When I first started fly fishing, I had no idea what I was doing. I had grown up in a family that fished an awful lot, but we were crank bait fishermen and fly fishing was as foreign to us as trying to read a book on calculus written entirely in Cyrillic. However, I had always had a “want” to learn fly fishing but never had the opportunity to learn. That opportunity came when what had occupied much of my time to that point, skateboarding, was no longer an activity I could physically participate in. A busted knee and a slowed metabolism pushed me into retirement and I was left trying to fill the void. I was missing not just the activity, but the community that accompanied it. Also, the obsession. I tend to be obsessive when I get into something and without skateboarding occupying my thoughts throughout the day, I needed something else. I felt empty.
Thanks to a connection to someone who had a heavy discount, I purchased my first fly rod and reel combo and waders. I started out with a Shakespeare 5 wt rod/reel combo and a pair of Hodgman hip waders. Clueless as I was, I thought I could pursue steelhead with this setup. I had seen people fly fishing for steelhead on the Rocky River but had no idea what kind of equipment I needed. Not that you can’t catch steelhead on a 5 wt, but for someone who has never fought a fish that big, being outgunned from the start was going to be a problem. Also, I grossly underestimated the chill of winter and the depth of water I’d be getting into, so the hip waders also proved to be a problem.
Enter Facebook. It was Fall when I started and though I was aggressive in hitting the river, I couldn’t cast to save my life, had no idea where the fish were, and had no idea what to do with the fish if I got one on the line. I didn’t know a single person who fly fished. So I did a little searching on Facebook and found a group of fly fishermen in my area and asked to join. Here I encountered two kinds of people; those who recognized my enthusiasm and were happy to help, and those who would rather make fun of my stupid questions or point out the obvious fact that I didn’t know what I was doing. In those who wanted to help, I would not be able to do what I can do now without them. It would have taken me 10 times longer to learn what I know now had they not taken the time to talk to me, fish with me, or simply encourage me when I was struggling to learn something new.
I hope I’m not forgetting some, but I’d like to call out a few of those people who went out of their way to help, some of whom I’ve only met in person once or twice and some whom I’ve fished with a lot.
I know those people exclusively from a Facebook group, which is kind of weird, but it shows how cool they were to some random dude that they didn’t know and who was clearly clueless. These are the people who make a community.
However, they are not the only ones in that community, and it’s easy to see this as a microcosm for society as a whole. More often than not, I encountered trolls. People who looked down on you for not knowing as much as them or who didn’t want to help because they’d rather hoard their knowledge/spots/resources than share. I can understand the mindset to a point. On those occasions where I’m taking somebody fishing, there’s always that brief moment where I think “Jeez, do I really want to take them to that spot? That’s just more pressure.” But then I remember that I wouldn’t even know about that spot had it not been for someone sharing it with me at some point. And I wouldn’t even have the skill to fish it correctly had it not been for someone teaching me to do it. But I think some of those trolls are stuck in that mindset of selfishness and they never really click over to the reality of the situation. They never allow themselves to alter their perspective to see where they are and how they got there.
And I’ve definitely seen things get really heated in that facebook group, and some of it, regrettably involved me. I’m not at all proud of that but I can at least take comfort in that for my part, I was always on the side of either defending someone who was trying to learn or standing up for myself when someone was more interested in tearing me down than lending a hand. Hindsight grants perspective in that I should have just ignored it when it was directed at me, but in the case of those who are eager to learn, I will always try to keep their enthusiasm from getting destroyed by the buttheads, even if it drags me into stuff I’d rather stay out of. Still, you inevitably leave any social media argument thinking “What the hell was the point of that?!”
Through the great people I mentioned above and probably a few more I’ve forgotten, I gradually improved my outfit (although that 5 wt is a surprisingly nice rod), learned countless skills, and know enough good fishing spots that I’m sometimes at a loss as to which I should try on a given day. But I reached a point with that Facebook group that I just couldn’t handle the negativity anymore. The administrators are in a perpetual struggle to keep things positive and while I admire them for their efforts, I regrettably had to leave the group. Despite the negativity, I had remained in the group for a while because I really wanted to pay back my debts. I wanted to reach out to those people who were trying to learn and offer what I could. As I’ve made abundantly clear in this blog, we’re writing not as experts, but as fishermen who are constantly learning and we want to share that experience with you. It’s that learning process that we try to promote here. Unfortunately, I felt like the learning environment in that Facebook group was smothered out by the nastiness. I just don’t see it there anymore and after each visit to the page I felt irritated instead of inspired.
I guess I’m writing this post not to complain about internet trolls, but to make a declaration of sorts. One of the things I love so much about fly fishing is that it’s not just an activity, it’s a lifestyle. And as with any lifestyle, there is a comradery with others who share that same lifestyle. Those who don’t share that interest don’t get it when we ramble on about it at parties. Andy, Erik and I have received our share of eye rolls from friends who say “Ugh, more fishing?” when we won’t shut up about it. But that conversation and exchange of ideas and information is what bonds us together and pushes us further. We learn from being taught and we also learn from teaching. One of my favorite things is seeing someone who is learning achieve some of those milestones that I’ve seen them working so hard to achieve. It actually reminds me of fishing with Nate Adams. Nate is one of those guys who fishes so often and catches so many fish that when you’re fishing with him, sometimes he’ll just stop fishing and watch you fish, spotting fish for you and giving advice from up on a high bank on how to play the drift. He’s no longer in it for the numbers and is just happy to see you catch a fish and enjoys just watching fishing. Now, I don’t get out often enough or catch enough fish that I’d be willing to just get out of the water and not fish, but I do really enjoy helping people learn and the thrill of watching their eyes light up when they hook up for the first time.
So I’m asking our few readers that when you encounter someone who is trying to learn, try to help in some way. If you don’t feel you have enough knowledge to help, learn with them. We need to realize that in nearly all aspects of our life, our opportunities are rarely earned. More often, they are given to us by those who are willing to share, teach, and offer encouragement. We then need to put in the work to get there, but it’s so difficult to make that journey without someone who is there already opening the door to us and recommending a path. If you find yourself in the position of teaching someone, embrace it. Someone likely did so for you.