Our Man In Canada
September 28th, 1998
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Fly-fishing with Novices
Keep it simple
By Clive Schaupmeyer

Over the years I have tried to help several novice fly anglers. This summer I went fly-fishing with three beginner fly anglers. All were making reasonable casts after a couple of hours and they were grinning at the end of the day. And yes, they all caught one or a few small cutthroat trout. They were successful and fun trips.

Nick Livingston
Before going further I must clear up something so no one gets confused about my role and methods as a teacher. I am not a fly fishing or casting instructor. I'm just a guy who likes to fly fish and each year I end up taking one or two folks who have never fly-fished before. These are not Yuppie Gorbies who have $1,000 worth of new gear and taken all the uptown classes. They are a friend's teenage son, a business acquaintance, or the fellow who purchased my donated fly- fishing trip at the church fund-raising auction. These are pretty casual affairs and likely happen all the time.

Over the years I have learned a few things. And hopefully my guests have as well. Three years ago I took 12-year-old Mike Day who had never fly-fished before. This summer he and I fished together again on a couple of mountain streams. It was so neat. He had his own gear and looked like he had been casting for years. I was thrilled. Way to go Mike!

Here are some things I have noticed about novice fly anglers.

The main objective for the first day of fly-fishing is not to catch fish, but one or two trout strengthen the experience for the novice. So far, none of my guests have been skunked on their maiden fly-fishing outing because I take them to places where there is a high probability that fish will be caught. My preferred places are small cutthroats streams in southwestern Alberta in August. These are as close to a guarantee of catching fish that you'll find anywhere.

Norm Sutherland

I wrote in my book, "The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing," that it is not possible to learn everything at once. In his book "A brief History of Time," astrophysicist Stephen Hawking wrote, "Time is what prevents everything from happening at once." Which we can interpret to mean that it is not possible to learn everything about fly-fishing in one day.

If you have fly fished for a few years you know that you are still learning. You learn when you go to stream, pick up a magazine, go to a club meeting, or when you take a class. It would impossible for our 'students' to learn in a few hours what we have taken all these years to discover. Our novices can hardly be expected to learn all about tippets, leaders, casting and insects in one outing. Upon reflection, I think I expected too much the first two or three times I took beginners out. On this year's trips I worked solely (okay mainly) on casting. I tied on flies and explained a bit about leaders and equipment, but the main objective for the first day on the water was to learn to make a basic cast. And, of course, to try to correct the three or four common mistakes made by all beginners.

This may sound too simplistic and you may think I was spoiling the beginners, but it does seem to work better if the beginner can concentrate in one thing during the maiden fly-fishing outing. Hopefully after the first trip their interest is aroused enough to do some reading. Hopefully they pick up enough information during the first trip to better understand what they read in the magazines or books.

Norm Sutherland I always make sure there are plenty of sandwiches, cold water and juice in the cooler. Beginners get hungry, thirsty and may actually get physically tired. It depends on age and perhaps the type of work they do for a living. Teenagers are perpetually hungry. Older folk not accustomed to walking along rocky streams may tire more than you'd expect. These are people who may never have worn waders before, and the pair they borrowed are not likely the most comfortable. Plan the day accordingly and take a break now and then.

The one thing we can't ignore while on the first trip is a little entomology. Connecting fly- fishing to the insects is not only logical, it is important from an educational point of view. The insects we try to imitate are the reason we fly-fish in the first place.

I am always thrilled at the amazement shown by novices when we turn over a rock to find a small mayfly nymph wiggling around. It gets better when I tell them briefly about the life cycle. Perhaps we'll find an adult mayfly dun caught up in a backwater, or maybe a few mayflies are hatching. I explain that a few minutes ago the pretty insects were 'creepy crawlies' like the ones under the rock. I usually have a nymph or mayfly dry fly in a fly box that looks like the nymph or dun. Mental gears grind. A look of enlightenment befalls the novice, and you can imagine them thinking, "Oh! This is why we are here."

This business about the insects and fly fishing is more important than the details about tippets and knots–all stuff than can be learned at home anyway. It's so darned important because it's the bugs that make fly-fishing a reality and I strongly feel it's something that needs to be pointed out on the stream. (Note that I said "pointed out." We can hardly go into all the details about bugs. I don't know the details anyway.)

My approach may sound like a lax way of teaching, but it is not something I do on a regular basis, nor for a living. If I did, then I might be more organized or structured in my approach. For now I'll just keep it simple.

This week's closing thought comes from Henry Rutgers (The founder of the State University of New Jersey): Don't let your studies interfere with your education.

As fly-fishers, we might interpret Colonel Henry's idea to mean something like: Book learning is fine, but a day on the stream teaches best. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada
Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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