Neil Travis - August 1, 2011

When my nephew and I, who just happens to be a fly fishing outfitter and guide, get together the conversation usually turns to fly fishing. In fact, it always turns to fly fishing. I guess that I am to blame for that because he was always following me around like a puppy dog when we were younger and he picked up all my bad habits. [Love of nature, fly fishing, etc.] Being 8½ years my junior, and without any siblings until he was older, I was like an older brother. Eventually I taught him how to fish with a fly rod and how to tie flies. He has surpassed his teacher in both areas. Tom is a fly fisherman's fly fisher. He eats, sleeps, drinks and lives fly fishing. An outfitter and fly fishing guide with over 30 years' experience his knowledge and expertise are extensive. He has owned a successful fly shop, guided hundreds of anglers, is an accomplished fly tyer with an international reputation, and an excellent angler. An angling bibliophile, his knowledge of angling history is extraordinary, so when we get together our conversation always drifts [no pun intended] to something involving fly fishing. For Tom, life is fly fishing and fly fishing is life.

Now perhaps you have known someone like my nephew, or perhaps you are such a person. However, the reality is that not everyone that fishes with a fly rod has the desire to become like you. In fact, the vast majority of fly flingers do not aspire to those heights. Unfortunately, not everyone realizes that and the results can be somewhat unpleasant.

I had a good friend years ago and at that time he was one of the top guides on the Yellowstone River. He died several years ago, but whenever I'm on the Yellowstone I can't help thinking about him. If he had clients in his boat that were either not experienced in fishing from a boat or if they were not doing it exactly like he thought they should you could hear him coming long before his boat came in view. Like Captain Ahab on the pitching deck of the Pequod shouting out orders as they pursued the white whale, he would be shouting out orders to the clients in his boat.

"Cast closer to the bank. Over there next to that log."

If he was really wound up the orders might be laced with some expletives. "Hit the bank ##%$****, Hit the ##%++**** bank!"

His expectations were that ever fly fisher that got in his boat could put their fly in the right place each time they cast. If you were a competent fly fisher he was the greatest guide you could have wanted, but Lord have mercy on you if you weren't. His expectations of your ability could ruin your entire day.

It's one thing to have someone else have certain expectations about your abilities, but what about your own? I have had the opportunity to watch anglers fishing on spring creeks and tail waters which offer some of the more challenging fresh water fly fishing situations. In addition, I have had the privilege of talking to some of the top guides that routinely guide anglers on these waters. What becomes obvious after watching anglers fishing on these waters and discussions with the guides that guide them is that many anglers have unrealistic expectations about these waters and their abilities to fish them. While the fish that live in these waters are not more educated than fish in freestone streams or still waters the conditions under which they live make the angling more technical.

What do I mean by more technical? A fish that lives in a stream characterized by fast water and heavy currents only has a split second to decide if what is floating by in the current is food. A fish living in a spring creek or tail water where the flows are slower and the water is clearer has more time to analyze each morsel that presents itself for his consideration. In addition, the freestone fish normally has less food to choose from than does his relative in a spring creek or tail water. For the angler that means that your presentation needs to be better on the whisper smooth currents of a spring creek with all their subtle nuances and whorls. Generally the flies are smaller, the tippets are finer, and the weeds are more plentiful on most spring creek waters. This does not mean that you need to be a flawless caster to catch trout on a spring creek, but unless you have honed your skills beyond those needed to be successful on most freestone streams don't expect to have a banner day when you step into a spring creek. We live in a 'point and click' generation; a generation that is consumed with instant gratification. We want what we want and we want it now, but some things cannot be obtained by doing a 'Google' search.

I started out fishing before I was hardly out of short pants, and I took up serious fly fishing when I was barely out of my teens. Over the intervening decades The Lord has blessed me with good health, steady employment, the opportunity to explore all phases of fly fishing and ample resources to enjoy my retirement. I have tied flies and taught others how to do it, I learned to cast with a fly rod and taught others how to do it, I have guided others as a professional, and in the process have been blessed with the ability to fish some of the premier fresh water venues across this country. That being said, I know of many people who are better fly tiers than I am, better fly casters, better guides, and I know many people that have fished far more places and caught more and bigger fish than I ever have or ever will. However, I never expected to be the best fly fisher, the best fly tier, or the best guide. My expectations were to be a competent fly fisher, tier and guide, and with that I have been content. I have been willing to let others via for the title of greatest this or greatest that. After all it's only fly fishing, and at the end of the day or a life it really is only a small facet of what I hope people remember about me.

What are your expectations when it comes to fly fishing?

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