Does a Landing Net Make Sense for Small Trout?

landing net

A sign in the dentist’s office caught my attention: “You don’t need to floss all your teeth. Just the ones you want to keep.” I think something similar can be said about using a net to land trout: “You don’t need to net all the trout you catch. Just the ones you want to protect.”

Landing Nets Versus Barbless Hooks

I’m a big advocate for using a net for 12-20 inch trout. Some of the veteran fly fishers and guides I’ve talked to claim that using a net is more important for trout safety than using a barbless hook—especially since barbed hooks today have much less severe barbs than those of yesteryear.

A Confession

However, I have to confess that I’ve never bothered to take a net when I’m catching small trout of the little streams I fish in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. By small, I’m referring to 8 to 11 inch trout.

Okay, perhaps I should say 6 to 11 inch trout!

In fact, I’ve even smirked inwardly at some anglers I’ve seen with nets clipped to the back of their vests on some of these small streams. Who needs a net to land an 8-inch brookie?! Or maybe the smirk was for wearing chest waders on an 80-degree day along a stream whose deepest run is three feet.

An Excuse to Buy More Gear

I repent, though.

I just ordered a Brodin Phantom Firehole Net. My old Brodin, which was made not far from where I used to live in Belgrade, Montana, has string netting. I wanted one with rubber netting since it’s much easier on trout. I have a Fishpond Nomad which works great for bigger trout. But that would be overkill for smaller trout.

At least that’s my excuse to make a new purchase.

The Brodin Phantom Firehole Net is only 23 inches long with a hoop that is 7 inches by 15 inches. That makes the handle 8 inches long. This will work nicely for small trout, and it would work in a pinch for a larger one.

An Obvious and Not-So-Obvious Benefit

One of the benefits of using a net for little trout is obvious. It prevents excessive handling of the trout. It also keeps them from flopping on boulder-lined banks. Even (or especially) smaller fish are not indestructible.

But there is another not-so-obvious benefit:

It’s the habit and skill this will form. If I commit to using a net every time I fly fish, then it will become a habit. Furthermore, there is a skill (maybe even an art) to landing trout. The more practice I get, the better I get—assuming that I’m using the right techniques (lifting up the net rather than stabbing at the fish, lifting my rod when I’m about the land the fish, etc.).

The next time you see me toting a net on a small stream, please don’t smirk. Or if you do, make sure it’s not because I’m using a net for small trout. You can shake your head or roll your eyes because I’ve justified yet another fly fishing gear purchase.

Fly Fishing Entomology 101 – Blue-Winged Olive

Veteran fly fisher Dave Hughes claims that Blue-Winged Olives are the most important mayflies for fly fishing. I believe he is right. Trout seem to feed on them with the same intensity that kids (and adults!) eat popcorn. Here is a quick profile of this species:

Names

  • “Blue-Winged Olive” is commonly abbreviated as “BWO.”
  • BWOs are also known as “Little Olives.”
  • The Latin name for BWOs is Baetis. Technically, the BWO is a sub-species of Baetis, but many fly fishers use “BWO” and Baetis as synonyms.

The Basics

  • These flies are ubiquitous. You will find them in slow, medium, and fast currents. They live in freestone rivers, spring creeks, and tailwaters.
  • Although BWO hatches happen every month, they are most prolific in April-May and again in September-October.
  • The best time of day for BWO hatches is late morning to early afternoon — the warmest part of the day. Cloudy, rainy conditions intensify and lengthen these hatches.

Nymph Stage

  • While BWOs in the nymph stage are excellent swimmers, they tend to drift with little or no movement.
  • BWO nymphs have slender, tapered bodies which some fly fishers describe as “torpedo-shaped.” Their color ranges from olive to dark brown.
  • BWO nymphs have two long antennae and three tails—with the center tail considerably shorter than the outer two.

Adult Stage

  • The most prominent feature of a BWO dun (newly hatched adult) is its large wings in comparison with the rest of its body. The wing color varies from a pale gray to a dark gray with a bluish tint — hence the name “Blue Winged Olive.”
  • BWO duns ride the surface of the current for up to twenty feet until their wings dry and they can fly. Also, some BWOs get stuck in an “emerger” phase while they are trying to scape their nymphal shuck.
  • A fully mature BWO adult is called a “spinner.” Within twelve hours of emerging to the surface and flying to streamside bushes or brush, the sexually mature BWOs mate in swarms near the edge of a river or stream. So trout typically feed on BWO spinners in slower water near the river’s edge.

Effective Patterns

  • The classic BWO nymph pattern is a Pheasant Tail (or some variation of it).
  • One of the best emerger patterns is Craig Matthews’ Little Olive Sparkle Dun.
  • For the dun stage, a Parachute Adams will often work as well as a Parachute BWO. If the trout are not hitting one of these standard patterns, then switch to a Red Quill Spinner or a Blue Quill Spinner.
  • Hook sizes for BWOs will range between 16 and 24. However, a size 18 or 20 usually does the trick.

Sources: Bob Granger, Dave Hughes, Craig Matthews, Jim Schollmeyer

Nick Lyons on Life and Fly Fishing

life and fly fishing

Nick Lyons’ book, Spring Creek, is a masterpiece.

Here are some of his more reflective quotes. Each one makes me pause and ponder a bit more deeply about life and fly fishing. And about how the two intersect.

How many fish make a good day

“I’m always astounded when I read of someone catching forty, fifty, sixty trout in an afternoon, ten of them over such-and-such size. Why? Why continue? A few good fish make a day. More make an orgy. A flurry of fish-catching satisfies me completely. I don’t want to catch every fish in the river. I don’t want to “beat” my companion. I don’t want to break records.”

The newness of familiar water

“I never went to Spring Creek without seeing something new.”

Why life should be like a riverbank

“At times I have wished life as simple as this riverbank — the world a logical structure of bend, current, riffle, and pool, the drama already unfolding on the glassy surface, and me, here on the bank, armed with some simple lovely balanced tools and some knowledge, prepared to become part of it for a few moments.”

What he wants his writing to achieve

“I’d like the stew to be rich enough to catch some of the stillness, complexity, joy, fierce intensity, frustration, practicality, hilarity, fascination, satisfaction that I find in fly fishing.

“I’d like it to be fun, because fly fishing is fun—not ever so serious and self-conscious that I take it to be either a religion or a way of life, or a source of salvation. I like it passionately but I try to remember what Cezanne once said after a happy day of fishing: he’d had lots of fun, but it “doesn’t lead far.”

Why trout fishing is not enough

“I would like to be here for weeks, even months, but I could not live all my life in trout country. I have other fish to fry and, difficult as that other world might be, I’d rather be in the thick of it, blasted by its terrors, than sit outside and snipe. If all the year were holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work—and I have rarely found work tedious.”

How trout fishing benefits your life

“Tough fishing stretches you, provides you with skills and confidence for a thousand lesser moments–and it eggs you on to take great chances. It’s not just courage that’s required, of course, but some knowledge of the kinds of major tactics that can be necessary on a trout stream, and then a perfection of the skills needed to enact them.”

The Wit and Wisdom of Nick Lyons

wisdom of Nick Lyons

One of the finest fly fishing books in the last three decades is Spring Creek by Nick Lyons.

It offers an account of 31 days Lyons spent on a spring creek in Montana. He originally published it in 1992. The writing is vivid and crisp, and it is full of wit and wisdom. Here are a few gems from the book that will make you smile and reminisce about your own fly fishing experiences. Enjoy!

First, though, a public service announcement: you may not be able to stop laughing after you read the final gem in the collection below!

How fly fishing resembles a tennis court

“Fly fishing is both a restriction (like putting up a net and outlining a court, so two tennis players don’t just smash a ball at each other, wantonly) and an opener of new worlds.”

The difference between spinning and fly fishing

“I’m not quite sure why one switches from spinning to fly fishing — it’s like going from something that works to something that, for a long time, doesn’t work.”

But Lyons has a tongue-in-cheek answer

“One cannot get enough equipment: seven rods are not enough; three thousand flies do not quite serve all possible contingencies. One cannot study entomology hard enough, read enough magazines and books. Marketers of such stuff call this an “information-intensive” period; I think the novice is just gut-hooked and loony.

“There’s so much to learn: plop casts and reach casts, subtler stream reading, twenty-seven different knots, wading techniques, insect cycles, ninety-three new fly patterns “you can’t do without,” new hot spots, new techniques … of which there are as many as rocks in a stream. By comparison, spinning is one-dimensional: it bypasses virtually all that makes fly fishing a joy and a consummate challenge, and it leaps solely to the catching of trout, which it does very well, but with a limited number of necessary options.”

The calming effect of the river

“I had come to the river full of tension and Saint Vitas’s dance, but by the end of the first week, the rush, the fret, the wolf, the tooth of the world began to slip away, over the bench past the far range of snow-capped mountain ranges, into left field.

“My eyes and ears began to catch more and more: the muskrat, the sparrow, the bald eagle, the white-tailed deer, the great wealth of wild things in this valley, which the two of us fished alone. But mostly I watched the water and listened to the water.”

A float tuber’s worst nightmare

“A friend, fishing from a float tube, was once blown across an arm of Hebgen Lake by heavy wind; he ended in a tangle of brush on the opposite shore and was contemplating the long walk back, around the arm, in flippers or bare feet, when he saw a helicopter descending in the nearby field.

“He began to call to them but then noticed that they were depositing something from a scrotumlike net beneath the plane. It was only a rogue grizzly — and my friend was persuaded to hide in the brush for an hour or so, until the wind died down, and then head back across the lake.”

To pick up the book, visit Amazon.

More Winter Fly Fishing Hacks

more winter fly fishing hacks

Winter is a different animal when it comes to fly fishing. If you insist on heading to the river on a winter day in the United States north of Interstate 80, here are five more hacks to keep in mind. (I already offered seven in a previous article: Winter Fly Fishing without Losing It)

1. Don’t snap ice off your rod guides

It’s so tempting, but this can easily result in a broken guide. Simply dip your rod into the water. This will dissolve the ice because the cold water is still warmer than the air temperature.

If you’re into preventative measures, try coating your guides with lip balm. Some fly fishers like Carmex because it is not petroleum-based. The jury is out on whether lip balm with petroleum can damage your fly line. I suspect, though, that the risk is minimal. Another option is Stanley’s Ice-Off Paste which your local fly shop may carry.

2. Focus on deep pools as well as shallow water

Here I’m pushing back a bit on my earlier suggestion that you focus on shallow water rather than on deep pools. That was Bud Lilly’s suggestion. He observed that trout in shallow water will feed more aggressively than trout in deep pools. The reason is that the sun can trigger insect activity of even the metabolism of a sluggish trout in a shallow riffle. This is true.

However, the opposite can be true as well. It depends on the conditions and the particular river you are fishing. Tom Rosenbauer, another veteran fly fisher, notes that fish tend to “pod up” in deeper pools during the winter. So look for deeper, slower water if you’re not seeing or hooking trout in the shallows.

3. Get your nymphs deep

This is always good advice. However, it’s especially critical if you’re fishing a deeper pool in the winter. The fish may be deeper than usual. Besides, the current runs the slowest at the bottom of a river or stream. Slow is better on winter days when trout don’t move as quickly. So use more weight than normal.

How can you tell when your fly is deep and slow enough? Watch your strike indicator. You’ve hit the right depth and speed when it moves than the bubbles on the surface of the water.

4. Make a few more casts than usual

Trout do not feed as voraciously in the winter as in the other three season of the year. This means the feeding window for a particular trout is smaller than usual. So make more casts than normal to insure you’ve drifted your nymph through every possible window in a run.

5. Stock your fly box with Midge patterns

Mayfly hatches are almost non-existent in the winter. The same is true of terrestrials. So you want to take along plenty of midge patterns—both in nymphs (such as the Zebra Midge) and dry flies (a size 18 Parachute Adams works well for this).

Winter fly fishing doesn’t appeal to every angler. If it holds enough appeal to prompt you to venture out into the cold, stay safe and stay warm. Perhaps one of these hacks will make your day a good one to remember.

Making Your Fly Fishing Trip to the West Affordable

fly fishing trip to the west

Fly fishing the Madison or Yellowstone Rivers in Montana used to be no big deal.

I simply tossed my gear in the back of my Toyota pickup and drove for 45 minutes to one of the two rivers. If I only had a couple hours to fish, both the East Gallatin and the main Gallatin Rivers were 5 minutes from my house. The only cost for those trips was a gallon or two of gas.

Then I moved to the north suburbs of Chicago. This has made the trip to those rivers a lot more costly. Still, I have fished in Montana at least once a year since I moved to Illinois twelve years ago.

I have modest amount of discretionary income, so I’ve had to figure out ways to keep my trips to Montana affordable. Here are a few cost-cutting hacks which have worked for me. Some are big, some are little. Even the little ones help.

1. Go in the spring or fall

This is a great idea simply because spring and fall fishing in the Rocky Mountain west is fantastic. But it’s cheaper, too. No one is flocking to the beaches of Montana or Wyoming for spring break. Nor do families vacation in Yellowstone National Park in early October.

So hotels are cheaper (especially when you book them on Orbitz or Hotwire), rental cars are cheaper, and flights are cheaper (usually!). If you plan to book time on a spring creek for a day, rod fees are cheaper, too.

Summer is a great time to fly fish in the west. But it’s more crowded and more costly.

2. Go with a friend

Perhaps this is a no-brainer. But it’s cheaper when you can split the cost of a hotel room, rental car, and a guided trip. Yes, you need to invest in at least one guided trip if it’s the first time you’re headed west! Besides, going with a friend is safer and more fun.

3. Pack economically

Baggage fees for airline travel vary. But most airlines charge around $25 for each checked bag (one way) and then let you bring a carry-on for free. I have figured out how to get everything into a checked bag (an Eddie Bauer Drop-Bottom Rolling Duffel) and a carry-on suitcase.

Most of my fly gear goes into the duffel. It’s long enough for my 4-piece fly rod tubes and my net. If you insist on carrying your rod tube, it might pass as a personal item. Occasionally, if my duffel bag is pushing the airline weight limit (usually about 50 lbs.), I’ll put my wading boots in my carry-on.

Yes, my duffel bag cost me about $175. But eliminating the need to check 2 bags for a round trip saves me $50 a trip. My duffel bag has long since paid for itself. Of course, a cheaper large suitcase can work as long as your rod tube(s) fits into it—perhaps at an angle.

4. Eat strategically

Dave, my podcast partner, and I like to enjoy a good evening meal. It caps off our day of fly fishing and allows us to savor the experiences we had on the river even as we savor the food.

We don’t mind paying for an evening meal at a nice steakhouse because we cut corners the rest of the day. If we can handle the food at our hotel’s free continental breakfast, we eat it. If not, we find a reasonable café. Lunch is a cheap sandwich on the river or sometimes even protein bars.

5. Budget for the unexpected

Perhaps I should say budget for the “expected,” because you can always expect some unexpected expenses! We’ve had to replace damaged reels, leaky waders (which were beyond repair), and lost fly rods (don’t forget to check the roof of your vehicle before you leave the fishing access parking area!). We’ve even forgotten about national park entrance fees or the rising cost of a non-resident fishing license.

Trust me, you can count on losing, breaking, or forgetting something on your trip. So save a bit more than you think you will need.

6. Purchase fishing gear and flies strategically

There are no hard and fast rules here other than to shop with savvy. Do you need to replace your fly rod before your trip? That Orvis or Sage rod will typically be the same price at the fly shop in your town as it is in Bozeman, Montana. But there is no sales tax in Montana. Nor is there in Oregon. I typically need a new pair of wading boots every three years. Unless I find a great sale (and the boots that work best for me are never on sale!), I wait until I’m in Montana.

On the other hand, it may pay to stock up on flies before you arrive at your destination. If you tie, then that’s easy enough to do. If you don’t, then stock up on Parachute Adams, Prince Nymphs, and your other go-to flies from the cheapest place you can find. You always need a good supply of basic patterns.

Local fly shops definitely have the best intel for what to fish on the area rivers, and the hottest fly may be something you didn’t anticipate. Make sure you support the fly shops where you ask for advice.

Also, figure out where you are unwilling to cut corners. You get what you pay for. I’m willing to pay a bit more for the best quality wading boots and rods. But I’ll compensate by going for the mid-range waders, fly vests, and even reels. I’m fine with an off-brand fly fishing shirt. I think you get the idea.

It takes a bit of savvy, but you can make your next fly fishing trip to the western United States more affordable with a bit of thought and preparation. We will see in you Bozeman or Thermopolis or Estes Park!

Give Your Fly Rod a Lift

fly rod a lift

Some of the most effective fly fishing techniques are so obvious that we overlook them.

Maybe we practice them instinctively. Or maybe we don’t. But if we thought about them a bit more, perhaps we would practice them more strategically.

One such practice (and there’s no need for a drum roll because this may seem patently obvious) is giving your fly rod a lift. There’s no mystery here. Just lift up the tip of your fly rod. Yes, that’s it!

It can make a big difference. Here are four reasons to give your rod a lift:

1. To pick up slack line on a close, short drift

On smaller streams, I frequently fish runs that are only three or four feet in front of me as I stand on the bank. These runs are typically short, so it’s easy to let out too much line when I make my cast.

Since the fly reaches the “hot zone” almost instantly, I need to retrieve slack immediately. Otherwise, I can miss a strike (too much slack to remove before the actual hook set happens) or risk drag (too much line on the surface for a swift current to pull). In either instance, a simple rod lift solves the potential problem.

2. To pick up my line at the end of a long drift

At the end of a long drift, a fly fisher needs to do one of two things.

Ideally, you will need to set the hook on the trout that has taken your fly on the swing at the end of the drift. Or, you will need to pick up the line to make another cast. In either scenario, you will have to reduce the surface tension. Otherwise, your hook set will be too slow or you will make a scene on the surface of the river.

The simple solution in each case is a quick, deliberate rod lift. Then continue your hook set or your back cast.

If you’re not sure why this is effective, give it a try the next time you’re nymph fishing and using a strike indicator. Let your nymph drift forty or fifty feet downstream from where you are standing. Then, give your rod tip a deliberate (but not violent!) lift. Make sure the lift is straight up and not to the side. You’ll be surprised to see your strike indicator shoot towards you!

It’s when you pull your rod to the side that surface tension messes with your hoot set or back cast.

3. To give your fly some movement during the drift

My podcast partner, Dave, and I watched our friend, Dave Kumlien out-fish us last fall on a beautiful tailwater creek in Montana. Our friend caught two or three fish to every one we caught. We were all using the same streamers. But it dawned on us later that he was lifting and lowering his rod tip to give his streamer a twitch and to make it move up and down in the current — even as he retrieved it.

This technique works well with nymphs, too. Lift and lower your rod during the drift, and you may be surprised at how it entices a trout to strike.

4. To keep you line from breaking when fighting a fish

When you are fighting a fish, you rely on both your reel and your rod to absorb the force created by the fish’s sudden lunge or race for cover. Too much force results in a snapped line.

This is where the drag on your reel comes into play.

When set properly, it provides some resistance – but not so much that the force of a running fish exceeds the strength of your line (or the knot which ties your tippet to your line or your fly to your tippet). Your rod can play an important role too. The lower your rod tip is to the surface, the more the pressure point on your rod moves from tip to butt.

When I’m trying to move a big fish, I lower my rod to a 40 or 45 degree angle (in relationship to surface of the water) so that the pressure goes to the mid-section. I also pull the rod to the side. But if the fish suddenly darts, I lift my rod tip. This moves the pressure point closer to the rod tip where there is greater flex. This means less force on my line However, you need to do this with caution. Lifting your rod tip too high (at a 90 degree angle to the surface) too quickly can result in a broken rod tip!

There are so many little things to remember during the cast, drift, retrieval, repeat cast, and (hopefully) fight with a fish. I know, it can seem maddening. But do your best to think about your rod tip. You may get better results if you give it a lift.

5 Disciplines of Highly Satisfied Fly Fishers

satisfied fly fishers

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.

1. Competence

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.

2. Simplicity

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.

3. Friendship

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.

4. Adventure

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.

5. Variety

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.

The Gift of Fly Fishing

gift of fly fishing

Christmas came early this year. Whether you’ve received fly-fishing-related gifts and stocking suffers (or not), you’ve been enjoying the real gift of fly fishing all year long. Or at least during the seasons of the year when you were able to fish.

The new reel or fly rod or gift certificate to your local fly shop is great. But the real gift is fly fishing itself. It’s an experience that gives you more than you might think. Sure, there’s the joy of hooking and catching a trout. But there’s more, and Charles Orvis recognized this in 1883 when he wrote:

More than half the intense enjoyment of fly fishing is derived from the beautiful surroundings, the satisfaction felt from being in the open air, the new lease of life thereby secured, and the many, many pleasant recollections of all one has seen, heard, and done.

Orvis identified at least three gifts in this statement. These gifts are still a huge part of fly fishing today.

1. Beautiful surroundings

It’s one thing to see a snow-covered mountain range from your car or from a scenic overlook along a highway. It’s an altogether different experience to see it when you’re standing in the current of a river. It’s the difference between being a spectator and a participant. It’s also the difference between a quick glance accompanied by a photo opportunity and the chance to linger in the moment for an hour or more.

Even when the scenery is not remarkable, the pasture-land or the trees along a river exude their own beauty. The water is stunning, too. Riffles, eddies, seams, and pocket water provide an endless source of fascination.

Weather adds a flourishing touch, sometimes transforming a tranquil scene into a wild or a haunting one.

Fly fishing bids its participants to slow down and soak in the magnificent grandeur or the gentle beauty in and around the river.

2. A new lease on life

A day on the river can also secure a new lease on life—or “of” life, as Orvis said. A few hours can bring clarity to a situation, insight into a challenge, or energy to face a problem.

Tension dissipates. Ideas emerge. Calm prevails. Dreams form. Desires awaken. Anger diminishes.

If you fly fish, you know this from experience. That’s why fly fishing can be some of the best medicine for a weary or uptight soul.

3. Pleasant memories

Fly fishing gives birth to so many good memories—or pleasant recollections, as Orvis called them. Such memories lead us into peaceful sleep at night. They warm our hearts. They connect us with places and people long, long ago. They nurture a desire for what lies ahead.

I recall a warm summer evening on a little creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The year was 1978. My younger brother and I took turns casting the cheap fly rod we shared. Every cast resulted in a 10- or 12-inch brookie, rising to our size 14 Royal Coachman. As the sun began to set, I remember running back to our campsite in the Custer National Forest to report to our father what we had accomplished.

One of most striking memories from this past year is landing a brown trout in the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park while a herd bull (elk) was bugling on a hillside about 200 yards above us. I’m sure I will remember this as vividly in 40 years (if I make it to 97!) as I do the memory in the Black Hills.

These are only three of fly fishing’s gifts. There are others. If you were able to enjoy fly fishing during the past year, then Christmas came early. It will next year, too, because fly fishing is a gift that keeps on giving.

The Fly Fishing Wisdom of Charles Orvis

fly fishing wisdom of Charles Orvis

Fly fishing changes. The sport is different in 2018 than it was 135 years ago in 1883.

However, some bits of fly fishing wisdom from 1883 still hold true today.

Recently, I’ve been reading The Orvis Story by Paul Schullery (2006, The Orvis Company). The beginning of each chapter includes a quote from Charles Orvis, the founder of what is now The Orvis Company. These quotes appeared in a book that Charles co-edited with A. Nelson Cheney in 1883, Fishing with the Fly: Sketches by Lovers of the Art. Incidentally, I ordered a re-print from Amazon for less than twenty bucks.

Here are some of bits of wisdom from Charles Orvis in 1883. They still make sense today.

The Last Hour Before Dark

    “Perhaps during the last hour before dark you may fill your basket, that has been nearly empty since noon. Don’t give up, as long as you can see—or even after—and you may when about to despair taking some fine large fish.”

Catch-and-release fishing was not yet in vogue when Orvis penned these words. But he’s right that the hour before dark—and even after—can be especially productive. It depends on the river, but I have some spots in Colorado and Wisconsin which I don’t bother fishing until dusk.

Wading with the Current

    “It is easier to wade with the current.”

If you’re not convinced of this, try wading against the current! Wherever you’re headed, be it the opposite bank or a better approach to a promising run, let the current work for you.

Fishing with an Expert

    “To one who has not acquired the art of fishing with a fly, let me suggest that a day or two with an expert will save much time and trouble. There are many little things that cannot well be described, and would take a long time to find out by experience, that can be learned very quickly when seen. It is not easy to tell one exactly how to fish with a fly.”

That quote is chock-full of wisdom!

Dave, my podcast partner, and I keep repeating this message. If you’re a new fly fisher, you need to fish with an expert. That may be a friend (free) or a guide (a bit more expensive!). But the dollars you spend on a guide for a day will be tremendous investment in your fly fishing future.

Enjoying Fly Fishing

    “Unless one can enjoy himself fishing with the fly, even when his efforts are unrewarded, he loves much real pleasure.”

My wife and I both go to the gym regularly.

Okay, she’s more consistent than I am. But she enjoys it; I find it boring. This is how folks approach fly fishing. Some enjoy it; others do not. You can only grow to love fly fishing if you find joy in the art itself–even if your fly casting does not look particularly artistic! There’s something about the rhythm of the cast and about a well-executed cast, whether the trout takes your offering or not.

Patience and Perseverance

    “In conclusion, be patient and persevering, move quietly, step lightly, keep as much out of sight of the fish as possible, and remember, trout are not feeding all the time.”

This is great advice. It’s as true in 2018 as it was in 1883. All the best to you, our listeners and readers, as you get ready for another great year of fly fishing!