Confessions of a fly fisherman.
Forgive me Father Maclean, for I have sinned.
Man, fishing is hard. Well, I mean, most fishing is hard. Sticking a worm on a hook and waiting for a bluegill to bite is not particularly challenging under most circumstances, but fishing as a whole is tough, and fly fishing is quite difficult, especially in the beginning.
I didn’t grow up fishing like some did. No river walks with my old man who showed me all I needed to know about catching trout while imparting subtle yet important life lessons. Nope, I learned everything by trial and error (mostly error) and a little bit of YouTube. I’m an extrovert by nature, but fishing has always been an escape for me. I won’t get all Zen, but everyone needs downtime, and fishing alone has saved me the embarrassment of sharing (some) of my failures with others. Now, as a I grow older and more comfortable in my waders, I can reflect on some of the dumb shit I’ve done learning to fish. Here are my confessions.
Waders & Chacos
In my twenties, I was a ski bum and an aspiring trout bum, but not one of those smart ones that bartends and actually makes money. I was a snowboard instructor and a raft guide, so I was always broke. My roommates all chipped in and bought me a set of Simms waders one year—it was touching, really. But I couldn’t afford boots, and I had already learned my lesson whipping out the credit card for stuff I absolutely couldn’t afford. So, what did I do in the months before and after wet-wading season? I stuffed the neoprene stockings on my waders into my worn-out Chacos and hit the river. I’m not sure if the sidelong glances I got from other fly fishermen were more amusement or pity, but I can safely say that I looked like a real goober.
Cast upstream of rising trout. Nothing. Cast into the bush above rising trout and get snagged. Lose the fly but the trout is still rising. Take a deep breath, tie on a new fly, and wait for the trout to return. He does. Cast back into the bush, swear, lose the fly, but the trout continues to rise. Wait ten minutes because that’s what the old YouTube guys said to do. Fish rises again. Throw the third fly immediately into the bush, whack pole on water snapping it in half, explain to the then-girlfriend-now-wife that my day is done. What a loser. Temper, Temper
There is something exhilarating about watching a trout rise for natural flies. Your heart starts beating quicker and you begin strategizing to get that thing on the end of your line. Casting accuracy is one of the important skills—among many—you need in order to land a fish on a dry fly. Let me take you through my first fly-rod-warranty experience:
Did I Get It?
My first fly-fishing experience was actually back in the Midwest. I finally had gotten close with one of the few fly-fishermen types that hung out at the bar I worked at and he agreed to show me his spot. Hell, he even had all the gear. He showed me the basics and we went tromping across what I’m pretty sure was a bunch of private property to chase brown trout during a pretty epic hex hatch—think Mother’s Day on the Yellowstone. I’m rocking hip waders and casting poorly to some unfooled trout. I’m not sure when it happened, I’m guessing really early, but my fly got caught on the back of my hoodie. I couldn’t feel it and it was dark enough that I couldn’t see my fly landing on the water. I could see the floating line and just assumed the rest was doing what it was supposed to. A big fish would smash a fly and I’d yank up—set that hook! Nothing. Rinse and repeat.
Needless to say, I was skunked and when the fish stopped rising I reeled in my line and felt this tug on my back. I had to take my hoody off and rip the fly out, which I managed to do just before my friend found me. “Catch anything?” “Uh, almost…”
This Is Real Life
Most of the blunders I’ve had were in my first days of fly fishing, but not all. Last summer I managed to lodge a fly in my right index finger, which was super. I was already annoyed at the old man who had given me guff about where I was fishing and then came to bother me to help him look for his friend when I caught my line in sagebrush walking to a new spot. Here’s a lesson, kids: if you give a light tug and it doesn’t come out, that doesn’t mean pull harder. I gave a big, annoyed tug and stuck a big #14 Adams right in my index finger. I pretty much deserved that one, as well as the bill from the Ennis emergency room later that month. You couldn’t get it out on your own? No… it was deeeep.
I Judge the Spinners
Let me start by saying there is nothing wrong with spin fishing for trout. I did it a fair amount before I got my own fly gear. But I confess, when I’m out walking around by myself and I see people spin fishing for trout, I judge. Now, know that I’ve had a few annoying experiences, such as people with spinner rods chucking their little treble hooks way too close to me—and I don’t just mean in the hole I’m fishing. I’ve heard loud plunks a couple of feet from me just to turn around and get a little sorry obligatory wave. And, have you ever seen someone with a short spinner rod ever lose a fish? No, because they’ve got a big treble hook lodged in the mouth and then they all horse them in like they’re on Bass Masters or something. Ugh. I confess that I’m judging the spinner types, and I feel bad about it. I’m working on this…
I’ve got more. Falls, leaving fly boxes in remote locations, rolling up car windows on rods… you get the point. The epic fails are fewer and farther between than they used to be, but I’m confident there will be more. Until then, I’ll keep on exploring, trying to get better, occasionally exaggerate my exploits, and, in general, enjoy my obsession.