Any new chapter gives you an excuse to make a change for the better. It can be a big change or a little change, an effort at self-improvement or self-care. We spent some time thinking about some non-traditional means of doing both at the same time. Here are five tips towards becoming a better angler and a better person at the same time.
1. Take someone fishing
If you have been fishing for any amount of time then two things might be true: first, you might have forgotten just how significant any help or advice was when you were getting started. The learning curve of fly fishing is steep, and it is amazing how much an experienced friend can flatten it out. Second, you are probably more equipped than you realize to make the jump from “student to teacher”.
Taking someone fishing is a gift and an act of service. That part doesn’t need to be explained. But the surprising part about taking someone fishing is just how much it will benefit you to play guide for the day. You’re going to see the water differently when you’re coaching someone else. You’ll think about things differently when you need to put words to techniques and concepts that you have taken for granted for years. And, new anglers have a habit of asking questions that point out obvious flaws in our thinking, giving us the opportunity to change our own approach to fishing. So take someone fishing. They’ll be better for it, and you will too.
2. Hire a guide
Even if your goal isn’t always to improve as an angler, you are likely to learn something every time you get on the water. You’ll discover subtleties, stumble onto flies that work a little better, or find a seam that you never knew held fish.
Experience is indeed a great teacher, but sometimes it can be an expensive one. Countless days and thousands of casts can be spent on the way to becoming a better angler. Enter a professional fishing guide. If becoming a better angler on your own is like taking sips, fishing with a great guide is shotgunning that beverage. Not only have they have dialed in the flies, the techniques, and the strategies that produce the best results, but they should also be stewards of and ambassadors for their river. A great guide should points out beauty and not just fish. Spend a day with a guide like that and you’ll leave with an increase sense of gratitude and reverence. The knowledge you take from a great guide will make you a more knowledgeable and more grateful angler.
3. Give away your under-used gear
At one point in your fishing journey you knew how many flies you owned. And any time you were given a fly or two it felt like an act of significant generosity. If that season of your angling career is a distant memory, then chances are you would have to think long and hard about the inventory of the more costly and significant components—rods, reels, etc—of your arsenal. By giving some of your under-used gear go a newbie you’re helping someone overcome the significant financial barrier to entry into this beautiful sport. But there’s a benefit to you too. A friend once told us, “The more you know the less you need.” This may or may not be true, but it is at least worth considering. In our experience, extra gear isn’t kept because our knowledge tells us we need it, but rather because our lack of knowledge makes us uncertain that we don’t. In other words, our garages, closets, packs, vests, and brains are so cluttered with under-used gear that it makes us clumsier rather than better-equipped. It shows more than generosity to give away under-used gear—it also demonstrates confidence.
4. Count something besides fish
The first three questions that you’ll be asked after you get back from fishing are “how was it?”, “did you catch any?” and “how many?” While those are understandable questions to ask, they’re unfortunate questions to set out at the beginning of the day to answer. In our experience the quality of a day is never determined by the quantity of fish. Sure, in general, more fish is preferable. But counting fish so that you can compare your day to someone else’s (or even another one of yours) is a surefire way to rob yourself of some of the joy of fishing. Here are a few things we suggest “counting” instead of numbers in order to slow down and appreciate the day: learn to determine the gender of the fish you’re catching. Some anglers claim they can tell the gender of certain species by how they fight—can you? What trees are currently blooming right now? There is an old saying “when the dogwoods bloom the springers (spring steelhead) are in.” Can you see a correlation between blossoms, hatches, and fish? Count how many colors you see. One of the best fishing guides we know has one spot where he mentally checks out for a few minutes to count how many greens he sees. Is this fish colored slightly differently? Why? Learning to count something other than fish will help you enjoy fishing more and potentially offer you intel that you’d never have if you only counted fish.
5. Take a break from Instagram
Many anglers find that “catching” fish with their camera is just as rewarding as catching them with a fly rod. And all of us have been informed, inspired, or moved by images from gifted photographers and/or novices with an iPhone in the right place at the right time. We’re fortunate to live in a time and place when these photos exist and are easy to come by. But it is to our detriment that we live in a time where “if it isn’t on Instagram it didn’t happen.” Often our days are compromised, not improved, by our effort to get photos. We’re intentionally removing ourselves from the moment, envisioning a future social post, and compromising our experience. We find that we do our best fishing when we’re focused entirely on what we’re doing, not trying to break the internet.