Witty Fly Fishing Sayings for the Ages

Proverbs are little sayings that condense a volume of insight into a pithy sentence. A few years ago, I picked up a book of Haitian proverbs in a bookstore in Port-au-Prince. One of my favorites is: “Pretty teeth are not the heart.” I am also fond of Savvy Sayin’s, a little book of proverbs from the old west. One of the gems it contains is: “Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear, or a fool from any direction.”

I’m a big fan of proverbs and aphorisms. By far, my favorite collection is in the Book of Proverbs (in the Bible). One of its well-known aphorisms is: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (15.1) Another blunt-but-true proverb is “If you find honey, eat just enough – too much of it, and you will vomit” (25:16).

Fishing One Liners for the Ages

So far, I haven’t found a book of fly fishing proverbs. But I’ve discovered some great one-liners as I’ve read fly fishing books and listened to wise fly fishers. Here are some of my favorites. These sayings drip with wisdom. They challenge me, stop me in my tracks, and make me think. You might find a few of these useful, too:

    You don’t learn fly fishing as much as you survive it. [Tom Davis]

    There are lots of ways to catch a trout. Maybe that’s why there are so many experts. [Bud Lilly]

    There’s no taking trout with dry breeches. [Miguel de Cervantes, about 400 years ago]

    The more you fly fish, the less flies you will use. [Bob Granger]

    Rivers and their inhabitants are made for the wise to contemplate and for fools to pass by without consideration. [Izaak Walton]

    The deepest satisfaction comes from letting go. [Tom Davis, on catch-and-release fishing]

    There is no greater fan of fly fishing than the worm. [Patrick McManus]

    Creeps and idiots cannot conceal themselves for long on a fishing trip. [John Gierach]

    No hatch is good enough for you to risk waving a nine-foot graphite rod around during a lightning storm. [Bud Lilly]

    There’s a fine line between fly fishing and waving your rod like an idiot. [adapted from a proverb by Steven Wright]

    Accepting advice makes you no less a fisherman. [Peter Kaminsky]

    What a tourist terms a plague of insects, the fly fisher calls a great hatch. [Patrick McManus]

    Many go fishing all their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. [Henry David Thoreau]

These pearls are words to live by as well as to fish by. Here’s one last fly fishing proverb:

    Blessed is the fly fisher who has nothing to say and doesn’t say it.

Stupid Is As a Stupid Fly Fisher Does

Forrest Gump gets credit for the line “stupid is as stupid does.” But I suspect this aphorism originated with a fly fisher. After all, fly fishing brings out the best and the worst in a person’s behavior. I can imagine one fly fisher laughing at another who has just fallen face first into a stream while trying to move too rapidly over the slick boulders beneath its surface and then saying, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

In this post I offer a few of my more stupid fly fisher moments:

Stupid Fly Fisher Hiking

One of my “stupid” moments happened a few years ago at 10,000 feet above sea level in Rocky Mountain National Park. I was fishing with my brother, Dave, and my Uncle Ivan. Dave I and were in our teens. Our Uncle Ivan was old enough to know better. The plan was to take a short-cut to the upper reaches of a mountain stream which had a healthy supply of brook trout.

You can guess what happened. We got lost.

A half hour after realizing we were lost, my Uncle Ivan feared that our quest would not lead us to the little stream. I simply feared for my life. We had been following a faint game trail. This trail must have been made by Bighorn sheep because it took us over a ridge line onto a steep hillside. Before we knew it, we were hanging onto small Aspen trees to keep from sliding into the canyon below us.

A snowfield loomed ahead. How did we end up here? Stupid is as stupid does.

We finally found a flat spot where we could sit without the fear of sliding down the steep hillside. My Uncle Ivan decided to eat his lunch. I was too scared to eat. Just then, we heard a helicopter and saw it flying up the drainage in between our hillside and the opposite one. We all started waving and shouting, “We need help.” But it never changed direction or speed, and soon it was gone. What were we thinking? Was the helicopter pilot really going to see or hear us? If so, would the pilot really assume we were in trouble and begin some sort of rescue mission? Stupid is as stupid does.

Although my Uncle Ivan resembles a character right out of a Patrick McManus tale, he is an astute woodsman. He scanned the steep hillside and noticed another trail on a bench above us that would take us on a much gentler grade. It took some work to scramble safely up the hillside to that bench. But we did it. We hiked for another thirty minutes until we found the object of our pursuit.

For the next two hours, we caught so many brookies that we forgot about our peril. We fished far enough downstream to find a more substantial game trail, which led us to one of the trails maintained by the National Park Service.

The fishing success seemed to repress the memory of those scary moments on the side of the mountain.

I didn’t think much about it until a year later when I tried to take my younger brother, Kevin, around Upper Two Medicine Lake in Glacier National Park to get to the “better water” on the other side of lake. Before we knew it, the bank had ended and we were on a steep stone cliff with intermittent seeps of water. We ended up hanging onto scrub brush so that we would not slide down into the glacially cooled lake. I wondered what I had done. With one slip, my parents would lose two sons. Since I’m writing this, you know that I made it around the lake safely.

So did my brother. What else can I say, but … stupid is as stupid does.