Rough Fishing

A while back I read an article in a fly fishing magazine about what the author referred to as 'rough fishing'.  The author apparently liked to travel to exotic locations, where fishing was from boats poled by guides across clear tropical flats.  It seems like a pretty nice setup to me, and I must admit that I truly enjoy this style of sight fishing. 

But this method of fishing left the author a bit too removed from a personal connection with the fish, because during his trips he occasionally snuck off to fish a shoreline, sans guide, in search of fish of any and all types.  He called his shoreline pursuit 'rough fishing', taking the term from British aristocracy (his explanation of the term's origin).  I don't think the author intended the phrase 'rough fishing' to imply 'peasantry', but the phrase as he explained it, and as he contrasted it from being poled across the flats, certainly carried this connotation. 

I read the article a couple times to make sure I understood its premise.  And then I came to the only reasonable conclusion possible – I am a full fledged peasant fisherman.  And this is only partly based on my typical fishing attire – salt-stained, wide-brimmed hat, weathered shirt, stained pants.  Driving across cow pasture and walking miles of beaches to flog the water on my own from shore with no guide in sight seems rather peasant-like, too.  In any case, certainly not cover photo material. 

But there’s more to it than that. I'm not knocking people's travel habits or fishing preferences.  Each to his/her own.  But I do find it interesting that traveling to a destination and foregoing the guided boat for a day has been defined as rough.  Why not just enjoy the perch on the bow? Or if wading is preferred, step down from the bow and head off on foot.

You see, I was under the impression that fishing shorelines, flats, rocky points and surf zones on foot was the way most of us fished.  I've checked with friends, and they were under the same impression.  But maybe I just hang out with the wrong crowd. As I thought about this a bit more, however, I wondered if perhaps there is some confusion regarding how, where, and why many of us fly fish. I came to the conclusion that the majority of us who flog the waters of the world with a fly line, whether fresh or salt water, have been engaged in this rough fishing without even knowing it.  I am relieved that our avocation now has a name.  And all this time I thought it was just plain old fly fishing.  I guess I've been out of the loop, so to speak. 

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Despite recent booming economic times, which allowed more people to become fly anglers and provided many of these anglers the funds to travel, I think there are some things that still hold true.  First, most of us who use the fly rod to pursue fish do not travel ad infinitum to fishing destinations around the world – we are not the globetrotters so often depicted in fishing magazines.  We are most often enamored of our local fishing opportunities, and make efforts to learn all we can about the liquid environment in which we spend much of our fishing time.  We tend to fish in our own back yards, and occasionally visit other neighborhoods.  And very often, when we do fish in other areas, many of us prefer to do it on our own.

For many of us, learning about the fish, their environments, and which flies are most effective is half the fun.  I think choosing a selection of flies (rather than relying on a guide) to fish with is part of the fun and challenge of fly fishing.  Fishing in a new location may require some pre-trip research, perhaps a visit to a local fly shop, or finding a friendly angler who has fished the area, before deciding on a fly selection.  But I think the rewards are much greater when this effort results in a successful outing than when it is all done for you.

Whether by default or design, most of us usually fish for a few hours, or perhaps a day, at a time.  We sometimes make long weekend trips, or even plan a week vacation, to really scratch the fishing itch.  This is usually how we fish our home waters. When we do fish, it is usually from shore, or by wading, or for some us, on our own small boat.  In any case, I think that most often it is a do-it-yourself affair that requires some pre-fishing effort and knowledge of the fish in order to have a successful day.

I am not knocking guides.  I know some very good ones. They provide a valuable service, and provide the only available access to fishing for some anglers.  For anglers hoping to learn local waters, hiring a guide can help shorten the learning curve for a local area that is still unfamiliar.  It can really save a lot of time looking for good fishing spots and learning new fishing techniques.  For the traveler, hiring a guide maximizes limited time on the water, and provides perhaps the best shot at that dream fish.  But those reasons are self evident. The point is this – given the positive reasons for hiring a guide, why make a fuss about it and make a point of 'roughing it'?  Why not just plan a do-it-yourself trip to a great place and learn the new waters on your own?  I guess I'm confused by the need to rough it while at a destination location or with a good guide on the pole.  

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Perhaps this is just an example of a breed of fly fisher whose motivations are different than mine.  This is the fly fisher who shows up with all of the latest gear and clothing, looking like a model for a fishing catalog.  This, in itself, is neither good nor bad, for clothes (and gear) do not make or break the angler.  Plus, some people enjoy this side of fly fishing.  I'll even admit to having, and fishing with, friends who are self-admitted gear heads.  I'll keep their names out of print so they can continue to fish in peace, but they know who they are.

So it’s not the appearance.  I can only conclude that it’s the attitude that too often accompanies this type of angler that bothers me most.  There seems to be little interest in really learning about the fish – the why, what, and where of fly selection and fishing locations – that must be done for fishing on your own.  It's an approach that looks for immediate rewards, instant gratification, as if buying the gear and looking the part is just another way to 'put in the time' in learning how to fish.  It is less about a feeling one can get from fly fishing, and more of an action, less emotion than procedure, more status than avocation.  It is the side of fly fishing that makes me most uncomfortable.  If there is even the need to delineate the act of ‘rough fishing’, then clearly something is wrong.

In any case, I am pleased that most fly fishers, at least those I fish with, are as enamored of the intimacies of the hows and whys of chasing fish with a fly rod as I am.  We are the rough fishermen, the peasants that keep fly fishing rooted firmly in the waters we fish.  Well, at least we try damn hard.