As a beginner to fly fishing, I had access to my fly shop, guides, how to books, and trial and error on Colorado’s streams and rivers. The trout bug firmly embedded, I was on the hunt for all I could learn, all I could read, everywhere I could fish, and all the equipment I could buy.
Sometime during that initial fever, I discovered John Gierach on the book shelves at Anglers Covey fly shop. After only two pages I realized I had found a gold mine.
John Gierach writes short essays about his observations as a fly fisherman. They are comical, short and accessible. And if you are paying attention, there is also a lot you can learn about fly fishing.
So without further ado, here are the ten top reasons why any fly fishing beginner…Heck, any fly fisherman for that matter, should read John Gierach.
ONE. John’s stories introduce you, without pretense, into the fly fishing subculture.
“…I actually fly fished for quite a while before I realized it was possible to get snookered by certain writers, fly shop clerks and self styled experts; people who, in order to make money or jump-start their egos wanted to make this look like only a genius could do it.
But then I began to run into some real experts—you know, people who just knew how to catch fish. They share a little trick here, maybe a new angle there, and say things like, “Just keep foolin’ around and you’ll get the hang of it.”
Twenty some years later I’m still foolin’ around and I do think I am starting to get the hang of it.” Little Flies, Another Lousy Day In Paradise
TWO. If you read between the lines of his stories, he is also filling you in on many great places to fish.
“I’ve done DePey’s (pronounced “DeePews”) spring creek and it was great: a small, weed choked stream full of trout, funky fisherman’s shack with a picture window, wood stove and fly-tying desk, and a genuine river keeper name Robert Auger who seemed to enjoy his work immensely. Its a lesser-known creek in the same beautiful Yellowstone Valley with Nelson’s and Armstrong’s. There are Russell Chatham landscapes everywhere you look, and you can get on the water sooner than two years from now.” The Chairman’s Bass, Sex, Death, and Fly Fishing
THREE. With experience we enjoy our routines; Yet, there are also new things, and new types of fish, to try. For instance, on carp fishing…
“Them are carp you know.”
“Yeah, we know,” we said in unison.
“Okay,” the guy said and he and his friend walked away.
So, although I’ve come to think of these critters as big, handsome, graceful, intelligent, wary fish with a kind of quiet, understated classiness about them, they’re still “just carp” and most people can’t understand why you’d want to catch them. It makes it hard to to take all this seriously—and thats how fishing should be. If people don’t occasionally walk away from you shaking their heads, you’re probably doing something wrong.” Carp, Another Lousy Day in Paradise
FOUR. His observations will prepare you for different rivers and the best time to fish them.
“The [Frying] Pan is a quick, jumbled river in a steep, bright, rufous-colored canyon with lots of trees. On a clear day it’s red, green, and ice water blue. In the fourteen miles from Ruedi Dam to the confluence with the Roaring Fork, you’ll find every kind of water you’d ever want to fish. The trout are very big.
In February you check into a motel, using as an excuse the fact that the Little Maud Campground up by the dam is closed for the winter, but secretly relieved to have a warm place to sleep after those cold days on the water. …”
Rivers, Sex, Death and Fly-Fishing
FIVE. His stories will grow with your skill level and interest. Reread Gierach again as you advance in the sport, you will appreciate his information in a whole new way.
“One of the first signs that you have home water is that a kind of simplicity creeps into the fishing you do there. You probably started out clanking around in the full vest and waders, but by now, through trial and error, you’ve pared things down to a single small fly box containing maybe a dozen patterns, plus clippers and spare spool of tippet. You may also notice that you’re catching more fish than you used to. This is a simple function of familiarity—you’ve learned where the fish will be, when they’ll bite, and what they’ll bite on—but the general idea of shedding superfluous baggage and doing better with less is something your may begin to ponder.” Home Water, No Shortage of Good Days
SIX. Everything you are experiencing, head games, good and bad days, obsessing over one fish for an entire afternoon—all normal, no matter how long you have been fly fishing.
On winter fishing…
“Except for 40 minutes or so, the river is dead. You don’t see many fish, and those few you do see are sitting on the bottom like waterlogged branches, not feeding, not moving, possibly not even entirely conscious.
That happens a lot in the winter, so you learn to fish casually and at at a reasonable pace so you’re not all burned out and frustrated when something happens—who knows what?—And, for a few minutes at least, the fish bite.
Most days it really does happen. Everyone who has anything resembling the right fly in the water catch a fish or two before it shuts down again. You’ll hear theories about why that happens from people who have a pathological need for theories—the most popular one now has to do with drift migration patterns of aquatic insect larvae—but no theory makes makes it predictable or explains the days when it doesn’t happen. In the end, its a mater of blind faith and a light rod you can cast all day.” The Voice, Another Lousy Day In Paradise
SEVEN. The sometimes pretentious element of fly fishing will no longer intimidate you.
“…I, for one, have this idea that constant exposure to the ordinary is good for the soul. I have met some high-brow fishermen who bragged that they only fished at the best places with the best guides at the best times of year and who claimed to not only always catch fish, but to always catch lots of real big ones. If true, a life without drama must be awfully boring and if false—as you have to suspect—then lugging around an ego that requires that much preening must be a terrible burden. In the end, the best fishermen I know have all finally developed a kind of professional polish without losing the hopeless goofiness of the beginner.” Third Rate Trout Streams, No Shortage of Good Days
EIGHT. Its perfectly acceptable to use the transition phrase “So anyway,…” at the start of a paragraph, and still be a respected and successful published author.
Thank you John for breaking that barrier.
NINE. Anyone can follow John’s stories, even if you are not an advanced fisherman.
“Naturally, the most effective way to expertise isn’t to hold forth in front of an audience (unless you actually happen to be a genuine expert) but do the exact opposite, that is, keep your mouth shut and just assume the pose.”
….“I’d advise against it, but if you really do want to set yourself up as an expert, all you have to do is stop talking about how you catch fish and begin referring to your “system.” It works every time.” Expertizing, Sex, Death and Fly Fishing
TEN. His observations will stay with you throughout the sport, prepare you for any “drive-by”
Gierach was the first to explain to me that every fisherman has their own definition of a fly fishing “purist”. Nowadays, when another fisherman frowns at my two, or three, fly technique and proclaims “Well, I only ever fish with one fly.” I have a defense. “I only fish with cat gut. You?”
Recently I met John for the first time at the fly fishing show in Denver. Like walking onto a stream and suddenly getting into a big fish on a first cast, my mind went suddenly blank. All I could do was shake his hand and tell him, “You have really influenced me as a writer and fly fisherman. I’ve read all of your books.” So. So. Lame.
So I hope this article makes up for it.
Oh well, so anyway, at least I got the “grab and grin”…
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