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Why We Fly Fish?

The reasons are many and varied. Each of us have our own journey. I have written about my journey into fly fishing in a number of places but mostly directly in the post, In Praise of Mentors, published over three (3) years ago. And once we start our journey, some (many) peoples' fly fishing journeys are short and others spend many decades as fly anglers and probably have had their fly angling evolve over those decades (post on Stages of Fly Fishing). For some - like me - it is how the do all or nearly all their fishing. For others, they pick up a fly rod once or maybe a couple of times a year or not even that often. Hell, this isn't even my first time tackling the subject but I'll write this post without re-reading that one. I'm sure they will be quite different as two years later, my thoughts will be pretty different. What I do remember about that post was it was written around an essay by another author that I didn't really agree with.

Everyone has their own reasons for why they fly fish. Certainly there are a number of commonalities - to be outdoors, the camaraderie with fellow anglers, the challenge of outsmarting an animal with a pea-sized brain, they watched a movie, and a host of other reasons explain why we either got into fly fishing or continue with it. Above, I share Josh Miller's experience because it is one of many. I don't know who he is but it is a starting point for a "conversation" around why we fly fish. His reasons - particularly competitive fly fishing - are not mine. He did say one thing that I think for many of use rings true, it is a way of life. For Josh, it is a career and I have a number of friends that is true for - the guide, own fly shops, tie flies or build rods, or any number of "fly fishing industry" related careers. For me, in some ways, it helped lead to a career in aquatic sciences. Of course, for most fly anglers, fishing is a hobby. For some, a pretty much all consuming hobby, for others, their 10th or 12th hobby and everything in between.

There are even pragmatic reasons to become a fly angler. In many situations, there is no more effective way to catch fish than to do it with a fly rod. This was a large part of what got me into fly fishing - I was moving away for college to a play where trout streams abound. It did not hurt that my dad's uncle was a very experienced fly angler and tyer and was willing to help get me started. but for drift-feeding fishes, there is no more effective method than fly fishing.

NEWI smallmouth bass
George Close with a smallmouth bass a young Tim Landwehr is holding for him.

There are, of course, maybe less practical reasons for fly fishing (or at least I view them as less practical). There is certainly a "coolness factor" associated with fly fishing. Those of us "of a certain age" remember "The Movie" and influx of new fly anglers it brought. But is their getting to fly fishing after being exposed to fly fishing in a Robert Redford film any less valid than mine? And COVID brought the next big influx of fly anglers, though I might argue this was a pretty practical reason. As we were all looking for safe things to do outside, fly fishing is just one way to spend more time outside. Peace and quiet, a chance to reset out in nature, and all of the other body and mental health things that come from being outside are quite practical reasons.

Driftless Cafe - and Two Hearted Ale
The Driftless Cafe with friends. For many of us, fly fishing is about hanging out with other people.

The great thing about fly fishing is we can make out of it what we want. I have friends that have probably never fished for anything other than trout with a fly rod, many that are multi-species anglers, a few that eschew trout for "toothier critters", and yet fewer that make a saltwater trip or two a year and that is most of fly fishing for the year. I have zero interest in competitive fishing and "Euro nymphing" as for others, that is at least part of why they fish and might have been their "gateway" into fly fishing. Part of what made me think to write this post was fishing with a friend and having an online conversation about a "mono rig", something I was not terribly familiar with. I don't know that I have a mono rig setup in my future but part of what I find interesting about fly fishing - there are so many different ways to do it. They don't all have to be ways I want to or will ever do it but so be it, to each their own.

Ben and Mike on the Lower Wisconsin River
One of my favorite photos - great memories from a great trip. Much of fly fishing is about the relationship we make.

I am sure social scientists and essay writers have much more effectively come up with better, more effective explanations for why we fly fish. For me, it is a lot about being outside, the challenge of it, always learning something new, and a lot about the camaraderie. While I am often a solitary angler, I rarely turn down a chance to fish with friends, old or new. And, of course, a lot of it is about the fish and the anticipation of the next fish.

Anticipation is what leads me to think about the story of the guy that dies and wakes up knee deep in a gorgeous trout stream. Each cast, no matter how good or bad, ends up with a cookie-cutter 20 inch trout. As he moves upstream around each bend, the view never changes, nor does the result of every cast. He quickly figures out he's not in heaven. How boring would fishing get if the result was always the same? So much of it is hope and anticipation. Like a day of chucking big 'ole streamers and not having a bite all day - but that next cast could be "the one". Musky - the fish of ten-thousand casts - anglers sort of have that market cornered. Anticipation is what makes us wander up to and around the next bend, then the one after that...


Anticipation of better weather and the upcoming fishing season is what drives up how many people are reading this blog this time of the year. Winter in Wisconsin and surrounding states is always a time to look ahead to better, warmer days. Sure, for many it is a time to enjoy winter - to take advantage of the fairly brief time to ski, snowshoe, ice fish, snowmobile, or whatever your favorite winter activity is. Maybe not this winter, at least so far. And, of course, many states have some winter trout fishing available but it's winter trout fishing which rarely does much to really give us that fix. But some days it does, and tomorrow just might be that day.

Tim Waters' Wolf River book.
Winter is reading season - and reading is much about rememberances and thinking ahead to next season.

But even with those distractions, the fly angler is still thinking about the season to come. For the fly tyer, it is time to sit at the bench and crank out some flies in anticipation of needing them soon. They are thinking about filling boxes in anticipation of that great hatch they have to match, the streamers that they have to have because they worked last year, or the flies they've not yet tried but they just know they need to have in their boxes.

Driftless trout stream
The scenery doesn't hurt either...

For me, so much of fly fishing and tying is about learning and is what has kept me and many others at it for years and decades. The learning curve is certainly steep and that, I would guess, is a lot of what accounts for the "drop outs". But again, fly fishing can be what you make of it. I know in my own journey, it was first about being able to catch a fish, any fish! Slowly I became somewhat competent with a fly rod and eventually I got to where I could catch fish somewhat regularly. But it was quite a process and certainly did not happen overnight - nor should it!

Sunset on the West Fork
And if today wasn't a great day, tomorrow is sure to be better.

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A quote from Aldo Leopold, "The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "what good is it?" This leads up to my question, why are fly fishermen the most ignorant fishermen on the stream?

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