Teaching Loved Ones to Fly Fish

By Rob Breeding

There’s a theory many of us male fly fishing zealots repeat as if it were gospel: Teaching your wife to fly fish is more likely to result in divorce than a lifelong partner on the water.

I suppose this goes equally for the less common instance of a female fly fisher teaching her husband to fish, but I don’t know that one from experience. I do know that I once taught my wife to fly fish, and now she’s my ex, but I can’t really say there was a causal relationship.

Why do so many of us believe teaching a spouse to fly fish is a path fraught with peril? Fly fishing, or more specifically fly casting, isn’t rocket science, but it can be tricky to master. The casting stroke, with its “power … pause … power … pause,” rhythm is counter intuitive. Some folks see others doing it and then the moment you place a fly rod in their hand they start waving it above their head like a it’s an over-sized magic wand.

When you point out that they’re not supposed to tie their leader into a thousand wind knots, they say something like, “It looked so peaceful when I watched ‘A River Runs Through It.’”

Mastering fly casting requires patience and practice, over an extended period of time. That’s a challenge for any marriage.

I do suspect women make better students than men. I base that conclusion on the unscientific sampling of newbies I gave a crash course in fly casting when I used to guide.

“I’ve never fly fished before,” they’d tell me, “but you’re a guide so you can teach me, right?”

The answer I didn’t dare speak went something like this: “Are you nuts? I spent three months in my front yard practice casting on grass before I ever went near a trout stream, and you think 15-minutes of quickie instruction before we set out on an eight-hour float is a ticket to to looking as good as a shadow-casting Brad Pitt?”

But what came out of my mouth was that I’d do my best to get the sport started, but I made no promises other than that we’d work hard to get fish in the boat.

Women, probably as a matter of that gender’s greater capacity for patience, seemed to take to this casting crash course better than men.

I usually ended the day suggesting that if they really loved the experience, they ought to seek out an experienced instructor when they get home rather than spending time with their hubby trying to perfect their casting stroke.

That’s actually the best bit of advice I have if you’re interested in getting your special someone into fly fishing. If they seem truly interested take them out a time or two for short excursions where the odds of success are stacked in your favor. Duck Lake, up on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in the early spring, is great for this. Nice 15- to 20-inch rainbows cruise about in pods of 10 or more fish, all within easy casting distance from shore. You tie a scud on under a strike indicator and wait.

If your companion gets a few fish and can’t stop talking about the experience during dinner, get on the phone ASAP and line them up with lessons. You’ll reap the rewards the next time you head to the water and your special someone starts passing along tips picked up from the pro.

Resist the urge to force things. Ultimately they’ll have to commit themselves to fly fishing. You can get them started, but at some point you have to get out of the way and let them learn on their own. I have to keep reminding myself to stop hovering when my kids fly fish. They’re adults now. They don’t need a helicopter dad coaching their every move on the water.

Rob Breeding writes and teaches and when he’s not fishing or hunting.

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