A while back I was asked to be part of a blog post, and to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement. This was a new experience for me. No one had ever reached out to me to do a post on anything, ever, and I was taken aback by their interest. It all seemed pretty simple. They would send me a list of questions, I would answer and include some photos for their post. Then I read their questions, and my heart sank. I was not the person they were looking for. I fish in interesting water, but I'm not an industry professional. Their questions caused me to take pause. Although I love to fish, I am not a notable fly angler with accolades and an industry job ...
I am the Average Fly Angler.
The questions where pretty generic; how long have you been fly fishing? Social media handles? What does fly fishing mean to you? And this is when I realized I wasn’t what they wanted, “When did you know you were going to turn a hobby into a way to make some money?” It’s not that it hasn’t crossed my mind. Every day I am in the office I imagine myself out there, hands gripped on the net as a client pulls in a healthy toad of a brown, shouting with pure joy as I land it. But while it may be a daydream, it isn’t my reality. I haven’t pursued monetizing this ‘hobby’ because, well, I haven’t felt like I needed to, and it’s not something I want to make money from.
Make no mistake, I catch fish. I’ve even caught some damn decent fish. I have been able to fish in saltwater and caught a permit, not a big permit, but a nice average permit. I am in no way an accredited fly angler. You won’t see my photos with thousands of likes on social media, and there are no photos of me on my Instagram struggling to lift a beast of a brown trout of the water in glory. In most photos, you’ll see me smiling like a goon, holding a fish that could barely qualify as a 20-incher, happy and content with the fish I catch. There are even days, more than I’d like to admit, where the only thing I have to show for my time on the water is an empty beer or two and a few more “practice” casts on my rod.
The frustration can be overwhelming when you get skunked on the water. You are constantly second-guessing your choices that day, the fly, the line, the drift, the weather, the clothes you wore (yes, they matter). It can all be tremendously defeating. My Dad, who truly enjoys just being on the water, is the most infuriating person to fish with because he catches fish and not just average fish. He catches big fish with minimal effort and only using a Dave's Hopper. He was the first one to put a fly rod in my hands when I was a teenager. When he asked if I wanted to try, I eagerly stepped to the bank, “When you see the fly dip into the water, pull your rod tip up to set the hook” he instructed. I watched intensely as the little fly floated along the water, and then disappeared; the second it left the surface I set for the sky. A sweet little bait-sized fish flew out of the water, flipped through the air, and landed in the clump of bushes and trees directly behind me. My Dad laughed, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “let’s try this again, just not so much pop.” I can’t say this is the moment that hooked me on fly fishing, but it is one that will always stand out in my mind.
As I have progressed through 15 years of fly fishing, I have found myself seeking the water more and more. With the introduction of social media, I have discovered a whole new side to the sport. The average fly angler is hard to find. We are inundated with images of people holding monster fish with captions that seem like once in a lifetime experiences, but when you look at their feeds, that once in a lifetime moment seems pretty consistent. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy social media. I love seeing pictures from across the globe of fishy places I didn’t even know existed. I enjoy reading captions about the road less traveled, the fish that got away, and the success of a hard day. There are a multitude of people in this industry I didn’t know existed, and some I wish would just get off the water permanently. With so many experienced anglers out there, my status as average has been solidified.
There is a reason fishing stories are told with such flare. Everyone wants their story to stand out. It would be hard to remember when Bill told the story of the 15” rainbow he caught on some water somewhere on a blue sky day; it's much more memorable to hear of the time Bill landed a fish that took him sprinting downstream, over bushes, only to get it to the shore and realize he lost his net 20 feet upstream, and the 15” rainbow was really a 22” rainbow. But isn't it the everyday stories, as well as the pomp and circumstance, that created this industry? Fly fishing is made up of stories full of 100 lb tarpon and 10 lb browns, but the stories that feel achievable, the ones that make you feel like you belong in this sport, are just as, if not more, important. They are the everyday stories that bring us into the fly fishing fold.
I am the average fly angler, the 9-to-5 weekend warrior who can occasionally sneak away on a Friday for one extra day. When I walk into the fly shop and they ask where I'm fishing, they suggest something generic like a San Juan worm, because that’s the one that works consistently. I’ll wear my gear into the ground and then some. I have eight-year-old boots and waders with a leak so bad duct tape won't fix them. “Why don’t you get new ones?" my friends ask. “I can still get some use out of them,” I reply.
Fly fishing means something different to everyone - a hobby, a means of survival, a deep breath, a moment to yourself. To me, it means that for a few glorious hours I don’t have to think about anything other than standing on a bank chanting “take it, take it, take the fly, come on, it was right there” over and over while my neck gets sunburned and the dog eats goose poo.
I love embodying The Average Fly Angler because for me fly fishing isn’t a hobby or a pastime. It’s a passion. I don’t walk to those waters thinking I have to get the perfect photo. I go there to fish. I get frustrated. I cry on the bank. I get so excited about catching a fish that I fall in the water. I celebrate every catch no matter what size or type (yes, even whitefish). And, at the end of the day, I drink a beer, curse myself for not bringing bug spray, and head home to begin another week at my real job. On Monday when I get into the office, I have the memory of my time spent on the water.
No, just me, ok…