Summer Fly Fishing Challenge

by Brad Richey June 02, 2016

The summer fly fishing season is upon us at last. I've outlined five "challenges" I will be attempting to do all summer to improve my skills and knowledge as an angler. Think of them as fishing resolutions. So without further ado here are the five challenges:

Madison River Outfitters Fly Shop West Yellowstone

1) Flip a rock every trip! 

If you've sat down with a few fly fishing books I can guarantee you've read something along these lines before: "Upon arriving at the river flip over a rock and observe what aquatic insects are on it." I think we can all agree this is great advice yet very few of us actually do it. No matter how well you think you know your rivers insect life you'll always gain some insight into the current river conditions by doing this simple task. A wet hand and 15 seconds of your time is a pretty small price to pay to know what the aquatic insects are up to. 

2) Explore New Water

This rule is designed to get us all out of our comfort zone a little bit. Most anglers have certain stretches of rivers that they know like the back of their hand and love to fish. I consider myself to be one of these anglers. We know where the fish are going to be and know how to effectively fish these lies, plus it's comforting to go there and usually catch something. There's nothing wrong with this at all, but it's stunting your growth as an angler. New water forces us to thoughtfully read the water and identify where the fish are. It forces us to identify the best way to fish a run. In general, it gets the gears in your head turning again. In addition to improving your skills, you may just find a few spots worth returning to in the future. I personally plan on enacting "New-Water Wednesday" this summer. Every Wednesday will be reserved for exploring a stretch of river that I've never fished before. I realize most people reading this won't be able to fish every Wednesday so set your own rule. Maybe one in every five outings will be on new water. Maybe one in every three. It's up to you, but make sure to switch up your routine and fish new water this summer. 

3) Keep a Conditions log 

Notice how I didn't call it a journal. Nothing at all against journals but they give off the impression of being time consuming and seem like quite a commitment for the angler who is hesitant to record his outings (myself included). So here's a slightly easier solution: at the start of your fishing outing take a photo/screenshot of the weather report. Throughout your outing take a few pictures as you normally would. Most smartphones organize the photos you take by the date they were taken. Then, all you have left to do is briefly summarize your day of fishing on your phone or laptop. Then at the end of the season you can copy and paste the images and summaries into a conditions log for the year. Of course a simple pen and paper works just as well and is more straightforward. Either way, if you do not already keep a log or journal of some sort, commit yourself to this challenge. It will reveal patterns that you never caught onto before that will improve your knowledge in addition to being a pretty entertaining read during the winter months.

4) Master a new cast 

Pick a cast you've been wanting to learn or get better at. A curve cast? A parachute cast? How bout a tuck cast? Maybe it's time to perfect that double haul. Now set aside some time every week to work on this. It doesn't have to be a lot of time, ten to twenty minutes is perfect. Maybe during your lunch break. Several short sessions are better than one long one. Also, make sure you do this casting away from any fishy distractions so you can focus on your casting mechanics (which can be learned from online videos or books) and not the good looking run at your feet. An old rod and line that you don't care that much about is perfect for this task, as it enables you to cast on grass or gravel without having to worry about line maintenance. If you can, keep it rigged up as this will make it more convenient to cast, and therefore more likely you will do it. 

5) Delve into a New Technique

As fly fisherman we all have our own favorite techniques. There's everything from the angler who won't cast their slow action bamboo rod until they see a riser to the angler who refuses to throw anything but big streamers on their 7 weight with sinking line. But in order to be effective fisherman we must learn and understand different techniques because they all will shine this upcoming season at different times. When the Madison is high and off color, the streamer angler might have the day of their life, while the dry fly fisherman won't have a single target to cast too. On the other hand, come PMD time in July the dry fly fisherman may have a great day, while the streamer fisherman is sending trout scurrying for cover from his six inch articulated pattern. The bottom line is if you want to be a truly effective angler you must be willing to adjust your technique to give the fish what they want. A new technique could be as simple as learning the basics involved with swinging soft hackle patterns. Maybe it's learning about tenkara fishing for some small stream exploits. There's always the dark side (nymphing) as well.

Euro styles of nymphing give an angler the ability to consistently catch fish on our western freestone rivers under almost any condition imaginable.

Every fishing season gives us an opportunity to improve our skills, yet few people make a conscientious effort to do so. However, when asked, most every angler wants to become better. Maybe you already do some of these challenges, or maybe all of these challenges just aren’t for you. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an angler that enjoys fishing dry flies so much that it is all that they want to do. In this case, the challenge of delving into a technique may not be appealing, which once again is absolutely fine. I also completely understand the angler who is content with the current standing of their knowledge and skills. The only thing that matters is that they are having fun on the water. However, I’ll leave you with this final thought. Fly fishing has a learning curve that is never ending. Its mysteries and intricacies will never be fully understood, even if we were to fish everyday till we die. This aspect of fly-fishing is what makes it so addictive and fascinating. By challenging ourselves to learn more and become better anglers, we gradually understand more about the sport and our quarry. I personally believe that the more skilled and knowledgeable we are about something, the more fun we have while doing it. The summer challenge may sound a bit arduous, but your skills and knowledge will increase without a doubt, and I believe this will lead to you having more fun on the water. So this summer either commit yourself to this challenge, or one you make yourself, and reap the rewards in the long run.

Brad Richey
Brad Richey


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