Life On the Water

by | Mar 25, 2024 | 5 comments

Austin and I sat across the coffee table from Trevor and Josh. With a couple of beers and sandwiches, it was good to catch up with the guys — to tell a few fishing stories and hear about families, recent events and future plans. On a Friday afternoon, this impromptu Troutbitten hangout at Trevor’s place happened because Austin had finished a presentation on the Penn State campus, Josh and Trevor were daytime Dads, and I’d escaped an eye doctor appointment with no layover — only dilated pupils.

Somewhere in conversation, Josh said he would soon be taking a friend to the river who wanted to get into fly fishing. Austin mentioned that he’d recently done the same, and I shared that I have a couple friends who’ve asked me to show them some things as well. Over the years, each of us at the table had introduced a bunch of friends and family into fishing.

Is it a sport? Is it a hobby, a pastime or a way of life? We talked about that for a bit. And Josh made a point that we all agreed with. Regardless of how much we want to help friends and family enjoy time on the water, most of the learning — for any angler — must come from within.

We’ve all seen this enough to recognize a pattern.  And those who stick with it are the same. They enjoy research. They absorb what they’re taught. They ask questions. Then they go home and can’t stop thinking about rivers and trout. The next time you fish together, they’ve already filled in some gaps, they’ve been out by themselves, gathered gear, learned a few knots and they’ve probably caught a few trout.

READ: Troutbitten | Who Knows Better Than You?

No resource can provide a substitute. Becoming an angler comes down to the fishing. It’s time on the water. And if it’s going to stick with a person, we see it right away. The obsession comes on quickly, and I daresay that just might be necessary. There’s so much to learn and so many confusions to overcome that only some kind of obsession will divert enough time and personal resources to make it past the opening frames.

The first hill is steep, and no one can hold your hand. Having a mentor is fine but not necessary, and each of us at the table agreed that we did most of it ourselves when it was our time.

Photo by Josh Darling

For all of the long term fishermen we know, this same truth holds. Fishing is a solitary endeavor. Good friends and companionship enriches the experience, but the casts are your own. The choices of flies, leaders, lines and styles are yours. The next hundred yards at the outside riverbend are yours too. Even if you’ve geared up with three friends at the tailgate, when it comes to the actual activity, fly fishing is a solo sport. It’s personal. It’s a world of techniques and possibilities, and there’s room for preferences, novel ideas and experimentation. From dawn to dusk, from darkness to daylight, from the surface to the riverbed, waters fast and slow, shallow and deep, for fish small and large, fly fishing has plenty to offer, provided an angler goes at it hard enough to see what’s possible out there.

Over the last few ounces of beer, we talked about all of this. My friends nodded and agreed — we’ve all had friends who’ve given up too quickly.

In fact, most do.

I suggested that it’s the consequence of expectations. People want to succeed, to read water, cast well and put fish in the net, but they want it faster than what is possible. And when fishing becomes discouraging, people aren’t prepared for the feeling. They’re prepared only for perfection, for the idealized concept of fishing — where everything goes right.

But everything worth pursuing takes time to get there. Long paths are fueled by passionate energy. Good fishing asks for devotion, but many first timers aren’t expecting that kind of commitment.

Accomplished and skilled fly fishing requires that you give part of your life to the river. That’s evident in the first few trips, and I think the depth of all this surprises would-be anglers. It intimidates some, and it captivates others.

People of all ages and all walks of life come to fishing and hold onto it. There’s a fraternity around fishing that has nothing to do with rod vaults or waders. We recognize one another and connect easily. It’s deep, dirty and frequent fishing. It’s a love for the mysteries that inhabit every part of a river. And it’s an appreciation (perhaps a need) for time spent in a different world, removed from all else and filled with the purpose of improving, of learning just enough to fool the next fish.

Our informal foursome found an ending as the conversation wound down and we gathered coats and keys. A life on the water — this is what we share with friends. And for some of them, it becomes everything.

Photo by Austin Dando

Fish hard, friends.


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Enjoy the day.
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. Dom,

    Great article. I have thought about this for some time and I agree 100% with the fact that the dedicated few anglers that are deeply committed to life on the water do recognize and find kinship with each other. As a proud veteran, I find fly fishing friends with our troutbitten mindset to be the closest brotherhood to my time in the service.

    The shared passion, dedication to self improvement and the willingness to help others out when called upon are something I treasure. Glad to have found you and the crew…can’t wait for our next trip later this year…and of course the awesome winter trip! I hope it is just as cold as last year…and just as epic.


  2. Kaizen.

  3. Great piece, and right on the mark. The passion and obsession come early, and before you even realize it, fishing isn’t just something you do, it becomes a part of who you are. The turning point for me was passing up a promotion because it would have interfered too much with my time on the water. It was the first time anything besides family and living location had factored into a career decision. In the work-life balance equation, fishing became a crucial new variable. I’m grateful for that, and I’m grateful to have a few spaces, including the Troutbitten Project, as a home and refuge for like-minded anglers. Rock on Dom and company!

  4. So true! I was introduced to fly angling late, winding down from an academic medical career and just as covid-19 hit. It’s been a godsend to have this new preoccupation and I owe much to you and the team for all I’ve learned! It’s been a smooth transition to another venue for continuous learning (as Trevor will certainly understand!).

    Thanks, guys!

  5. This article sums up all that is great within the fly fishing community, met so many like minded and good friends on the rivers of Wales . Been really enjoying all your work you put In to helping fellow anglers out keep up the excellent work.


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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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