. The names change, but the process remains. We build a framework from others. Then we fit together the pieces of who we are as an angler.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N