Your fly fishing resolutions

Resolve to be a better angler this coming year
Fly Fishing the Brazos River in New Mexico
Casting into the last light in the canyon on the Brazos River in north central New Mexico (photo: Andrew Miller).

As that last drop of holiday cheer passes your lips and washes down that last piece of pie or Christmas candy at midnight on Jan. 1, 2016, you might be among the many who vow to make the new year a better one by resolving to improve various aspects of your life.

Maybe you’ll try to quit smoking, or drop that holiday weight. Perhaps you’ll resolve to read more, watch less TV or spend more precious time with family. All good goals, to be sure.

While you’re at it, consider your fishing—we could all resolve to be better anglers in 2016, and by that, I don’t must mean learning to double haul or perfect that elusive reach cast. Being a better angler is more than just being a better fisher. Being a “complete” angler means more than 20-fish days or spot-on casting, strip sets and presentation. It means that you’re doing your part to make fishing better, and not just for you, but for your neighbors and your kids … and your grandkids.

If you’re scratching your head, wondering what I mean by this consider the following proposed resolutions for fly fishers everywhere.

Resolve to take someone new fishing

How many times, over the course of the year, do you hear someone say, “I’d really like to learn how to fly fish.” It happens to me all the time—like me (and probably like you), these folks have seen guys and gals like us, standing in the river, casting a fly line to rising trout and they’ve decided that this looks like something they ought to be doing. Remember the first person to really take you fly fishing? The angler who helped you with the little things, like tying the tippet to the leader, or helping you set up your first fly rod and reel outfit?

It’s your turn. The next time someone says how much they’d like to learn to fly fish, be the mentor. There’s room for one more on the next trip to the river, right?

Bonus points if you introduce a kid to the sport. We need to perpetuate the craft, and pulling a 13-year-old away from his or her Xbox is karmically beneficial.

Invest in your home waters

We all have our favorite stretches of river or those hidden backcountry creeks that seem to belong to just us. Trouble is, many of our home waters are in peril thanks to efforts afoot to transfer the ownership of public lands to states, climate change, habitat degradation or something as simple as litter.

Resolve in 2016 to make your home waters healthier. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but find a way. Join Trout Unlimited and go with your local chapter volunteers on their next stream improvement outing. Carry a garbage bag with you when you fish. Volunteer with your state’s fish and game agency. Treat your fishing like your bank account. In order to make frequent withdrawals, you need to make frequent deposits, too.

Fish “new” water

It’s a great big fly fishing world out there, and opportunities are endless. If fly fishing is truly your passion, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you’re only venturing to the local river or bass pond to chase fish. Branch out. Put some miles on the truck and explore new places. Better yet, find the time and save the money and take an honest-to-God fly fishing vacation. Chase bones and permit on the flats of Ascension Bay, cast for steelhead in the Deschutes or run the beach along the Sea of Cortez and cast at roosters and jacks. Go to Alaska. Go to Belize. Hell… go to Texas or Louisiana or Florida and chase redfish in the marsh. Go to Saskatchewan and hunt massive pike and lake trout. Go. Do.

Get out of your comfort zone and take in something new. You’ll gain an appreciation for fish all over the world that will readily hit a fly and provide you with a connection to the wild that only fly fishers really get to experience. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself caring about these places, the people who live there and the fish that swim in far-off waters. You’ll be interested in issues you never heard of before. You’ll be more worldly, more wise.

Resolve to protect clean water

If there’s one constant that makes our fishing tick, it’s clean water. This last year, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers pushed through the “Waters of the U.S.” rule, also known as the “clean water rule.” The rule is simple—it prohibits un-permitted development the headwaters of America’s great rivers. It restores these protections to our small, sometimes intermittent streams under the federal Clean Water Act.

Unfortunately, many special interests are leaning on Congress to fight this rule—it’s even been taken to court. As anglers, this rule is elementary. The sources of our coldest, cleanest water must be protected because these are the waters where big fish got to make little fish. But it’s more than that, of course. It’s about the quality of the water that comes out of the tap—the water we drink, cook with and use to nourish our yards and gardens.

It’s a no-brainer, and as anglers we have the duty to stand up and protect the resources that make our pastime happen. Tell your state’s federal delegation to protect the clean water rule.

Be a smarter consumer

The fly fishing industry is but a niche in the overall fishing market, but its players are diverse and some are better than others when it comes to being responsible corporate partners in the conservation of our fishing resources. Do your research before you buy, and make sure you’re being a responsible consumer.

It’s probably not realistic to be a gung-ho “Buy American” fly fishing consumer, but there are great small companies that manufacture their goods right here in the U.S.A. But also keep in mind that companies that import sporting goods pay a 10 percent excise tax on all of those items, and that money goes to conservation right here at home. Rather than worry too much about the origin of your next fly rod, consider first the willingness of its manufacturer to give back to the resources you depend on for great fishing. Most companies in the fly fishing space do their part, but it’s up to you to do your homework and support the companies that support habitat and grow opportunity. It’s good business for companies to give back, and it’s good business for consumers to reward the companies that invest in our angling resources.

Some good examples? Orvis, for instance, has partnered with TU over the last five years to raise money for culvert replacements in watersheds all over the country. The goal is admirable—by fixing culverts, the company and the organization hope to open up 1,000 miles of new habitat to migrating fish … and to anglers. Vedavoo, a small company based in Massachusetts, hand-crafts all of it soft goods from American-made materials. Farbank, the makers of Sage, Redington and RIO products, invested heavily in TU’s Wild Steelhead Initiative. Fishpond, based in Colorado, is going all in for the protection of American public lands. Simms, based in Montana, is investing heavily in the effort to stop a mine in the headwaters of the famed Smith River. The list goes on, of course.

Learn new skills

Fly fishing is multi-faceted. Enhance your enjoyment of the craft by becoming more than just a fisher. Consider learning how to tie flies, or build your next fly rod. Make your own leaders, or learn to row a drift boat.

Pick up a Tenkara rod and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Learn to spey cast or learn that double-haul that you’ll need when you’re on the flats of the Mayan Riviera.

There’s so much more to our sport than just fishing. Be a well-rounded angler.

Be an ambassador

Finally, lead by example.

We hear all the time about how a few bad apples can spoil the whole barrel. Ask any responsible hunter out there about the challenges facing hunting and shooting in America, and they’ll almost all say that the few bad actors tarnish the whole cast.

The same is true for fly fishers, who are often considered snooty, tweedy, aloof and elitist. Don’t be that guy (or that gal). Be warm and welcoming. Be friendly. Be willing to share, to step aside and let someone else have the honey-hole for a bit. More importantly, follow the rules. Release your catch when it make sense (and kill it when it actually helps the resource). Be a good actor and lead the way when it comes to ethics.

Others will follow and hopefully do the same.

Happy New Year. May it be your best yet.