Tear Up Your Fly Fishing Resume

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

Far too often it’s an angler’s self image that gets between them and the fish.

In a recent article, I wrote about how I believe that, as a group, the fly fishing community doesn’t always do a good job as ambassadors of the sport. In brief, I think we make new anglers self conscious and afraid to ask questions or seek advice. The other side of that dilemma is that way too many anglers let their pride get in the way of their progress. To often we take a defensive posture with other anglers, who could teach us something.

Nobody likes the expert. We’ve all spent time around the guy who wants to be the big shot and impress everyone with his fly fishing prowess, which is usually not impressive. I’m not defending that behavior. In fact, I find that the anglers who are the most skilled are also the most humble. I don’t think that is a coincidence. I think those anglers learned long ago that they could learn something from anyone, if they listened.

I was having a conversation about flats fishing with another angler who voiced some opinions I know to be pretty far off base. This was a conversation about fishing over a beer and since he brought it up, I felt invited to offer my opinion. I also knew for a fact that his assertion had a lot to do with his getting skunked that day, so I politely responded.

“I think these fish…” I was quickly met with, “I’ve fished down here for twenty years!”

I shut up and let him enjoy his ignorance. The fact is that he has fished three days a year for twenty years so I’ll concede that he has two months of experience. He knew nothing about me as an angler. Not how many days a year I fish, or for how many years, or even that I had a pretty great day while he was getting skunked.

I’ve heard that line a hundred times and I’ve never heard it from an angler who was actually accomplished. Saltwater fly fishing is full of folks who talk a big game to their friends in the office about being a flats fisherman but only fish a few days a year and are never really successful. Fly fishing takes a serious commitment of time and energy and life gets in the way. I understand that, but the attitude that one has nothing to learn is extremely counterproductive.

I’m very fortunate to fish with some of the best anglers in the sport. It’s easy to accept, when you’re on the water with those guys, that there is plenty to learn. Still, most folks will not ask. Tim Rajeff told me once that he never offers anyone advice unless they ask. That’s a great rule. You had better believe that from that moment forward, every time I’ve found myself on the water with Tim, I have asked and he has been incredibly generous. I would have missed out on so much if I had let my ego get in the way.

My advice, I assume you’re asking if you’ve read this far, is to treat every day on the water like your first. The beauty of fly fishing is that there is always more to learn, and if you are open to it, every day on the water has something to teach. Don’t build a case for your accomplishments, but rather for your ability to learn. That’s the difference between a good angler and a great one. If you hear yourself taking a defensive tone with another angler, you may be closing the door on useful knowledge. Be inquisitive. Be curious. Be humble. Tear up your fly fishing resume and you’ll be on your way to being a truly great angler.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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23 thoughts on “Tear Up Your Fly Fishing Resume

  1. Last spring I was fishing a little stream in Northeast Iowa and a kid pulled up and asked me if I minded if he watched me a while. He was a young guy, about 20 or so. I fished and we talked. He had recently bought a fly rod, but he said he didn’t know what he was doing. I told him I didn’t know much either but I could show him a basic overhead cast, a roll cast and a few tips for keeping drag off his line. I let him cast my rod for about 20 minutes and gave him a few flies that usually work for me. He was all excited and kept thanking me over and over. I just kept telling him that I was no expert (and I’m about as far from Tim Rajeff as you can get). Still, it made me feel good, like I was giving back to all those guys who took the time with me.

    Here’s the recipe: find two people with a common interest, add in some genuine curiosity, a bit of humility and some generosity.
    Put ’em together and it’s a beautiful thing.

    • It’s people like you that make fly fishing my favorite thing to do. I am 18 and have had many similar experiences (mostly me being the learner). Whenever I meet a gracious angler who is willing to let me pick their brains and watch them, it is the best feeling ever. When I can share my passion for the sport with someone else, I’m stoked to do so. Not all my run-ins with people have been positive though.I remember when I first started. It was really overwhelming and even daunting entering a fly shop, after some negative experiences with workers who would immediately either not give me the time of day, or act condescending to my lack of fly fishing knowledge. Nobody (as far as I know) is born an expert, and everyone starts somewhere. For the longest time, I didn’t learn much because I was afraid to ask. These embarrassing encounters with fly shop guides/workers (that left me feeling ignorant or clueless) clouded my vision (at least during the time) of how fly fisherman act. I almost considered stopping, as I wasn’t good and didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I think that the majority of people act as positive ambassadors for the sport, and have done a good job getting rid of the presumptuous and stuck up stigma that fly fishing has had in the past. As I’ve learned more, I’ve had far less negative encounters. I wish the few anglers that still do try to look down on less-educated anglers would realize that some people so desperately want to one day become accomplished fly-anglers, and that sneering at them only deters their desire for learning and improving. I want more than anything to become a fly fishing guide and one day a fly shop owner, and I vow to never make someone feel uncomfortable about asking questions. I want people to enjoy the sport that has brought me so much happiness and to pass it on to future generations. I’ve read this blog daily for over a year now, and this morning I decided to finally make my first comment. Sorry for the rant, but I just wanted people to know that I was once in their position and that there are still plenty of people who would love to help them or even learn from them. Tight lines,

    • When I began guiding I used to ask a lot of questions and some other guides looked at me like I knew nothing. There is so much vanity in some fly fishing guides that it is pretty funny. Yes we have a lot of responsibility making sure our clients get home safe, but we are fishing, not curing cancer. My point is ask questions and don’t give 2 shits about what some arrogant ass thinks. I’ve guided 100 to 150 days a year now for 19 years and I still learn things from newbies and old timers. When you think you know it all, you have just become simple minded. Rivers, hatches, fish population, climate, all of these things change and you have to be diverse and open minded if you want to be putting trout in the net.

  2. Super good, Louis! One thing that has hit me as I have been learning is to not make fly fishing my identity. I have found too often that it is so easy to say, “I am a fly fisherman”, and then allow that to go deeper to where self worth gets involved. I fly fish, but I am so much more than just a fly angler. I think the arrogance comes in when the balance gets off and we start putting our self worth into it when we say we fly fish. We all fly fish, but we are cheating ourselves to make that the limit of who we are. Thanks for these posts man, they help all of us keep in check, and it is helping the sport!

  3. I am very much a novice fisherman. I’m not a fly-rod only snob, or ashamed to tie on a worm hook and a bobber from time to time. I simply enjoy fishing and, more importantly, learning about this addictive hobby/sport/obsession I “discovered” a few season ago.

    That said, just about the best times I have had on the water recently have been showing other new anglers what little I can, and talking to them about the few things I have managed to learn. I still get as excited as I ever did when I land a fish, but I also enjoy putting someone in a position where they can catch a fish or two. When they occasionally hook one, it really has made my day a time or two. I’m not ready to quit my day job, but a guy can dream…

    Fish On!

  4. When you present yourself as if you’re the smartest person in “the room” (on the river, stream, lake, flat, beach) you have proven that you are just the opposite. Ego and enlightenment rarely share the same location.

  5. Great article Louis!! Coming from a fishing family I have a great passion for the sport and am always till asking questions especially switching over to fly fishing! I am not shy to ask questions to fellow anglers on the river and am not afraid to go into my local fly shop and bombard them with questions. Most times when Im out on the river and come across other people fishing I know right away that vibe and if its going to be cocky or welcoming. Its almost like a cool tattoo shop or skateboarding shop vibe. If you don’t know the people in that shop or on the river then you may get that snub or vibe. Im getting too old for that stuff in my life and practice to treat people with kindness and don’t get too cocky if you may know more than someone else about that sport or activity. Thanks again!

  6. On the last day of my first bonefish trip last April, I ran into the proverbial “know-it-all” who felt he needed to tell me how to fish. We were in Cherokee Sound on Abaco where the bones are notoriously finicky. I had experienced some luck but it was really tough fishing. I made the mistake of mentioning this to the know-it-all and he proceeded to tell me all the things I was doing wrong and that he was catching so many fish and blah, blah, blah. You know the type: GoPro mounted on his head, cigar propped in mouth and all the latest, greatest, most expensive gear. Luckily I had not run into this clown earlier in the week and I was glad to be leaving that morning so I would never see him again. I would love to know the truth of how his week had gone, I suspect it was a little different from what came out of his mouth.

  7. “Fly fishing takes a serious commitment of time and energy and life gets in the way.” That’s exactly why I still have a lot to learn about the sport: not enough time to commit, less and less energy as I grow older, and life gets in the way working two jobs. I envy folks that have been doing this sport all their life and pretty much have things figured out, but hey, I just gotta be me and enjoy what little time I have on the water–and learning all the way!

  8. there’s an old saying in the sales industry. 20 years experience or 1 year 20 times. When you shut down your inquisitive nature you become the 1 year 20 times.

  9. Such a great article. Fished with a guide this year in Louisiana for reds. What a humbling experience. Tough windy conditions and the fish showed up right up in front of you with the muddy conditions. One shot and you’re done! As a trout fisherman since I was 7, it was always easy. Having one shot at these big redfish was a true challenge and a good reminder that no matter how experienced you are with a fly rod, you should always be listening to others.

  10. I was steelheading with LC last winter- and I reminded myself “call Louis before my next salt trip- details like knots, leader material etc.” So I recently called Louis…

    It’s amazing what 30 minutes of good advice can do… little tricks, details… really can make a large difference. Very thankful here

  11. I have been fishing since about 15 years old and will be celebrating my 59th birthday in a couple of days. I was in a book store about 5 years ago looking at fishing books mostly basic beginner level. A young man in his 20’s was also looking at beginner books. I struck up a conversation with him and was telling him how long I have been fly fishing. I wasn’t bragging but rather reminiscing about my youth. He said he wasn’t a beginner but looking for a book for his girl friend who was just learning. He was being a bit cocky and defensive. He asked me why if I had been fishing so long why I was looking at books for beginners. The answer was that no matter how long you have fished you can still learn from even a beginner. As you progress and learn more advanced stuff you often get away from and forget some of the basics. I didn’t answer his question and ended our discussion because I could tell from his attitude he was of the opinion he already knew everything and I was just blowing smoke. Often when teaching a beginner I relearn a lot of things I had forgotten. I seldom fish with others but when ever I do I learn something even if the other angler is new.

  12. It’s always important to remember that we have TWO ears and One mouth and we should use them appropriately.Listening skills are so much more important than talking skills.Keep your door open to new ideas and ways of doing it ! Just my humble opinion.

  13. I’m definitely a novice fly fisher and I don’t expect that to ever change. I take every opportunity to ask every one every question I can. I try to contain myself as not annoy. There are many times where I will just sit and watch if I see someone who appears to have some skill and maybe never speak to them. The ears,eyes and mind should always be open, the mouth not as much.

  14. Funny I fish small creeks and rivers in NC, SC, and TN. I am by no means an expert, but manage to catch a few fish almost every outing.
    I think it would be great to talk to people, but if they are on the river I give them a wide berth so to not disturb them.
    I talk to people walking on the road from one spot to another sometimes, or when in a parking lot getting ready. I wish it was easier, but I guess I am not quite sure if I’m bothering anyone who is already fishing, so I don’t.
    Most of the time I fish alone unless my son is back from college.
    I am definitely a blue-collar fisherman compared to the vast majority of people I know that fly fish.
    TU is a wonderful organisation that does a lot of great stuff, and I know once I retire it would be a lot easier to become more involved, but time is always at a premium, so getting out with fellow members is difficult.
    It would be great if I could find people that could accompany me on a short-term notice!
    I have to say most fly fishermen I have met are definitely a higher calibre than the bait fishermen leaving trash on the riverbanks!
    Anyone in the SC upstate that is interested and is available at a short-term notice would love to help out.

  15. I’ve been fly fishing for 55 years, since age 12. I’ve had many wonderful teachers and mentors. Yes, I went through a period when I thought I “knew stuff.” Thankfully got rid of it. One mentor really showed me how my arrogance and conceit were standing in the way of learning, growing. Letting go of “what I thought I knew,” and learning to approach my fishing with humility and openness each day out began my real process of, not growth, but genuine transformation in my fly fishing.

    Over the last 20 years I’ve taught fly fishing (on the water workshops, not in the classroom). In fly fishing more than any other style of fishing, I run into ego and hubris on the part of those who come to learn. (I tell them before they agree to take the workshop, “don’t waste our time trying to impress me – you can’t.” This is why I seldom teach adults anymore (I still do, but we must have a deep conversation first), concentrating on kids, aged 8 – 16. They come with open hearts and spirits wanting to learn how to catch fish. Great piece and advice Sir Louis. 🙂

  16. I guide fishermen on a busy local river. I’ve fished for over 50 years all over the west on salt and fresh water but still learn something new every day. I read every bit ago I I can get my hands on because I have an insatiable curiosity about fishing. on said:

    I guide flyfishing trips on a local river system. I’ve fished all over the west for more than 50 years, salt and fresh water, and learn something new every day. Some of my clients have taught me great things. I’m always amused by the guides who have to tell you how many fish they “raised” every day. I’ve followed them and know their numbers are even exaggerated. It’s sad because they have to make it a contest that they feel the need to cheat to win. Their insecurity prevents them and their clients from being able to relax and really enjoy and learn from every trip. It’s too bad. I don’t even talk about fish numbers. I try to make it a great day every trip regardless of the numbers because they will inevitably vary from trip to trip. Learning is what makes you better than you were yesterday.

  17. Great write-up!! For me part of this whole fly fishing journey is learning and remaining humble (this approach is one I take with life in general). I too often run into folks on the river who seem to “know it all” and immediately walk the other way…fast. The folks I love chatting with on the water are those who don’t try to impress, but just do their thing.


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