Ask the Experts: What’s the Best Piece of Advice You’ve Ever Received?

Taking the time to practice your casting will pay huge dividends on the water.
Photo by Eric Weissleder

A while ago, we introduced a periodical “Ask the Experts” Column and asked you to pose some questions for our panel of experts. The second question comes from reader Duke Hudkins, who wrote: “Best piece of advice you have gotten from someone about fishing?”

The one piece of advice that I return to often came from a fellow guide, Jim Thibodeau, with whom I worked at Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge in Montana. We had just arrived on the banks of the Yellowstone in Paradise Valley, and I was starting to wade in. “Hold on!” Jim shouted. “You haven’t even looked at the water.” Jim explained the he always spent a couple minutes standing well back from the water, observing. He looked for fish, bugs, good fish lies, and potential wading problems. Only after he had had gathered all the information he could did he choose a fly and make his first cast.

In the years since, I have caught many trout that I would have otherwise stepped on or spooked had I simply jumped right in. In those first couple minutes of observation, you can learn important tidbits that have a profound effect on your angling experience for the whole day: which bugs are in the grass or the streamside bushes, for example. It’s time well spent.

As you’ll see from our experts’ answers below, there are many different ways to look at the question, and opinions vary. If you’ve got a question you’d like to ask our panel, write it in the comments section below.

Brown Hobson, Brown Trout Fly Fishing (Asheville, North Carolina):
I was guiding one day, and conditions changed dramatically. I totally lost my grip on what the fish were doing. My buddy, Brownie Liles, told me, “When you lose your bite, sometimes you just have to hunker down in a spot you know holds fish and keep changing things until you figure it out.” I’ve found it can be harder to figure out a fish pattern when you’re always moving into new water. By staying in the same spot, I can keep eliminating possibilities until I find the right rig or fly. Then I can go back to covering water again.

Capt. Chuck Hawkins, Hawkins Outfitters (Traverse City, Michigan):
I was casting with Lefty Kreh years ago, and he asked me if I could write left handed. I said no. He said, “Yes you can; you just don’t practice!” Since that day, my casting improved immensely due to hours of practice with both hands. Distance, accuracy, and specialty casts all improved with practice.

Kip Vieth, Wildwood Float Trips (Monticello, Minnesota): Don’t take yourself, the fish, or the sport to seriously. After all, it’s just fishing, and it’s supposed to be fun.

Doc Thompson, High Country Anglers (Ute Park, New Mexico): I’ve received lot of advice on fishing from people, books, and even in fly-shop bathrooms. One of the first books I remember reading about fly fishing was Sheridan Anderson’s Curtis Creek Manifesto.  It is loaded with lots of useful information, from the basics to some nuances, with good illustrations and humor.  A lot of it can be summed up by understanding that you can’t catch spooked trout.

When I was a youngster trying to fish some with my grandfather in Missouri, we would fish small ponds and streams for smallmouths, perch, or whatever. I always wanted to fish the bigger rivers for trout, but they were in these things called “trout parks.” He would say that there were too many people in the trout parks, and that fishing is meant to be shared with a few family or friends not lots of people you don’t know.  One time, he finally took me to one of the Missouri Trout Parks.  He was right: it was crazy packed with people. Thank you, Granddad for instilling in me the meaning or importance of solitude on the water.

As for fly-shop bathrooms, sometimes they feature graffiti that offers useful information.  I remember a specific bit of advice from the wall of a not-too-clean facility: “The best fly is a properly presented fly.”  I call that fly a Double P (Proper Presentation).

Rob Woodruff, Woodruff Guide Service (Quitman, Texas): “No one ever caught a fish on a false cast.”

10 thoughts on “Ask the Experts: What’s the Best Piece of Advice You’ve Ever Received?”

  1. Maybe not a fish on a False cast but I do recall a fellow fisherman Perc, catching a passing Kangaroo on his back cast on Lake Eucumbene Australia. Put up a good fight too, ran him out onto the backing, but snapped off when it cunningly jumped into the surrounding scrub!!

  2. Gary Borger’s advice to fish the “secret river” is some of the best advice I have ever received. Where is this secret river? Right in front of you before you jump in and start wading.

  3. On one of the last “Fly Fishing Guide Podcast” episodes, Tom Rosenbauer said that Orvis has abandoned its app, and will no longer support it. It’s also no longer available for download on iTunes. Might want to take a look at MM Stone’s advice in this post.

    1. Larry, this appears to be a recycled post for the blog, orginally posted a couple of years ago. Orvis no longer supports the app. I would recommend two things: (1) Orvis’ on-line Learning Center (requires access to the internet and their website); or (2) the app “Animated Knots by Grog,” which is current and available on iTunes (don’t know about Android).

  4. Damn, Thibodeau was good! I have seen a lot of people standing right where I know fish are.

    But my favorite advice is to remember to look up. Look around. Appreciate where you are. Love the whole experience.

  5. I appreciate Phil sharing Jim Thibodeau’s words; “You haven’t even looked at the water, yet”. Those words reminded me of an experience and some advice I received. One day fishing a river in MT, I chose a spot to enter the water. At this spot there was probably 15 feet of slow, 4-inch deep water between the bank and the “good” water further out. I entered the water without looking and almost stepped on the biggest brown trout I had seen all day. When I recounted the experience to Tom Gangnon, a friend who guides in MT, I commented that this fish was holding in “nothing”. Tom said; “Sometimes that can be a brown trout’s favorite type of water – nothing”. Ever since then, I’ve tried to remember Tom’s words and that my perception of the “good” water may be different from where the trout want to be.

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