Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines learning as “knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study.”
As most anglers will attest, that’s how we’ve gained the ability to successfully target (occasionally) different species of fish. That learning probably came from a plethora of sources. I count fishing guides, experienced anglers, the internet, television, books and magazines for a lot of what I’ve learned. If you’ve been around the water for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced that one of the best teachers of all is the mistakes we’ve made along the way.
I often vocalize the fact that “The more I know, the more I know how much I don’t know,” but recently that phrase came into sharper focus when I was fly fishing with an accomplished angler who is younger than I am. During several days on the water, he commented on several things I was doing that he thought, if changed, could improve my fishing. During that same time, I had a few critiques for him as well. At the time, both of us assumed we were right and the other was wrong. As it turned out he was right and so was I. I think in the end we both became better anglers as a result.
He criticized the fact that I trailed a few feet of fly line in the water when I was on the bow. I developed that habit as a way of getting a cast off quickly by being able to load the rod sooner, avoiding extra false casts. When I argued that the line being right beside the boat couldn’t possibly spook fish, in my mind I was right. As it turned out he was right and I was wrong, but for a different reason. As it turned out, not having that line in the water avoided getting it fouled with floating algae and grass and potentially blowing a shot at a fish. As it turned out, now that I have a few years of casting under my belt, I can get a cast off in plenty of time with less line. The trailing line wasn’t needed most of the time.
When he stepped up to the bow that same morning and didn’t stretch his fly line it was my turn for a critique. I make a habit of stripping off the line I think I’ll need and then cast it out and stretch it to be ready for a presentation. Most fly lines have what is called “memory” from sitting on the reel and form coils that can foul a cast in the guides if not stretched. The stretching relaxes the line. The day after that trip he texted me to say I would have laughed because he had chased a school of jacks on the beach and when he went to cast, the unstretched line fouled in the guides.
There are times when having a trailing line is useful, for example, when there’s poor visibility, and then only if you watch for floating debris. The same can be said for not stretching line when using a line with little or no stretch.
The lesson I learned in all of this is not to get fixed in doing something a certain way and becoming inflexible. Now I’ll attempt to listen first, reason, and argue later. The bottom line: Keep an open mind and never stop learning.