The Wrong Way to Fish

The word ‘purist’ often gets thrown around the fly fishing community, usually with a negative connotation. But aren’t we all purists as we ourselves define it? I believe that the whole topic is very much a personal choice and that there is no right or wrong. Every angler seems to draw an imaginary line in the sand, the place that to them, defines the sport. Many anglers feel that it is simply unethical to fish a San Juan Worm or a Glo Bug. Is it unethical because it makes fishing easier? Are those fishermen catching more fish than the anglers who choose not to fish those flies? Or is it unethical simply because it breaks beyond the traditional origins of the sport. If we want to stick to traditionalism, at which point in history are we going to use to define our sports heritage? We could go back to some of the chalk stream heritages in England where it was considered unethical to cast anything other than a dry fly. Further, the angler was not supposed to cast to a fish that was not actively feeding. And if one was casting a dry fly to a fish that was actively feeding and the fish stopped feeding, the correct thing for the angler to do was to sit down and wait for the fish to resume feeding until the angler began fishing again.

I am probably a purist because I have many methods that I prefer using and there are certainly methods that I don’t like to use. I enjoy tying my own flies and I prefer to fish with flies that have been tied in a traditional manner. I fish dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, streamers, pushers, wakers and skaters, spey flies, mice, emergers, eggs and worms. I use floating lines, sinking lines, shooting heads and sinking tips. I fish lakes, rivers, ponds and streams. I fish upstream, downstream, across stream etc… For me, if I am using a fly that is reasonably representing the fish’s food source and I am using a method that appeals to me at the moment, I am happy. So in that regard, I am a purist in that I fish the way I want. I have no rules and no boundaries. But having said all that, there are some methods that I simply do not enjoy using. That doesn’t mean that my methods are better or worse. It only means that I do not enjoy using them.

There are many ways to catch a fish and modern day anglers continue to redefine the sport, often reinventing the wheel in the process and renaming techniques that have been in use for many decades by anglers all over the world. I learned how to catch fish as a small child using many different methods. My first experiences with flies were with a spinning rod and a bubble as a means of fishing a dry fly. Another was with a spinning rod and some lead weight with a technique that allowed my nymphs to “bounce” along the bottom of the river. The technique is deadly and there are many variations of it today, but the basis of the technique is the same. Take a reasonable representation of the fish’s food source and fish it slow and deep near the bottom of a river. If I where to use the same technique today on my local water with a spinning rod, many fly fisherman would likely turn their nose up at what I was doing, unless however, I was using a fly rod, a fly reel and a fly line. Somehow the use of a longer rod, a different reel and a plastic coated fly line makes the same technique “ethical” in the minds of many modern day fly fisherman.

I once had an angler on a stream ask me if I had been catching my fish by ‘Czech Nymphing’ or ‘Bottom Bouncing’. He seemed surprised with my reply and asked me “Why not? Are you some kind of purist?” I made it clear that I had nothing against the method but that I did not enjoy using it. As I continued working my way along the stream, the angler stayed within sight of me for quite some time. Some days later, I found my self in a fly shop where the same angler approached me again. He reminded me of our brief encounter on the stream and began probing me as to why I did not like the method that we had spoken about earlier. He seemed a bit offended and felt like I had turned my nose up at his method. He went on to explain how effective the method was. After listening to what he had to say, I reiterated what I had said to him on the stream with a bit more detail, apologizing to him if I had offended him and explained again that I had absolutely nothing against his method. I used it with great effectiveness in my youth but I simply didn’t enjoy using anymore.

After my conversation with the man, I began reflecting on how I defined fly-fishing. Why was it that I no longer enjoyed the method that I had originally learned to use as a child? I began asking myself questions. What is fly-fishing? If I am trolling in a lake using pop gear and I have a traditionally tied fly at the end of my pop gear, am I fly-fishing? If I have a spinning rod and monofilament line and a bubble with a fly on the end, am I fly-fishing? Is fly-fishing defined by the fact that the terminal end of my line has a fly tied to it? Is it the rod or the line that I am using or is fly-fishing some kind of other technique? There are many techniques that can be used with a fly rod and line but many of them can also be used with other types of rods and without a fly line.

Fly-casting is an art that I enjoy immensely. It sets itself apart from other types of casting with other types of fishing rods in one way. The weight is in the line allowing the angler to casting a virtually weightless fly. Other types of casting require that a minimum amount of weight be added to the line in order to load the rod.

Many fly fishermen, including myself, use weight as a tool, adding it to the line somewhere near the fly enabling them to sink the fly faster. I use many different techniques when I fly fish. But after much thought, I finally realized what it was that made some techniques appeal to me yet left me completely uninterested in others. I love the science of fly fishing and the art of fly casting and if a given technique does not REQUIRE the use of a fly rod and line, I don’t seem to enjoy it as much. Does that mean that some techniques are wrong or right? No! No technique is better or worse, more or less ethical or more or less advanced than another. I believe that if a technique is legal and one enjoys using it, then they should. Every angler should examine what it is that they enjoy about the sport, pursue it with passion and not get hung up on what one individual says is a better way to do it.

Go Fishing… Try different things… Find what YOU enjoy and Have Fun!!!

Eddie Robinson