At the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop, we see this all the time. A customer walks into the fly shop and says, “My spouse wants to learn how to fly fish. Now what?” After teasing them about buying expensive tackle, a raft and a new truck to haul it, we get down to the things we’ve found important when couples start to fish together.
The biggest difficulty in getting a spouse to fly fish is teaching them how to cast. We’re going out on a limb, and will make this statement. Most fisherman can make THEIR cast work, but few have studied fly casting, and fewer still know how to teach someone else to cast. The fly shop has seen this teaching technique way too often, which consists of someone saying, “No, that’s wrong. See, watch what I do. No, that’s wrong.” Not the best way to learn how to cast a fly rod. George says he always knew when his Mom and Dad played tennis together. They didn’t speak for two days after!
Ron may have had the best solution. Back when he was teaching his wife how to fly fish, so were many of his friends. So he and Bob Powell, Duncan Oswalt and others would switch up the fishing partners. Ron’s wife went with Bob, and down the line, so Ron was never teaching his wife. He was teaching someone else’s wife, and he said it was less fraught with tension. Might be any easy out! Though Ron was a fly fishing guide in Missoula and Alaska for 20 years, so he’s a pretty good casting instructor.
Unless you’re a well-studied caster, The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop recommends getting your spouse a fly fishing lesson. The Missoulian Angler offers one on one casting instruction, and our instructors have a combined 65 years of casting teaching experience. There are other avenues to find instruction as well. The important thing may be to find an outside instructor to get the ball rolling with casting lessons. This will save a lot of relationship angst in the long run! But if you choose to teach your spouse, just remember this. You weren’t born with a fly rod in your hand, so don’t expect instantaneous perfection from your spouse. Remember to nurture, not criticize. Stay positive, and don’t practice too long. This is the hardest part of teaching fly fishing to a beginner. Letting the student flail is part of their learning- knowing when they need to be left alone is the most difficult lesson the teacher needs to learn!
Another thing to bear in mind is why your spouse is learning to fly fish. In all probability, their initial reason to learn to fly fish is to spend time with their partner. This means the fishing spouse needs to change their expectations on the water. Your time is no longer your own. No more walking a mile upstream to even start fishing. If you want your spouse to fish with you, you need to stay close until they become comfortable. At the beginning of this process, you’re less fisherman and more ghillie. Tough in the short run, but good in the long run.
Also keep in mind a new fisherman may not be ready to be on the river from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm, in the rain on a 52 degree day. They’re just learning to fly fish, and probably won’t have the stamina or interest to fish all day. Here’s a couple of solutions. You can curtail your fishing times to fit your spouse’s needs. But this is our favorite. Bring along their favorite beverage. Cheese and crackers. Ask them to bring a book or magazine. Spend a little more time in making up a real lunch, not the two Snickers bars you eat during the day.
This is subtle manipulation here, so pay attention!
You are trying to make this FUN for your spouse. They’re already going to be struggling with the fishing- make sure they DON’T struggle with anything else. So good food, good beverage, diversions when the fishing is slow or frustrating, and a willingness to be flexible on your end are critical. If your spouse isn’t having any fun because you’re on a fly fishing trip, and not a picnic with them, they’re not likely to go fishing as willingly the next time. It’s even more basic- if they’re not having fun, you’re not having fun. Continue to ignore their needs, and soon they’re not fishing. So make a fuss. Celebrate the fact that your spouse is fishing with you. Make the extra effort, make it fun, and they will come fishing again, even if it’s just for the food! And no, this isn’t going to last forever. As they learn to fish better, they will fish more, and soon you’ll have a fishing partner, but it’s not going to happen overnight.
It takes patience on both ends to make this work. As the fisherman, it’s your job to make the experience as positive as it can be for a new fisherman. For the newbie, remember that your spouse wants to fish as well as be with you. Sometimes you just have to give the space to let them go around the corner.
If we had to make a list of responsibilities for each partner, it would look like this. The fishing spouse should do everything to make the initial trips fun and special. Show massive amounts of patience. Remember you didn’t learn to fish in a day- your spouse won’t either. Be helpful but not obtrusive- know when to be there and when to be gone. To the spouse who’s learning, it starts with recognizing fly fishing isn’t always perfect. It means practicing things like knots and casting so when you get to the river, you can be a little self-sufficient. And having massive amounts of patience when you’re ready to be done and they’re just getting started.
You work on your relationship off the water. It’s going to take a little work to make the relationship on the water work as well. But it’s totally worth it! Fly fishing can provide another strong bonding experience. It’s fun, frustrating and interesting all the time! It can help form a stronger, closer bond in the long run. Beginnings are always so tricky. Work together, have some patience and you’ll soon find that fishing together is one more activity that you can enjoy together.
Often our guests will book a day fly fishing trip with one of our guides to help their significant other learning the basics of fly fishing. The guide will often put the less experienced angler in the front of the boat so they can focus on casting, drifting and mending. Give us a call or email and we would happy to set up a fly fishing trip for you and your spouse.