Fly fishing is the joyful enigma of all outdoor pursuits. There are so many esoteric nuances, large and small, that anglers must master to be happy and successful in their piscatorial pursuits. Fly selection, casting, selecting the proper fly rod, reel, and fly line
combination are the obvious skills that most fly fishermen become somewhat adept at after a few years. However there is one, often overlooked fishing proficiency that will determine whether a fisherman is going to have a bad or good day on the water.
This least practiced, yet most important fly fishing skill is learning how to select a person to go fishing with, i.e. the proverbial new “fishing buddy”.
What To Look For When Picking The Right Fishing Buddy
1. “I have always wanted to fly fish” or “I am just learning”
Think about these two statements thoroughly when you hear them. They both mean that you won’t be casting your new Orvis Helios II Covert as much as you had planned if you go with this person. Your day will be spent tying on flies, helping the person cast and untangling knots. If you say yes then you have just become their guide for the day.
Personally, I like these new fishing buddies for a multitude of reasons. First, I know that they will do things the right way eventually, or at least my way. This means that they will cast safely, treat fish gently, and not cast the length of the boat. The other nice little caveat is they will treat you like a fly fishing deity until they know better.
2. Does He (or she) Have A Fly Rod And Reel Of His Own?
This seems like a silly question. It is not silly at all. I have made this mistake more than once. The persons involved were incredibly different but the outcome was the same. Here is an example of how it happens.
So there was this friend of a friend who I knew could fish well. We finally met at a party and the conversation naturally went drifted to fly fishing. After the obligatory cocktail or three, he suggested we go fishing the next day. This seemed like a good idea. So I said I would swing by his house around 9 AM. Easy, squeezy, tomorrow should be fun I thought to myself.
The next morning I pulled up to the guy’s house with high expectations and a hangover. He came out carrying some gear, minus a rod tube but I figured that he would go back into the house and grab it after he loaded his waders and gear bag. So I was a little surprised when he climbed into the passenger seat and said; “I hope you have a spare rod. I broke my 5 wt. Scott last week.”
I hemmed and hawed a bit and then told him he could use one of mine. We all know what happened next. Three hours later he was standing beside me with a four-piece Winston that was now a five-piece saying; “Gee, you must have had a nick in the finish because I know I didn’t do it. Can I use the 4 wt. you have in your truck?” I silently cranked on my Gunnison and then headed to my truck when I had my line reeled up to head home, not saying a word.
3. “What’s a mayfly?”
This is a sneaky thing that has bitten me in the rear before. Not everyone is an expert fly fisherman. We all learn from watching and asking those that we choose to fish with. There are certain knowledge points however, that should be known by everyone who claims to know how to strip line (another term to test for) from a fly reel.
I was sitting in a local pub in the middle of the day minding my own business when the bartender flipped the TV channel to a fly fishing show. Since the bar was somewhat empty he started talking fishing with me as we watched some hipster dude talk to his trout as he released them. The bartender told me he had been out
fishing the March Brown hatch and that he had a great day the day before. He seemed like a good guy, so I suggested we hit the river the next day. We agreed to meet on the stream at 10 AM after he asked me if I needed flies. I said I have plenty of March Browns and finished my beer to hurriedly go tie some.
The next day he showed up at 10:30. I was hanging out slowly rigging my little Winston 3wt and drinking coffee. There was no rush since the hatch usually didn’t happen until around 1 o’clock. When he rolled now his truck window I could tell he was off a bit. So I asked what was wrong. He said he went to the fly shop and asked for some March Browns but they were all out. Smiling, I told him that I had plenty of mayflies for both of us. “What are those? I told you they were eating March Browns;” he finished with a frustrated tone and drove away.
4. “Does he ever shut up?”
Fly fishermen love to talk. I love to hear myself speak more than any other human I have ever heard. But there is only so much fishing talk that even I can absorb in a day, particularly if the subject is the person talking.
One of my longtime fishing partners brought his brother in brother-in-law with us for a day on the lake recently. He was quiet, almost bashful until he climbed into my sled. As soon as his foot hit the floor it was like a switch went on in his brain that turned on his mouth.
For the next four hours, we heard about his biggest fish, the most fish, the smallest fish, what we should be doing, name dropping of supposedly famous fishermen(which drives me nuts), and anything else related to his fishing experiences. He had talked so much that he missed several fish, of course, this wasn’t his fault. Finally, after my multiple attempts at steering the conversation to football or something else, I forget what, I lost it.
“Does he ever shut up?” raced out of my lips before I could trap them behind my teeth. The brother-in-law went silent, my buddy smiled and I felt like I just burned a hole in my G3 waders with a cigarette ash. My frustration had made it pretty clear to everyone on the lake that I had had it.
The point of this is that you can never tell how someone is going to act until they are on the water. This guy actually got over my Tourette’s moment. He slid into the groove that my buddy and I were used to when we fished together. This highlights why it is good to get to know someone a little before you get into a boat with them for the day or have to drive hours with them to get to your fishing spot.
5. Jobs Are Overrated
If your new fishing-buddy-to-be doesn’t have a job then you might be in trouble. I have fished with anglers who are incredibly fun and easy to be around, most of our lifelong friends. They are patient, skilled, and just get it. The problem is that many of these guys don’t have any cash.
I have a very long time friend who I met on the Metolius River one very cold day in January. I could see that he knew the butt end of a rod from the tip and told him to give me a call next time he was headed out. Brian’s over the top enthusiasm from my invitation should have tipped me off that something was a tad off.
Two days later he gave me a ring and asked if I wanted to head back out to the river. I told him that would be great and he volunteered to drive. The following day I was loading my gear into his truck when he told me we needed to stop for gas on the way out of town. I thought nothing of this when I handed him five bucks(it was 1991, so don’t think I am cheap) for my share of the gas.
Needless to say, I was kind of surprised when he asked the gas attendant for $3 of gas. But I gave him the benefit of the doubt, figuring he was a super upright guy and I was going to get a couple of bucks back. We got our $3 of gas and the attendant handed Brian $2 in change. Astoundingly Brian got out and went inside the building for a few minutes reappearing with two hotdogs and a soda. As he got in he said; “I haven’t had a job for a couple of months, fishing has been too good. But you can get two dogs and a soda for two bucks here.” On the way to the river, he happily chomped down the hotdogs, washing them down with loud slurps on the straw in the Coke.
Trying not to get angry, I convinced myself it was ok. He was driving after all and if we only needed three dollars of gas then he could do as he pleased. In a few hours, I would have a completely different, somewhat less forgiving perspective. After a great day of catching Red Band trout on BWOs, he pulled his truck into the Camp Sherman store on the way home. “Hey, you got any cash? I don’t think we have enough gas to make it home.”
He is still a friend and fishing buddy who is still broke and underemployed. Anymore I always drive and pack enough food for two. He fishes eats, and then tells me he will pay me back before he dozes off in the passenger seat on the way home.
6. He Owns A Boat
This automatically makes this person a great candidate for a fishing buddy, especially if you don’t have a boat. Remember that this can be a double-edged sword because you are going to end up playing second fiddle to the owner. Whether it be rowing him while he casts or poling him around the flats for hours, you are at his mercy. Just keep this in mind when he anchors with the wind to his advantage and not yours.
Fly fishing has created and fostered most of my adult friendships for more than 30 years. It facilitates the comradery and friendships that make our lives richer with every cast or fish hooked. That is why finding a compatible fishing partner is so important, almost as important as finding the right husband or wife.