Three Lessons My Dad Taught Me about Fly Fishing

My dad taught me three of the most important lessons I ever learned about fly fishing.

The irony is that he never fly fished. These three lessons my dad taught me came during the handful of times he took me trout fishing with a spinning rod or during the dozens of times he took me hunting for pheasants, white-tail deer, or elk:

1. Be patient with youngsters.

There should be a Chinese proverb which says, “Teach a child to fish and try not to go crazy in the process.”

I remember the time we were camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I was nine, and my brother, Dave, was seven. We were trying to spin-fish in a little trout stream that came rushing down the mountainside over boulders. My dad took off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and spent the better part of the next two hours wading in ice-cold water, dislodging our Mepps #2 spinners from every rock and logjam in the creek.

I was excited when he told us that we were hooking into a lot of “bottom bass.”

It took me a couple of years to figure out what a “bottom bass” really was – a code word for a snag on a rock or whatever else lurked under the surface. It took me a few more years to appreciate the patience my dad had that afternoon. If he hadn’t been patient and helpful, my love for trout fishing might have been demolished or at least delayed.

I’ve tried to practice patience with my own children. My two adult sons love to fly fish, so I guess I didn’t ruin them with too many fits of impatience when they snagged a pine tree limb or my fly fishing vest with their back casts.

Of the three lessons my father taught me, practicing patience is the most obvious and the most difficult to do.

2. Invest in quality equipment.

When it came to firearms, my dad did his research.

He figured out that a .280 Remington (7mm Express) would be a great all-around caliber for both deer and elk. He worked up a hand-load with 150-grain bullets that had the flat-shooting of a .270 and the punch of a 30.06. Before Winchester and Remington produced a line of mountain rifles with synthetic stocks, he found a gunsmith in Belgrade, Montana who built a mountain rifle for him. He had learned about David Gentry from voraciously reading the major firearm magazines. Then, when I was in the market for a new hunting rifle, he encouraged me to consider a Ruger Model 77.

Also, my dad had no time for cheap scopes. He insisted that my brother, Dave, and I save our dollars for Leupold scopes so that our targets would be clear and illumined if we had a chance to shoot a few minutes after legal shooting light began or a few minutes before it ended.

I have followed this approach when purchasing fly fishing equipment. I’ve done my research and invested in rods made by Winston and Orvis, as well as in reels made by Orvis and Lamson. The right equipment can help with well-placed casts and with landing a big rainbow or brown trout.

3. Work together as a team.

When I hunted with my dad, there was usually another brother involved — either one of his or one of mine. We learned to make this work to our advantage. If we were hunting white-tails, we would often post somebody along a game trail, and then two of us would circle back and walk through the timber or coulee in hopes of pushing something along the game trail by the posted hunter. It worked on several occasions. If we were bow-hunting elk, we would put a caller (with an elk bugle or a cow call) about twenty yards behind the two guys in front who would get in position for a shot.

Our thinking was that an elk which came within 40 yards of the caller would get within 20 yards of one of the shooters. That strategy worked, too.

Of course, it works differently with fly fishing.

We’re obviously not trying to push trout to a waiting fly fisher! But when my fly fishing partner, Dave, and I are on a river, we find ways of working together. Sometimes, it is as simple as using different fly patterns to see which one works best. Occasionally, one of us will work the same holes or runs together — one fishing above the surface with a dry fly, and the other below the surface with a nymph or a streamer.

Most times we’re working together by alternating runs as we work up or down the river. Or one of us stops fishing to help take a photo or help with a tangle. We work together rather than compete against each other, though I like nothing more than to land the biggest fish of the day.

Yes, there’s something special about fly fishing with your dad or with your son or daughter. You can learn a lot and teach a lot in the process. These three lessons that my dad taught me are priceless.

Just pray for patience.