To many, flyfishing is a solitary pursuit. Long moments on a river spent with their own thoughts are broken by brief periods of communal meals, laughter, and lies. A buddy can be 50 yards downstream, just close enough to hear gleeful shouts at a good hook up, or shouted curses as one breaks off, yet not close enough to disturb the serene, babbling water that washes the rest of the world away. I have never been one of those people. I find the best moments in life are those shared with the ones we care for the most, and fishing is no different. I enjoy sharing the process with my friends, or fishing buddies.
Mind you, those friends must go through a rigorous screening process. Everyone can’t be allowed into that sacred space. Plenty of friends are great to share a finger of rum with, talk about the family, or even share deep thoughts and dreams. On the water with a fly rod is another matter entirely. That’s church. There, the wrong person can transform a small slice of paradise into just another bland place in this world. The right person brings an explosion of color into even the dullest day. They are few and far between.
I have several fishing buddies that have been part of my life for a very long time. One of them stands above the rest, and I made sure I married her. Who better to pass those selection criteria than the person you decide to be your partner in life? I know, a lot of you are already laughing (or shouting…or worse) and think I’m crazy. I admit, my marriage isn’t normal. Kellie was a guide when she was younger on the Little Red. She’d mastered trout fishing, landed salmon, and fought smallies before she’d ever met me. Sure, that made my screening a lot easier. She already shared my appetite for fly fishing. She also shared my passion for life, and we unquestionably share passion for one another.
Passion. Isn’t that what angling truly is? Isn’t that what we all really want in our partner? Your significant other may not understand fishing, but would probably like to know why you’re obsessed. Try letting them in. Invite them along, and like you, they may just discover the beautiful places our fish live, the skill required to hook and land them, our connection to nature as we try, and the healing the water provides. If you’re still reading, then you likely haven’t thrown your hands up at the thought of being on the water with your spouse (or girl/boyfriend). However, you’re probably unluckier than me and didn’t marry an angler. At this point, you’re receptive to the thought of inviting that special someone into your magical place, but just don’t know where to start. Kellie and I have been asked how we manage it before, and I have a few suggestions.
TIP #1: EASE INTO IT
You’re already in love with our sport. That means you’ve already accepted some things your loved one will have to ease into. That first trip can’t be ice in the guides, numb feet, Erie steelhead fishing. Fighting off mosquitos and No See Ums at sunset on your local pond may not be the best initiation either. Sure, I get it. The fish are rising, but trust me, this isn’t the way. Instead, choose a serene and beautiful location you know is likely to produce a few fish. Keep the trip at a few hours to a half day trip. Let your partner be introduced to the best of what we do. If they like it, then they’ll see the other stuff soon enough!
TIP #2: THIS IS NOT A NORMAL DAY
Waking up at 3:30am, fumbling through making a pot of coffee while half asleep, stumbling to the truck, and then stopping for a gas station gut buster and the day’s provision of Slim Jims might be the norm…for you. You’re anxious, excited, and hopeful about what the day might bring. No kid has ever been more excited on Christmas morning. However, throwing the non-initiated into the pre-dawn ritual isn’t going to work out well for either of you. Plan a day that includes time to get ready, some comfort items, no rushing, and remember you’re trying to show someone else a good time. I’m sure you’re in tune with what that will take, and if not, you now have the chance to learn.
TIP #3: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
This may be the most important thing to remember. Today’s trip, or maybe even the next dozen, aren’t about you. They’re about her (or him), and ultimately the two of you together. If you’re hoping this will be the start of a genuine lifetime fishing partner situation, then you have to be the guide. I’m not just talking about being the fishing guide. You are the trip planner, the logistician, the tour director, and the guide on the water. You’re hoping your most special someone may just change their life to join you on a regular basis. Show them a good time! Help them rig. Coach them through their time on the water. Have a shore lunch. Be the net guy. Take a break when they get tired, and end the day when they’re ready. Then go relive the experience over some drinks and great food.
TIP#4: PATIENCE AND HUMILITY
Some of you have been waving a long rod around for decades. Your partner is just starting. They may never be at your level, nor do they need to be. Sooner or later they’ll reach a level of competency allowing you to graduate from Ghillie, but until then your role is as much mentor as fishing buddy. You’ll need to teach knots, rigging, fly selection, tactics, and everything under the sun. Sharing your knowledge can be a reward in and of itself. You’ll also need to know when you just don’t have the aptitude or capability to be helpful. For example, soon your partner will begin their voyage casting, and you my friend are not a suitable captain. Lefty Kreh frequently said he could teach anyone to cast except his wife. Unless you’d like to forego some fishing trips for couples counseling, you’d do well to heed his advice. Hire a casting instructor, or ask a friend, but unless you are among the rarest of breeds, admit you’re not equipped for this task.
TIP #5: HAVE THE RIGHT GEAR
Everything about this process can be exciting and fulfilling, but this part is just plain fun! Along this journey you get to help outfit your partner. In the beginning, they’ll need their own rod. Sure one of your spares may do the trick, but it’s always nice to have something of your own. You don’t have to go overboard. I find the TFO Bug Launcher in 4/5 or 5/6 are exceptional trout and panfish rods, and their finish and smaller handles are especially appealing to ladies. The NXT Black Label is also a great entry level rod that has a smooth action, and is available in 5 or 8 weights. Both rod series are affordable, available in full outfits, are sure to provide years of use, and are backed by a lifetime warranty. As your partner develops a feel for what they like you get an instant gift list, and actually are required to visit fly shops. You’ll want waders, chest packs, stripping baskets, rods, reels…and maybe a second mortgage!
From Michigan, to the Carolina Coast, to Alaska, and many points between, I’ve shared my love of flyfishing with the love of my life. I introduced Kellie to saltwater flyfishing, and she’s shared her expertise on trout streams. We’ve fished in waders, on kayaks, and from boats. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve cursed like sailors. What we don’t have are arguments about going fishing, because it’s an integral part of our marriage. It’s part of who we are. It can also be part of who you are. You may have to chart a different course, but after all, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”
All the best.
Words and Photos by Chris Thompson. Chris is a TFO Ambassador based out of coastal North Carolina. He is a former veteran of the USMC who does a lot of work with the non-profit organization Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., and spends more time helping veterans get introduced (and obsessed) with fly fishing.