The pale light of dawn had just begun to shine on the surface of the river as we glided down the bank toward the water. It was one of those mornings that felt good. My friend Nate and I were itching to get out on the water to start casting our Spey rods for rainbow trout. We got to the start of a long fish-looking run and were just starting to rig our rods when another fisherman suddenly came out of the trees. “Shit,” Nate said. “He will get going before we do.” I looked at the other fisherman. He was busy riding a rod and paying no attention to us, and I saw that he was wearing an old navy blue sweatshirt and what looked like neoprene boots over a pair of leggings.
“Don’t worry,” I told him. “He is a Nympher. He’ll go deep-sea fishing and won’t get in our way. Nate looked at me curiously. “How can you know?” he asked him. “I just can,” I said.
There are many different fly anglers in the big world of fishing and although they are not all the same, they can be classified into different categories. While being able to identify these categories may seem challenging, and possibly stupid, it is an important skill because, as I just showed, when you meet a fisherman on the water, it’s good to know who you’re dealing with. Just like knowing your entomology, whether that snake on the trail is poisonous or the sound in the woods behind you was a squirrel or grizzly bear, being able to identify the fishermen around you can be vital to your success. your fly fishing.
Often seen in pajama bottoms and dung boots instead of wellies, nymphs believe in comfort. This is because they tend to spend all day standing in one place, jumping into the same pool over and over again. Nymphs are also often terrifying to watch, as staring at strike gauges all day eventually causes their eyes to pop out of their heads, making them look a lot like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings looking for his precious. They also have a fantastic reaction time by constantly setting hooks at the slightest prompt. So a fairly easy way to test if a fisherman is a Nympher is to creep up behind them and then yell and throw a rock at their head. If they turn around and catch it, they are definitely a Nympher.
Very rarely seen fishing, the purists often wander the riverbanks, sweating profusely in their tweed coats and Stetson hats. While it is rumored that they can actually fish, they seem to spend most of their time staring stoically into the water, watching the sun reflect off the end of their bamboo poles and staring at their dry fly boxes, all the while sighing deeply. satisfaction. You can always tell you’re talking to a purist, as 90% of what they say is recycled. Quotes from Norman Maclean and Izaak Walton. Me: “How’s the fishing today?” Purist: “God never made a quieter, calmer, more innocent recreation than angling, I am haunted by the waters, good scholar.”
The Streamer Addict
Squirming and tripping over their own feet, as they are not used to walking on land, the rest of the fishing community give the Streamer Junkies a wide berth. With their overgrown casting arms and the inevitable back problems that come from casting 7- to 10-weight rods for hours, Streamer Junkies look a lot like Quasimodo. It’s usually hard to see what exactly they’re wearing because their clothes are so covered in old marabou and deer tail fibers from tying their own patterns of giant flies that they look like rugs of multi-colored shag. It is important to never make sudden moves around Streamer Junkies as they are constantly on a knife edge from spending weeks in the water and not catching anything, so they have a bad habit of attacking. Several fly fishermen die from the bites of infected Streamer Junkies each year. Never strike up a conversation with a streamer addict as although they rarely catch a fish they keep an almost photographic memory of all the fish they have seen behind their fly and if they get the chance they will tie you to a stool and they will tell you about each and every one of them.
You will usually hear a Gearhead before you see it. They’ll come tinkling down the riverbank like a dog with a new collar. This is due to the large number of small metal instruments attached to their person. And just like a dog, when they see you on the river bank, they will come running to greet you with a panting happy smile so they can show you their toys. Gearheads make great fishing buddies because no matter what problem you’re having, from a bad knot to a broken rod tip to a bleeding head injury, they’ll have a trick to fix it. The other trick you can use to positively identify a Gearhead is that they dress up like a walking billboard. Orvis shirts, Simms boots, Patagonia vests, etc. No Gearhead goes fishing without making sure they are dressed and represent at least half a dozen different brands.
Materializing out of the morning mist or just suddenly appearing by your side on the riverbank, gurus only show up when you least need them. They usually wear worn flannel clothing and hats adorned with worn flies. Most will also sport long white or gray beards, except of course in the case of female Gurus, where the beard will be a bit shorter. The color and length of the beard are vital for identification of the Guru, as all Gurus are over 40 years old. Any younger than that and they are simply known as Lucky Bastards (ie “Did you see how many fish that kid caught?” “Yeah, Lucky Bastard”).
Gurus usually appear right after you’ve been caught by a skunk in a stretch of river. Once you have fully surrendered and thrown away the rod in frustration, a Guru will appear by your side to say “Do you mind if I fish behind you?” The Guru will then go back upstream to the section of water he just caught and catch all the fish on the run in what he thought was a completely fish-free stretch of water. The Guru will look at you from time to time as he catches his fish with a smile or two, while you just stand there stupidly with your mouth open. Then they’ll usually hand you the fly they were using, stroke their beards and nod, and then disappear back into the ether. You can’t chase them either because you’ll be too busy trying to figure out what the hell their fly looked like before so many fish chewed it up.
Like the gurus, the novices seem to materialize out of nowhere. Unlike the gurus, they always seem to show up right after you’ve just caught a fish. It’s easy to tell a newbie is approaching by the constant splashes and curses in the distance that start as soon as you connect. Once you get the fish into the net, a fledgling will appear, usually tangled in their fly line and with a hook or two stuck in their hat, coat, or ear. They will often tow sticks, grass, or branches in their wake, as in their haste to come see their fish, their dangling leader gets dragged along the river bank and gets tangled up in all sorts of things. A friend of mine even told me once about a newbie who came up to him with an entire uprooted aspen tree accidentally strapped to his back.
Once you hear a fledgling approaching, it’s best to get the fish out of the net quickly or even drop it to shake. Because if a newbie sees you with a fish in your hands, he’ll go into attack mode: “What kind of fish is that?” “What did you catch him on?” “Can I take a picture of you?” “How do you throw?” This barrage of questions can quickly drive you crazy and make you stop fly fishing altogether.
the wandering fish
“Hey man, do you have spare flies?” Emerging from under bridges or from under tarps on the backs of truck beds and worn and dirty drift boats, Fish Bums are found in almost every great water in the world. Although few can remember how they got there. They’re easy to spot, dressed in their torn, sun-faded shirts, cracked sunglasses, and with shaggy hair tucked under frayed trucker caps. Fish Bums are often seen as the bane of the fly fishing world. However, if you can stand the smell of cheap beer, wood smoke, and BO that constantly emanate from them, talking to a Fish Bum can teach you more about a river than any dozen books. They give information freely, as long as you provide the right incentive. This can range from a handful of extra stone fly patterns to a case of beer or a cup of Ramen noodles. It all depends on the Fish Bum you find and how hungover they are when you find them.
know your role
These are all general guidelines to follow, but sometimes things can get confusing when trying to identify a random fly fisherman. Sometimes you may come across a hybrid, like Nympher/Guru or Gearhead/Streamer Junkie. Sometimes you can make a misidentification, like when you think you have a purist on your hands, but in reality he is just a newbie who is good at poker. The truth is that you never know who or what you are going to meet in the water, so it is better to be prepared. Angler identification is an essential skill because it not only shows you who you are sharing the water with, but once you put on all your gear and are ready to hit the water, it will show you who is looking at you. you in the mirror too.
Featured Image via Tosh Brown.