The other day I met Certified Casting Instructor Susan Thrasher at a Nashville park to test for my Gold Fly Casting Skills Challenge. About halfway through the challenge, I noticed a man had stopped to watch us. When we decided to take a short break and get out of the sun for a few minutes, he approached Susan. It was obvious she taught fly fishing, he said. It was always something he had wanted to try, and did she have a card?
How many times have you been approached by someone on the river, or by friends and family, who have wanted to learn to fly fish? My guess is that if you’ve been fishing for any length of time, you’ve been asked more than once. I remember the first time I was approached. I had been teaching myself to fish for only a few weeks and was wading the Huron River when a man approached me from shore and asked if I could teach him to fly fish. I told him I was new to the sport, but I would be happy to teach him the little I had already learned if he wanted. We quickly made plans to meet the following Saturday. What I recall of that day was disastrous. His dog ran into the water and got tangled in the line more than once. My new reel fell off the rod and into the water. The weather was anything but perfect. To say we didn’t see a fish all day would be a gross understatement. We both left the river that fateful Saturday exasperated. If he picked up a fly rod again, it wasn’t because of me.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Taking a new angler fishing required a skillset I had yet to possess. Many of us spend countless hours honing our own skills as a fly fisher, only to overlook the necessary skillset needed to successfully introduce others to our sport.
Below are six things to take into consideration when taking a new angler fishing.
Number 1 -- Pick the right fish
There are a couple of reasons why picking the right fish is imperative. It’s easy to get hung up on teaching someone to cast, and rightfully so. We do all love to make that perfect loop. But don’t forget the reason we learn to fly cast in the first place is to catch fish. Making a beautiful cast is an eventual goal, but for a new angler catching a fish is paramount. That is what will keep them coming back to the water. Give them that opportunity. Take them to a place where there are hungry fish who love to eat flies. Consider that while we all love to fish for those beautiful trout, there is the possibility that finicky trout may not be the best species to target with a newbie. Often times a local pond with a healthy population of bluegill is the best way to hook both a fish and the angler; especially if that angler is a child.
Number 2 – Find the right location
I was recently on a guided trip fishing high mountain streams in North Carolina. This was crouch down under a big tree and make a long cast in front of a boulder type of fishing. While I l thrive on that kind of challenge, this is not the type of place to take a beginner. Line management is difficult enough for a new angler without adding technicality to the mix. Getting caught on everything around you is no fun for anyone, new angler or seasoned. Your location should be an open area without overhanging trees and with plenty of room to make a cast without getting caught in the bushes every time that new angler drops their backcast. In addition, walking four miles to your secret spot may also not be the right choice. Consider your angler’s physical abilities, and don’t forget the first place you take them is probably the place they will go back to on their own.
Number 3 – Choose the right set-up
Of course, you can bomb out a long cast with that 8-weight H3, but this isn’t about you. Unless you decided sight-fishing to bonefish at 50 feet is your target species (please see #1 above), a smaller weight rod with a well-balanced reel is the ticket on beginner days. Not only will this be much easier for your new angler to cast, but it will also allow them to be more proficient and reach their target. In addition, this is not the time to bring out that ultra-fast next age rod or that one of a kind handmade bamboo rod. Choose a setup that you won’t be heartbroken over if a mishap occurs. New anglers will most likely try to be careful with your setup but will not be aware of how to walk with a rod, handle a rod, or wrestle with that fish. Remember the golden rule, if it can happen, it will.
Number 4 – Grab the right fly
I love to fish with a dun, it is after all the namesake of my magazine. Nothing seems more magical than seeing that mayfly sitting on the water drying its wings. But, fishing a dun requires the perfect dead drift, something a lot of seasoned anglers have yet to master, let alone a new fly fisher. Choose a fly whose presentation does not have to be perfect. If there are terrestrials around, this is always a great choice. Your new angler will most likely present the fly in a less than perfect way. Think about a grasshopper swept off the shore by the wind and into the water. It lands with a thud and thrashes around. Fishing with a terrestrial allows your newbie to be harsh in their presentation and erratic when stripping, yet still, be successful. A caddis also makes a great beginner pattern since a caddis will naturally skate across the top of the water. On another note, while you may be fine tying up that triple nymph rig with a tippet ring, nothing about that style of setup says beginner. Not only will you spend your day fixing bird’s nests, but your new angler also will never be confident they can do that on their own. Remember the goal is to instill confidence into your new angler and empower them to go it alone next time.
Number 5 – Select the right day
Seasoned anglers think nothing of braving the cold to fish for steelhead, but chances are your new angler is not yet a diehard. Extreme temperatures make for a difficult day on the water. You want your newbie to be successful so give them the upper hand. If possible, pick a beautiful day that is not too cold or too warm. Comfort is key. After all, if they are too focused on passing out from heat exhaustion, or unable to feel their fingers, they will not be able to concentrate on the real reason they are there – to have fun.
Number 6 – Bring the right attitude (and a net)
In today’s fly-fishing world, it is easy to get up on a soapbox about whatever topic is currently trending. We want to save Bristol Bay. We need to kick plastic. We know that fish need water. But, if your new angler shows up riverside with a single-use bottle of water from Kroger, let it go. A positive attitude will make for a better day. And, just as important, remember that we all want to treat the fish with respect. Acknowledge the fact that this might very be the first time your angler has ever held a fish, and fish can be slippery. Bring a net. Catching your first fish on a fly is a huge accomplishment and something you both should be proud of — no matter the fish. Proof of that accomplishment may be the single most important aspect of your outing. Your new angler will be ecstatic to show off their catch to everyone they know, which will help bring new anglers to our sport. Having a net will not only encourage proper fish handling skills, but it will also allow both the fish and the angler time to relax so you can all get ready for that photo.
Remember, taking a new angler fishing can be a challenge. Honing your newbie skillset will allow you both to be more successful the first time out. When you look back at that picture and see the huge smile on their faces holding their first fish, it will all have been worth it. As for me, I passed my Gold Challenge that day. As for that man in the park, I know he is in much better hands than the first poor soul I helped on the river. I have no doubt he will be catching fish on his own in no time.
Fly Fishers International is a great organization whose main goal is to educate fly fishers. To learn more about what they have to offer and become a member check them out today at Fly Fishers International.