Jun 17 , 2020
Are all fly fishermen snobs? I’m sometimes asked that by people who know thatI’m a fly fishermen. And I’ve noticed it’s often asked with a kind of smirk, as in: “Anyone who spends that much money on a silly hobby MUST be a snob!” I often don’t answer, because it might sound like a true believer trying to tell an atheist why religion is so important. Just as what wine you drink is a matter of individual taste, so is how you fish, that’s up to you. But I do have an opinion.
All fly fishermen are snobby?! Maybe a few. They’re usually the guys that have at least 8 or 9 fly rods of different length and materials and brands. And those rods cost a lot of greenbacks, since you can’t even find a decent beginner fly rod for under $200. If you want to be really exclusive and get a classic heirloom-quality bamboo rod, like Ernest Hemingway used, then you’re talking at least $3,000. Good quality fly rods you buy from sporting goods stores are somewhere in between - but your true blue fly fishing snobs wouldn’t be caught dead with a rod not custom designed and made by a top rod maker and ordered through hiswebsite. And then of course they need the name of the rod maker lettered in goldprint on the rod as big as possible. And they’ll wear the absolute most expensive fisherman clothing, so it looks like they just stepped off the cover of the Orvis Catalogue!
Of course I’m not putting down having a number of different fly rods. I mean you need one for small streams and brooks, one for mid-sized rivers, and one for those deep and wide rivers where you’ll probably have to fish out of a boat. But there’s a difference between owning rods to enhance your fishing, and owning rods to show off what you can afford. Of course your odds of meeting the particular type ofsnobby fishermen I’m talking about are relatively small, since they’re probably members of private fishing clubs. There they spend more time talking about their equipment than they do fishing. But I know that the fish, when you’re out on the water, don’t really care about the cost of your rod. And they’re more concerned with how you present your fly, and what the fly looks like than what you look like.
It’s not the rod or the outfit that makes the fisherman! I’ve known fishermen in their 80’s who only have one fly rod – a fiberglass two piece job they bought 50 years ago for less than $10 - and those guys catch fish! They’re fishermen with skin as deeply grooved as the Grand Canyon, and sun blotches covering their faces. For them fishing is a way of life, and what’s important is to stay true to the centuries old tradition and etiquette of fly fishing. Usually they tie their own flies, and as the fly patterns have changed down through the years, they’ve changed along with them. So whatever the hottest pattern of the day is, they’ve probably got it in their fly vest. And these are also the guys who, if they see a struggling beginner flailing about the water and scaring the fish – will sometimes try to educate him. These are people who just love the joy of fishing and want to share that joy with anyone that wants to listen. They’re definitely not snobs! They fish public, not private water - because they want to catch “the difficult fish”, the one that has been eluding all the other anglers and so has grown big and ornery and nearly uncatchable as it’s aged.
If you see one of these guys they’ll probably have an old beaten up fishing hat, waders with patches in them, a fishing vest covered in coffee stains, and stealthymovements like a panther stalking a deer. If you’re lucky enough to see one of these rumpled old masters – just stop fishing for a bit and watch them. But if you have to keep fishing, show some courtesy and don’t invade their space with any of your casts. And above all – don’t walk anywhere near the spot they’re casting to. If you’re courteous and show interest in their fishing style they may even share some tips with you. Their eyes may be old and squinty – but they can tell whether the fish are eating a size 18 blue wing olive may fly or a size 12 yellow-sally stone fly from 100 feet away. Watch as they put a cast right on top of a rising fish, which will come up and sip the imitation in, and then the fun begins! And if you offer to net their fish once it’s ready for netting – the old timer is liable to give you a copy of the very fly that just brought that fish into the net.
So no, the answer is that not all fishermen are snobby. Just as not all the classic old timers are generous with information. I vividly remember the time I was fishing with a well-known Orvis Guide who also happened to be a great fly tier and had his name attached to some of the flies you could buy from the Orvis catalogue. Some rowdy college student types were sloshing through the water and shouting back and forth to each other about what fly to use and why they weren’t catching any fish. All the while my buddy and I were catching trout after trout (my buddy more than me) on one of his custom tied #18 baetis flies. So one of the college types slugs down a beer and gets his courage up and asks “What are you guys using?” And my buddy shouts out “Skill and finesse, you should try it sometime”! Within 5 minutes we had that stretch of water all to ourselves.