Spending the day with folks engaged in the intense game of fly fishing will teach you a lot about people. After years of observing my fellow fishermen I now feel qualified as an amateur psychologist and ready to pontificate on the subject of fly-fishing personalities. Following are several that I have identified.
Analytical Fly Fisherman
The analytical fly fisherman keeps so busy fiddling with his formulas, strategies, and entomological charts that the simple, straightforward solutions to catching a fish are often overlooked. If, for instance, he can’t catch a fish, he should examine the obvious first: Has the fish actually seen the fly? Has the fish seen him? Heck, maybe the fish can’t even see. I once approached a client who was casting to a dead trout lying on the bottom of the river. He told me that it wouldn’t take” and was showing the decomposing animal a new fly as I arrived. To first study the condition of such a docile creature might have been the commonsense thing to do, but, as a cabby once told me, “Common sense ain’t common.”
The jiggler is a stressed-out breed of cat commonly found residing in large cities. Far removed from his ancestral homeland his senses get overloaded when near trout water. And when approaching said water his body vibrates as if it were electrically charged, thereby oscillating the fly rod to form a tangled ball of line, leader, and fly. Although cardiac problems are a possibility, there are more practical concerns: This angler’s fly seldom sits still long enough to catch a fish. The jiggler also changes flies often, always thinking that the next choice will be the right one. With those shaky fingers, however, it is a time-consuming process and should be avoided.
If the jiggler should somehow hook a good fish, the chances are slim that it will be landed. If a person is that e3xcitable before a trout is actually hooked, imagine what happens when he latches onto one. The hyper angler hates to give a fish line and can generally be counted on to freeze hysterically when a big fish takes, breaking the leader and losing the treasure.
The jiggler will invariably generate unnecessary tension in the casting arm, and that rigidity takes the feel out of the casting operation. Because he cannot feel the line loading, the timing of the cast becomes a guessing game. His uncertainty tends to make him perform many needless false casts.
The lazy angler doesn’t take care of his slack line. When I’m guiding I usually say a hundred times a day, “Pick up the slack, please—all of it.” Most anglers are guilty of this serious infraction. These are often the same fishermen who do not extend their arm far enough when reaching. And very few “slackers” wade close enough to their targets. When compiled, these details add up to bad drifts and missed strikes.
These items are dealt with later in the book but are of such significance that—just like I do with my guiding clients—I will start nagging you now so you will get your money’s worth by the end of the book.
I remember a client who complained about the day’s fishing. He didn’t have any right to because he fished with one hand in his pocket all day! With all the slack lying about, he spent his time tangled with rocks, brush, and his appendages. His fly was out of then water—and the fish’s mouth as well.
Fishing in streams, if done correctly, is a lot of work. Try that difficult cast under the brush, or see what’s up that channel you’ve never fished. Save lazy for the catfish hole.
Another kind of lazy angler is epitomized by an old friend, Billy, who has a house on the Batten Kill. The river is known for its fabulous Trico hatch, but the tiny black and white mayfly does its elaborate metamorphosis in the mornings only—providing some of the most interesting and inspired feeding in a trout’s world. But when I asked Billy how he does in the hatch, he said that he “doesn’t fish in the mornings.” He is an excellent fisherman and drives for hours to get to this house on the river and worked for fifty years in the corporate world to get it. So we know he is not lazy. He buys all the right gear and ties great flies, but by this omission in his fishing repertoire he gets graded as a “casual” fisherman. Sorry, Bill.
Staying late is another important factor that separates the pros from the amateurs. Few fishers—including me—fish as late as we should in summer, which is until dark. In warm weather, larger brown trout come out only then. If you are doing it right you should be using your flashlight to find the car.
The Fly-Fishing Snob
We fly fishers have a deeply ingrained sense of superiority that sometimes gives us a bad name. (Well, a bad name to bait fishermen anyway.) The real fly-fishing upper crust is wrapped up in the mystique of the sport and develops particular ideas about what’s right and wrong. Perhaps fishing only dries made from natural materials and delivering them with a wisp of a bamboo rod. Heaven knows how people come to profound opinions over such a trivial pursuit as ours. I think the Brits are responsible: For instance, you can’t fish with weight or strike indicators in the U.K., but you can thump all the trout you catch. (But only with a “proper” tool; a priest it’s called—for God’s sake.)
With the U.K. leading the way and the Untied States close behind, there seems to be some correlation between this level of snobbery and the closer to doom your civilization has advanced.
The Trout Bum
There are about half a million young trout bums in the Untied States. I admit that I was such a pest myself, although a funkier version thereof. This new breed of trout bum drives a Toyota 4Runner, spends a lot of time on the water, and with all that youthful energy catches all our damn trout. And if you have one of those varmints living in your neighborhood, encourage him to get a family and job so that the nearby fish will be released unharmed.
The Overqualified Fly Fisher
Certain fly fishers know too much for their own good. We guide them on our small streams here in New Mexico, and they are forever casting too far, mending too much, and thinking too often.
It is common for this type of angler to be accompanied by a beginner and be thoroughly out-fished by the beginner. The beginner has the loose mind and short cast that are more effective on a lot of water.
The Overeager Angler
The overeager angler gets so obsessed that he pounds the water like a lunatic. When you find yourself doing this, listen to the little gurgling noises, take deep breaths, and remember that it’s only fishing. Thinking there just might be a nice fish behind every rock, this person tends to fish every inch of stream in sight. All really good fishermen have a no-doubt outlook, believing that each cast is going to catch a fish, but that attitude needs to be tempered with good judgment, or else there will be a lot of wasted effort.
Such overeager anglers start pulling line out for the next cast while they are fishing the present one (thinking it is necessary to always make a longer cast). This is sloppy and distracts from fishing the cast that is on the water. If you are a good hand with the rod, you may be able to pull line out of the reel at the same time as you are fishing. But no matter how much experience you have, you’ll catch more fish if you do one thing at a time.
Fired-Up Fly Fisher
The fired-up fly fisher is so dedicated that he gets worn out before the dance starts. No matter what your mind says, the body has only so much juice in it, so plan your time wisely. For instance, the long evenings of early summer can provide the best hatches and fishing of the season, so I often try to convince wound-up clients that we shouldn’t start early in the morning. Not wanting to appear to be a slacker, however, I seldom push it. Invariably these people tire and want to quit around sundown, just when things start to happen. Or they will be so pooped by then that they end up doing a sloppy job and missing all the strikes.
The Materialistic Fisherman
We all like to catch big fish, but for many that’s the only criterion used to judge the quality of the day. Materialistic fishermen are so focused on achieving their goal that they seldom get to receive the full benefits a day outside can provide. All they care about are results—and that means big fish, period! A couple of years ago I was guiding a guy on the Chama River here in New Mexico, and the fishing was so good that I couldn’t get my angler to look at the bird overhead—an albino red-tailed hawk. The startling bird sailed this way and that and then perched on a tree branch. I was giving my client updates on the movement of this once-in-a-lifetime sight, but he never raised his head to look. We fished up around the bend, and he didn’t see it. Such guys (you guessed it: the materialistic fisher is most always male) are usually myopic anglers who would actually catch more trout if they become more aware of the world around them.
Another common and amusing sort of fly fisher is the drifter. You can take hi from town to country, but his mind seldom accompanies him. Bob is a good case in point. I was having a heck of a time trying to teach Chicago Bob to cast. Bob was one of those laugh-a-minute cats who is always looking for a joke—even if it is at his expense—so I’m sure that he wouldn’t mind me telling you this little tale. (He may have even planned the whole thing.)
We were in the middle of a stream where I was trying to teach Bob to cast and fish. He seemed to have finally gotten somewhat of a loose grip on the casting operation, so I went off to check on his partner. I returned a short while later to see if he had had any luck. As I walked across a meadow I could see Bob in the distance making some puzzling motions with his fly rod. Bob’s casting had deteriorated beyond my expectations, which were not high. His line was traveling in wide, circular loops, and his arm had to go around and around like a windmill to maintain a sort of lasso effect. Getting closer, I was able to analyze the problem and called out.
“Hey, Bob, there is a fish on your line.” When I reached Bob he told me that he had been having difficulty with his casting for some time. The very dead look of the 4-inch trout supported the idea that the fish had been attached for some time.
The Open-Minded Angler
The open-minded angler uses the experience and expertise acquired on his home water elsewhere but is not a slave to it. All trout streams are different, and if you step into new water with a lot of preconceived notions, you may go fishless. A good example of this occurs when a tailwater fisherman fishes a new trout stream. Because he is used to being surrounded by both fish and fishermen, he is programmed to move at a slow pace. This is inappropriate for a normal trout stream because a regular freestone stream doesn’t hold as many fish as a tailwater stream. The trout, less pressured in the freestone stream, might take a fly the first time it goes over their head. Consequently, covering lightly fished water quickly is wise.
This open-minded angler pays attention to what is going on around him and goes at a relaxed enough pace that he can absorb the subtle hints that nature constantly supplies to the observant. This person also solicits help and advice from others and is willing to learn new things.
In general, however, fishermen have sensitive egos, so, as with the rest of the human race, open-mindedness and self-analysis are not common. Who ever heard an angler blame himself for a poor day’s fishing? “I was off my game.” No, quotes like that are for sports that don’t have so many built-in excuses. Fishermen have been graciously excluded from personal responsibility ever since the first one of our kid stooped through the cave door with an empty stringer and grunted, “They aren’t biting.” We fly fishers are above such common lies and have developed a plethora of elaborate excuses appropriate to our lofty position in the hierarchy of fishing. “I didn’t have any No. 26s,” “My leader wasn’t fluorocarbon,” and “My guide sucked” are just a few.
Do you identify with any of these personality disorders? Rehabilitation is possible if you are ready to put the responsibility where it belongs—on yourself. If we do that, we will become better fishermen—and people.
—From Instinctive Fly Fishing: A Guide’s Guide to Better Trout Fishing (Lyons Press, 2012)