The path toward competence in fly fishing – or any craft requiring knowledge and skills, is helped along by mentors, individuals acknowledged for their mastery of the subject and their ability to teach others.
In fly fishing, these individuals are primarily guides and casting instructors.
Joe Rotter, one of the partners at Red’s Fly Shop in Ellensburg, has talked in his podcasts about how one book became a reference work for his learning the craft of guiding: Wisdom of the Guides: Rocky Mountain Trout Guides Talk Fly Fishing.
The book was written by Paul Arnold, who interviewed ten of the top fly fishing guides in the Rocky Mountain area when the book was written (1998). A few of them have passed on since the book was published; others remain active in the industry if not actively guiding.
For me, getting to read the insights of people such as Mike Larson and Craig Matthews made the book a must-read.
The interviews all follow the same structure: a bit of background; casting tips; fly selection; playing and releasing fish; getting the most from a guided trip; and common mistakes and how to correct them.
I found the interview enlightening for a number of reasons.
First, the interviews were done at an interesting time in the growth of fly fishing.
Only six years after A River Runs Through It, interest in fly fishing was growing rapidly. But it was still a simpler time, with most communications done via telephone; no over-commercialization; and no social media. Fisheries research wasn’t as far along as it is today; a number of the guides spoke of catch and keep fishing (something almost unthinkable today).
Only one of the guides was a woman, Jennifer Olsson; she had some interesting things to say about the role of women in fly fishing back then. Sadly, 20 years later, while there is more women-specific gear and there are many more women guides, many of the problems she speaks of still exist, as I’ve noted in a few of my posts.
While some of the information and practices may be dated, much of the words of the guides are timeless.
The importance of short accurate casting was emphasized by every guide. Most emphasized the importance of longer leaders. All spoke of the importance of knowing where the fish are and how to approach, catch, and release them. All provided meaningful insights on fly selection. And almost all were emphatic about wanting clients who asked a lot of questions and were there to have fun; guide stories about obnoxious demanding clients are legion.
And in some of the points made, the guides were visionary.
One of the guides (Paul Roos) spoke about the day when fly fishing for carp would become part of the sport. That has become reality with various local fly shops holding carp tournaments. Others spoke of the growing importance of catch-and-release fishing; one even spoke of limiting the day’s catch to allow fish recovery time.
And Mike Lawson had maybe the most timeless recommendation: take 10-15 minutes out of every hour to just sit, watch – and enjoy where you are.