We pride ourselves on the experience and know-how of our guide staffs at our lodges, many of whom have extensive guiding and/or fishing experience from all over the globe. That means we’re extremely fortunate to pull from a huge braintrust of uber-fishy people to consistently bring you the latest and greatest in fly fishing.
With that in mind, we’re excited to kick off the first installment of a new series of posts we’re calling “Guide Polls” where our team of professional guides weigh in to answer common questions asked by you, our readers!
Today, we’re kicking off the series with a question inspired by a Deneki guest who asked the following:
“What is the difference between a good fly fisher and an elite fly fisher? In other words, how do those of us who are ‘pretty good’ move up to the ‘elite’ level, that 10% who catch 90% of the fish?”
So, without further ado.. Take it away, team!
What’s the Difference Between a ‘Good’ and an ‘Elite’ Fly Angler?
Dan Herrig, Owner/Guide, Deneki Outdoors: “Experimentation. Don’t get stuck doing the same thing. Educate yourself on the biology of fishes, why they are triggered by certain actions/colors. Also, be in tune with weather patterns and tides. Water is the fishes home. If something changes in your house and you don’t like it, your mood will change too!”
Jim Palmersheim, Guide, Alaska West: “Understanding the importance of reading the water, proper fly selection and presentation, line management, and observation.”
Kyle Shea, Head Guide, Alaska West. “Elite anglers maximize the amount of time their fly spends in the water. Excess false casting, fly changes, knot untangling, sink-tip swaps, and pee breaks (okay, maybe don’t skimp on those) all add up over the course of the day to time when your fly is not in the water, you know, where it can catch fish. Sure, there’s a time to re-rig, and everyone has to fix a tangle or dig a fly out of the bushes every now and then, but anything you can do to maximize the amount of time your fly actually spends fishing, the more fish you’re going to catch in the long-term. Always.”
Jason Whiting, Operations Manager/Guide, Alaska West. “Line management. The ability to control and manipulate your fly line from casting, to mending, to retrieving your fly, to setting the hook, to fighting your fish all add up to successfully bringing fish to hand. After all, the success of your fly truly depends on your ability to manage the line that is attached to it. How do you become better at line management? Get out there and fish.. It’s good for you.”
Ben West, Guide, Alaska West: “I would say to diversify the fish that you target. It’s incredible how the skills can transfer from one fish to the next. Take carp for example; they are found throughout most of our country and are a prime fish to target with a fly rod. They are tough to catch though, but if you hone up your skills on carp found near home, you will find the casting and presentation skills, the stealth approach, and the sight fishing practice they offer will greatly increase your confidence on the saltwater flats as well. The more fish you target the more skills you acquire in all regards.”
Rob Rymph, Guide, Rapids Camp Lodge: “Without claiming to be an expert or ‘elite’ angler myself (always learning is part of the game), I find that time on the water or ‘TOW’ makes the biggest difference. Casting, playing fish, rigging, and knot tying all need to be second nature. The sixth sense of the “fish whisperers” will come over time – hours, days, months, and years of observing and learning about the fish in their natural habitat. We could also touch on fish juju and good vibes and that aspect of things. Often times the people catching 90% percent of the fish are having 90% of the fun as well, which is what fishing is all about!”
Ryan Gossett, Guide, Alaska West: “I would say the biggest thing that separates average fisherman from elite fisherman is observation. Too often people get caught up on “what the book says” or how you’re “supposed to do things.” The river is a dynamic ecosystem, and will be different from day to day, and even minute to minute. If you are able to adapt to the conditions as they change you will become much more successful no matter the style of fishing or species you target. The river knows best!”
Tom Houska, Guide, Alaska West: “The difference between a ‘good’ and ‘elite’ fly angler is as simple as time spent on the water. Like any other discipline time is the only teacher. The more diverse your fishing background the better you will be able to adapt to any given situation. While every outing doesn’t necessarily come with an astronomical epiphany of how to be a better fisherman, the nuances of each hour spent on the river will add up quickly.”
Cole Cook, Guide, Alaska West: “Look at your surroundings. None of us learn anything without being observant and conscious of what we’re doing. Some of the most difficult questions to find the answer to are in the most obvious places. Pay attention while you fish and do your homework when it comes to reading water. Different critters live in different water. Once you dial that in, life becomes a whole lot easier.”
Lucas Young, Guide, Alaska West: “Dedication and seriousness. Fly fishing is obviously fun and that’s why we all enjoy it, but those who take their fun seriously are going to excel at it. For example, don’t just learn a single knot to use, learn lots of different knots and take the time to understand when to use each one and how they impact your fishing. It takes dedication to delve into the minutiae that abounds in this sport but it also makes you more knowledgeable and well-rounded as an angler. Watch youtube videos, read books and blogs, attend seminars or classes, and don’t be afraid to ask questions when around other anglers, especially the more experienced ones. And fish more, because all the knowledge in the world doesn’t mean squat if you don’t put it into practice, and true understanding grows with accumulating experience.”
Cole Leishman, Guide, Alaska West: “Casting skills and line management. An elite angler casts well, hitting the mark nearly every time and presents the fly properly to their target. Whether it’s trout, salmon, bonefish, tarpon, etc. — be able to make THAT cast and present the fly properly. To get to this level, go fishing more! Learn how to fish in a variety of conditions on the same piece of water. Knowing what to do in a given condition can make the difference between a fishless day and a memorable one. If you’re having trouble with your cast or getting to the next level, hire a reputable local guide or casting instructor to get you there.”
Have a question you want answered by our team of professional fly fishing guides? Drop us a comment below!
JC Weeks says
Kyle & Co.
I hope all is going well in AK! As we all know you guys are some of the best guides in the industry! So with that said, What’s the Difference Between a ‘Good’ and an ‘Elite’ Guide?
I realize that most who answered this probably responded quickly and from their particular area of expertise, but if you only answered from the the perspective of fly fishing…you failed! ? Well not really…to be fair, you asked the question twice…first time you said “angler”, the second time “fly angler”. The definition of angler refers to taking fish by hook and line, usually for recreational purposes. In my opinion, any angler, fly or otherwise, that is well versed in many species, several techniques (fly/spinning/baitcasting etc.), many lures, knots etc. is going to have a broader knowledge base and more to draw from. I’m in agreement with every thing mentioned by those who responded, but there’s more to it.
From observing, reading, and experience (been fishing since 1960…and still learning) here’s my $0.02: Learn about several species…well…biology, habitat, temps, seasons etc. There can be lots of techniques that “cross over”…and some that don’t. I’d also say lots of casts, retrieves, and drifts…but they have to be good ones…make ’em count! Lots of time with many lures and flies…and then we pick out a few handfuls that work most of the time…same thing with knots: learn a bunch and narrow it down.
“No one knows more than us than all of us”-steelheader Bill Herzog
“There’s no end to what I DON’T know!”- Me
I should have mentioned in my above way-too-long comment the reason I started reading your website:
I was fishing some New England flats…some of it sight fishing…for striped bass with very limited daytime success (nights we do well!). I enjoyed the challenge, and also wanted to fish with more shrimp-type flies…caught a few bass on Crazy Charlies. I thought, who knows more about shallow water spooky fish than bone fisherman! I’ve since read almost everything on your site…can’t get enough of it. Flies, wind, casting…great stuff!
Gary G. says
When I think of “elite” anglers, a guy like Andy Mill comes to mind as a multi Gold Cup champion. It’s been said of Andy, that what separates him from all of us mere mortals is the fact that he has the ability to feed fish that don’t want to eat.