Don't Get Mad, Get Fish

Fed up with flyfishing? Focus on what you can do.

Field & Stream Online Editors

Some folks who pick up a rod to learn flyfishing start casting as if they were born to do it. The less fortunate are easily discouraged because of the difficulty of mastering all the rules and techniques (to say nothing of the Latin you "need" to identify insects or the names and uses of the myriad flies available). I'm an example of the latter type of angler. I came to flyfishing late in life, just about the time my body started underperforming in other sports, and there's a lot I'm still trying to master. But I do catch fish, and I intend to keep at it till my knees totally give out.

For anyone who wants more enjoyment and less frustration from the sport, an attitude adjustment is in order: First, forget there's a way you're supposed to do things. Then just go fishing and enjoy it for all the reasons you took it up in the first place. There's a way to get around every one of your shortcomings:

  • Can't cast more than 40 feet? Don't worry. There are usually plenty of fish within that range. In fact, many of them are probably within 20 feet. Get yourself into a position where you can hit water, and do your best from there.

  • **Don't know how to cast "pretty"? **Some casts are things of beauty, long and smooth and effortless. But my fly either lands with a plop or in a spiderweb tangle of line. If by chance it lands perfectly, no fish will take it. I find that when I am out of other anglers' sight, I cast a lot better, so it must be in my mind. Be sure to take time away from instructors and fellow flyfishermen.

  • ** Not sure where the fish are?** According to all the advice you've read, they could be in the lee of a rock, in a pool, at the head of a pool, in the tail of a pool, in riffles, beneath undercut banks¿¿¿and so on. The only sure thing is that the fish are in the water-and they swim around a lot. Get your fly into what seems, to you, to be a "fishy" place. If you're wrong, look elsewhere.

  • Don't know which fly is which? I keep my "sinkers" in one box and my "floaters" in another and don't mind when a floater becomes a sinker, because I've seen fish caught on just about everything. If I happen to catch one and another angler asks what I'm using, I tell them it's a little brown floater (or a big black sinker). I'm not trying to evade the question, and I always offer to wade over and show them, but it's rare that someone takes me up on my offer.

  • Not sure which fish is which either? If you enjoy fishing, you'll have as much fun pulling in a creek chub as you will a wild brookie. Most of the fish I catch are brown with spots. Or silver. Or black. I don't care. Sometimes I'm told the 13-incher I caught is huge; other times a 13-pound fish is small. Because I am as competitive as the next person, I hope for the big ones, but I love even small fish on a slow day.

  • Is wading more challenging than casting? I don't wade deeper than my knees. If it's at all possible to fish from shore or a boat, I do. It doesn't shake up the fish nearly as much as my drowning would. I've been out on the water with anglers who go in up to their waists. I catch almost as many fish as they do and get soaked a lot less. There's something to be said for being comfortable with one's own limitations.

  • ** Not sure which direction to fish in?** I have read that I have a better chance wading upstream, but that some days it's more effective to go the other way and hit the suckers on the head with the fly. I generally fish in whatever direction keeps the most space between myself and other anglers.

  • ** Don't have a plan for how to catch fish?** Me neither, but I do catch them. I use sneaky casts under bushes and behind big rocks. I fish tiny patches of water no one else bothers with. I sit on top of streamside boulders, drifting my fly up and down, back and forth in the current until I eithher catch something or get bored and move on. I lose lots of flies because there isn't any place I won't cast to.

I know my form is terrible. I know how ignorant I am of the finer points of flyfishing. But I can catch fish most days. And if I can, so can you.