Monday, May 13, 2013

If You Want Numbers, Throw Spinners

Don't get me wrong, catching fish is fun. People come out here to catch fish. I get that. But if catching fish was the only thing they wanted, then they wouldn't chose fly-fishing as the method. There are way more productive means to catching fish.

Thousands of years ago, (supposedly around the second century according to some Roman dude named Claudius Aelianus,) people would tie wool and feathers on a hook to catch fish on the Astraeus River. Over the centuries, technology has changed and methods of taking fish have improved drastically. There are lures and spinners and artificial baits that can be cast hundreds of feet with graphite rods and bait casting reels and spinning reels. Plainer boards can move spoons and rapalas away from the boat so you can troll around a lake without spooking fish and down riggers can get you down hundreds of feet when fish are suspended. We've come a long way but yet, there's still a draw to getting back to the rudimentary discipline of tying pieces of natural materials to a hook to emulate a natural bug that a trout will eat...

I was at Joe's Bar tonight, (you know the place; it has a bunch of womens' bras hanging above on the sign above the door...) and we were discussing what clients want when they come out to Montana to fly fish. "At the end of the day," said a fellow guide, "my sports just want to feel a tug at the end of the line. That's why I always bring them up to the dam..."

"I disagree," I said, "if that's all they wanted then they could just throw spinners all day."

I actually had a group of guys a couple years ago come out to fish with spinning rods. I didn't know that when I took the day and honestly, I needed the money so I probably would of done it anyway. So when I picked them up they said they just wanted to float the river and catch fish with spinners.

"Great," I said. "If you have rods I'll row."

We loaded up the boat with a few spinning rods and some Mepps spinners and headed from Wolf Creek to Craig. It was late in the season and there weren't a lot of boats around. I pinched down the barbs of the treble hooks and even clipped one of the hooks off on each spinner. After an hour or so and after landing about 30 trout I cut another hook off. One of the guys actually complained that he wasn't landing as many fish that way.

"Right, but you're also not destroying an insane number of fish either."

A couple hours into it, we took a break and I mentioned that I had a couple fly-rods in the boat and if they wanted to learn to fly-fish, I would teach them. It was only a half-day so we only had a couple hours left but one of the guys was like, "Hell yeah. I'll try it."

He caught a couple fish and was totally jacked. The other guy grabbed the rod and after a couple failed attempts, landed one of his own. "That was awesome," he said, "way more fun than chucking spinners."

They only landed a few fish on flies but they had a blast. I doubt they remembered any of the 40 or 50 fish they caught on spinners but I know they remembered the ones they caught on flies. It was different--it was interactive. You actually had to develop skills and when they landed one, they felt like they accomplished something.

For most people, not all but for most, fly fishing isn't about the numbers; it's about the quality of experience. That doesn't mean they don't want to be able to say the wrecked 'em when they get back to the bar but they also want to talk about the way a trout schooled them or the perfect cast they made to catch that one fish or how they saw a trout come up to a dry fly and how cool that was. They also want to remember and share with their com padres a stretch of river they may have felt they had to themselves because it was different in some sense from what everyone else saw and an entirely new experience.

The gear is rudimentary although much improved over the years. The whole purpose is to get back to a time where it wasn't so much about the advancement in technology but the skill of the angler. There is a large arbor reel that allows you to fight fish but it only has a uni-directional drag system and very light leaders so you actually have to play the fish versus just reeling them in and letting the reel decide when and how much pressure to put on them. It's technical and challenging and you can get lost in the process regardless of how many fish you catch.

It's also a way to lose yourself in not only the natural process but in nature itself. Through fly-fishing, one learns to read the water and imagine what the fish are eating and where they are eating. We get to try to predict where they are and understand what they are doing and then control them in their own environment. It's with these rudimentary techniques and gear that we bring ourselves to their level and by catching one, we win. We don't win when we go back to the bar and brag about how many fish we've caught. We win each time we figure the little bastards out and trick them into eating our bug and then bring them to the boat...and then watch them swim away.

As fly-fishing guides, we're not just out there to count fish. We facilitate unique experiences by teaching skills in a technical discipline and do it in a setting that inspires awe.
Keep 'em where they live...

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