The Stream Doctor

May 30th, 2005

Email YOUR Questions directly to the Stream Doctor. This is your opportunity to get an experts professional opinion on anything stream related.

Q. Hi Stream Doctor: Can you tell me about the stages you went through in your fly fishing life? What things were important in the beginning, middle, now..? Were you ever caught in the equipment craze? What things caused you to mature? What do you use today, and what no longer? Thanks in advance for all your comments, Miguel Reznicek

A. Well, Miguel, this isn't a stream ecology question, as the column is intended to address, but I'd be glad to give you some history for what it's worth.

Stages: This is probably pretty typical. Early in the game (teens) the object was just to catch fish with a fly; it didn't matter much what size they were. This took awhile; my Dad said that he could always find me in the willows by just listening for me saying "Shoot" each time I missed a strike. Once this problem was more-or-less resolved (still miss more strikes than I should), the object was to catch a limit. This was the big measuring stick back in the 1940s and 1950s. To say, "I got a limit" was the ultimate of success; this lasted for me probably into my late 20s to early 30s. After that, I guess you'd say my stages diverged. If I was fishing alone or with peers, it became more important to just catch nice fish in a nice place. The aesthetics and experience were more important. The divergence occurred because by now I was raising and teaching two sons to fish, so many of these trips were back to the "catch a fish on a fly - and as many as possible." Now that the kids are on their own (though I do get a chance now and then to fish with them) my fishing is largely just for the pure enjoyment of being on a stream. If I catch a fish, fine; if not, that's fine too. Don't get me wrong - I like to catch fish. As long as there is a "reasonable" chance to catch a trout, that's enough; the rest is between me and the fish. My brother says I don't have enough tenacity to fish a hole or reach thoroughly; I say it's time to see what's around the next bend. My present situation is hampered by the fact that I've had two spinal fusions and two hip replacements in the past few years that has cut down my mobility considerably. I used to be known by my fishing buddies as the guy they saw disappearing up a stream soon after starting and not seeing again until the end of the day. No more.

Equipment: I never got too caught up in the equipment craze, though I'll admit to having more than I need; that's pretty common for anglers. I think a good percentage of the stuff in catalogs and in stores is meant to catch the fisherman, not fish. There is a related subject here that I'll mention (and probably step on more than a few toes) - and perhaps the reason I don't catch as many fish as I could. This is the obsession with matching-the-hatch and carrying flies that match every stage of the life cycle of every insect and then worrying about fishing them just so. Most people assume that the first thing I do when entering a stream is turn over some rocks, identify the insects, reach into my fly box(s) for perfect imitations, and then catch lots of fish. Not true. I stick with my favorite patterns (e.g., Royal Wulff, Adams, Elk-hair caddis for dries; some standard nymph patterns) and take my chances. I'm convinced that presentation and knowing the habitat is more important than matching live insects down to every last hair and color. Of course, as I said, maybe that's why I don't catch as many fish as the pros. My approach, at least for me, lends itself to a more relaxed and enjoyable outing; the former seems more like work and I'm too old for that.

Maturity (?): You asked what caused me to mature. Talk to my wife and some friends and they'll say I still haven't got there and I'm 74 years old! Anyway, I think maturity as a fisherman differs with different people. For me, as I said earlier, just being out is enough - fish or no fish. My wife complains that she'd like a trout to eat now and then, but I mostly put them back. Many places I fish are catch-and-release waters, so there's not much choice. I fish the small streams in Rocky Mountain National Park a lot because they're just minutes from my home. I'll often keep a few brookies to eat largely because they're unwanted in these streams.

Gear: Other than the obvious progression from inexpensive bamboo rods, automatic fly reels, and braided silk lines to graphite or bamboo rods, single action reels, and synthetic fly lines, my gear hasn't changed much. Guess you'd also have to include going from wading wet to rubber hip boots to breathable waders, too. One thing I added several years ago that I won't fish without is a wading staff. As a person who spent a lot of time professionally wading in streams, I'm a lousy wader and have a well-earned reputation of falling in. For a few years I used aluminum wading cleats in addition to the staff. I'd go back to them if I were doing more big stream/river fishing. The staff, however, is a must. ~ Bert

If you have a question, please feel free to contact me.
~ C. E. (Bert) Cushing, aka Streamdoctor
105 W. Cherokee Dr.
Estes Park, CO 80517
Phone: 970-577-1584

The 'Stream Doctor' is a retired professional stream ecologist and author, now living in the West and spending way too much time fly-fishing. You are invited to submit questions relating to anything stream related directly to him for use in this Q & A Feature at

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