Fly fishing brings me a lot of satisfaction. If it didn’t, I’d choose another pursuit.
Sure, there are moments of frustration. Certain days leave a bit to be desired. But all in all, I find fly fishing highly satisfying. This is significant, I think, because I’m an average fly fisher. Yes, even fly fishers with average skills can find great joy in the sport. So what makes for a highly satisfied fly fisher? There are five disciplines which come to mind.
Let’s face it. You need a modicum of skill. If you can’t cast, tie a couple basic knots, or “read” a river, you’re not going to have an enjoyable experience. But the good news is that you don’t have to become a pro in order to find fly fishing satisfying.
Tim Wu wrote a fantastic article for The New York Times titled “In Praise of Mediocrity.” He argues that we get too obsessed with our hobbies, striving for a level of excellence which creates anxiety rather than joy. I love his description of “the gentle pursuit of modest competence.”
It’s fun to get better. Read a fly fishing book or watch a series of fly casting videos. Learn the improved clinch knot (for tying flies to your tippet) and the infinity knot (for tying tippet to leader). Concentrate on improving your cast.
Just don’t overdo it.
This goes for everything from acquiring new gear to learning skills.
Fly fishing is a gadget-intensive hobby. In some respects, that is part of the fun. But an obsession with the latest pair of waders or the upgraded version of the fly rod you use can leave you frustrated. Greed never says, “Enough!” It always wants more.
The same is true of learning new skills. If you’re interested in Euro-nymphing or learning to tie flies, go for it! If you’re not, that’s fine, too. Focus on what interests you. If there are fifteen practices of highly successful fly fishers, you probably only need to master five of them. Don’t let fly fishing become too technical.
I like solitude as much as the next lone fly fisher.
But I get so much satisfaction out of sharing experiences with my podcast partner (Dave), my brother (another Dave), and my sons (Ben, Luke), and other friends with whom I occasionally fly fish (Kevin, Bob, and yet an additional Dave). The laughter and comradery is priceless. I go home with a full heart every time I fly fish with one or more of these folks.
I’m not talking about high-adrenaline experiences. Rather, I’m referring to trips or days on the water that require more than just a casual stroll to the river’s edge. It might be a six-hour float on a picturesque river. Or, perhaps it involves a strenuous hike into a remote stretch of river. It might even be fly fishing in grizzly bear country. All of these adventures will provide experiences or sights that you’ll savor for years to come.
Sameness is a leech which sucks the life out of you. Sure, it’s fun to go back to the same spot day after day—or week after week—if it’s productive. But variety really is the spice of the fly fishing life.
So vary the time of year you fish. Take a fall trip one year, and a spring trip the next. Try fishing nymphs or streamers as well as dry flies. Fish different kinds of water—from large freestone rivers to small spring creeks to high mountain lakes. If you mix it up a bit, you’ll have richer experiences.
Sure, catching fish is a big part of satisfaction. Yet each of these disciplines, in their own way, contributes to a full, rich experience on the river. They reflect what satisfied fly fishers do.