By the time you read this, you may have already broken some of your New Year’s resolutions. But the ones to make 2024 your best year of fly fishing don’t require a trendy daily streak that never makes it out of January.
The great thing about fly-fishing is that there are more layers to it than hardly anyone can master in a lifetime. Like the streams we fish, fly fishing provides endless and ever-changing currents, pools, runs and riffles to explore. We’re often creatures of habit as fly anglers, though, and as we find less free time in our busy lives, sometimes we fall back on our steady fly-fishing routines. There’s nothing wrong with that, but this list is designed to push you out of your comfort zone, to try new things and delve deeper into the lifestyle, culture and experience of fly fishing.
Fish New Water
You have a routine. You plan a fishing trip to the same river every year. You even fish the same runs. If you get some unexpected free time, you know right where you’re headed. You know where the fish are likely holding, and you can’t wait for that tug. I get it. That’s me every time I go to my Upper Peninsula cabin. On the way there, though, I pass countless streams that look fishy. I check them out on maps in the off-season. I always say, one day, I’m going to fish it, but then I get to the cabin, unload the canoe, and spend my whole time fishing the places I already know. Not this year: I’m going to explore those streams. Fishing new water comes with the risk of not finding fish: embrace it and enjoy the exploration.
Fish for New Species
You’re a steelhead angler. Or a cutthroat purist. There are one or two species that occupy all your fishing energy and passion. Me, I’m all about brookies and northern pike. This year, target a species you don’t normally target. Last year, I geared up for muskie and deliberately fished a few lakes from my canoe that are known to hold them. Maybe this year I will try to catch carp in my local Huron River or a Great Lakes steelhead for the first time. Whatever it is, new species force you to consider new fishing techniques, flies, presentations, habitats and food sources, and that makes you a better all-around angler.
Try a Different Method
Dry fly purist, streamer chucker, Euro bro, wet fly swinger; if any one of these defines you as an angler, maybe this is the year that you focus on learning a new method. A well-rounded angler can use the method that best matches the conditions. If you always use a euro nymph, try matching a hatch. If you always fish dry flies, try swinging a soft hackle or stripping some meat. You’re guaranteed to learn new skills that will help you succeed in nearly any fishing scenario.
Learn to Tie Flies
If you don’t already, make this the year you learn to tie flies. Before I started tying flies, I could barely remember the names of the most basic flies, let alone the insects and stages they imitated. Once I started tying flies, my understanding of them increased exponentially along with my understanding of how fish feed and – wouldn’t you know it– I caught fish more often. Tying flies won’t save you money – discard that notion – but it is a satisfying way to pass the winter and rewarding to catch a fish on a fly you tied.
Restore or Build a Rod
If catching a fish on a fly you tied is rewarding, imagine catching on a fly you tied and on a rod you built or restored! I got into rod restoration and building completely by accident after picking up a vintage blue collar bamboo rod from my local TU chapter’s gear swap last month. It had missing guides, a broken tip, loose ferrules and delaminating bamboo strips in every section. After some YouTube tutorials and some trial and error, I have a fishable bamboo 5wt for less than $50 in materials. Down the rabbit hole I went, and now there’s a 7’6 3wt fiberglass blank in the process of becoming a fly rod on a homemade rod winding jig on my fly-tying bench, which was one of my personal fishing resolutions. If you tie flies, it’s not too much of a leap to restore a rod or build one from a blank.
Do More with Your Local TU Chapter
TU chapters and volunteers are the heart and soul of our organization and provide the bulk of the work we’re able to accomplish for trout and salmon across the country. Chapters are the front lines of stewarding local watersheds, identifying their threats and recruiting new champions for their waters. Maybe deepening your involvement means attending chapter meetings or volunteering on a chapter workday, like a stream cleanup or fish monitoring. Maybe it’s helping your chapter organize an International Fly Fishing Film Tour screening or hosting a kids’ fishing day. Maybe it’s joining the board of directors or mentoring new members to become leaders. Thank you to all of you already doing this, but we can never have enough volunteers.
Take a Casting Lesson
There’s much more to fly fishing than casting, but it sure is hard to catch a fish with a sloppy cast. A casting lesson can work out some kinks in your casting stroke and teach you new ways to reach more fish. Last year I took a casting lesson with Schultz Outfitters in Ypsilanti, Michigan, deliberately to improve my double-haul and it made casting heavy streamers for northern pike more efficient. Whether it’s learning to roll-cast or to tighten your loops, we can all get a little better at casting.
Support Your Local Fly Shop
With everything we could ever hope to buy available on our smartphone’s touchscreen, it’s easy to forget that there’s so much more than purchasing. Supporting our local fly shops is what keeps them in business, but we gain knowledge, camaraderie and more when going there for our gear needs. They know how the fishing is locally, they can help select the right rod for you and the right reel to balance it and they can help with the right line and equipment for your style of fishing. If you tie flies, there are some materials that you really ought to select in person, too, like saddles and bucktails. More than any of that, fly shops are the center of the local fly-fishing community and keeper of the culture. Let’s keep them in business.
Take a Kid Fishing
This doesn’t need too much explanation, but sometimes it requires deliberate resolve. When we get limited free time to fish, it takes some planning to set aside some of that time to invite someone new to fish. Last year, I took my son’s friends and their dads fishing with me to catch bluegills at a local park. If fishing becomes something my son can do with his friends, it’s more likely to be something he’ll stick with. And if they become anglers, we’ll have more champions for coldwater conservation in the future.
Pay Attention to the Issues Affecting our Fisheries
It may be more fun to read articles with tips and how-to’s on fly-fishing, but all that skill is for naught if our coldwater fisheries can’t support trout and salmon we want to catch. As TU founder Art Neumann said, “If you take care of the fish, the fishing will take care of itself.” From the funding source of many of our fish passage projects (the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law of 2021, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022) to the bills we’re trying to pass in this Congress (the Good Samaritan Law, the Farm Bill) and the threats to clean water that we’re monitoring like the fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Clean Water Act, what happens in Washington, D.C. affects our rivers and streams. That’s why we have our headquarters nearby and a team in D.C. to advocate for trout and salmon. Learning about these issues and lending your voice can help secure our fisheries for generations to come.
Bonus Resolution: Have fun!
There’s a great thread on Fly Fishing Resolutions in the TU Community Forum. This one comes from TU member David Noll of Lake City, MN:
“My resolution for 2024 is to have fun and to stop and smell the roses.”