Our Man In Canada
March 9th, 1998
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More Than Just Casting
Adapted from The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing
by Clive Schaupmeyer



Funny how slow we sometimes are to figure things out. Well maybe not just figure something out, but, you know, finally have it sink in. Maybe it's just a "guy thing".

The impact of the difference between knowing how to cast and knowing how to fly-fish became clear to me one spring day a few years ago on one of our fine rivers in southwestern Alberta. For sure, it was something I already knew, bu t apparently I had never given the subject a lot of though before this day. (My "guy genes" at work I guess.)

My partner, John Tunstall, and I had been hogging a particularly popular and known-to-be-good spot since early morning. We were hoping for a blue-winged olive hatch that we dou bted would happen because the water was so cold. When the hatch did start in the early afternoon, the fishing was just fine for a couple of hours. This made the wait all the more worthwhile, especially since it was the first dry-fly day of the year. After months of not fishing at all - or occasionally nymph fishing when a brief Chinook would allow - casting to rising rainbows and catching them during the solid blue-winged olive hatch was very satisfying.

Later in the day, when the Olives were coming off and we were catching rainbows with some regularity, a couple of guys arrived at about the same time from downstream. Turns out that one was a bit of a grump. He passed behind me and started moaning because he had driven such a long way to get here and still had a long drive home. Apparently he wasn't catching fish and was likely miffed because he had watched me land two or three rainbows in the spot I was fishing. (He hadn't seen me not catching fish for three hours.) Like I was going to let him fish there! I'm a nice guy and all, but he didn't get a lot of sympathy from us since we had an hour longer drive home and had paid to s tay overnight on this trip. We had been early birds and had been patient enough to wait out the fish and the bugs.

The grump was a fair caster. The other guy was a good caster. He could really shoot the line out with tight loops and a pretty good landing. Although both could cast well enough, it was apparent that they were fishing blindly. Just sort of casting at random, and with heaven knows what flies. This random technique works on a lot of water, but not in this spot. These trout all have post-doctoral training in entomology, artificial-fly design and fly construction.

The "revelation" is so obvious now I am embarrassed to tell you. But in an instant it struck me: fly-fishing is more than just casting. Here were two fair-to-good casters, but neither of them seemed to have a clue what they were do ing. They had the gear, both could cast well enough, and they were most certainly on a fine river. But they didn't take the time to watch the water and see what was happening.

I am not criticizing - just reporting facts as they happened. We all start somewhere, and there's no shame in that. I remember doing the same thing. And there are still times today when I fish at random, hoping that something will connect because my senses haven't been able to figure out what the pea-sized brains of the trout already know. But with practice, new fly anglers learn where the "high probability" spots are and how to approach the water and place the fly. With time we le arn to pay attention and see what the fish are eating. For sure, I don't always catch fish as my friends would confirm and I still mess up a pool and put fish down.

Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist, said in his book, A Brief History of Time, something like, "Time is what prevents everything from happening at once."

It is not possible to arrive at a river the first time and be able to cast, read water and know everything there is to know about fly-fishing. And in that little piece of philosophy lies the best part about fly-fishing. Expertise c omes with time and practice on the water. Damn fine excuse to go fishing, eh?

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Copyright ©1998 Clive Schaupmeyer


Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta.
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