One of the more delicate topics in flyfishing is fishing mate selection. Choosing something as important as a fishing partner requires very careful consideration, and I’ve decided to raise this subject because not long ago, I sort of ‘match-made’ a flyfishing couple… and then spent the next several hours wondering if I’d been a bit hasty.
*Bill was keen to head down to Purrumbete, but his usual fishing buddy was stranded in Melbourne, so he asked me to join him. I wasn’t at all put out to be second choice: Bill would have had to make a significant detour if we were to travel down together – a solid reason not to have been asked first. As it turned out, I had to decline due to my son’s Saturday soccer match. (See? I can’t just go fishing whenever I like.) However, it so happened that *Ron, in Geelong, had also asked about coming for a fish with me that same Saturday.
So, I thought, why not put these two in touch? Both nice blokes, not a million miles apart in ability, and crucially, each happy to fish a lake in winter – not every flyfisher’s preference. As I write, I haven’t heard how the day went, or even if they ended up going. That could mean they had a great time and it hasn’t occurred to them to report back. Or it might be a sign that things didn’t go well, and neither want to talk to me!
The issue is, I went ahead and match-made (is that a word?) merely on the basis of similar flyfishing ability, a liking (tolerance?) for winter lake fishing, and geographical convenience. Of course I shouldn’t have been so impetuous, and I would have done well to consider the following factors.
I’ve seen some flyfishing partnerships flourish despite quite different expectations in this regard. (Indeed, I’ve been in a few of those myself!) Ideally though, it helps if there’s some common ground. Cheese sandwich versus cheese platter can work with a bit of good will. However, where things may get shaky, is if ‘cheese platter’ means setting up a table and chairs back at the car, spreading a cloth and pouring glasses of wine, all while a dun hatch is going on. I make no judgement about whether that’s right or wrong per se, but it does require that both parties consider the food & drink important enough to miss significant fishing.
At the other extreme, I’ve known anglers who don’t eat or drink at all during the day, although that needn’t be a problem if you take the simple step of not relying on them to sustain you.
Flyfishing is supposed to be a relaxed pursuit. Nevertheless, I don’t know about you, but waiting an hour past departure time for your partner to turn up, isn’t a great start to the day. Similarly, once you’ve finished fishing a spot, waiting for more than an hour after the agreed meet-up time on the river or lake, is pushing it for many of us. At best, it’s annoying; at worst, it’s worrying – especially if the water in question is remote or rugged enough to raise the possibility of a mishap. When you make your last desperate sweep of the track above the gorge before driving to the nearest mobile phone reception point to raise the alarm, only to find your partner whistling down the track and chuckling, “Sorry, but the fishing was so good, I couldn’t stop,”… Well, for me, that’s grounds for divorce.
This can make or break a relationship. Not commitment to each other of course, but commitment to the fishing. Seldom is a difference so irreconcilable, as when one fisher is determined to persevere on the toughest day, while the other gives up if he or she hasn’t had a rise in the first five minutes. That sort of partnership is never going to work out.
In a healthy relationship, some humorous competition can be a lot of fun. I think the basic requirement here though, is that each partner secretly hopes the other will do well – even if that’s not openly acknowledged. It most certainly IS a problem if, in order to enjoy the day, one angler must catch more/ bigger fish than the other. And you’re going out with a weirdo if they actually fake the result by catching more/ bigger fish ‘around the corner’.
‘Everybody needs a little time away’, sang Chicago, and they may well have written those words with flyfishing in mind. A good angling partnership will comfortably accommodate fishing apart – for example, one fishes up to the bridge, while the other fishes up from the bridge. Some of the most enjoyable days I’ve had, such as when polaroiding Great Lake, involved my companion being mostly a speck in the distance. But believe it or not, it would have been a genuinely different (and most likely diminished) experience if I’d actually been fishing alone.
And time fishing together, like in a boat or going fish-for-fish up a polaroiding stream, can be great fun too. There’s no right or wrong answer here, just a recognition (once again) of the need for flexibility.
In a solid flyfishing partnership, advice is freely given… and taken. But this assumes a level of common sense. Yelling out across the bay that you’re getting’em on an olive Magoo, is always acceptable; even desirable. But telling your partner their strike was too slow… or too fast, is almost never okay. Even paid fishing guides must be very cautious about when (if ever) to comment negatively on a client’s strike.
The ultimate test of any fishing partnership, is allowing your companion to net your significant fish. Now, I should say straight up that many solid fishing relationships are maintained without either party ever going anywhere near the other’s fish with a landing net. However, there’s no greater show of trust and respect than allowing, or more to the point, inviting, your partner to net a fish you seriously don’t want to lose. The stakes of course are high: I know a few cases where a stuffed-up netting has irredeemably fractured a friendship. On the other hand, when my mate Christopher made the most of the only possible window to successfully net my biggest-ever trout… well that’s a bond time can’t break.
Keeping a Confidence
Most of us are happy to share knowledge of a good spot that’s fishing well, with our broader angling circle. However, every once in a while, you find a hot bite or a hot location you want to keep to yourself for a bit – or maybe for more than a bit if it’s a small, potentially fragile water. These are the little ponds or creeks where you won’t take just anyone, and the expectation – spoken or not – is the friend you’ve shared your secret with, will keep it. If your companion is the kind who just can’t help themselves, then it’s probably best not to get too involved in the first place. It’s not going to work out.
Overall, it may take a few trial runs to find that ideal fishing mate. In my fishing life, there have been a few false starts. (And I’m sure some out there would say the same about me!) But when you find those friends; the ones who you’re happy to sit out the storm with, in a car that smells like a wet dog after several days of bad weather… well, you’ll just know it.
(*Not their real names.)