As a seasoned angler whose adult life has revolved around fly fishing, I’ve witnessed our sport go through significant changes in materials, equipment and techniques. More than anything, the game has gotten easier over the years. Where we once had to learn to cast a fly rod, we now have products and techniques that limit the need for actual casting—the sport’s beautiful and defining skill. Now, it seems, we’re drifting away from what attracted us to fishing with flies in the first place: the challenge.
We’ve sacrificed the need to cast a fly rod and learn to fish with abbreviated ways to catch them. Granted, the object of fly fishing always has and will continue to be to catch fish. Yet these days, we are catching more than our fair share. Technology, techniques and an industry focused on attracting more participants have accepted shortcuts with little regard for the ramifications.
It’s a troubling conundrum. Our fishing skills diminish, yet we catch and show off more fish. At the same time, we’ve done little to recognize the impact of maximizing successes or to teach proper fish-release skills to protect fish—or even the value of those practices. Given the state of our fisheries and the growing number of new anglers, these should be priorities. I’ve had concerns about this for decades, and after another record year of heat, low water, river closures and declining runs, my concerns are even more so now.
“Our fishing skills diminish, yet we catch and show off more fish. At the same time, we’ve done little to recognize the impact of maximizing successes or to teach proper fish-release skills to protect fish—or even the value of those practices.”
Taking stock of the waters I’ve come to treasure, I decided the most immediate effect I could have was simply limiting the number of fish I caught. With my roots firmly planted in trout fishing, I settled on a daily catch-and-release limit of eight. Why eight? When I first arrived in Utah, the general fishing regulations for trout allowed anglers to keep eight fish. At the time, that seemed reasonable yet challenging, given that I had been obsessed with catching fish.
On many of the waters I frequent, my interaction with a fish may not be the only one it will have that day—or even that hour. I choose my times carefully, factor in the weather and often do more prospecting than casting a fly. In most instances, I carefully select a fish to target.
In addition to limiting the number of fish I’ll catch, I have also confined my practices to a single technique. Since I’ve always been fascinated with hatches and the fact that a trout will rise to take a well-presented fly, I settled on fishing with dry flies even though I’m well aware that trout predominantly feed on subsurface insects and other more easily ingested aquatic edibles. That means even on the best days, my chances are limited. And, since I like to catch fish as much as the next person, the challenges in my path come into sharp focus. To succeed, I’ve needed to hone my skills and better understand the fish I pursue and the environment we both depend on.
On some outings, I leave the water fishless. Fine. I’ve grown accustomed to those outcomes. There are days where I don’t make a single cast. These are not fruitless hours or wasted occasions. They create opportunities for learning and time for observation and hunting. Eventually, when I’m successful, they are some of my more gratifying and memorable moments.
In applying this restraint, I’ve been gifted with a renewed intensity for fishing, the growth of my skills and the enjoyment that I started to lose before limiting my encounters. I now spend more time studying the fish, their movements and habits. It’s made me a better, more conscious angler. Due to my deliberate approach, I have a robust appreciation and respect for those few fish that take my fly. It’s a process that continues to evolve and grow every day I’m on the water.