I had an interesting phone conversation with angling legend Tom Rosenbauer earlier this year. Tom, who has been the face of Orvis fly fishing for as long as I can remember, called and wanted to talk trout fishing. Specifically, he asked me what people need to do to become really good trout fly fishers.
I thought about it, then thought about it some more, and finally shared the following list with Tom.
- Intention. This is the first step. I won’t say it’s impossible to become a great fisherman without making a conscious choice to do so, but my personal experience is that it’s really, really hard to become a great fisherman without first deciding that it’s a goal worth achieving.
- Passion is the following. Passion is like oxygen for trout anglers. With him, the sky is the limit. Without it, it’s almost unthinkable for anyone to put in the time and effort to get to the top of our sport. Passion not only drives us to improve, but fuels our success on the water.
- Sensitization it’s essential. Although I have written extensively about awareness in the past, I am always happy to write about it again. The best anglers I know invariably pay attention to everything around them. They soak up everything; currents, insects, the position of the sun, birds, the weather, and a thousand other visual and auditory clues that help them choose the right technique and the right fly for that particular moment. Without a conscience, a fisherman is essentially flying blind. It is the most important skill we can cultivate.
- Foundry is also essential. Or to be more precise, a good cast is essential. Knowing how to cast, and casting well, is a prerequisite for putting the fly in front of the fish and then obtaining the desired presentation. Someone can be both an effective angler and a poor caster, but there is not a living fly fisherman who can reach his ultimate limit without spending enough time on the practice ground.
- Understand trout. And not in a superficial way, but in a serious way, “I know where this fish lives, and how it moves, and what it eats, and how it interacts with its environment, and how it avoids predators, and what it needs to live and thrive.” way that allows us to overcome the innate defenses of our prey and convince it to taste a fly that it really shouldn’t.
- Understand bugs. After all, insects are the ultimate fish food. No one should be surprised that trout know what local insects look like, how they move, and when they are likely to be available. Which, of course, does not mean that a great fisherman needs an advanced degree in entomology. This means, however, that he or she must be extremely well versed in the basics. And if you don’t believe me, think about how you would react if you went to your favorite restaurant and ordered a T-Bone, only to have the waiter drop a piece of mystery meat slowly crawling onto your plate. When you really understand insects, you know how, where and when to present the flies that will appeal to trout.
- Generalists. It’s true, the best fly anglers become generalists before they become specialists. Show me an outstanding fly fisherman and I’ll show you someone who can catch dry flies during a hatch, and nymphs when there’s nothing up top, and streamers and wet flies whenever the conditions justify it. The best anglers have a solid foundation in all aspects of fly fishing and also master a wide variety of techniques and styles.
- Fly tie. A great angler understands the importance of tying their own flies. Fly tying is the best way to develop a solid understanding of fly patterns and fly selection, and it also helps ensure we always have the right fly on hand.
- Time on the water. There are shortcuts – magazine articles, fly fishing schools, books, YouTube videos and online forums, not to mention paying for a guide – but ultimately, nothing replaces time on the water. . The best fly fishermen spend an inordinate amount of time fishing. That’s how it works, and there’s no way anyone can reach their full potential without investing the time and energy.
- To ask questions. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it ultimately helps us become better anglers. Every time a neophyte has the chance to fish with a talented fly fisherman, he should ask as many relevant questions as possible. (Without, I might add, crossing the line and becoming a pest.) Surprisingly, this same approach also works for people who fish alone. What questions should we ask ourselves? Well, I was taught to ask “what do I see here?” and “what does this teach me?” When we think about what we observe and how it is relevant to our time on the water, we automatically improve our angling.
- Listen. The best fly anglers not only hang out with other stellar anglers, but they usually have a long history of listening more than they talk. It’s not always an easy skill to master, but it’s an important skill to cultivate.
- Concentration. Of all the traits I’ve mentioned so far, this is perhaps the one where genetics plays the biggest role. Some people seem to emerge from the womb with the ability to focus on their very essence. Other people find it difficult to focus and concentrate. All I can say is that the most advanced anglers use a singular, even predatory focus when on the water. As far as I know, it’s something you’re either born with or you’re not…
That is just about everything. Before we wrap up, though, I should mention that Tom and I also discussed some things that I intentionally left off my list. Equipment was one. While we all love good fly fishing gear, there isn’t a fly rod, reel, or pair of waders on the planet that will take an average angler and turn them into a fly fisherman. stellar.
The same goes for all the different techniques that we employ. They are important, but they are not what separates the best from the rest.
And finally, there are the flies. One of the most common questions I get asked on the water is “what do you bring them on?” Unfortunately, too many people believe that there is a “magic fly” – a fly that, at that exact time and under those particular conditions, will guarantee their success. Truth be told, there is nothing like it.
Of course, the best anglers learned this lesson early in their fly fishing career. That’s why so many of them will respond to “what are you making them do” with more honesty and candor than you’d expect from another angler.
“A good drift.”