The True Cast Trout Talk

The True Cast - The species most worth worrying about when you’re out in the wild fishing

A sea plane about to land on a river by some fishing people
Fishing in Alaska can come with hazards
By and large, if you respect most animals, they’ll respect you, and the real threats probably aren’t what you’re thinking…

Several years ago, I gave a talk to my (teacher) wife’s 5th grade class that explained how writing (and learning grammar, and spelling and all the crud they weren’t into) actually turned out to be pretty cool for me, in that the English class lessons turned into a golden ticket for me to travel all around the world, go fishing and GET PAID to write stories about that. (I still can’t believe it sometimes myself).  

So, I projected dozens of photos from the Arctic and the Amazon jungle on the classroom wall… pristine flats on the Equator… the vaunted streams where fly fishing started in Europe… wallabies and wombats from Australia, and more. And the moral of the story was: “Writing got me here, not fishing.  You all need to buckle down on your words!” And everyone seemed to really like it (especially the teachers).   

Then “question time” came around.   

First hand in the air: “How often did you think something would kill you, and what were you most afraid of?” 

A sign of the times, I guessed. Not only is Nature Deficit Disorder (Richard Louv) a real and concerning thing, but it doesn’t help when so much “outdoor” media content revolves around the “scare factor” to drive ratings. That prompts a gag reaction for me, like when I see an ad for a Jeep, or a Toyota truck or a Nissan vehicle plowing through a river, as if that’s how to really connect with the outdoors. How sad and misguided that is.  

I, for one, think it’s time we all spent more time teaching generation-next how to interact with nature and wild creatures harmoniously, rather than playing the “fear” card and suggesting that it’s all about conquest and plowing over habitat.  

So, here’s what I really think about the critters I’ve encountered as I’ve ventured into the wild throughout the world, to write stories about fishing. Many of those creatures have been bigger than me, more efficient predators and they could have left me as no more than a smudge against a rock somewhere. But the experience wouldn’t have been nearly the same without them, I cheer for them, and am proud to have shared space with them. 

Bears? Amazing. I’ve smelled them (and they’ve no doubt smelled me) before I saw them. Yeah, for sure, there are the horror stories, but in my experience, bears just want to do their thing, and if you make your presence known, they’re going to avoid you. I’ve seen more bear-butts running the other way than bear maws. And if you’re smart with how you store food a bear might want, bears don’t want a fight. 

A black bear walking on a fallen log in the wild
A harmless black bear watches over anglers near Hermosa Creek

Sharks? Been diving and brushed up against many sharks. Yeah, they are super-efficient predators and swimmers, but for me, it’s no different than looking at a German Shepherd with a mouthful of teeth. Sharks are so important for the ocean ecosystem, so we need to take care of them. 

A shark fin seen just above the water
Bull shark

Snakes? Admittedly not my favorites. The “up jumps the devil” factor when you get rattled at will change your attitude, and I’ve been rattled at more times than I care to remember. But that rattle is simply a natural way of them saying, “hey, leave me some space, please.” Almost nobody thinks of it that way, but if the snake really wanted to bite you, they’d hide the rattle.  That warning is for you, not them.   

A thick grey snake slithers across a glen
Tiger Snake

Bison? Well, kind of silly to talk about this, but I’ve never had a problem, if for no other reason than I’ve never felt compelled to take a selfie with a half-ton wild bovine.  I mean, c’mon, some of this boils down to natural selection, right? 

Big cats? I’ve lived in Colorado for years and have seen one. And that one ran through my backyard as I was sitting in my hot tub.  Jaguars? I’ve slept in thin-walled tents in the Amazon, even open-air hammocks in the jungle… they simply know how to pick and choose their battles.  

Close up photo of Jaguar paw print in the mud
Jaguar paw print

Moose?  Now moose legitimately scare me, and when I see one, I gently back off and head the other way. I once had a young Bullwinkle chase me across the river in Gore Canyon in Colorado, if for no other reason than I felt like I could sneak in one last cast with a stonefly in a juicy- looking run. But that was my mistake, and 100 yards later, he bid me farewell.   

A young moose walks in a glen

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be on guard and smart. I’m saying that most of the creatures to be encountered on a trout river are more than willing to go the other way, if you’d just respect, back off and do the same. 

Now… those two species that do concern me most… 

First, mosquitoes. Or other bugs. We fly anglers like our bugs, but skeeters are not cool, as are deer ticks, etc. Mosquitoes kill far more people worldwide (by spreading disease) than all the sharks, bears, big cats, and snakes, by far. I am obsessive about bug spray, at home and abroad. 

And finally, the real truth is that human beings are a threat… maybe your greatest risk on any given fishing day is likely your drive to the river. 

As I think about how I’ve ultimately been injured or made sick on the rivers or flats over the years… the greatest “culprit” has been myself.  I wear the wrong clothes and get sun-sick.  Or frostbitten. I don’t hydrate enough and pay that price. I stick flies in my own face, cut my fingers, roll my ankles, fall on my butt, and more. 

Bottom line is that in 40 years of fly fishing, all over the world, all the illnesses and injuries that have happened to me, have been caused by myself.  

I’ve never had a problem with a bear, or a snake, or a shark, or a cat, or a bison, or a croc, or a gator, or a moose, or anything else.  (Knock wood.) 

We don’t need to fear nature… we should embrace it, fangs and all. What we really need to reject is a culture that ignores its essence and makes the raw and real beauty of wild creatures something to be feared.   

And you can take that one to the riverbank… anywhere.