Thursday, September 22, 2011

Good to Great

It's a long way to the top, take it one step at a time.
I try to make a habit of listening to Tom Rosenbauer's Orvis podcasts. A new podcast is published every week or so, and while many of them are at a Fly Fishing 101 level, I usually glean some knowledge from each episode.

Earlier this summer Rosenbauer did an episode entitled, Ten Steps From Novice to Intermediate. It was pretty standard stuff: fish more, practice casting, find a fishing buddy at your level, and etc. But it got me to thinking about what steps an angler, such as myself, might take to make the transcendence from intermediate to advanced. After all, if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well.

Below, and in no particular order, are several steps that I think would lead to personal advancement in fly fishing ability. Do you disagree with these? I didn't quite make it to ten, what would you add to the list?

1) Read. Much has been written about the pastime of fly fishing. Anglers seeking to overcome mediocrity will do well to study the iconic and timeless work of Bergman, Brooks, LaFontaine, Marinaro, Mathews, Nemes, and Schwiebert, among others.

2) Move to Montana. On second thought, I'd rather not attract additional anglers to MT waters - consider moving to any other trout rich locale. When it comes to improving, nothing beats time on the water... and not just any water, but the type of water that you prefer to fish. If carp and panfish put the starch in your shorts then your metropolis' local ponds will fit the bill. But if freestone rivers and wild trout are your thing, you'll only reach the next level by living close enough to visit regularly.

3) Study entomology. Bugs, they're what it's all about. Obtaining extensive and applicable knowledge of aquatic and terrestrial insects is one of the most significant advancements that most intermediate anglers can make.

4) Tie. As long as you don't get carried away, you'll save money and as a result your fly inventory will swell. You'll begin to focus on tying truly effective patterns, rather than buying the flashy patterns that fly shops are trying to unload. And of course there is the creativity aspect, allowing you to customize flies, often resulting in an increased level of effectiveness.

5) Fish with experts. You don't have to ditch your old fishing buddies, but try to find a few who can teach you a thing or two. I'm regularly outfished by some of the guys with which I spend time on the water, but I've learned a lot in the process.

6) Mix it up. So you can slay fish by nymphing, great, try it without an indicator. Work on improving your dry fly fishing. Advance your streamer fishing methods. Take a page out of Nemes book (not literally, they're valuable) and swing soft hackles for a change. How's your reach cast, your pile cast, your double haul and your roll cast? Challenge yourself to become a well rounded angler.

7) Think like a fish. You're already thinking like a dead stonefly... now try thinking like a fish. Study up on the behavior of the species you pursue.

8) Observe
. This one made Rosenbauer's list for "beginner to intermediate", but it's worth repeating. A few years back I remember hearing Craig Mathews suggest that anglers would do well to sit and observe the river for ten to fifteen minutes upon arriving at the water's edge. That is something I've heard him reiterate time and time again. The way I saw it, that was fifteen minutes of lost fishing time, but I'm beginning to realize the importance of taking the time to simply observe. There is much to be seen.

9) Fish year round. This isn't possible everywhere, regulations in many states preclude fall and winter stream fishing for trout. And in many regions fishing through the cold winter months can be uncomfortable at times. When and where it is possible, take advantage of the opportunity to hone your skills year round.


  1. I would ad that you must be able to take criticism. When you do #5 (which you should!)...I've seen many people who just can't take advice and learn from being critiqued. It's important to be able to be critiqued and to learn from it.

  2. Stay single! Nothing will reduce your time on the water more than domesticity, trust me. Unless you find a very understanding lady.

  3. Tying flies definitely kicked my ability up a notch or two. Because of tying, I not only learned the kinds of insects and their various stages of development, but when to fish them and the best techniques on how to fish them. I find myself constantly tinkering w/ patterns (3 varieties of Parachute Adams) which works great or is a complete failure. I'm sure I'll come full circle and realize that the classics can't be improved upon, but the journey sure is fun!!

  4. E.M.B - Being able to take constructive criticism is certainly a good trait of an angler looking to improve.

    George - Haha, yes, staying single - and unemployed - is ideal for anyone aspiring to be an expert angler! This should definitely fill the #10 slot!

    Kerry - Tying and entomology go hand in hand and really bring a whole new perspective to fly fishing.

  5. Keep a journal.
    Take notes on weather, time of year and day.

  6. My only add...teach someone what you learn.

  7. Chase other species besides a wily trout. Multi-species fishing will force you to become an expert at other techniques. Carp, for example, will probably have you very frustrated at first...turning that frustration into success is hard work, but you will come away a better angler.

  8. James - No doubt keeping a journal is educational. Rosenbauer included this in his list for advancing from beginner to intermediate, so I omitted it in an effort to minimize overlap.

    Gary - I've had the pleasure of teaching a couple of people how to fly fish. Doing so really makes you think about what works, and what doesn't. A great suggestion.

    Anon - This is probably the best suggestion for a 10th tip. I'm guilty of trout snobbery, and would do well to expand my horizons a bit. Doing so would undoubtedly improve my trout fishing as well.