Our friend, Ed Brownfield, asked the question many want to know the answer to, and he wrote it perfectly:
Greg and Kelly
Love reading your blog although I am not a fisherman. It seems to be an expert fisherman you have to have lots, like years of experience! In addition to that you have to spend lots of $’s on equipment, flies, waders, tackle, licenses….. After investing lots of time and money in learning the sport and acquiring the equipment you have to travel the world seeking the best place to find the fish and then try to out smart them. I get it, but what I don’t understand is how two very bright guys (that’s you two) keep getting outsmarted by the fish???? I keep reading your blog and following your travels ……you meet nice people, enjoy wine and camp fires at beautiful campsites in the evening, eat great food, and fish for hours BUT you don’t catch fish. Ummmmmm just trying to understand the lure of failure (lack of bring home the bacon…or fish) or is fishing a way to celebrate a wonderful and long term friendship of two good guys and a way to enjoy the absolute beauty of nature? I am just trying to get a handle (understand) on a sport that’s unknown to me.
Your devoted follower
Thanks for the question Ed. We are hardly expert, although we have been fishing off and on throughout our lives. We grew up trout fishing Virginia’s small streams for Brook Trout, still my favorite fish. Ounce for ounce, the best fighting fish I have seen. They pounce on a fly, jump up in the air three or four times in a tiny pool, run upstream, downstream, duck under sticks, logs and rocks trying to get off the hook. A seven or eight-inch trout is a keeper in those streams and you could keep five of them a day. A native Brook Trout is still the best eating fish I know with a convenient handle on each end for eating and they are easy to clean.
We are as good as anyone fishing smallmouth bass on the Shenandoah or the James River. We are pretty good with largemouth bass. Fishing across Canada in 2013 we had to learn very different things. Many of the rivers were huge, deep, wild and scary. Over four months we learned we could catch Cutthroat Trout, but they are similar to Brook Trout. They will jump on most anything. We got better with Rainbow and Bull Trout, but it was a whole new game. You have to fish deep, and we like to fish the surface. It’s just more exciting to see a trout jump on a dry fly on the surface, but if you want to catch them, you have to do different things. We found Brown Trout to be even more finicky.
We are amateurs. A professional guide may fish the same stream every day. They talk with each other about what works and where it works. They guide people of all skills. It is often good to fish with a good guide on a river that is new to you. Then you can see what they use, how they use it and where they go. Trouble is that can $300-500 a day or even half day. Some guides are well-worth it. I met a man last night with a 30′ Airstream Classic who fishes all the time. He is here in Butternut Grove for the season. Then he will move south, fishing South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, fly fishing all the time. About 50% is salt water fly fishing. He ties his own flies and makes his leaders. That puts him in a pretty elite group.
These professionals have the best gear, and they also know how to throw a fly. Like watching Ernie Els swing a golf club, it is beautiful to watch. Effortlessly, they throw a fly twice as far as I can. With a flick they “mend the line” so there is no drag on the fly. They can target a rising fish and throw with pinpoint accuracy. I might try to swing my golf club like Ernie Els, but it’s never going to happen. However, the image of a great fly caster is a good thing to have in your mind. Kelly’s father was both a great golfer and a great trout fisherman. He did both effortlessly. Sometimes you get in the zone and for a while you are the master and you begin catching fish.
No matter what happens on a trout stream, it’s always good. Trout do not live in ugly places. Yes, we want to catch fish, the more the merrier, but when you stop and look around, it’s always pretty. I wouldn’t do well playing Pebble Beach golf course, but it sure is a beautiful place to be. I’d rather be on a trout stream, win, lose or draw. The challenge here is to get out of our comfort zone, stretch our abilities and learn new things, see new places, and meet new people.
The esthetics of trout fishing is great, but so too is the exercise. Maybe that’s why we like Brook Trout fishing. You continually walk the stream, fishing up the mountain all day. Then you have to walk back down to the car. Do that every day, and you will become very fit. Wading bigger streams and rivers in deep water is weight-lifting for the legs.
Every river is different. Often different sections of the same river are different. Fishing Penns Creek is vastly different than fishing the East Branch of the Delaware. So on a trip like this one, we are fishing a different river system every two or three days. Thank God for fly shops like Catskill Flies that tell us what to do and what to use. The people we have met on the streams and in campgrounds have been incredible. They readily share their knowledge of the area and in their fishing techniques. I need to take more pictures of them, but their images are forever etched in my brain.
An issue we were well-aware of is pressure. A book and a movie changed everything and brought millions of people to trout fishing – “A River Runs Through it”. On Virginia’s little streams, the pressure was too much, and many streams were fished out. Gradually things changed so you can no longer keep wild trout, and there are very few “natives” any more. Stocking is a necessity. Warming climates didn’t help, and acid rain changed the ph of the streams.
These famous streams we are pursuing get tremendous pressure. Every hole on the Beaverkill has a name and most have parking places. Access is easy, just drive your car to the hole and fish, get back in and drive to the next hole. These are well-educated fish, and you have to do everything just right.
Timing: the damned problem we have issue with may speak to our weakness. We need to be fishing at the same time as cocktail hour. The Golden Hour is just before sunset. I get up early, and by sunset I want to be fed and in bed. Summer is not the best time for trout fishing, as the waters warm. However, I am pleasantly surprised that the opportunities are still good.
We want to catch fish and show pictures of these beautiful fish. Hopefully we will be able to do that. Today is another opportunity. Thanks for the great question Ed.