I’m now in my mid-forties, and here’s a quick summary of what I know about life. . . .
In my mid to late teens, I knew everything. It seems that many teenagers latch on to this defense mechanism. As life opens up and opportunities abound, it’s one way to deal with the flood of the world’s collected knowledge crashing in on you.
You’ve got a lot to learn, kid.
That’s alright. I already know everything.
In my twenties, I’m not sure if it was work, college or relationship failures that opened my eyes most to the fact that I really did have a lot to learn. All of it made me feel lost sometimes, but that uncertainty could always be fixed with knowledge. I’m a researcher. And while I was in my twenties, the internet began growing into an endless database, just when I needed it most.
In my thirties, my wife and I had our two boys. And there’s nothing like marriage and raising kids to keep you in check, to force the realization that your ideas are not always best and that your knowledge-set is incomplete. It seemed that everything I knew was suddenly open for a challenge.
And then, somewhere around the time I turned forty, there was another change. I grew more self-assured. But it wasn’t the baseless arrogance of a teenager anymore. This time, the confidence in my own ways came from experience. It was an embedded conviction about who I am and what I know, founded on a lifetime of learning, on being humbled and being wrong, then studying, exploring and discovering things all over again.
With each iteration, our wisdom grows deeper, rudiments are ingrained and the inspirations for new theories are mined from a deeper quarry. Life builds up, and after a while, you trust what you find inward more than constantly searching outward.
There’s no greater paradigm for all of this than fishing. For me and for so many others, the constant of a rod and reel in my hand, through each decade, has reflected it all — youth, middle-age and (some kind of) wisdom. And while no good angler believes much in absolutes, the theories we hold, based on good common sense and decades of insight, can become pretty damn solid.
So, no matter your age, I ask this question about your fishing:
Who knows better than you?
Consistently good trout fishing is so elusive that the mysteries seem unsolvable, even after thousands of miles traveled and a thousand more trout to the net.
If you do find it easy, then you’re probably fishing a setup. (Club waters, pet fish and starved stockies don’t count for much.). But you might have a group of wild trout dialed in for the better part of a season. Maybe it’s a midge hatch every summer morning, or a streamer bite on fall evenings, for one hour on either side of dusk.
But it will end. That’s what’s so special about chasing trout. Like the wings of a mayfly spinner, predictability is a fading ghost.
So then, anglers cling to the stories and accounts of others. We believe in the experts. We want masters of this craft to exist, because then we might learn their answers.
But again, who knows better than you?
I ask this not of the beginner, as the answer there is obvious. Instead, I ask it of you, the angler who hikes far and fishes further, who chuckles at gear reviews covering new products released just a few months ago. You’re an angler who studies deep and plans your next headwaters trip to a local river as a journey for discovery. You’re the fisherman who ties the next batch of Pheasant Tails with a new twist, attempting to accommodate your last struggle on the river with a solution. You solve puzzles. And you’re open to getting skunked in an effort to test something new.
So who knows better than you?
Should you trust the local fly shop manager? Should his position behind the counter mark him as an authority on the subject? Call it 50/50. Because sometimes, the best bullshitters make the best salesmen too.
Every industry has its range of self-made experts who’ve simply seen a gap and decided to fill it. I’ve heard tales of authors, propped up by the biggest publishers in the industry, who couldn’t fish a lick, once they were outside of private waters. And it’s well known that many fishing writers are better with weaving words than with tying knots.
What about the YouTube celebrity who catches fish after fish with each new video? Movie making is two parts magic and one part audacity. Never forget it.
All sports encounter this confusion of true expertise. But fly fishing is an exceptional oddity. While golf and even B.A.S.S. tournaments have a system that may allow the best to rise to the top, trout on a fly is not similar. There is no money in competition fly fishing. So, are the winners the best anglers? Probably not. They’re the ones who choose to spend enough money and enough weekend hours competing, paying travel expenses and entrance fees into a notoriously imbalanced system because they either enjoy it or they wish to make a name for themselves. Fair enough.
Fly fishing is starved for true experts, because there’s no good system for finding them. So too, some of the best anglers I know want nothing to do with merging their fishing into a career. They simply wish to fish.
Author, expert, designer, presenter or champion — the internet allows for the creation of identity, and rarely is that identity the full truth.
So who knows better than you?
Learn From Them All?
Looking back to my twenties and thirties again, I went through long phases of research, where I bought all the magazines and books, and I watched films about fly fishing in every style.
Learn from everyone — that was my goal.
But even back then, I turned off the flow of information for long lengths of time. And instead of looking elsewhere for the answers, I looked inward. I’ve always had a trust for my own experiences on the river. I think we all should. Otherwise, what are we learning out there?
Now in my forties, I’ve grown into another kind of seeker. While common wisdom suggests assimilating the ideas of others, to learn from the best, sometimes I don’t want my own thoughts or ideas cluttered or squashed by the methods of anyone else, because they might not know better than me anyway.
Sure, I’m forever curious about the way other people fish. But I also know what a dead drift looks like — unmistakably. I can tell you where a nymph is in the water and if it has drifted across seams by the end of its course. This knowledge is something I stopped questioning, years ago, and it provides real insight into what works and what doesn’t.
I know there’s no perfect fly or leader formula. And I know that fishing well requires an attentiveness and skill that sometimes I just don’t have. It’s on those days that I fall back to the muscle memory of casting, stripping and drifting. And instead of trying to push forward and learn more, I simply relax into the experiences I’ve gained, trust myself and hope for a willing fish.
Who knows better than you?
For your waters, for your situation, for your goals — for your gear, for your abilities, your desires and your needs . . . no one. No one knows better than you.
And as a dedicated angler, seasoned by success and hardened by failure, you’ve earned it — you owe it to yourself to cease the endless doubt of your skills and your choices. Because no one knows your waters and your fishing better than you.
Fish hard, friends.
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Enjoy the day.
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