It is crazy to think that the first time I held a fly rod was five years ago, yet this is my first full year of fly fishing from January to December. Reflecting upon my year, I know that I learned so much, but I have yet to even scratch the surface. So, to all of you beginner fly fishermen out there or those who are starting the transition, I’d like to share with you the 5 most important lessons I learned after my first full year of fly fishing.
Positive Mental Attitude (PMA):
As we all know, fishing is an extremely mental game—trying to figure out the new puzzle nature presents each day and battling your own internal mind games. However, one of the best videos I have seen that has helped me build my own positive mental attitude both on and off the water is by professional bass fisherman, Gerald Swindle. Maintaining a PMA on the water allows me to realize these core things: this sh*t is hard, sometimes you’re going to have to embrace the skunk, and sometimes you’re going to have to work for your fish, but always keep your head up. You will have days where you can’t keep fish off your line and you will have days where you fish all day in the rain, get a hole in your waders, lose your net and come up empty. But, just like how a young kid learning to mow his lawn builds character, tough experiences build skill. So keep plugging away.
Go Outside Your Comfort Zone:
It is so easy to start fly fishing and marry yourself to whatever technique gets you the most consistent action. And, don’t get me wrong, it is important to use a confidence fly in a lot of circumstances, but the only way you’re going to grow as an angler, learn to read different situations and adapt on-the-go, is by forcing yourself to try something new. If you’re a freshwater guy, fish the salt. If you love gently laying size 26 tricos to 26” browns, try huckin’ a streamer or high sticking a nymph. And if you think you already know everything—salt, freshwater, brackish, dry, nymph, streamer—you’re wrong, you don’t, so go out and learn more.
Expensive Gear Doesn’t Mean Sh*t:
Take it from me, I’m a broke college angler, I don’t own a single rod that costs more than $300, I don’t have $100 nippers or Simms G3’s. I have a low-cost 5 wt that gets the job done, my waders are from a time before the dinosaurs and eternally smell like moldy socks, but guess what? The fish don’t care! Never let a small budget prevent you from starting to fish or doubt your own fishing abilities. The subscription options that Pelican Reels and Wade Rods offer, make getting high-quality gear on a budget easy. They allow you to spread out the cost over time, making it affordable for even a college student like myself!
Networking (And Make Some Friends):
With my dad’s life advice echoing in my mind, “networking is everything”, I can’t help but admit that he was right. While I absolutely enjoy the solitude of fishing and figuring things out by myself, surrounding yourself with kind-hearted and passionate anglers is essential to growth as an angler. Reach out to people within your community—talk to someone on the water, stop by your local fly shop or attend a local fishing club meeting. And, make sure to fish with people who are better than you because you’ll always learn something new. Most importantly, be kind to others and give back. I remember myself at the beginning of my fly fishing career—how I was overwhelmed, confused and in need of guidance—so I am always willing to help out a fellow angler. Fishing is all about sharing the love of the passion, that’s what I signed up for at least.
I genuinely believe the number one thing I learned this year was to be mindful and present while I fish. Acknowledge everything around you because the second fishing becomes a source of anger, sadness, etc. you’re not doing it right. Fishing is as much about the people we meet, the places it takes us and the memories we make along the way as it is about the beautiful creatures we chase. It’s about the entire experience as a whole: hugging your best friend after a catch, getting cut up and scraped while hiking high into the mountains, resisting the itch of what seems like a thousand mosquito bites just to drift that perfect run one last time and having stories to tell for the rest of your life. Don’t let fishing be an escape, but rather an opportunity of awakening.
I cannot wait to see what this next year and all the years to come hold for me because I know for sure that 4 AM wake-ups, beef jerky filled road trips, and watching fish rise will never leave my life.
If you can take one major theme from these lessons that I learned, it is be yourself when you fish, it makes all the difference.