I’ve heard before that there are several stages of one’s fly fishing evolution. There is a great article discussing the subject called “Atop the Angling Mountain,” by Todd Tanner, that appeared Hatch Magazine on June 24, 2014. I also recently had a question from a guy about when the best time to book guided trips for instruction might be. Not all of us are fortunate enough to book fly fishing trips on a whim. There are lots of you out there that want to make fiscally responsible decisions when it comes to your fly fishing instruction, in other words, get the most “bang for your buck.” Thinking about these stages of your fly fishing evolution, I think it makes sense to book at least one trip during each stage of the process. Here is a theoretical list of when it might make sense to book a trip that coincides with your evolution.
Stage one, as I’ve heard it described, is the desire to get out and catch a fish. For a rank beginner this might equate to a guided trip on private water. Private waters are managed fisheries in which outfitters such as ourselves have, to some degree, control over the amount of pressure. Guides are intimately familiar with these stretches of water and the fish that inhabit them. This generally equates to at least having an opportunity to catch a few fish. Couple this with the fact that you are guaranteed some solitude make it a wonderful place for a beginner. Not feeling the pressure of being surrounded by other anglers, all of whom seem more experienced than you, make it easier to relax and concentrate on the task at hand.
Stage two in the evolution of a fly fisher is the desire to get out and catch a LOT of fish. At this point, you have down the basics and are pretty self-sufficient but could use some further instruction and/or an introduction to a new piece of water. Taking advantage of recently stocked delayed harvest streams almost ensures a highly productive day. These streams are also great venues to practice more advanced techniques that might catch you more fish in the future like tight line nymphing, streamer fishing, or fishing the Tuckasegee River from a drift boat. The best months for this kind of day are October, November, March, April, and May.
Stage three is all about size. You’ve now caught plenty of dinks and mid-sized fish but are only truly satisfied with the big ones. As a disclaimer I will say, there is no magic formula that guarantees big fish, it usually directly relates to how much time you spend on the water. At this stage it may be wise to have a good working relationship with a guide that will tell you when it’s the best time to go. Water conditions, weather, time of year, and time of day typically dictate when big fish are more likely to be out and about. Be prepared to be flexible, get wet, be cold, be uncomfortable, etc. There is a reason that not everybody goes out with a two-footer every day they go. This is also the stage I would suggest branching out for some new species, smallmouth bass in particular. Again, let your guide suggest a time when conditions will be optimal.
Stage four is about accepting the challenge of catching a fish that is very difficult to fool. This might be sight fishing a big well-educated trout. You might be throwing huge streamers in the rain all day in hopes of catching one big wild brown. Or, it may mean you are ready to delve into the arcane world of musky fishing on the fly. These fish are notoriously snooty when it comes to eating flies or even big lures for that matter. At this point in your evolution you have become quite comfortable with defeat. It’s all about chasing a very hard-earned victory.
Reaching the fifth and final stage in your evolution means you have been through a lot in your angling career already. Simply put, you just enjoy getting out there. Hire a guide to row you down the river on a beautiful day. Take your children or grandchildren and have the guide focus on their instruction. You’ve been through it all, so you can sit back, relax, and watch somebody work through their own evolution. And hey, if you catch a fish or two, all the better.
Here’s a link to the article that appeared in Hatch Magazine: