I was talking to my friend Chris while I drove to the river this past Saturday. It’s a short drive, so it was a short cell phone conversation, crammed full of the unending travails of writing — it’s an affliction we both share — and fly fishing.
We stayed on the phone as I parked and pulled on my waders, and Chris asked me a question which I’ve heard any number of times over the years.
“Are you one of those folks” he wanted to know, “who tie on a fly before you leave the truck, or are you someone who doesn’t make your fly selection until you get out on the water and look around?”
I thought about his query for just a second — it’s a loaded question, in case you’re curious — and then shared my standard response.
I told him that it’s a good idea to string up your rod and tie on a fly if you’re going to walk through the woods. It’s no fun losing a rod tip in a forest, and a strung rod will invariably keep that from happening.
Just so you know, that advice was learned the hard way, after 40 minutes of looking for an unsecured rod tip that decided to jump off and play hide & seek in a veritable sea of western conifers. That particular event happened back when I was guiding on the Madison and the Henry’s Fork in the mid 90s, and I’ve never forgotten that lesson.
I suppose I could have stopped right there, of course — most sensible folks probably would — but I kept going and gave Chris the same advice I’ve given any number of other people over the years.
(Here’s where you get your pencil out, if you’re old school, or where you copy & paste, if you’re not.)
As I told Chris on Saturday, and as I’m telling you right now, here’s the real answer. It’s the answer for whether you should tie a fly on before you leave the rig. It’s the answer for whether you should fish dries, nymphs, wets or streamers the next time you’re on the river. It’s the answer for what rod you should fish, and for which technique you should employ, and for who you should fish with — or whether you should fish all by yourself.
What follows is the truth, so help me God, and it’s also the antidote to the narrow-minded thinking and doctrinaire decrees that have become more and more embedded in the sport of fly fishing over the last 25 or 30 years.
It’s the truth, even if you can’t handle the truth.
It doesn’t matter.
That’s right. It doesn’t matter.
You can tie on a fly at your vehicle, or walk down to the river without one. You can fish a dry fly, or a streamer, or a nymph, or a wet fly. You can pick whichever rod your prefer, and use whatever technique you enjoy, and either fish solo or go out with other folks.
There is no right way. There is no wrong way. Just listen to your heart and do whatever makes you happy.
Here’s a news flash. It’s 2021. We don’t fish to feed our families. We don’t journey to the Beaverkill or the Deschutes or the Green to acquire a cooler full of piscatorial protein. We don’t fly fish to catch more permit than the bait guys, or bigger bass than the gear folks. We’re not brain surgeons, or rocket scientists, and we’re not eliminating disease, or eradicating hunger, or creating a new energy source that won’t microwave the planet. Not while we’re standing knee deep in a trout stream, we’re not.
There’s only one reason to fish with a fly rod, and that’s because you enjoy it. So figure out what makes you happy and then do it. Do it as well, and as frequently, as you can. If you want to fish two nymphs under a bobber, then that’s exactly what you should do. If you want to take a page from Syl Nemes and swing a wet fly, go for it. Streamers or dries, trout or carp, tie on a fly at your rig or don’t … do whatever makes you happy.
When someone tells you that you have to do things their way, or when they try to impose their unconsidered preconceptions and biases on your fishing, ignore them. Or tell them to go away. As long as you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, and as long as you’re not trashing the resource or treating the fish with anything less than respect, you’re golden.
Have fun and enjoy your time on the water. That’s what fly fishing is all about. Anyone who tells you differently — any writer, any guide, any fly shop employee, any random angler, anyone at all — who expects you to conform to their narrow views and innate prejudices is not worth your time.
That’s essentially what I told Chris. And he responded, after just a second, that I should write it down and share it with our fellow anglers … which I just did.
Our world has been absolutely insane recently. I hope you have a chance to get out on the water, wash away the stress and trauma, and have some fun.