Things Squeeky learned about teaching fly fishing this year

Things Squeeky learned about teaching fly fishing this year

I was fishing with an individual who was an upper level angler. An upper level angler in my boat is a feller, or gal, that fishes a bunch. For me that means upwards of 100 days a year. This feller fished quite a bit.

His goal was to continue to learn. To move to the next level. I could see that he was interested in continuing to improve every time he fished. For an angler to progress he has to fish with educators, anglers that are better than he is, and fish on his own. It requires all three of those components to improve.

The primary trait for improvement is a want, a desire, a drive to improve. That is the difference between those who will get better, and those who will not. Most of the anglers I fish with do not have the desire or want to improve. I think that is true of most fishing guides. Most anglers in guide boats are those who are on vacation, and are interested in fun, fellowship, and a few fish to the net. Some of them want to use the net a lot. But they really don’t want to work on the fishing craft.

The goal of most fishing guides is to improve the angler through education. The angler has a unique opportunity to glean lots of pertinent information about resource. I know that I am the type of angler that beats up the guide with questions and inquires and the like. I want to grow through the experience. I want the guide to help me get to that next level. But that is not the case with everyone. And this is the first year that I truly grasped that concept. A foreign one to me. I thought we all wanted to improve.

Not true. And again, that is OK. It only took me 19 years of fishing guiding coupled with 13 years of teaching skiing. Yep, slow learner here. (Me!)

My favorite comment this past summer was from a couple of friends who fished with me in September. I was speaking to the guest in the front fo the boat about mending and the importance of a “dead drift”. I was relaying the concept of moving/sweeping the rod accordingly to keep the bobber, hence the fly, at the same speed of the current…therefore putting the bait in front of the fish for long periods of time consequently presenting the fly properly parlaying our catch rate. 

The guest turned to me and stated

“ I don’t want to learn anything about fly fishing, I just want to catch more fish!” 

And that is when I stopped talking. I did turn to his friend in back of the boat and he just gave me a shrug saying that he was interested in any tips and suggestions of how to improve his entire fishing game. I guess there is one in every crowd. 

Learning is difficult. It requires energy It begs you to change some of your behaviors. Learning leads you down a path that means you may regress for bit before the light bulb moment. Then, and only then can you move forward.

Regression is the inevitable painful first step to progression.

Some anglers are not interested in any part of that sometimes difficult process.

I see anglers in the boat just are not interested in learning. A fact about guiding anglers is that some anglers are interested in the Disneyland experience. Guide Ben Hardy and I have discussed this ad nauseam. Just like an amusement park ticket…you pay your money and you get a chance at catching fish.

The thing about fly fishing is that for the most part it requires participation from the angler. I also, as Ben has reminded me repeatedly over the past 11 years, believe that the Missouri River is a spoiler. Lots of fish per mile. Great fishing guides. Great fishing guides that when you are engaged in the nymph pursuit rowboy does high percentage of the work. Rig the rods, find the depth, adjust the bobber, and run the boat down the tertiary shelf line, where the majority of the fish reside, and get the net out. And that is OK. That is part of guiding anglers.

But not all anglers want that kind of experience. A bunch do. The other faction is interested in raising the bar on their own game.

The reason I wanted to write this blog in the first place was not the info above. It was the realization that good anglers develop skills that work for them. The case in point is this: I fished a fellow, that was catching fish while streamer fishing. I did not like the cast or the presentation much. It wasn’t bad, it just isn’t how I would go about it. But the dude was catching trout. And that is good. Just because it was not how I would go about it, does not make it bad. 

And that is the first time that I thought about that. I am charged as a fishing guide to facilitate the clients needs. And sometimes that is rowing the boat and netting fish on a nymph. Sometimes the guide is the cheerleader. Sometimes the guide is an armchair psychologist. And even sometimes a fishing guides role is teaching.

I mentioned to my guest that his technique was solid, but it was not how I would approach the task. It was the first time that I recognized this. Boy I hope I did not beat up too many people over the years over this. Ahh, many are not interested in education, so I’m sure I didn’t bother too many. Lots of times men don’t listen anyway…so no harm there. 

The tricky part is to keep caring. To not become cynical. To not confuse the lack of interest in learning with lack of excitement. You can have both. Honest. Those are two separate things. 

Yes, still learning after all these years. Still excited about guiding anglers. Damn excited about those anglers who want to learn. The most fun any guide can have is to fish with anglers who are interested in learning. 

I am energized and excited about being a fishing guide. A rewarding career. I wouldn’t rather do anything else. My office is the rowers seat. The view is awesome. The stress level is low. Non-existent from my perspective. They are just trout. Some days they eat it, and others they don’t. Totally out of our control. The only two things you can do to improve your catch rate is learn, and go fishing a lot!

I will remind myself to let those skills go that don’t need changing. And there are a lot of them. I am much more aware of that fact now, now that I have had the revelation this past summer. 

Teach only those who want to be taught. It may be wasted breath to continue to beat up those anglers who have no interest in learning. And I will not get as frustrated with the guest. They may only want a cool boat ride with a good lunch and some relaxation, some fellowship, and no pressure. 

And what is so wrong with that?


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  • dan from ohio
    December 7, 2018 7:25 am

    Markus- your meditation above is just right on…From the start, one of the things which most attracted me to our sport was this large body of knowledge and variability which often cannot be mastered quickly or, in many cases, easily…When I think about why I and others do what we do, it seems it’s never really just about the fish.

  • Some astute reflections, Mark. Thanks for the insights and–this is key–willingness to learn. We should all remember to up our games, and respect others’ games as well. A pleasure to read your nearly 5,000 blogs. You and HH make the Mo go!

  • Richard Elmer Raisler
    December 7, 2018 9:56 am

    Proud of you, son!

  • John - Michigan
    December 7, 2018 11:11 am

    Mark – great article and so true. Learned these same lessons guiding / instructing in AK and here in Michigan. About 1 in 10 customers could actually cast and manage line with any understanding of why they did what they did. I left them alone and plugged feedback when I felt they were ready. They caught a lot of fish. The other 9 of 10 just wanted to have fun and weren’t too motivated to grow – a little tougher situation – but they still wanted to catch fish. And we do – just not as many.
    A game of patience and some practice to help them
    get it. In my FF classes, newbies want to learn but they struggle with getting out to fish. The curiosity is there but maybe not the drive. To me, the ones that keep going are really persistent and patient – love those guests. But equally rewarding seeing less experienced anglers hook up. Recently did a cast lesson with an older fella heading to the Bahamas. He needed help slowing down the stroke and better timing. He had all the tools but could not focus on anything else but making that long bomb cast. He was convinced he would not be a good caster if he couldn’t rope it out there 90 feet. And he couldn’t – not even close. Once I figured that out, I knew how to approach him. We worked on basics of the haul, double haul, timing, accelerate- stop, feeling the rod load ect…. and then it clicked he had to do these things first for a chance at distance. Lesson for me was figuring out what the angler was really thinking about or afraid to ask about. Sometimes they don’t know – sometimes they do. Anglers new to FF are intimidated – so breaking down the fear and mystery has worked for me. All the best!

  • Great blog as usual. The beauty of the Missouri and your great guides is that I can be all of the above people in one float. I start out wanting to perfect my technique, reach cast to tough fish, then I get frustrated and want to stick a few, then that gets boring and back to learning. All while laughing and enjoying a beer at the Disneyland of fishing. Been coming up to Headhunters for 8 years now and this will be my first trip fishing with you. I will bring my multiple personalities and good attitude in June. In the mean time I will practice on the lawn in sunny California.

  • I could be guilty as charged on this one…
    Sometimes 30+ years of muscle memory is hard to overcome. My mind may be a sponge and want to learn but my arms often win the argument! We may be listening, but we’re not truly HEARING. I know I can tell others what they are doing wrong while not correcting my own mistakes.
    Keep up with the great amount of patience you have with us all. Some day we may just hear that lesson.

  • Great blog Mark. I have been in education the past thirty-three years. I have been an elementary school principal the past thirteen years. The staff members that try news things, get as much extra training as possible and have high expectations of their students year in and year out get the best results. The staff that just show up every day and go through the motions don’t get the same results. I have fished the the Missouri with friends that have a mind set that no matter what they use same fly will work no matter what. When we mix up our fly selection, size, color and retrieve our results improve. Thanks again for the year long fantastic blogs and teaching videos. You have helped me and my children learn new techniques and increase our success rate on all rivers we fish.

  • Great blog as usual. You sure have a knack of understanding people. I’ve fished with you and learned a lot, could I put it in practice, not so much. My fault. From my perspective I try to be the best I can be in any endeavor I try. I understand not everyone shares this philosophy. Hope to be better when I come back again in October. Keep up the great work.

  • Great read as always Mark. Every day I look forward to the Headhunters/Mo River info blog. Hope to see you on Friday at the shop, my first winter swing session on the MO is in sight for 14,15,16 Dec. Did you ever put that “vent” on your boat cover we chatted about at Mid Canyon parking lot last July?
    Cheers from Canada.
    Greg J

  • That’s why I could never be a guide. If someone doesn’t respect the living thing that they’re essentially torturing for fun, enough to learn more about it, stay home and get out of my boat.

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