Intention leads each step. His head slowly turns, and his eyes scan the stream. I imagine his brain is processing dozens of variables, characterizing his surroundings with precision. 

His left hand pulls line from the reel, gathering the line in small loops in his ring and pinky fingers. Every moment feels measured and practiced, there is no wasted effort. He leans forward, bent slightly at the waist, looking like a tiptoeing child sneaking up on an unsuspecting friend. Eyes narrowed to a target and shoulders squared, he quickly moves his right arm backward ending with a snap.  

Andy Becker Dissecting A Reach

The line rolls out behind him. With an efficient movement forward to a crisp, short stop, his line reverses to extend before him. A size 16 parachute fly lands softly on a current seam moving slightly slower than the bubbles floating in the adjacent current. My guess is the fly lands within inches of its target. 

There is no movement in his casting arm, resting in the target position. His left hand continues to retrieve the slack as his fly tracks toward him. After a few seconds drifting the fly, he lifts the rod and line, pauses, and redirects the line and fly to another seam. Four to five seconds and he’s satisfied he has covered another lie. Lift, redirect, and recast. Four to five seconds, repeat. On the fifth drift, a flash of an orange bellied brook trout ends the repeated searching with a splash. With a similar controlled motion to the short cast, the hook is set. 

Beautiful Brook Trout

Calmly directing the tip of the fly rod to the bank, he keeps the fish in the water until it reaches his hand. A broad smile lights his face as he removes the hook and slides the fish from his hand back into the water. He looks back at me, beaming, “You’re up.”

 For perhaps the first time, the thought of sitting and watching my friend fish may be more appealing to me than casting a line myself. With the ache of an aging body loosening up after a long drive, I stand up from sitting on the log and switch places with my companion. 

Fishing with a friend is a great way to spend a day. Fishing with an acquaintance can be a crapshoot (think A River Runs Through It). Fishing with someone with thoughtful, practiced skills is an absolute joy for me, like watching a great artist or musician. 

Fly fishing and watching fly fishing are two of my favorite activities. Doing them simultaneously was an ideal learning experience for me. To observe a talented angler and then immediately put new ideas into practice helped me to try and improve my skills. My companion functioned as a muse, coach, and entertainer all at once.

Northern Pennsylvania Stream

Adapting lessons from YouTube is helpful, but sometimes I struggle with translating what I see on a screen to a real-life application. The gains from that type of learning feel slow and incremental, and with even slight frustration I can revert to old habits. The rhythm of watching then fishing then watching again prevents frustration from ever building within me. I also can isolate individual techniques or even movements in each turn of fishing. 

Fishing with a guide has tremendous potential benefits, but also has some challenges. Consistent, positive instruction from a professional fly fishing teacher is invaluable for me, it also comes with an underlying pressure. The pressure to impress someone and to meet expectations exists in both directions in the Guide-Client relationship. A strain can be created in that circumstance, even if it is unconscious or subtle, limiting the amount of information I can retain. 

There are things to learn each time we fish. It’s one of the things I love most about fly fishing. Watching a companion, regardless of their skill and experience, can help us see something we have not seen before. If I can find the ability to let go of my competitive ego armor or my “know it all” shield, and instead open my learning mindset, I become a student instead of a competitor. My trip with Andy last weekend opened my mind to that distinction, and hopefully future opportunities to learn. Sometimes a new perspective only takes a seat on a streambank and the promise that “You’re Up.”

Keep Mending…        

One Reply to “You’re Up –  Learning While Fishing With a Friend”

  1. “You’re up!” I like that way of sharing an experience!
    Like the old line, “It’s your turn!” Resonates with our memories of someone giving us a chance!
    I hope you have many more times like this where you are an active learner!

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