Coping with the Better Fly Fisher

My younger brother Dave did not get the memo that I was supposed to be the better fly fisher.

I grew up thinking that one of the perks of being an older brother should be out-performing my younger brother, Dave, who is two years younger than I. He always out-performed me when it came to hunting and fishing (and baseball and basketball, too, but that’s another story).

If I caught one trout, Dave caught three. If I caught a twelve-inch trout, he caught a sixteen-inch trout. The first whitetail deer I ever shot was a doe. A day later, my brother shot his first deer. It was also a doe. But Dave’s doe had six-inch antlers. Yes, a hormone defect caused it to grow spikes. The next year, I shot a six-point buck (eastern count) on the first day of deer season. Not to be outdone, Dave shot a 10-point buck a day later.

I eventually got over my frustration. I had no choice. Even if I prepared better or read more or raced to the best spot before my brother, he caught larger trout and more of them. On a rare day, I might outdo him. But the roles would quickly reverse themselves the next day. So I learned to cope. Over time, some insights began to dawn on me.

First, I realized that fly fishing is not a competition.

There’s no award for catching the most fish when you’re floating the North Platte or wade-fishing the Gallatin. Now that comes as news to a lot of guys. We are born competitors. We have the biggest ‘this’ and the biggest ‘that.’ We’ve hiked further, caught more fish, experienced worse weather, fished with the best guides, and tied more incredible flies than anyone else with whom we happen to be talking. If you’re not convinced of that, tell a fly-fishing story and listen for that guy who has a bigger and better story.

Of course, competition can be a good thing under certain conditions. But it’s foolish if it robs you of the joy you get from landing six nice rainbows on a size-18 Pale Morning Dun. Why does it matter if someone catches ten and they each run an inch longer than the trout you landed?

Second, it’s okay that some fly fishers have a knack for catching more fish.

I was fishing the Boulder River in Montana last summer with my friend, Brand Robinson. We walked up the river together, fishing opposite banks. Every time I had a strike, I looked over at Brand to smile and communicate, “I got another strike; how about you?” The funny thing was that every time I looked over, he had a fish on the line. It occurred to me that I was missing about fifty per cent of the trout that rose to my parachute Adams.

But Brand didn’t miss one. I’m a couple years younger, and I fly fish more than Brand does. But like my brother, Dave, he is an exceptional athlete. His hand-eye coordination is impeccable. So on most days, he’s going to catch more fish. I’m at peace with that. Some fly fishers are simply more gifted than I am. That’s how life works, and it need not diminish my joy over a fine day on the river.

Third, it’s easy to fly fish with people who are better than you are if they are humble. Those are the fly fishers with whom I choose to spend the day– Dave, my brother; Dave, my podcast partner; and Brand, my friend. We may kid each other about who catches more. But all of us are secure enough that we don’t have to out-fish each the other to validate our worth as men or fly fishers. I don’t have any interest in fly fishing with guys who are good and want me to know it.

They bore me. I enjoy fishing with friends who are better than me but don’t feel a need to remind me of that hourly.

Fourth, fishing with better fly fishers makes me better. That’s the silver lining in the proverbial cloud. Now sometimes, the reason why other fly fishers are better is due to their unexplainable knack for having more success. But often, I learn something from their casting or the way they drift their fly or even from their choice of fly. Watching them succeed makes me better.

The crazy thing is that these insights have caused me to cheer for my friends and take pride in their success. Now and then, the competitive spirit rises in me, and I will sulk (at least inwardly) when someone bests me on the river.

But I’ve gotten a lot better at coping with others who out-fish me. I’m especially at peace with it when I’m writing about it. Now I just have to practice what I preach the next time my brother or my friends catch more trout than I do.

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3 thoughts on “Coping with the Better Fly Fisher

  1. On catching a ‘bigger one.’ In our faculty lunch room one day we were discussing our fishing prowess. Bass, trout, steelhead, salmon. Then our man from So. Africa told of a fishing trip over there when his friend hooked a HIPPO! My comment, “Wow, the first liar does not stand a chance in this crowd.” Laughter by all ensued! 🙂