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5 Steps to Becoming a Better Fly Fisher

Ascent Pro-Form Manager David Arevalo teaching his girls to fish.

The reasons that drive us to the river are as numerous and diverse as the anglers with whom we share the water. There is a primal connection and wild freedom in watching a trout rise to a dry fly, a rare peace in dropping into a canyon with your cellphone left on the seat of your truck, and a unique challenge in learning about the world of trout, choosing the best flies, and performing the perfect series of casts to help bring more fish to the net. Whatever our reasons for fly fishing, we all share common goals: to become better anglers and to catch more and bigger fish each time we make a trip to the water. Anyone can become a better and more successful fly fisher if they are willing to follow these 5 steps.

  1. Let Wind Knots & Lost Fish Motivate You

When Thomas Edison was asked by a reporter how it felt to fail 1,000 times when trying to invent the light bulb, Edison responded by saying, “I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." Like Edison, I encourage you to not be discouraged by your failures on the river or be tempted to hang up your rod, but let each knotted leader, sloppy cast, and lost fish motivate you to be better. Every tool of the successful fly fisher can be learned. Some tools may have more steps to master, but understand that we aren’t failing - we’re learning and we are dedicated to moving forward.

2. Let Your Pride & Hesitation Drift Away

We have all seen arrogance and pride masquerade as ability in the fly fishing world, and I tell you this for certain: the trout aren’t fooled and you shouldn’t be either. The giants of the fly fishing industry such as Lefty Kreh, Dave Whitlock, and Gary Borger are some of the most approachable guys on the water and will be the first to tell you that they don’t have everything dialed in. It is only on the blank pages of humble beginnings that the story of a great angler can be written. Additionally, don’t let words like “I only fish dry flies” leave your mouth. Hesitation is an anchor that will drown a promising angler. Be willing to try new things, to fail and struggle towards mastery. The river is a place of belonging and growth, so let the pride and hesitation drift away.

3.  Ask 1000 Questions

If you want to become a better angler you need to embrace the role of the eternal student. Even after fly fishing for almost 30 years, earning a degree in aquatic biology, and having built trophy fishing waters around the US, I am still regularly made to feel like a dunce by trout and mother nature. Let each fish rejecting your fly, each cast stuck in a tree, and every broken knot drive you to ask why. Search YouTube for answers, hop on Reddit forums for advice from other anglers, and read blogs or books from the experts in the industry. Whatever you do, don’t stand still and continue to repeat the failures of yesterday. There are no stupid questions in fly fishing, but there are many mediocre fly fishers who are stuck and never improving simply due to their inability to embrace the role of a student.

4. Fish with Water-Wise Friends & Guides

Maybe it is a colleague from work, the parent who put the first fly rod in your hands, or a new friend that you made on the river, but find people to fish with that will challenge you and help you to become a better angler. Watch them cast, observe how they mend their line, ask to see how their flies are rigged, and emulate the things that make them successful. Find people who are passionate about fly fishing and love sharing that passion with others. If you don’t have a friend or family member to fish with, hire a water-wise fishing guide and ask that your time together be about education and learning new skills first and not just about catching a few fish.

5. Try & Try & Try New Things

While Master Yoda was strong in the force, he was also a liar when he said “There is no try.”If we are going to become better anglers we are going to need to struggle, tangle, flog the water, and work to master new fly fishing skills.Just as we didn’t hop on a bike and cruise down the block on our first attempt, we need to expect to struggle with a new cast, repeating the motions a hundred times before we start to get the timing and drift right.Whether you are looking to hone in your matching the hatch skills, learn to reach cast, or master a difficult water, expect to struggle, but don’t lose heart.Try and try and try again until you master the task at hand and the fruit of your labor will be more fish in the net and memories of triumphs that will hold you over until you get your next chance to escape the office and go back to school on the water.

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