How To Become A Badass Angler

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Theres No Bigger Badass Than Capt. Bruce Chard Photo by Louis Cahill

Theres No Bigger Badass Than Capt. Bruce Chard Photo by Louis Cahill

There was a time when I was a bad photographer and a bad angler.

I got to thinking about this the other day when my brother called to tell me that Leon Townsend had died. I hadn’t thought of him in years. Leon was the man that gave me my first job as a photographer, at the local newspaper in 1978 when I was seventeen years old. He was also the first, and only, person who ever fired me. I honestly didn’t learn much from my time there at The Register and Bee, but firing me was quite possibly the best thing anyone has ever done for me and I will always be grateful to Leon for that.

I had enough pride that being told I wasn’t up to the job stung. It motivated me. I realized that Leon was right. I wasn’t very good and it was on me to make myself better. I have been told many times that I have talent and I have often insisted that I do not. I realized early on, that I would have to work twice as hard as the talented people around me to succeed. What I have, what I learned, is not talent but tenacity. It has served me well. If you want to pay me a compliment, call me tenacious.

In time I became a good photographer and a good angler, and I did it in pretty much the same way. I won’t bore you with a chronology of my photographic career but I will offer you some insight on how I learned, and continue to learn, to fish.

Here’s how you become a badass angler.

Treat it like a job

I know, you already have a job, and a family, and the same twenty-four hours in a day as everyone else, but success only comes through sacrifice. You have to make the time. Many years ago, I considered going to guide school to become a better fisherman. I got on the phone with the fellow who ran the school and talked to him for over an hour. I tried to give him an accurate picture of where I was as an angler. At the end of the conversation he told me,

“I can take your money, but you already know what you need to know. You just need time on the water. Fish a hundred days next year and you’ll be a badass.”

The following year I fished closer to a hundred-fifty days and the change was remarkable. I landed several of the biggest trout of my life that year.

Check Your Ego

The number one thing that holds anglers back is ego. For that matter, ego is the number one thing that holds our sport back. The stereotype of the snobbish fly fisherman exists for a reason. Not only does it keep good folks from trying fly fishing, it keeps those of us in the sport from learning. Most fly fisherman spend so much energy trying to prove that they know what they’re doing that there is no energy left for learning. You can learn something from everyone. Ego precludes that.

Fish With Anglers Who Are Better Than You

Language scholars call this “finding an informant”. Find an angler that you get along with, who is better than you and willing to have you along. Find several and fish with them as much as possible. Make yourself useful. Bring beer, buy gas, offer to drive. Pay attention to everything they do. Talk about fishing and ask questions. Be humble. This is hands down the best way to rapidly improve your skills. I owe a great debt to the guys that helped me.

Immerse Yourself

If you’re reading this post you’re likely on top of this one. Reading blogs, magazines and books is a great way to gather information, but it doesn’t stop there. Get involved in your local TU chapter or fly fishing club. Surround yourself with images of rivers and fish. Use a bulletin board or, like me, just pin stuff straight to the wall. My office always looks like some special branch of law enforcement on the case of some crime involving fish.

Stay focused

Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint. Be patient with yourself and stay positive. Beating yourself up over a missed fish or a blown cast or even the general feeling that you suck is counterproductive. Recognize your shortcomings, learn from your mistakes and celebrate your progress. Slow and steady wins the race.

Hire guides as teachers

When you hire a guide, think of them as your teacher. Don’t judge your day on the water by how many fish you catch but by how much you learned while catching them. Guides have dedicated their lives to fly fishing and they have a wealth of knowledge to share. Once they see that you are eager to learn, and not offended by constructive criticism, they are eager to teach.


If you can’t take a day to fish, you can almost always take an hour to cast on the lawn. Without the distraction of catching fish you can focus on technique. This is especially important when preparing for a big trip where you might be casting a new rod or fishing in tough conditions. Those days that seem better for flying a kite are great days to practice your casting.

Following these simple guidelines will yield remarkable results. Everyone has it in them to be a badass angler. It just takes time and tenacity. Stick to the program and one day, you’ll wake up a badass!

Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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21 thoughts on “How To Become A Badass Angler

  1. This was a good motivator to keep on working at getting better. There is always something I can use as an excuse to not spend time learning or practicing or fishing, but those distractions are always going to be there and I need to work through them. I like the idea of setting a goal for days spent fishing in a year. Sounds like a resolution I might actually keep next year!

  2. Great stuff man. I’m no fishing bad ass but I made a goal to fish 100 days this year…Im on 66 and it has significantly improved my skills. Expecailly hook sets and fighting bigger fish.

    Picked up one of your prints at Cohutta a few weeks back. It’s now hanging over my firepalce!!! Wife loves that! ha

  3. It’s amazing how this translates to everything someone does in life. Practice makes permanent and the more you do something the more familiar you become and the familiar you become the less you have to think about what your doing the better you become.

    Keep it up gents! Great stuff as always.

  4. Louis, great article! The one that really sticks with me is fishing with someone better than you. I was very fortunate and had an unbelievable mentor when I started guiding, and a decade later not a trip goes by that I don’t do something that he showed me. One thing that I find interesting is the amount of younger anglers who don’t (or choose not to) recognize when they are around a truly great angler. Rather than keeping their mouth shut the ego (as mentioned above) takes center stage and turns what could be a great opportunity to learn into a gloating session. Great piece and thanks for the awesome blog!

  5. Nice, Louis. Your advice applies to everything in my life, including my fishing. Sometimes folks do not understand why I do what I do (the 300 log and clay steps I put in myself from my cabin on the ridge down to the Toccoa this summer come to mind). But I can’t do anything half-way. Call it crazy. Call it passion. Somehow I think you are the same.

  6. I’m going to start my own bulletin board and pin this to it first. Excellent points, especially stay focused. The last time I went, I had bites on first casts at the first 4 spots I fished. Gave me the confidence that I new what I was doing even if I only landed one of those fish. I said out loud, “you actually know what you’re doing out here.”

  7. Two things: My fishing skills went through the roof when I moved into a place that’s within walking distance of fishing water. When you can log 100-150+ days a year, at .5-1 hr a day, without really trying, the change is rapid and amazing.

    Also, on the ego thing, I read a quote today that I think summarizes this well: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

    • “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with intent to reply.”

      I just added this to my favorite quotes journal. Do you know who I can attribute it to?

      I am learning so much from Gink and Gasoline. Thanks guys.

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  9. What fabulous wisdom! The joy of learning is a lifetime treat for all who are open to it. When the student is ready, the master appears… Thanks for being the master in this case. Keep on spreading your message. I was convinced there are sea trout in the Thames and proved it to myself the best way possible after many, many blank days… The more we educate ourselves about Nature, the better we treat our planet and of course, our loved ones! Metiefly

  10. Though will soon turn 60, I am a relative novice to fly fishing. My father had no interest in fishing (or hunting) so I didn’t have the “growing up” experience in the outdoors that some have been blessed with. Perhaps I am not alone … perhaps there are increasing numbers of people of all ages who have a passion for learning and for improving our skills. Perhaps this will lead to more guides who are willing to be teachers, rather than focusing on numbers of fish. Perhaps this will lead to more experienced folks in fly clubs, etc. who will be willing to take a novice along and teach them what others taught them. That is certainly my hope and it may be how the future of fly fishing is assured.

  11. Great stuff, not a badass yet but i’ve surrounded myself with the best dudes I can and its shortened the learning curve dramatically. This is all so true!

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