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Old 02-22-2006, 11:27 PM
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Default Minding Your Manners - by Doug Macnair

[img2="left"][/img2]Fly Fishing with Doug Macnair:
Minding your Manners
To catch a fish — now that you have a rig and a few techniques in mind — the best thing you can do is to go fishing with an experienced angler. "Learning by doing," as advocated by John Dewey, is absolutely the best way to increase your mastery of the sport; but, it won’t hurt a bit to add a little "learning by watching," especially early-on in your adventure. Of course, finding someone whom you will enjoy fishing with might not be all that easy. Fly fishing is truly a sport all about different strokes for different folks. However, most fly fishers seem to have at least one thing in common–they do not talk a lot when immersed in the art of angling.

This simply wouldn’t be complete without a couple of thoughts about streamside courtesies polite fly fishers extend one to the other. The word "polite" is important because some examples you will soon read about represent the "bold, bad and the ugly." Assuming you’ve found someone to fish with the first couple of times out, he or she in effect becomes your demonstrator and coach. That’s good! But to be truly happy, work out a couple of ground rules in advance. For example, when you go fishing, go fishing–not casting. Going casting is something one does in practice sessions, not when fishing. To do otherwise is rude. It amounts to the same thing as a novice who heckles his or her foursome with constant jabber while they are trying to play golf. In my mind’s eye I can see them on the second tee ... "O.K. guys gather ‘round and help me straighten out my drive. I'm going to practice until I get this thing down..."

If you need help with your casting stroke, go casting, not fishing. So, set this rule up front: while you should feel free to ask questions during these early outings, it’s important to understand that when your line begins to go where you want it to, and a fish or two strike your fly–things change. You are no longer a beginner. Unless stipulated in advance, don’t ask incessant questions, especially when your partner is absorbed in trying to catch a fish. Wait instead for one of the agreed upon breaks. The break, by the way, is also the time to receive your partner’s critique of what he or she observed to the good or the bad during your time at bat. Follow these suggestions and you will have the best of all possible worlds. You will learn by doing — fish, question, and critique — applying what you learn until your technique is perfected. More importantly, you will gain the respect of your coach and mentor.

Of course, what has been said thus far should be viewed within the framework of the immediate fishing environment. If you are wade-fishing the saltwater flats of Texas, do what you will. Practice to your heart’s content. You cannot possibly bother a soul, other than the stingrays that are usually close at hand. People who venture into your acre of water easily can venture somewhere else. In contrast, the waters of a small stream are quite different. Too many fly rods in too little space make for too little happiness–arguments, tangles, and accidents are likely to result. On confined close waters, and believing that your partner does not want a fly hooked in his or her ear, I suggest establishing in advance who is going to fish first. Try for an accord using either time or pool sequence; if the pool is sufficiently large to allow two fishers, alternate between who takes the head and tail-waters. And if you plan to fish apart, agree in advance on a time and place to meet.

On occasion, you and your partner may be fishing from a boat, such as when wandering the saltwater flats for redfish or seatrout with a guide poling the shallow draft boat. This is a situation where you do not fan the water with blind casts hoping the Ancient Ones will allow a fish to blunder into range. To the contrary, in this situation you stalk the fish casting only when a target is sighted and within range. Typically, only one fly fisher at a time commands the boat’s casting position. If you and your partner are paying for this service, I suggest the two of you divide the fishing opportunity equally using time as the criteria. Do not make the error of using something like fish taken. That’s neither fair nor just. It might take me five minutes to bring a trophy to the net; but, if you don’t catch one for the next seven hours and fifty-five minutes, that’s it for our eight-hour outing. That’s simply wrong. As your experience grows, you will come to believe fishing time is what counts to the fly fisher, not opportunities to fish governed by experience, age or sex.

I think time is the way to go in most cases where sharing is involved. You, of course, may come up with a better methodology. Whatever you decide, pick something that will not strain, stress, or break the relationship with your partner. In the years to come the health of that relationship is far more important then the immediacy of a moment on a congested stream. One more thing — and this is personal — if you cast with the right hand, take a moment and determine which hand your partner uses. Almost all right hand casters assume everyone casts the way they do, and remain totally blind to someone using their left hand. I know; I am left-handed! Always putting the other fisher at physical disadvantage is a good way to cause a relationship to terminate. Once informed of the error, there is no excuse to witness it repeated, ad nauseam.

As your proficiency grows, you will notice all sorts of things–both good and bad. All sorts of things happen in and about our waters, because all sorts of people frequent them. Sooner or later, you will run into the person who thinks limits on fish by size or number is an infringement on their "rights." There also is another group now advocating no one has the right to fish, at all! Of course, there is always that bunch of crass dummies that fish about the way they drive a car. I always figure that the guy on the highway I call a road hog is probably also a fish hog. It seems logical to me that once you’ve identified a "hawg," keep this in mind–once hog, always a hog. By the way, Webster defines a hog as a "domestic swine, especially when weighing more than 120 pounds." I have always wished the fish hogs could be limited to catching hogfish or pigfish. I simply don't care for these sorts of folks when they are on public waters. I much prefer to see them in a court of law. If you see one of these folks violating the law, report them. You will get a warm feeling deep inside when the judge hands down the sentence.

These and other forgettable characters await you on the waters of this great country. However, most fly fishers — probably to the tune of 90% — will prove to be warm thoughtful people, at least to the limit of their outdoor education. As your circle of fishing friends grows along with your expertise, I hope you will carry the banner — by word and deed — on keeping safe our fragile environment and these gifts from a loving God. Just as technology has changed simplifying the sport for you, so technology will continue to evolve making it even better. Fly fishing will always be a give and take arrangement between you, the fish, and nature. Consideration for your fellows and the habitat for the fish become increasingly important.

So we finally come to the close to this series of articles that taken together, hopefully will be published as a book entitled, Fly Fishing for the Rest of Us. From my viewpoint, it’s been fun to take a hard look at the sport of fly fishing. Where gender specific remarks have been made, the intent is to assist and explain the ramifications of individual differences as they apply to the fly fishing system. Whether or not I’ve lived up to your expectations I know not; however, I do hope I’ve laid a footing that will serve you well as a building block on which can layer more knowledge. Always remember to question; do not blindly accept what some other "expert" has to say! As for the words on the environment, let me say this: I’ve played the game of golf on many a lovely course, but I’ve never had the feeling on any of these courses that begins to compare with the feeling I have when fly fishing a pristine stream. That feeling is one of serenity brought by the knowledge I am witness to the bountiful miracles of God. Please join me in this celebration: Join me in the sport of fly fishing.

Good Luck!

Article Courtesy of Doug Macnair at Purchase Doug Macnair's The Fly Cast: Concepts and Comments

Copyright: Douglas G. Macnair, 1997-2001.From the manuscript, Fly Fishing for the Rest of Us.


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