Time on the river is perhaps the best teacher for a fly angler. However, when you are beginning your journey in fly fishing, it is incredibly helpful to have mentors beyond books and YouTube videos. There are amazing resources online and in print but seeing the movements of another angler and hearing their explanations helps to build confidence in your interpretations of what you are learning from passive resources. My friends Mark and Brian helped to jump start my progression as an angler. Ultimately it is up to each of us to find and follow our own paths and commit our time and resources to what we choose to pursue.
As I have built skill and knowledge from time on the river by myself, with friends, and with guides, as well as through classes, videos, and books, an unfortunate side effect occurred. With an increase in knowledge, I have also seen an increase in righteousness and ego. I keep it at bay the best I can, but I will compare myself to other anglers on the water, wondering if I have more skill than them. Part of me is seeking affirmation that I have improved, and part of me is looking for those more skilled than myself so I can watch and learn from them. The other part that I’m not so fond of is the judgmental, egotistical one. I don’t think it’s a dominant portion of my personality, but the thoughts still run through my head.
In fly fishing, as with most things in life, we are primarily competing with ourselves. Making the team isn’t the final goal. Even winning the championship shouldn’t be the final goal. For me continual improvement and enjoyment of my time are my goals. Competition can create a drive to grow, a motivation to achieve, but it can also create aggression and ill will.
When I encounter others who have a strong motivation to teach or give back, I am always appreciative. These are the people that keep a knowledge base growing. They are builders. They take their time and thoughtfully share. They aren’t afraid of letting too many people in on secrets. They protect our resources and share lessons to those who respect traditions, understand history, and seek constant improvement.
I was fortunate to watch a presentation this week by Dr. Stephen Wright, a fellow board member of the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Dr. Wright shared his experiences on fishing the West Branch of the Delaware River and the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. He was generous, thorough, and open in what he shared. Not only did he provide tips and tactics, but he celebrated the influential fly shops, fly anglers, fly tiers, and history of each region. His skill in fly tying and fishing was apparent, but it was delivered in a humble, encouraging way.
Dr. Wright is an impressive educator, who has also helped others learn through his career as an Extension Agent and a leader of the Extension system in Maryland and Ohio. Outreach, education and offering expert solutions for a variety of agricultural, environmental, business, health, and wellbeing activities are part of the mission of the national Extension service.
Dr. Wright also shared some background on a story he authored that was published in the Journal of the American Museum of Fly Fishing (Fall 2021, Volume 47, #4). He bought a fly-tying workstation and researched its original owner, only to discover a wonderful story of her efforts as an influential tier in the 1930’s and 40’s. I signed up as a member of the museum and I am looking forward to reading the article once it is posted. Prior to my meeting with Dr. Wright in the last few weeks, I had no idea of his background, knowledge, and talents. Although, I knew that he was thoughtful and generous with his time and that he was an avid fisherman. I hope to fish with Dr. Wright at some point in the future and learn even more from and with him. His presentation provided me with further encouragement to continue to strive for learning, to share what I observe and discover, and to keep the competitive, egomaniac in check on the water.