My brother in law Russell is the kind of fisherman, I like to call the intellectual fisherman. He reads fly fishing books and articles, studies the art. He applies what he learns step by step. I mean he’ll follow what he’s learned exactly as instructed. If it says twist 8 times then tighten the knot, you know that knot has 8 twists in it. I remember fishing with him in Watauga County. The first thing I noticed right away was he got real low almost like he was trying to hide from someone. Then moved really slow to the stream. I almost started laughing. I’ve read articles about stalking fish but I’ve never actually watched someone do it. It was pretty amusing. He stayed low and cast from a crouched position. I walked upstream maybe a 100yds from him and I stood straight up almost the opposite of what he was doing. I also immediately got in the water where he stayed on the bank and fished the water in front first. I sat there and watched him work the bank then moved slowly into the water working it just as though he were following an instruction guide for how to fly fish.
I have always thought it was funny how we were complete opposites. Russell would check his knots after catching each fish, stand to where he’d cast the least shadow. Make sure his line did not make too much of a wake when it landed on the water. I on the other hand would hardly ever check my knots, the only time I did would be after getting a really nasty snag in a tree or on some rocks underwater. I never have been a cast snob. I’ve seen to many fish caught with ugly casts. I also never cared where the sun was, I did pay attention to my shadow. What’s amazing about fly fishing and all the information on “the right way” to do it is, everyone does it differently and still catches fish. Who knows really what way catches more fish. I’m sure my way is not the best, but I know for sure it’s not the worst. To me, that is what makes it really fun, finding out what works best for YOU. You can read technique and how to books all you want. It is nothing compared to getting out in some trout water and experimenting.
Another time on the same stream Russell and another friend Jeff and I were fishing. It was Jeff’s birthday. He used to be a fly fishing guide. Needless to say I was not intimidated but I did think I was going to get out fished and it was going to make my technique look like crap. In the beginning I just watched Jeff. I always wanted to be a guide and I wanted to see how similarly we fished. After watching him for about an hour or so I realized there wasn’t much of a difference. In fact, in my opinion he didn’t fish with the attention to detail that Russell fished with. I started to re-evaluate my opinion of guides. I always held them as some super natural almost wielding fish to their line type of a person. Now I was starting to think otherwise. Maybe a guide is someone who just has a lot of experience on one stretch of water. Or possibly it’s a person who has fished a lot of different types of water and knew someone who had a fly shop. My personal favorite is thinking it was just someone who loved to fish that got lucky and was at the right place at the right time. The day went on with us fishing, spread out on the water. Russell was catching fish on wooly buggers. I was doing well with a bead headed muskrat emerger. The fish seemed to really like this fly. They must have been looking for stonefly nymphs on the bottom. Also they liked the gray color as apposed to black. I was catching fish at a steady pace of 1 every 20minutes. Jeff wasn’t catching anything. At first I was a little happy. I thought I’m better then this guy. Then I started to feel bad, because be it he was a guide in the past or not, it was his birthday and he was out here not to show us up but just to have fun and catch fish which wasn’t happening. I came over to him knowing he hadn’t caught anything but asking anyway if he did. He said “I can’t seem to find what they want to eat.” It does suck to be the only one not catching anything. My confidence can really plummet. After getting skunked on a few fly fishing trips I’ll start to go into a little trout depression. I’ll think things like, man I forgot what catching a trout feels like or maybe I’m not a very good fisherman. Then you get a tug on your line catch a fish and you forget the 3 fishless trips, your self esteem shoots threw the roof and again you think you’re ready to be the lead in a fly fishing video.
I showed Jeff what I was using, then I did something I never thought I’d be generous enough to do. I asked him if he wanted to use it. At first he gave me a look that I could read what he was thinking just from the expression of his face and eyes. Like I know how to catch fish, I don’t need someone to tell me what to use. Then I said “well it’s your birthday, you can have this fly.” I saw his expression instantly change into a expression of gratitude. He didn’t take the fly but I knew he liked that I wasn’t making it a competition. There’s always a competitive nature with men. We went on that stream all about having fun but once we stepped in the water we were watching each other out of the corners of our eyes. Russell is probably the least competitive. He always appreciates the true value of things and knows just being able to be outdoors fishing is great. After catching a couple I didn’t care what happened, I always want to just catch at least one fish. What’s funny is after I was so hyped about how Jeff was going to fish I can’t remember if he caught anything or not. I believe he did. I think that was the day I realized did it really matter? Fishing is more then who catches the most or who fish’s with the best technique. It’s also not about what you did in the past. Once you enjoy fly-fishing just for what it is, you’ll enjoy it much more. Even if you don’t catch anything.