Most days, when I fish I'm solo. Alone, I enjoy the freedom to go wherever I want, fish however I want, and enjoy the sounds of the forest. As much as I enjoy being alone on the water some of the best memories I have are of fishing with other people.
Fly fishing has been a valuable tool for me in gaining new friends and deepening old friendships. I always said, if you really want to get to know someone don't take them to a coffeeshop for an hour take them to the river for a day. From bizarre events to immense failures when you have a buddy beside you funny stories happen, and you will learn some new things about the people you are with.
There are many reasons I think fishing with friends is a valuable resource for the angler, and I have 6 points to begin with:
1 - NEW PERSPECTIVES
I love to take people fly fishing, particularly, those who have absolutely no experience whatsoever. Quite honestly, most would find it odd that I enjoy it. Perhaps it's because I love teaching, but there is a little selfish reason that is more important to me.
Almost every time I teach someone they end up teaching me a thing or two as well. Even if they don't say, or do something "new" I learn. I watch the way they try to solve this problem of catching a fish on the fly. After all, the way two people approach one problem is never usually the same. So when the "problem" is fool and land a fish on a fly you will see all kinds of new things happen - pay attention! Even when it makes you cringe.
You will see some of the strangest things catch fish, and can learn from mistakes you never even thought possible. As well, they may have a brilliant solution to a problem that has haunted you. I showed a new fisherman a stretch of water, and was telling them how hard it was to cast from the spot I always fished from. They looked for a second then said, "Why don't you try casting from the other side." How stupid I was, to not think of this, and worse yet, it worked...
Good thing I learned long ago to throw your ego out the window before fishing, before it's too bruised for recovery.
One of the best ways to learn anything is from someone with experience. Someone who can teach you the in's and out's of the sport, in this case, fly fishing. Every person will look like an idiot for a good while out on the water, especially, when you're learning alone. I know this because that's how I learned to fish, and I have watched other newbies. When I first started, and I watched experienced anglers I knew I looked nothing like them... All of our knowledge is
Anyways, a guide or class is immensely helpful for learning, but you must have a thick wallet, or settle for classroom knowledge. An experienced angler that is willing to teach you for free or for a free meal is far better, and a rare occurrence. If you have that rejoice, if not, suffer like the rest of us.
Now, it is true that experienced anglers learn a lot from experienced anglers. Just listen to an Orvis podcast and you will hear the legendary Tom Rosenbauer share loads of information, and sometimes admit he has never tried something another guide recommends. You can never know everything, and you can't try everything. However, listening to others failures and success is a shortcut through the system.
2 - SHARED MEMORIES
It's great fun to catch up with some fly fishing buddies and recount wonderful and wretched days on the water. There is something special about sharing a day of your life with another person on the water, experiencing the sights, sounds, fish, weather, annoyances, etc. with another person. I am always grateful for those times.
I'll never forget when my day of fishing with a friend found us both lost. We drove, drove, and drove, then saw the now infamous sign, "Welcome to Wild, Wonderful, West Virginia." Seeing that sign brought a big shock. I'm from Virginia and we were intending on fishing a Virginia stream our plans were a bit crushed when we realized we were in the wring state... We made it back home never letting a line hit the water in that stream, and I've never been back since.
Stories like these stick with us, and always are fun to recall. Of course, I love the memories I have when I fish alone, but they aren't shared, they are only mine. Stuck in my head, they only resurface through a tale or two if anyone listens.
Memories are amplified when we share them together.
3 - VERIFIED INFORMATION
I once caught (and measured) a 25" rainbow trout on my local waters, the biggest rainbow of my life - so far. Do I have a photo? Kind of... Is it clear?... No. Was there any one else around to witness the fish? Nope.
Fisherman are infamous for yarns and lies that are almost as bad as their stench after a day on the river. When we fish with friends there is accountability, which helps keep our stories accurate. Another set of eyes can either affirm or deny what truly went down. This is only a big deal if you like to make sure your pride stays in tact after people pick holes at your stories, like many do when bizarre and unbelievable events happen.
Personally, if something crazy happens to me I don't really care if you believe me or not. I know it happened. You can't deny my experience. If you reject the tale it's still with me, so I'm fine.
4 - LEECHING
Let's be honest, it's nice when you can leech flies, flotant, information, and any other forgotten supplies from our friends. This is one of the bigger benefits of fishing together. It's highly practical and immensely helpful. Together, we can share favorite spots, hot patterns, and each other's snacks ("share" of course is the tame term for steal).
Eventually, you will forget something. With a tag along you may do just fine because, hopefully, they have what you need. Alone you might be screwed, especially when you leave a fly box, nippers, or split shot at home... Of course, leeching of your friends is only possible if you are humble enough to admit you forgot something or need help.
Just don't do this too often or you may lose your fly fishing friend.
5 - PHOTOGRAPHS
Photographs help me relive moments. I immensely enjoy nature photographs, but for me there is just something special about seeing a person in the frame. I don't know if it's the scale, the contrast, or some other element, but I can get lost in those photos. When I fish with a friend it provides easier access to these kinds of pictures.
Another side of this is, with a friend, if you catch a picture worthy fish they can snag a picture for you! Who doesn't like to have a photo or two of them with a beautiful fish in their hand, or in the water? Letting a friend take the photo is a lot easier than lugging a tripod around, setting it up, and hoping your camera doesn't plop on a rock, or the river bottom. Also, a friend will remove the headache of trying to take a photo with slimy/wet hands from the specimen in your palm or net.
6 - SAFETY
Bad stuff happens. When you're out in the woods 2 miles or 20 miles from the nearest part of civilization it's nice to have another person around. Exploration is a wonderful part of fly fishing, which usually means you're out of cell service, far away from civilization, and your spouse, friends, and neighbors have no clue where you're at such less how to get there. If something terribly bad happens with a friend or two your odds of survival increase greatly.
Fishing with friends is also helpful for preventative measures too. After all, the best way to be safe is to avoid danger in the first place - duh. An extra pair of eyes is nice to look out for dangerous situations, or creatures lurking around that may have otherwise passed unnoticed.
A few times now, I have seen a snake swim inches away from a friend in the river. Once, I watched a snake swim downriver right next to my friend. My friend was walking to shore, and was in waist deep water. As the snake swam closer to my friend I realized he was completely oblivious to the danger now about a foot away. I yelled and told him to stop moving, and then the snake just swam on by - he then saw the dastardly critter. If I didn't see it and warn him, I imagine he would have stepped right into the 4 foot cottonmouth drifting down the river. Who wants a nice snakebite in the groin?
Stuff similar to this is normal when your out in the woods. In a group we can look out for each other! Keep a watchful eye for yourself and for your friends around you and your days will be more enjoyable.
Community helps us grow, learn, and gain insightful perspectives in fly fishing and, honestly, life in general. So take a friend fishing, or make a new one down by the river or your local fly shop. You won't regret it in the long run!