Posted By roger on March 20, 2014
Get out of the boat and learn to fly fish!
Whoa there son….them there’s fightin’ words….
The following comments are not to enrage those that deeply love nymphing out of a boat or those who have reached a level of greatness at guiding out of a boat. In fact; I do this same style of fly fishing myself because my clients demand it. I am one of those guides who regularly take clients on float trips that want this exact type of fly fishing experience. I am OK with that as a guide. The float trip experience is extremely valuable in the development of every fly fisherman.
The problem with this style of fly fishing is that it gives a fly fisherman a false sense of skills and abilities. And for some reason too many fly fisherman get pigeon holed into doing nothing else. Too many fly fisherman fall to the lure of catching fish after fish after fish and not developing many other skills beyond basic nymphing. When a fisherman stops learning and developing more skill sets, the fisherman gets sedentary and often becomes a one trick pony. I have seen many fisherman catching lots of fish with confidence, but with no direction or purpose as to why they are catching so many fish. When you have only one skill set, the purpose of fly fishing becomes deluded and gets lost and twisted in to a misconstrued equation of numbers of fish equaling skill and fun. What? This floating and nymphing aspect of fly fishing is a very small part of what fly fishing is in reality.
Let me explain, most fly fisherman get into fly fishing because they find fly fishing interesting and they “want to learn how to fly fish”. I have heard many new fly fishermen say those exact words. Their self-imposed purpose: to learn how to fly fish.
Most fly fishers start with a simple goal of catching one single fish. My customers and clients reiterate this every year when I ask them “why are you taking this guided fly fishing trip?” All beginners at some point tell me “I want to learn to fly fish and catch a fish.” I think we all have said that at some point. Sometimes I will tease them for more insight into their intentions by saying “only one fish?” This concept of fly fishing is so simple and perfect, but it is all summed up in that precise statement “I want to learn”. So why? Why do so many aspiring fly fishermen lose sight of their goal of learning to fly fish the first time they catch 20 or more fish while floating down a river with a nymph and a bobber? There is so much more to fly fishing then just nymphing.
When a fly fisherman first starts learning and developing skills as a fly fisherman he or she will aspire to catch just a few fish every time they go fishing. I can remember back when I first started fly fishing and I thought if I could only catch just two or three fish today, I would be satisfied. As one gets better and better after each time they go out to the water they begin to want to catch more fish, a lot more fish. After even more time on the water practicing their skills, the fly fisherman crosses a plateau of moderate competency with a fly rod and has complied a fair amount of knowledge about fly fishing. The fly fisherman then determines after studying innumerable aspects of fly fishing that the fly fisherman has developed a need to catch a single huge fish.
The huge fish becomes all-consuming of the fly fishers time on the water and off the water. After finally catching that elusive first huge fish, he or she with shaky hands and a pounding heart releases that rare creature of nature’s miraculous wonders because that fly fisherman has reached yet another substantial plateau. He or she then moves forward to another level of learning and growing. Respect for that rare and uncommon fish. No one is done there; there are far too many directions one can take from this point. Some go on to try to catch a lot of big fish. Others switch gears and start going the way of Hemingway. Or they go in any million other ways that are along the path of the fly fisher. This progression of skills and knowledge keeps the fly fisherman growing and learning, which is what, keeps us going back for more.
So then why do so many fly fishermen get so far off track of their goal of learning to fly fish after they float down a river watching a bobber? It seems like a conundrum, but it’s actually simpler than one would think. People like to feel like they are good at something and people love even more when they get quick easy positive feedback. We also love to tell great and exaggerated fish stories to anyone who will listen. The ease of catching fish in this manner is intoxicating to our human senses and our egos. Much like drugs and alcohol clouds the mind from continuing on the path of knowledge. Humans tend to falter and get stuck with the easy quick fix ways of catching fish. The quick fix almost always clouds our choices on how we catch fish and where we catch fish. Don’t take the addicts path to fly fishing.
Typically this all boils down to the most common reason why too many fly fishermen derail their ascent to greatness by stopping off at the corner of catching lots of fish and the need to brag about back home. The bragging again strokes the ego helping them relive the intoxicating event over and over again. Which in turn embeds the need to go back and catch more fish again and again, forsaking all else that fly fishing has to offer. If you are starting to think fly fishing sounds a bit too much like drug and alcohol effects on the human body causing cravings and euphoria’s, the effects are definitely very similar. The effects can also be very therapeutic and beneficial as well.
I often ask fly fishermen if they have gotten out and to get their fix. If you frequent fly shops, you will hear comments like this in most every shop all across the country. Why do we say this? It is not because we are whacked out drug and alcohol addicts; it is because fly fishing makes us feel good and therefore makes us happy. It removes the bad in the day and replaces it with positive feelings and a positive mind set. It helps us work better and faster because we feel good and we want to get through our work day and get back out there on the water. Its positive influence leaves an indelible mark on all our personalities, which helps us collectively as fly fisherman. We help each other without even knowing we are benefiting each other as fly fisherman every day just by sharing silly fishing stories. We clearly want to go fishing much more than we want to go to work or go do most anything else.
Bottom line…. When a fisherman stops learning and growing with the experiences that makes fly fishing what fly fishing really is, we have to ask ourselves what’s the point of continuing to fly fish on the same water and in the same manner every time you go fishing? I suggest mixing up the pot (no pun intended) much more often to keep growing as a fly fisherman. Take this advice, you will thank me later.
Understand what I am trying to get across here… I don’t stop there and you should not stop there either. Don’t pigeon hole your fishing or your skills either as a guide or a fly fisherman. Get out of the boat and learn other ways to catch fish while fly fishing. Or at least refresh those old skills that have gone dormant or are getting rusty. I can’t count the times I get people in the store asking what nymphs they should I buy. At that moment I am able to discern a lot about the fly fisherman such as where that fly fisherman is mentally along their path for knowledge. I make it a point to tell them as many correct nymph options as there are hatches going on at that time to help them broaden their understanding of what is going on in the water. I also add which dry flies and streamers patterns I recommend they explore.
I do this for the fisherman’s benefit, but most people probably think I am just trying to get them to buy more flies. That could not be further from my intent. My intent is to break through to the mundane masses and help them learn more about what they can do with fly fishing. It surprises me how often people tell me they don’t utilize two of the three techniques of fly fishing such as dry flies or streamers. Typically this means they are not having much if any success with those fly fishing techniques. All I can do is offer more options, variations and suggestions on how to get more out of fly fishing for them. I can only assume they are asking the question, because they do not know the answers. It is my job as the professional to help people to learn fly fishing, no matter how the fly fisherman tries to limit themselves.
As a guide, I will always try to persuade my clients to try new techniques, new flies and develop new skills every time I guide them. I feel this is an obligation for every guide, no exceptions. I will always switch through nymphs of all kinds teaching them how to properly present the different flies. I try to convince the fisherman that they want to try dry flies just as much as they want to nymph. This way I can help the fisherman adapt to any new circumstances that arise while they are trying something new. I will also change them to streamers at least for a few casts to develop their skills even more before I bring them back around the skills loop to reaffirm what they have learned. I always search for the right fly at the right time. I do this as often as I have to keep the day interesting and informative for the client. I demand this from all my guides and I will fire them if they get lazy.
Finally, many guides and outfitters have lost sight of what guiding is all about. Many have become more concerned about getting the customer to return, rather than teaching the customer to fly fish. Most people hire a fishing guide to learn how to fly fish. Most of the guiding being done nationwide is being done with the mentality of catching fish as the primary reason for being guided. This needs to change. Too many fly fishing guides are not teaching their clients to fly fish. They are just helping them catch a lot of fish mainly to get them to book again next year. If you are a fisherman that is stuck in this cycle, I recommend you start searching for a guide that will teach you more about fly fishing and stop selling you on just catching fish.
If you are a guide stuck doing this cycle, keep in mind just as many clients will return if they are learning new skills and catching fish. Sure we guides are always teaching clients something on every trip down the river, but why are guides not pushing their clients to get better than they currently are? A guide should take pride in teaching clients to become better and better every time the client goes fishing, so the client can be more self-sustaining. When I first started guiding, one of the best thing I was taught by my guiding mentor was “You should try to teach yourself out of a job; I know it sounds strange but you will get more repeat clients this way” As the years have gone by, it turns out, his statement is proving true. The bonus is that my return clients are better and better each year, and my clients are making my job easier and easier.
To sum all this up.
There is a limited amount of skill and knowledge involved in floating down a river with an indicator nymphing. The statistics show that on average a trout will feed sub-surface as much as 98% of the time. Most long term guides worth hiring for a guide trip would agree that floating and nymphing is relatively simple and can be boring. I grant this style of fishing is extremely effective and millions of fish per season are caught and released using this technique. The big shops on big rivers account for tens of thousands of fish caught this way every year. A low estimate for the Bighorn River alone (if you take into account all the clients and guides on the water per year) the number of fish caught and released is easily over 300,000 trout each season. Floating and nymphing is great for the sport of fly fishing because it makes beginners and average fly fishermen feel very good about the time they spend on the water. It gives them great stories to tell when they get home and they are very satisfied as customers with their guide because they caught lots of fish. So how does one break this chain of floating and nymphing addiction?
It starts with the guides. Make your clients change their fly fishing techniques several times per day. Make your client get out of the boat and fish from a shelf or the bank every time you can so they can get a different perspective on fly fishing. At a minimum keep your eyes open for that dry fly teaching opportunity with every client, no matter how novice they are. And finally at afternoon thirty when you have to row out those last few miles convince your client to throw a streamer or a bugger to complete the trout tri-fecta. The trout tri-fecta is at least one fish on each of the three main techniques of fly fishing, dry flies, nymphs and streamers/buggers. And finally recommend to your clients that they go fish some small stream, creek, pond or lake both with a guide and on their own to develop specific skills you can help them with the next time they are on the river with you.
If you are a fly fisherman that is stuck in this float trip merry-go-round, get out of the boat and get back to learning how to fly fish. Yes, it will be harder and you likely won’t catch as many fish and the fish may be smaller on average but you will become a better fly fisherman. You can start by going on more walk and wade fishing trips each season. Stop thinking you have to catch a certain number of fish of a certain size to have a great trip. Think about what skills you are lacking and find a guide that will help you develop those skills. You should stop throwing just a bobber and nymph and start focusing on the intense skills of dry fly fishing. And finally, at a minimum you should break out of your mold by chucking streamers or buggers. Your casting and presentation skills will grow fast if you mix up your skills though out your days on the waters.
I hope this information helps people become better fly fishermen and or fly fishing guides. I took the time to write this article in hopes of changing people’s thoughts about fly fishing. If any of this article upset your sensibilities, you are closer to being this guy than you might like, and you may want to re-evaluate your thinking as a fly fisherman and not just a fisherman focused on catching. If you don’t know what a fly fisherman is, Google search it and read all about it to form your own opinion.
By the way one of my favorite people to read is John Juracek. John is one of the greats that have ever written, photographed, spoke or demonstrated aspects of fly fishing. Check out some of John’s writings and photographs at johnjuracek.com
Thanks for taking time to read this exceptionally long article. I tried to not get too far off track but I thought sharing a different perspective might help change fishermen into fly fisherman.
Tight lines and great fly fishing.