There is a magical season in every fly fisher’s journey. It is a season where everything seems to come together, and the fly fisher makes a leap in his or her proficiency. Confidence replaces frustration. Casts shoot to their destination and land softly rather than slapping the water. Fly selection become a science rather than a mystery. I’ve watched a lot of fly fishers make this leap, and they all have something in common: a fly fishing mentor.
Sure, there are a few naturals who watch a handful of YouTube videos or read a book on fly fishing and arrive at the river’s edge with the Midas touch. But most fly fishers who make significant progress in their ability to catch fish do so because they have spent time with a mentor.
If you’re a new fly fisher, or an old one who is still struggling, a mentor will make all the difference. But where can you find one?
Fly Shop Owner
This might seem obvious, but a fly shop owner can be a great mentor—especially if you’re a faithful customer. Buying the right fly rod may well involve some practice casting. Every time you stop by to buy a handful of flies or a new leader, you’ll learn what patterns to use and when to use them. You will learn where and when to fish. Fly shop owners and their associates can be a tremendous source of learning.
Fly Fishing Guide
Sometimes you have to buy a mentor. Hiring a guide for a day can lead to remarkable progress in your fly fishing skills. The $500 or so you split with a buddy (we recommend sharing a guide!) will give you a lot of one-on-one instruction. Using the same guide once or twice a year can accelerate your progress.
Fly Tying Instructor
I’ve talked about this before, but when I took a fly-tying class at Montana Troutfitter’s in Bozeman in 1996, my fly fishing skills spiked. Yes, I learned to tie Elk Hair Caddis patterns and Beadhead Prince Nymphs. But I also learned when and how to fish them. I started to think like a trout!
Fly Fishing Buddy
Now we move into the “less expensive” category of mentors! Not everyone has fly fishing buddies who are proficient enough to be guides. But if you do, set aside your pride and mimic them, pick their brains, and accept their criticism. I’ve benefited from the expertise of Bob, Kevin, Chaz, Doug, Mark, and several others with whom I’ve had the opportunity to fly fish.
Fly Fishing Mentor at a TU Chapter
A few months ago, Dave, my podcast partner, and I spoke at a local Trout Unlimited chapter. I was impressed with how helpful the veterans were to a couple of younger, inexperienced fly fishers. There’s nothing better than a community of mentors!
Fly Fishing Parent or Child
Don’t overlook family members. If you have a parent or a child who is a proficient fly fisher, don’t be too proud to let them pass on their expertise to you. This goes both ways. I taught my two sons to fly fish, and now I gain new information and learn techniques from them.
Fly Fishing Spouse
The risk, I suppose, of learning fly fishing from your spouse is more marital conflict! But I’ve been impressed as I’ve watched my sons teach their wives how to fly fish. I’m amazed with their patience and encouragement, and their wives are smart women who catch on quickly. Obviously, it can work the other way around, too. Some wives have become proficient fly fishers and can be the best mentors their husbands could ever find.
Here is a final thought: develop a community of mentors. When I think of my mentors, my mind goes to more than one. They have been friends, relatives, guides, fly shop owners, and instructors. So don’t obsess over finding the perfect mentor. Build some relationships, and you’ll benefit from multiple sources of input. Along the way, you may just find that your fly fishing soars to a new level.