S3:E46 Why We Like to Fish Alone

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Some of you fish alone all or most of the time. We don’t. We probably fish five or six days with someone (often together) for every one day we fish alone. And yet both of us enjoy the days alone on the river. In this episode, we reflect on what makes fishing alone so different in kind from fishing with a buddy – and why we like our solitude.

Listen now to “Why We Like to Fish Alone”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

How often do you fish alone? Does it energize you? Or enervate you? What do you learn about yourself when fly fishing alone?


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The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $13.99!

4 Benefits of Fly Fishing with a Buddy

I enjoy solitude when I fly fish. Yet I rarely fly fish alone. I like to fly fish with a buddy, if only because there’s someone to take pics of my big fish (or buffalo bone).

The truth is, it is better to fly fish with a buddy or a brother or a sister or a spouse. In the past year of fly fishing, I have been on the water eighteen days (I know, it doesn’t seem like enough). On every one of those days, I have fished with someone else — either my podcast partner Dave, my brother, my sons, or another close friend.

Why is a fishing partner such a big deal? Here are four benefits of fly fishing with a buddy or someone else.


This is at top of the list for a reason. Your life might depend on it.

Four years ago, my sons I and hiked into a high mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail took us up the side of a waterfall. On our way back from fly fishing the lake, we came across a hiker who had broken her ankle. She was in a group, and one of them had hiked out to find a park ranger. By the time we made it down the waterfall, we heard and saw the helicopter that came to rescue her.

The buddy system results in a timely rescue.

A couple weeks ago, I slipped at the edge of a small stream I was fishing and fell forward in some shallow water. The only casualty was a cracked fly box. But I reflected later on how I could have hit my head on a nearby boulder and passed out. If I had been alone, that could have been disastrous even in shallow water. I was glad that my podcast partner, Dave, was only thirty yards away. It was a win-win situation.

Since I wasn’t hurt, he got a good laugh. But had I been hurt, he was there to help.

Dave and I regularly fish in grizzly bear country, so having two fly fishers — each armed with bear spray — is critical. Sometimes a bear can attack you so fast that there is no time to unleash the contents of your canister. But a friend can. One of my bow-hunting partners saved the life of his friend a few years when a grizzly attacked faster than his friend could get to his bear spray. Then, he was able to help his friend back to their SUV before the bear returned and before his friend bled to death. The recovery required a couple surgeries. But the attack might have led to death if my friend’s friend had been hunting alone.


Another benefit of fly fishing with a buddy is having another brain.

Recently, Dave and I were fishing for fall browns in the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park. We took turns drifting our nymphs through the same run. We were catching fish, but Dave pointed out to me that I was missing some strikes. He suggested that the almost imperceptible hesitation of my strike indicator was a subtle strike. So I started setting the hook every time my strike indicator made a slight bump. Every time, taking Dave’s suggestion resulted in hooking a fish.

Later in the day, I returned the favor on another run that I had fished a couple days before. After watching Dave’s casts, I suggested that he cast about 10 feet further upstream so the nymphs he was using would be deeper when they reached the hot zone. It worked. Sometimes it takes a friend to spot the obvious or not-so-obvious solution to those times when the fish are not biting.

Sharing the Joy

There’s something satisfying about sharing the moment with someone else. When Dave and I catch fish, we whoop it up together. I can honestly say I enjoy watching Dave catch big trout (okay, as long as I’m catching them too!). Then there are the hilarious moments. I was glad Dave witnessed the 20-inch buffalo bone (the picture above) I landed when we fished the Gardner together!

Like any other joy in life, fly fishing is meant to be shared. This goes beyond catching trout, though. It extends to seeing the sun flood a beautiful meadow, watching a couple of wolves saunter along the bank of the Yellowstone River, or hearing the piercing bugle of a bull elk on a September morning.


As much as I try to slow down in the moment and take in the experience, I find that I forget certain aspects of a day on the river. That’s why I force myself to share dinner at the end of the day with my fly fishing buddies. Well, okay, I really don’t have to force myself to do this! Dinner is the capstone of a great day. Often, the dinner conversation I have with Dave or my brother or one of my sons will remind me of moments or experiences I had forgotten.

Sometimes, even years later, I’ll be talking about a certain trip with one of them, and they will remind me of some moment or experience that had vanished from my memory.

As a wise writer once said, “Two is better than one. . . . if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. . . . Though they may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (Eccl. 4:9-10, 12). While that applies to all of live, it certainly relates directly to your next fly fishing adventure.

8 Tips When You Fall into the River

On more than one occasion, I’ve enjoyed watching my podcast partner, Dave, flail as he has started to head downstream at the speed of the river. Okay, I’ve done it too. Fortunately, neither of us has fallen into a deep, rushing section of river.

Several years ago, Duane Dunham, an outstanding fly fisher in Portland, Oregon, shared with me some tips for getting out when you fall into a river:

1. Don’t panic. Easy for me to say while I’m warm and dry. But even if you cannot swim, you can emerge safely from water over your head.

2. Don’t attempt to stand up too quickly. Wait until you are in knee deep water.

3. Never fight the current. Let it take you, but angle toward shore. Otherwise, you’ll get exhausted.

4. If the water is deep, you can take a breath and push off the bottom toward shore. Do this enough times, and you’ll get there.

5. Keep your feet down stream. If you are out of control and headed downstream, this will help you avoid hitting your head on a rock. Stay in a semi-sitting position. This may be the most important tip!

6. Don’t fish dangerous water alone. Okay, that’s not going to help you if you’ve already fallen into a rushing run. But it’s worth the reminder for strong-headed, stubborn fly fishers (which Dave and I can be at times!).

7. Let go of your fly rod. This allows you to use both hands to stroke towards shore. Obviously, this is not the first step you take. It’s for emergency situations. Better to lose your Sage rod than your life.

8. Learn to swim. Remember, though, cold water is extremely shocking to your body. An excellent swimmer will quickly tire, so don’t get cocky and take unnecessary risks. It doesn’t matter than you are an expert in a warm pool or lake.

Here’s one more that I didn’t learn from Duane Dunham:

Don’t laugh at your fly fishing partner when he’s floating down the river. I’m sure Dave would appreciate it if I worked on that one. Seriously, falling into a river is no laughing matter.

Stay safe, my friends!