5 Life Lessons I Learned from Fly Fishing

Recently, it occurred to me that fly fishing has taught me a few life lessons. That shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose. But because I pursue fly fishing for the love and joy of it, I guess I had overlooked its lessons. Here are five life lessons I’ve learned over four decades of fly fishing.

1. You have to schedule time for what you love most.

I always thought I’d have to guard against fly fishing too much when I became an adult.

To my surprise, I found that I had to guard against not fly fishing enough. There are always meetings, chores, and scheduling conflicts that crowd out my time on the river. So I have to be intentional to make myself do what I love. That’s the way it is with life. It keeps you so busy with the day-to-day responsibilities of life that you have to make time for the people and pursuits you love most.

2. You only get lucky when you work hard.

Do you ever drool over the Facebook photos of friends cradling a monster rainbow trout?

Those lucky dogs, you think.

But they are lucky because they’ve made time to get out on the river, because they’ve taken “one more cast,” and because they’ve done their homework (which flies to use). Show me a “lucky” fly fisher, and I’ll show you a persistent, hardworking fly fisher. Luck is a result of hard work. That’s true with everything from product development to real estate sales to getting published.

3. Skill is most often made, not born.

Yes, some people have a knack for fly fishing. They remind me of my younger brother, Kevin, who got up on water skis on his first attempt — while the boat was still idling!

But there is no substitute for skill development. Read. Listen. Observe. Practice. Practice again. And again. Skill will only take you so far in fly fishing — and in basketball, in marketing, in web design, and in dentistry.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

This is an especially hard lesson for the male species.

I once spent fifteen minutes looking for powdered sugar in a grocery store because I didn’t feel like asking a sales associate for help. But after years of picking the brains of folks behind the counter in a fly shop or fly fishing guides or friends who practice the craft with more skill than I do, I finally figured out that it’s less painful to ask for help than it is to keep bumbling along while making no progress.

Thanks to my fly fishing experiences, I’m more likely to ask for help with software, building a deck, and even locating the aisle with powdered sugar.

5. There is always someone better than you.

If you’re obsessed with being the best, you’re going to be a frustrated fly fisher. Or a frustrated basketball player. Or a frustrated heart surgeon. Or a frustrated writer.

Some folks operate on a different level. My brother, Dave, is like that. He has regularly out-fished me at a pace of about two fish for every one I catch. That has been the case ever since I was six and he was four. Once I made peace with that, it was a whole lot more enjoyable for me and everyone else around me. I can now take joy in the success of others, as well as in my own.

The tag line of our podcast says it all: “for the love of fly fishing.” Yes, that’s why I fly fish. I love it, and it brings me joy. But it’s taught me a lot about life, too. I’m grateful for that, and so are the others in my life.

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4 thoughts on “5 Life Lessons I Learned from Fly Fishing

  1. Relax and enjoy. I never set a time to get back when I’m fishing. I will keep in touch with my wife, so she doesn’t worry, but I relax and enjoy every minute of my time on the water. Even if I don’t catch a fish I enjoy my surroundings.

  2. I so enjoy fly fishing. I mostly fish the Clinch River in Norris,Tn. I catch very few trout, but just being there is enough. I have seen deer cross in front of me, and a wild boar when the generatores are idle. Its a amazing area. Thankyou both for all the great information you pass on.

    • Thanks, Ed. Seeing wildlife like that is one of the great benefits of being on the river. Wow, a wild boar! I’ve never seen one of those while fly fishing! This summer, I’ve watched elk and deer cross the rivers I’ve fished. That made those days on the river worth it, regardless of how many fish I caught.