Personal Evolution in Fly Fishing

In the beginning, the cast, presentation and fly choice truly doesn’t matter.  As a new angler most are focused on catching a fish.  After I caught my first fish, I wanted to catch more fish, then I wanted to catch the biggest fish.  Now I’m evolving into new roles and have different goals for myself within the sport.

What is your fly fishing evolution?  Graphite to Fiber Glass or Bamboo?  Nymph fishing to technical dry fly or swinging soft hackles? Becoming a Mentor? Volunteering? Learning more how you can help on a legislative level?

First Fish on the Fly

My personal story is probably similar to some.  It took me an entire year to catch my first fish on the fly.  I’d go out to the river and fling a size #14 orange stimulator around, not having a clue.  I didn’t know what floatant or tippet was.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between a dry fly or nymph.  All I knew was fish didn’t live in ugly places and I was up for this fly fishing challenge.  After ONE YEAR, I finally caught a beautiful wild Westslope Cutthroat that measured a whopping 4 inches.  It didn’t matter, I did it!  I finally caught my first fish on the fly.

I couldn’t tell you what action rod I was using, what brand reel or the make of the line.  All I knew I was “hooked” on this sport and wanted to become the best angler that I could possibly be.  I started to get online, read books and took a Fly Fishing Level One class at Silver Bow Fly Shop.  I couldn’t soak up enough information and to this day I’m even more addicted.

Photo By: Eric Neufeld

Over the years I’ve had my fair share of evolution within the sport of fly fishing.  As I’ve grown as an angler, my casting has dramatically improved, I understand where fish live, their feeding behaviors and the lifecycles of many common bugs. With this growth I’ve been fortunate to catch more fish. In fact, I’ve been pretty lucky to catch a few “Fish of a Lifetime”.

If you look at my early posted photos you’ll quickly see a theme of the classic grip and grin pictures where most of the fish are hoisted out of the water.  I didn’t know any better.  Humans mimic what they see.  I saw photos of anglers with fish out of the water and wanted to be that angler.  I literally took a picture of every fish and probably handled them too long to get a mediocre photo.

As I’ve immersed myself into fly fishing, I’ve found an appreciation and love for every fish that I catch.  I want to do as little harm as I can and allow someone else the opportunity to experience the same joy that I did when catching the fish.  My personal mission is to show that IT’S COOL to properly handle your fish.

Phototarium – All Searun Coastal Cutthroat must be Released
With this decision, comes less likes, being unfollowed and some very hateful messages.  It amazes me that trying to be good to a resource that social media exploits brings out so much negativity.

I’m not perfect!  I’m sure there will be photos of me holding a fish out of the water in the future.  I know there will be times when I’ve done everything right and the fish does not survive. I’m trying to make a conscious effort at practicing what I preach and showing that you can think outside of the classic grip and grin to share your adventure and experience on the water.

What exactly does “Properly Handled” mean? It’s making every attempt to help the survival of a caught fish that I’ve decided to release.  It’s educating myself on the anatomy of fish and know where it’s safe to hold them. It’s keeping the fish in the water as much as possible.  It’s making every effort to hold the fish over the water, not over grass, rocks and inside the boat.  It’s understanding the different research of multiple fish species.  It’s only using bare, wet hands, when handling my fish.  It’s taking responsibility and doing what’s best for our resources.

Passing the Knowledge Along

Capturing the emotion of catching fish on the fly is a huge part of this sport!  Sometimes it’s just as important as learning the life cycle of mayflies or conserving the land around our rivers; it’s imperative to educate ourselves and others how to properly handle a fish for Catch and Release.

If you get a chance in 2019, I’d love for you to sit in on my “Proper Fish Handling” presentation.   You’ll learn how to catch and release properly for safe and responsible fishing.  We’ll cover anatomy and physiology of a trout, creative photo ideas to think outside of the box from the classic grip and grin, discuss the KeepEmWet principles and tips and learn about the latest camera equipment to help capture a fish in the water.  I’ll be presenting at the Denver, New Jersey and Atlanta Fly Fishing Shows.

I’ve worked hard to help create a welcoming community to all anglers.  I’ve become a much better angler and have caught my fair share of fish.  What I’m most proud of is, my evolution of proper fish handling and having the courage to discuss it!

What’s your fly fishing evolution?

2 thoughts on “Personal Evolution in Fly Fishing

  1. Good on you Heather! I’m doing the same thing with my new guide business. I’m going with the keepemwet vision from the very beginning since this where I am anyway. I’m trying to have a business where it’s a great day out we might catch some fish, we will release them with best practice, we will definitely see platypus and I will provide Brookie cookies! I refuse to be a number’s guide and that’s all we’re doing. There are others that they can hire for that.
    Thanks for educating and sorry to hear there were nasty comments. What’s that about??? I just don’t understand….

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