Peninsula Fly Fishers

Learning To Fish Better
Beginners Need A Good Start

by Dennis Kellet

fly fishers knee-deep

February 2003

A desire for some learning-to-fish fishouts has been expressed. A few years ago, Susan Anderson headed up a successful fishout of this type around Dunsmuir, following a presentation at the club on nymphing technique by Ron Rabun. He and fellow guide, Bill Carnazzo, were engaged for the weekend to give on-stream instruction. All the participants profited by the practical experience and the one-on-one instruction.

If you want to get to the next level of fishing excellence, and want to attend an on-water clinic, contact the club fishout chairman, . He'll get the ball rolling to organize a fishing clinic. Good guides get booked well in advance, so it is not too early to start working on this fishout now.

The old-time way of learning to fish is hard to replicate. Many of us didn't grow up in families with seasoned hunters and fishermen. Absent a family member or good friend to take a novice under his wing, learning has to be got from paid guides, lots of reading, and lucky encounters with friendly experts. A guide, if he's willing to teach (avoid the kind who's only interest is in big numbers) is a good instructor, but a bit pricey for lots of us. A more economical, but less intensive, means to on-water instruction and supervised practice is to hire a guide to instruct a group. Fortunately, there are many guides who are happy to teach groups.

Don't Be Discouraged

Beginners, fishing never will be by-the-numbers. Some days the fish bite everything. Some days you've got the right stuff, and all those around you are stymied. Some days the fish bite nothing. Some days the hatches are thick, the fish are feeding like mad, and you can't get a bite even when you bonk them on the snout. Some days you work hard to figure it out, and when you do, you've got only one fly in your box that's the one the fish want and you lose it in a tree after the second fish. The difference between catching no fish or a few is subtle; the difference between a few and a lot is subtle, too. Learning subtleties is a lengthy endeavor. Fishing suits the quiet, patient, observant person.

Poor casting skills will limit you, but not making fishing success impossible. A paltry flybox will limit you, but not make fishing success impossible. Little knowledge of fish and their foods will limit you, but not make fishing success impossible. Poorly mastered fishing techniques will limit you, but not make fishing success impossible.

A person who has limited skills, knowledge, and flies is called a beginner. To have fun, to catch fish, to get better at it, a beginner has to study and practice off the water and then fish with intelligence and curiosity. What resources can a beginner tap to prepare: books, magazines, videos, websites, casting instruction, fly tying instruction, and friendships with other fly fishers. What strategy can a beginner bring to a fishing trip: scouting, the right gear, alertness, and a systematic approach to fly selection, presentation, and where to fish.

To this I would add focus! Bluegills in May, tarpon in June, and trout in October will make for more confusion than improvement. Pick something you can afford (money and time) to do often. Fish exclusively: e.g. just farm ponds for bluegill and bass, or just freestone rivers for trout. Stick with that one thing until you have a solid intermediate level of knowledge and skill. A little variety won't wreck things, but stay focused.

One season of assiduous application could be enough time. If you can get out to fish only two or three times a year, your improvement will not pace the fishing bum's, but how good you are doesn't have to be the stick by which you measure your fishing. (Remove the self-imposed pressure to perform. Recognize that there is no fast lane, no short-cut to being a really good fly fisher. How about valuing fishing by how much you enjoyed the whole experience being in the outdoors, traveling to someplace different, pleasant company, a relaxed pace, crickets chirring you to sleep?) In spite of yourself, maybe, you'll want to do better. It's human nature. Carve some time out of your schedule to study, practice, and go fishing. (Because you don't sit around for hours each day wishing there was something -- anything -- to do, you will have to quit doing something to make time for fishing. I suggest that you dump TV watching and lawn mowing.)

For more on developing a beginner's skill, see these articles:

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