Presented from Issue 101
Fishing with other people is an interesting experience. Fishing with someone new can be like going on a first date, while a day out with a long time mate is more like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes. A good thing about fishing with someone else is that you get to learn by watching, which can open your mind up to new ideas and techniques.
Something else that shows through is that how personality and character can influence flyfishing style. Do you know any two people who are exactly the same? You know what it’s like. Among your friends, you might have the energetic, extroverted type, who fills in all the awkward silences, the jester, or the quiet reserved one, who doesn’t say a lot, but when they do, everyone listens (or at least should).
My own circle of fishing buddies is a diverse bunch. We do share set of values and interests - otherwise we wouldn’t be friends I guess. A common love of rivers and streams, wild trout, dry flies, and of course, total catch and release binds us. There are some basics that we all adhere to in terms of technique, but there is a lot of variation in other than key areas. We all catch our share of fish, but don’t count them, certainly not in a “I got five, he got three” type of competitive way.
Here is an insight into my fishing mates, what I’ve learnt from them, and proof that there’s more than one way to skin a trout (so to speak)!
Passion. In a word, this would have to sum up what I see in Haydn, whether it’s fishing, love for his kids, music, art, or his 1958 FC Holden (which replaced his 1970’s Landrover - I can’t imagine what his next car will be). Haydn’s passion for trout fishing is reflected in his full forearm tattoo of two brown trout - talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve... His enthusiasm is infectious, and I always feel younger after I’ve been out with him. Haydn has worked in the fishing tackle industry, been lead singer for a rock band, shown his paintings in exhibitions, been a graphic designer, and had a brief stint in a morgue, so his professional life is pretty diverse to say the least.
On the stream, too, Haydn is a real mix. He’s left modern fishing clothing behind - all the polar fleeces and modern fabrics have been replaced with tweed, old flannel shirts, and other natural fibres. He believes that these materials blend in with the background, and feel better on the skin. His flies are a mix of the old (Red Tags) and the new (stimulators), not that he seems to believe in changing flies on a refusing fish. He will cast over and over at a fish with the same fly - ten, twenty, maybe fifty times (no I’m not joking). Even if it looks spooked, he will cast at it with a single mindedness until it swims away. More times than I care to remember, many casts after I’ve thought, ‘one of you, please give up’, the fish will rise and take the fly as if it’s the first time it has seen it.
Haydn says he does this because he’s lazy but I think he’s more patient that he gives himself credit for. It makes you scratch your head about what those fish are thinking, too. Haydn has an assertive, pretty sharp, casting style, and likes to land the fly to get the fish’s attention, followed by a twitch, just to make sure. He also loves fish taking flies that drag, as they do occasionally, and doing other things that they aren’t meant to. He’ll laugh, turn to you and say ‘I love it when they prove the textbooks wrong’.
No one complains about big fish, but Haydn has a special love for little streams and little fish. He can take more pleasure in the colours of a four inch trout from a little stream than a lot of people would get from a sixteen inch fish from the lakes.
To complete the picture, in contrast to the traditional gear and the individual approach, Haydn has gone techno and bought a video camera, to capture some of our adventures. From Haydn I’ve learnt that you can do things the way you want, even if that’s not the way that convention or modern opinion says you should. He also brings a warmth and understanding to tradition that a lot of people nowadays might scoff at. Often when I catch a fish that’s smaller than I’d thought or hoped for, I take the time to have a brief look at how beautiful it really is. Sometimes it turns out being be the most memorable fish of the day.
Troy is the classiest of our bunch. I don’t think it’s intentional and he’s certainly not a fashion victim, but he manages to look the best on the stream. His clothes, waders and tackle always seem just right. His fly box is organised to the point where if I didn’t know him as well as I do I would be ashamed to show him mine. Even his big hair is tied back neat and isn’t out of place. Troy is an awesome caster - he throws super smooth, powerful loops in a way that looks frustratingly easy. Likewise, his line management on the stream avoids drag in an unhurried, polished way.
Troy’s love of the high country lead him to move to Cooma with his family years ago. Wild, streambred fish and tumbling mountain creeks are central to his fishing and life in general. His appreciation of wildness extends to his other hobby, keeping and breeding snakes and lizards.
Occasionally when fishing with him, he’ll drop his rod, dive into the tussocks and come up with a lizard or frog for a closer look.
Troy and Haydn have spent a lot of time together on smaller streams, and share a love for these little waters. Like Haydn, Troy likes working on fish that refuse the first presentation, but he tries different patterns rather than Haydn’s ‘stand and deliver’ one fly approach.
Troy seems to have found a good balance between the appreciation for the wild, natural side of fly fishing and the quest for perfection, though I think we share a bit of psychosis over tackle. We’ve both gone through several iterations of vests, lanyards, and bags and aren’t totally happy with anything so far. My best idea so far is to have a ghillie carry everything, but as to finding one... Similarly we seem to agree that a seven foot four weight is the ideal rod for our type of fishing, but we’re going a bit crazy trying to find the perfect one. Actually, I’m starting to think that this is because there isn’t one ‘perfect rod’, or maybe that there are more than one, and we’ve found some of them already. Either way, we have a growing mountain of rod tapers between us. If we both go mad at least we’ll have each other for company.
I fish more with Miri than anyone else. While I had already been fly fishing for years before we met and she started fishing, she has very much her own style. I’m really happy to say that, though I introduced her to fly fishing, there is no way I’ve taught her all that she knows. Most of our fishing (like with the other guys), is done ‘one for one’, taking turns fishing, with the other standing close on the left, watching.
Miri has a very relaxed, smooth, delicate casting action. She uses a fairly full flexing rod, and uses minimum effort, letting the rod do most of the work. Though she explains this by saying she’s lazy, like a golf swing, it can take deceptive skill to hold back on the power.
Miri is incredibly patient (maybe that goes without saying, staying married to me). She rarely fishes blind, and though she will occasionally have a go fishing runs with a dry, her love is sight fishing. On finding a feeding fish, she is in no hurry to cast to it. Her preference is to watch for a while (sometimes a long while), and observe it’s beat, or rise pattern, and what it is feeding on. The fly is only put to the fish after working out the best strategy in terms of pattern, casting location, and presentation. More often than not, it goes according to plan, but if the fish rejects the fly, then it’s back to the drawing board, with a change of fly and or presentation. Though she loves catching fish, Miri would be happy to work on one tough fish for a whole day, rather than give up and move on to catch a bunch more fish. When she’s made the decision to stick with a fish for a while, she gets me to move on and fish solo.
Sometimes I’ll stay and watch for a while, but if I get the idea that it’s going to be a two hour fish, I’ll move on and leave her to it, which keeps us both happy! In the same way as Haydn, Miri isn’t too fussed if fish are small, as long as they’re fun, pretty, or a challenge. Her considered approach, however, gives her a really good chance on large, educated fish. Oh, by the way Troy, come to think of it, maybe Miri looks best on the stream!
Paul would have to be the hardest core stream angler I know. His long time job as a fly fishing guide, which revolves around working weekends, frees up enough of his weekdays to have a lot of river to himself. We’ve done a bit of swoffing together, mainly for pelagics down the coast, when the swell is too low for a surf, but Paul’s life revolves around trout. Anyone that spends over a hundred days a year fishing streams for trout is worth hanging around just to learn via osmosis. Seeing Paul stalk a trout is like watching a water bird hunt its prey. His dress is understated and drab, without being over the top camouflage. Keeping low, his movements are always smooth, and usually slow, only speeding up when the trout is out of sight on a beat or behind cover. He looks like he’s MEANT to be there - like he’s part of the environment. Troy and I reflected recently that when fishing with Paul, if you go your separate ways for a while, it can be hard to find him. Not because he’s far away, but because he blends in so damn well!
Whether covering a fish, or working a run, his casting is easy but accurate. Sometimes, with an almost imperceptible extra movement of the rod, he will put the fly way into a really tight corner or undercut in a way that makes you think, ‘how did he do that’? Something else that really stands out to me is the number of really good fish Paul has caught casting to a little corner that I would have gone right past.
There’s always time to look under rocks and identify different mayfly nymphs, and their stage of development, which he imitates with traditional patterns as well as his own. From requirements as a guide (and the need to fish a LOT himself), he can analyse weather conditions and put in the kilometres to find the best place to fish in the whole Snowy Monaro region on any given day. He gets a lot of joy out of fish of all sizes, and both small streams and our larger rivers.
His views on tackle are based on rigorous testing and experience, rather than marketing, advertising, or superficial research. And no, he doesn’t ALWAYS fish with bamboo, though I am working hard to rectify that! From all that time fishing and guiding, his understanding of trout behavior and analytical approach is almost scary at times. After all that, Paul is both generous and humble. I’ve learnt more from Paul than anyone else, but far from being authoritarian, he likes to give people the chance to work things out for themselves, offering advice when asked or if it’s really needed. For all his dedication, he still has a pretty lighthearted, philosophical view on things, and we have a heap of laughs on the river. His sense of humour is drier than a Monaro streambed.
I guess maybe what I’ve learnt most from Paul is seeing the skill and rewards that devotion to one type of fishing can give you. The other thing is that there is no substitute to going out fishing, when it comes to learning and improving. It is also nice to see that someone that fishes that much still gets caught up in trees and misses fish now and then too.
Me and You
It’s interesting, without getting overly analytical or critical, to look at your own fishing style. For the most part, I think it’s best to let your personality flow through into your fishing. If you’re a hyper sort of person, you’ll probably have a short, sharp, casting style, and want to cast to fish quickly and maybe cover a lot of water. If you’re more laid back, you might cast with a smooth, relaxed style and be happy to wait, watch, change flies, wait a bit longer, and then watch some more, just the sake of it. I guess you can reverse all of this as well, and by looking at how you fish, learn things about yourself and your wider life. Fish will teach you if you’re fishing TOO fast, slow, aggressive, sedate, or lazy. I’m sure I’ve been influenced, both directly, and indirectly, by everyone I’ve fished with. There are some things I know I do differently to my mates and like it that way. It’s kind of funny but the fish that stay in my mind are ones I’ve had to work hard for, and the ones I missed, usually from laziness (see, I’m the lazy one) like casting from too far away without stalking closer. And maybe at the end of the day, like in surfing, the best fisherman is the one having the most fun.