The Scoop on Fishing Nets

fishing nets

When I first started fly fishing, I gave little thought to using fishing nets. We always had a long-handled net in the drift boat. But I did not realize the value of a net for wade fishing until a friend gave me a small net made by Brodin — a company near Logan, Montana less than ten miles from my home.

It did not take me long to get hooked on using a net to land the 14-20 inch trout I caught. I lost fewer fish, and it was less stressful for the trout I landed. If you’re new to fly fishing, here is the scoop on fly fishing nets:

1. Do pay attention to the net frame materials.

There are two basic net frame materials.

Some frames are made out of wood. This is the case with my Brodin net. Wood is fine, but you will need to varnish it occasionally depending on how much use it gets. Other frames are made out of composite materials—carbon fiber and fiberglass. This is the case with the Fishpond net another friend gave me.

Side note: It’s nice to have friends who give you fishing nets as gifts!

2. Do not buy a net unless it has a fish-friendly bag.

Most nets sold today have a rubber or nylon bag—that is, webbing.

This has more flex than the traditional twine (string) bags. It is less stressful for a trout when scooped into the next. The difference between the two kinds of material resembles how you feel when you fall on mattress versus a kitchen table.

3. Do give some thought to the handle and frame size of your fishing nets.

You want a net with a large enough hoop (opening) to land large trout but small enough so it is not cumbersome to carry. Handle size is important, too.

My Brodin had net has a short handle. This makes it ideal for longer hikes up the river. But my Fishpond Nomad Emerger net has a longer handle, which allows me to land trout further away from my body. Trust me, it’s a lot easier to land a trout that is two feet way than a foot away.

4. Do not fail to purchase a magnetic clip with a retractor.

The magnetic clip (actually, two magnets) allows you to reach behind your head where your net is clipped to your fly vest and have it snap into place. The retractor allows you to drop your net in the water without fear of it drifting away.

5. Do exercise caution when walking through brush.

If you are wondering why I mention this, you have never caught your net on buckbrush, walked a few feet, and then had your net snap back and whack you!

6. Do not stab at a fish with your net.

When trying to land a fish with your net, keep the net under the fish and lift it up. If you try to stab or jab or flick with your net, it won’t work. You can’t move it through the water quickly enough. So no “net flicks.” Did you see what I did there? Sorry!

Of course, you do not always have to use a net. You can head for shallow water, and then “beach” your fish as long as the bank is soft.

My podcast partner, Dave, and I did this last fall on a particular run in the Gardner River. We were catching brown after brown in the same deep run. We didn’t want to get too close to the run to spook the other fish. So we would pull the trout onto the soft, muddy beach. But under most conditions, you’ll do well to bring along the right net and use it properly.

4 Fly Fishing Retirement Myths

I retired in my late thirties. I left a job with no upward mobility and started a business. I told myself, “Retirement is doing what I want to do.” It was harder than I ever imagined. About the time I gave notice to the company, my wife told me she was pregnant with our third child. Since then, we added a fourth.

And no, I am not on a trust fund.

The first three years was a white-knuckling affair. It took about a thousand days before I knew whether the business was viable. More than 20 years later, I’m still retired (working 60-hour weeks).

Part of my retirement plan was fly fishing. I decided that I didn’t want to wait until that magical day at 65 (or, now, 68 or 70). I wanted to fly fish and work, not fly fish after I stop working. I’ve had to debunk several fly fishing retirement myths in my mind as I’ve struggled to sustain a small business and integrate fly fishing into my schedule:

“I am not going to die.”

Up until my 40s, I was blinded by the thick veil of permanence. I thought I’d live forever. Now that a few of my friends are gone, the veil is slowly lifting. I’ve also been involved in two car crashes, both of which could have taken my life. In one, I was hit from behind by a semi-tractor trailer (the big kind).

Maybe there is no other way to escape this world other than by dying.

No one says this out loud, of course, but we often live as if we have forever to do what we love. We don’t.

“I will be healthy enough to fly fish when I retire.”

Maybe. Depends somewhat on my genes (my grandmother lived until she was 103); my father and mother are now in their mid-eighties. And somewhat on my eating and exercise habits. Oh, no!

No matter what, though, you won’t be able to wade as deep when you’re 65 as you could when you were 35. For sure. You won’t be able to scramble up the steep incline that takes you to the best fly fishing run. You won’t want to hike four miles to fish for cutthroat for three hours and then turn around and head back down the mountain before dark.

You just won’t. I know you’re a great athlete (in your mind), but your days are numbered. This is one of the most pernicious fly fishing retirement myths, simply because we all assume good health.

“I will, finally, have more money to fly fish.”

No. All the research indicates that Americans will be working longer than they expect. So if you have no money now to fly fish, most likely you’ll have no money to fly fish at retirement.

Figure out a way to create a line item for fly fishing (along with college tuition savings).

“I will have more time.”

Another big no. I don’t know a single person who is retired after a life of work and who sits at home watching Fox News or ESPN all day every day. There may be few folks like that, but most I know seem to be as busy as they were before. This is another of the fly fishing retirement myths.

If you have no time to fly fish now, most likely you won’t make time for it after you retire. Make time to fly fish now. Retire now. That doesn’t mean quitting your job. It means doing what you love.

And since fly fishing is what I love, I am fully retired.

5 Life Lessons I Learned from Fly Fishing

Recently, it occurred to me that fly fishing has taught me a few life lessons. That shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. But because I pursue fly fishing for the love and joy of it, I guess I had overlooked its lessons. Here are five life lessons I’ve learned over four decades of fly fishing.

1. You have to schedule time for what you love most.

I always thought I’d have to guard against fly fishing too much when I became an adult.

To my surprise, I found that I had to guard against not fly fishing enough. There are always meetings, chores, and scheduling conflicts that crowd out my time on the river. So I have to be intentional to make myself do what I love. That’s the way it is with life. It keeps you so busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of life that you have to make time for the people and pursuits you love most.

2. You only get lucky when you work hard.

Do you ever drool over the Facebook photos of friends cradling a monster rainbow trout?

Those lucky dogs, you think.

But they are lucky because they’ve made time to get out on the river, because they’ve taken “one more cast,” and because they’ve done their homework (which flies to use). Show me a “lucky” fly fisher, and I’ll show you a persistent, hardworking fly fisher. Luck is a result of hard work. That’s true with everything from product development to real estate sales to getting published.

3. Skill is most often made, not born.

Yes, some people have a knack for fly fishing. They remind me of my younger brother, Kevin, who got up on water skis on his first attempt — while the boat was still idling!

But there is no substitute for skill development. Read. Listen. Observe. Practice. Practice again. And again. Skill will only take you so far in fly fishing — and in basketball, in marketing, in web design, and in dentistry.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is an especially hard lesson for the male species.

I once spent fifteen minutes looking for powdered sugar in a grocery store because I didn’t feel like asking a sales associate for help. But after years of picking the brains of folks behind the counter in a fly shop or fly fishing guides or friends who practice the craft with more skill than I do, I finally figured out that it’s less painful to ask for help than it is to keep bumbling along while making no progress.

Thanks to my fly fishing experiences, I’m more likely to ask for help with software, building a deck, and even locating the aisle with powdered sugar.

5. There is always someone better than you.

If you’re obsessed with being the best, you’re going to be a frustrated fly fisher. Or a frustrated basketball player. Or a frustrated heart surgeon. Or a frustrated writer.

Some folks operate on a different level. My brother, Dave, is like that. He has regularly out-fished me at a pace of about two fish for every one I catch. That has been the case ever since I was six and he was four. Once I made peace with that, it was a whole lot more enjoyable for me and everyone else around me. I can now take joy in the success of others, as well as in my own.

The tag line of our podcast says it all: “for the love of fly fishing.” Yes, that’s why I fly fish. I love it, and it brings me joy. But it’s taught me a lot about life, too. I’m grateful for that, and so are the others in my life.

Before You Buy Your First Fly Rod

If you’re new to fly fishing, purchasing your first fly rod can be as bewildering as buying a car. There are so many variables to consider.

Besides, if you ask five friends for advice, you may get eight different opinions. It’s easy to get frustrated. Or even to feel stupid. Don’t. Selecting a fly rod should not resemble choosing a health care plan.

This should be fun!

Making some key decisions before you start shopping, though, will help you make an informed, confident purchase. It will also keep the fun in the process. So here are the decisions you need to make.

Price Range

How much do you want to spend?

If you’ve never fly fished before, a starter rod in the $100-150 range will serve you well. Less is more.

If you’ve fly fished enough to know that you really want to pursue this, then I’d suggest spending a bit more — perhaps in the $300-600 range. Buy a fly rod you will still enjoy using in two or three decades.

I purchased a Winston rod (see below) a few years ago, intending to use it for life. I paid good money for it (although the price I paid then looks quite reasonable now). I don’t regret the decision. At some point, you’ll want to buy your “fly rod for life” (unless, of course, there is a significant breakthrough in technology). If you’re ready to do so, then get a higher-end rod which fits your budget. But if you’re still experimenting, spend less.

Note: The mid- to high-end rods typically have a 25-year or lifetime guarantee. This means you can get your rod repaired for about 10% of its cost if you step on it in the dark and snap it in two (which I’ve done).

Brand Preference

I apologize in advance for leaving out some fine manufacturers. But here are some options:

On the lower end of the price range, some good options include Redington, Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO), St. Croix, and Cabela’s. For mid-range to high-end rods (in quality and price), I’m a big fan of Orvis. Sage makes a fine rod, too, and I was all set to purchase one until I picked up a Winston Boron IIx which was made in Montana. Loomis is another fine choice, as is Scott.

Don’t fret over the difference between a high-end Orvis or Sage or Winston. Choose the one that feels right.

Rod Size

If you’re fly fishing for trout in the big western rivers like the Yellowstone or Bighorn, a nine-foot, six-weight will be a good all-around rod. It’s big enough to handle streamers and make long casts in windy conditions. Some swear by a nine-foot, five-weight. That’s fine.

To me, it’s like the difference between using a 30.06 or a .280 Remington for deer. Either will do the job. If you’re fly fishing the spring creeks of Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, an eight and a half foot, four weight will be more appropriate. It’s a bit lighter and more delicate for those smaller streams which require more gentle casts.

Some fly fishers swear by an eight-foot rod for smaller stream fishing. One question to ask is, “Where will I be fishing most often?” If “smaller spring creeks” is the answer, then go with a smaller rod size.

Type of Action

A mid-flex or a medium action is the place to start.

This designation means that the rod flexes or bends in the middle when you cast your line. This makes it versatile (good in most conditions) and forgiving (not too temperamental). A tip-flex or fast action rod bends closer to the tip. The stiffness of this action gives you more power — especially on windy days. It is better for longer casts, but beginners sometimes struggle to get a feel for it. A full flex, or slow action rod, is easy to cast. But it’s better for short distances. You’ll have to work harder to get the line out on long casts. It’s like pedaling in gear 3 on a ten-speed bike as opposed to gear 9.

The pedaling is easier, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can make (or at least think about) these decisions ahead of time, you’ll be in a better position to make a choice when you enter your local fly shop.

Yes, unless you’re an expert, buy your rod at a local shop.

You can often try casting different rods to see which one works best — and you’ll get a little bit of help with your casting, too. The guys and gals at your local fly shop will also help you choose the right reel and the right line to go with your rod (yes, more decisions).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy the purchase. I guarantee that buying your first fly rod will be more fun than buying a garbage disposal or a pair of dress shoes.

Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies

fly fishing guides

The ability to identify trout lies in the river or stream may be the single biggest predictor of your success. This is as basic for an aspiring fly fisher to learn as casting. Not all places in a stream or river hold trout. Spotting a trout lie, especially when fish are not rising, is a skill that a fly fisher uses every time out on the river. Listen to Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies as you prepare for your next fly fishing trip. If there are trout in the river, there are trout lies, and understanding even a little bit about how fish survive (and thrive) goes a long way towards great days on the water.

Listen to Episode 44: Identifying Trout Lies

We’ve recently introduced a feature to our podcast – “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” At the end of each episode, we read a few of the comments from the blog or from Facebook. We love the idea of adding your ideas to the creative mix.

What kind of trout lies do you fish most? Post your stories about how you read a river or stream.

In this episode, we mention Gary Borger’s book, Reading Waters. You can find Reading Waters and other books in “Fly Fishing, the Book Series” at

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Soothing Words for the Fly Rod Owner’s Soul

Some of the most encouraging words I ever read appeared on a little card I received back in 1996 when I purchased my first Orvis fly rod. The card simply said: “We will repair your broken rod for 25 full years, no matter how you broke it.”

Those are soothing words for the fly rod owner’s soul.

Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought, “That’s nice. But I won’t need it. All I need to do is be careful.”

After all, I grew up being careful with sporting goods.

When I was eight, my dad drilled it into my head that baseball players do not throw their baseball gloves. They oil them and otherwise keep them dry. But they do not slam them to the ground or fling them high into the air to free fall to the ground. When I was ten, my dad was emphatic that I take care of the 20 gauge shotgun he gave me for my birthday. If I handled it carefully, I would not break the stock if I fell, and I might not even scratch it. And I didn’t. I didn’t throw my baseball glove. It’s still in use forty-five years later. I also took good care of my 20 gauge shotgun. My sons both used it, and it’s ready for my grandsons to shoot when they get a little bit older.

So taking care of a fly rod would be no problem. I knew the old adage: “Most fly rods are broken getting in and out of a vehicle.” Or, they get stepped on when they are leaning in a closet or in the corner of a room. What kind of a fool lets that happen?

Uh, that would be me.

About a year after I purchased my first Orvis fly rod, I wandered into our mud room (what Montanans affectionately call a little room you enter from the side entrance of your house or from your garage). As its name suggests, a mud room is a place where you can take off your muddy boots or shoes. We had a coat rack in ours and some shelves where we stored canned goods. More importantly, at the far end, just beneath a window with a great view of the mountains to the north, I had a fly tying bench.

One night, I entered the dark room to grab a coat I had placed on my fly tying bench. When I stepped near my fly-tying bench, I heard a splintering, cracking sound. I felt sick, realizing that that I had just stepped on my fly rod. I remembered that it was leaning against my fly tying bench. I had placed it there to dry after a day of fishing in the rain. Now I had cracked it between the handle and the first guide.

Suddenly I remembered the words on the card: “We will repair your broken rod for 25 full years, no matter how you broke it.” Ah, what soothing words for the fly rod owner’s soul! A day later, I took my fractured rod to Fins and Feathers, the Orvis shop in Bozeman, Montana. I had to laugh when I signed the “Orvis Rod Repair Form.” Under the description of how the break occurred, the guy behind the counter simply wrote: “Stepped on it in the dark.”

If you’re going to invest in a fly rod, make sure you buy from a manufacturer that offers a rod-breakage guarantee — unless you’re buying a low-end rod and intend to upgrade. Most of the higher end rods come with generous replacement policies.

But don’t assume this.

Confirm it before you complete your purchase. You may think, “It won’t happen to me.” But it’s only a matter of time until it does. And when it does, you’ll want to hear or read those soothing words for the fly fisher’s soul: “We will repair your broken rod for 25 full years, no matter how you broke it.”

Even if you step on your rod in the dark.

Friends Don’t Small Talk, Friends Fly Fish

Friends don’t small talk, friends talk fantasy. A recent NFL Fantasy Football commercial asked the question that, uh, was on everyone’s mind:

“Without fantasy football, what would friends talk about?”

I can’t speak for the other gender, but at least for guys, the answer is, really, not much. We cheerily sit in silence like my 16-year-old, who is at complete peace not saying a word (other than “I’m hungry. Can we stop for Jimmy John’s?”) during our 15-hour trip from Chicago to North Dakota for our yearly hunting tradition.

When There is Nothing to Say

I’ve heard that some guys have no friends. I can’t relate. I’m close with my 82-year-old father; we talk every day, even though he lives three states away. He is my father. And a friend.

As an irrational teenager with a reptilian brain, I had no imagination for what our relationship is today. During those years, when we (er, I) struggled to talk without anger or overstatement, my father and I always had our yearly hunting tradition. We always had fishing, something that drew us together even in the sullen years when we had little to say.

When I was in my early twenties, I convinced my parents to let me drag my younger brother along on a week-long fly fishing trip to Montana. Just him and me. A week of fly fishing helped me see him as more than just an annoying younger brother. Today I would call him one of my friends. And he has now begun taking his children on fishing trips.

With my children (two sons and two daughters), fishing helped us transcend their (and my) snarky behavior. Just recently I took my youngest son on a fly fishing trip to the Driftless in southeast Minnesota. Before the trip, he was laconic and uncommunicative. During the trip, we had some of the best conversations yet as father and son.

After the trip, he returned to his laconic self, ostensibly with no memory of our time on the river.

Common Passion, Common Language

With Steve, my partner on 2 Guys and a River, fly fishing created a reason to stay in touch and thus rekindle a college friendship. After school, we went for years with little contact, while he began his family and I skipped through the odyssey years of my twenties. When it was my turn to settle down, we found a way to stay in touch through some common writing projects. I made several trips to Montana, where Steve served as a pastor, and we made it a point to hit the river every chance we could. In more recent years, we began a yearly tradition to Montana to fish the rivers in the Yellowstone ecosystem, sometimes in the spring, more recently in the summer, and occasionally in the fall.

A common passion created a common language. Fly fishing became a way for Steve and me to small talk and “large talk” – to discuss the deeper things of life – our dreams and fears for our children, the hardships of our lives, and our hope for the years ahead.

I realize that many folks would rather fly fish alone. I can appreciate that. But for me, fly fishing is a team sport.

In contrast to the NFL Fantasy Football commercial, friends actually small talk. While they fly fish. And they create a lifetime of laughter, great conversation, and apocryphal stories of 27-inch rainbow trout.