BUILDING A SKILLSET
In order to become a master craftsman it is necessary to develop a set of skills that become second nature to you. When confronted with a challenge a master craftsman immediately begins to set to work; almost instinctually they will begin to tackle the project. As you watch them work you realize that they have skills that seem to be almost magical but in reality those skills have been honed over years of trial and error. Now, what they do seems to simply flow smoothly and almost without thinking.
Like a master craftsman a master angler did not arrive at that point by reading a few books, taking a few seminars and watching a few videos. They may have done those things but then they took what they had learned, took it out to the water and worked on perfecting it in actual practice. This resulted in some successes and some failures, and the would-be master angler learned from the errors and continued to build the skillset that would ultimately provide them with knowledge and skill base that would make their proficiency look easy.
So where does one beginning at developing an angling skillset that will result in becoming a more competent angler? The key is a combination of technical proficiency and observational skills that are honed over time on the water.
First there are the basics; casting, leaders and knots, the technical side of fly fishing. These can and must be mastered but they will not be acquired by osmosis. The winter months are a great time to work on learning how to easily tie the essential knots that you will need. It’s a great time to spend a few hours reading some of those fly fishing how-to-books gathering dust on your bookshelves. If you live in warmer areas you can get out and practice your casting or if you live in colder climes perhaps you can find an indoor area, like a school gym or similar space where you can practice. Accuracy is key to building a skill set, so if you have an opportunity to do some casting during the winter months concentrate on improving your accuracy. This will pay some of the greatest dividends when you start actually casting to real fish.
Once your basic skills are well-honed you need to work on your observation skills, and there are no shortcuts to perfecting this skill. Remember, when you are learning to observe you need to know what to look for, otherwise you will just be seeing and not really observing. The skill of observation is applicable to all types of fly fishing. If you fish for trout, gills and bass or spend time on the salt observing what the fish are doing and understanding why they are doing it will pay untold dividends. You will not be spending time trying to use techniques or types of patterns that do not match what the fish are doing or what they are feeding on. I have witnessed many situations where the angler obviously did not observe what the fish were doing or did not understand what they were doing when they saw it. The following illustration is one of many that I could recount.
It was a warm summer day in late June on a famous Montana stream. The water was clear and I could see several nice fish feeding. I settled down on the bank to watch for a few minutes before I started to fish and another angler came down the bank behind me. He continued walking downstream about 20 yards and immediately entered the water and started casting. I could see several fish working in that area but I watched him for several minutes and he was having no success. During the time I watched him he changed flies several times but he never took anytime to simply sit and watch the fish. There was a moderate hatch of small mayflies hatching but it was obvious that the fish were not feeding on the adults. While the fish were making rings on the surface of the water as they fed a few minutes of observing would quickly dispel any thought that the fish were eating the flies on the surface. I waded out into the current line and using my small aquarium net I caught several small dark nymphs just below the surface film. I tied on a small dry fly and a pheasant tail nymph on a short dropper. I picked out a nice fish feeding just a few feet upstream from my position and after a few casts I had a solid take to the nymph. A few minutes later I repeated the performance and then I hooked and released another fish. In a space of about 30 minutes I hooked and released three nice brown trout, all on the same fly. I retired to the bank check my flies and the angler that was below me walked up the bank to where I was sitting and inquired what fly I was using. When I showed him the small dark nymph he shook his head in disbelief. He could not understand why the fish were taking my nymph when he was certain that the fish were eating the adults on the surface. He wanted them to be taking the dry flies but the trout were not willing to do what he wanted them to do. If we are going to be successful when we are fishing we have to give the fish what they want in the way that they want it.
It takes time and effort to build a skill set that will make a person into a master angler. The good news is that’s what makes fly fishing such a great sport.