Managing Frustration while Learning to Fly Fish

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was standing in the knee-deep slack water of one of my favorite runs on the Spokane River. I was certain I had the right fly. I was certain that I was in the right spot. All I needed to do now was execute. I started my windup, while counting out loud to myself: “one…two…three….forward, one…two…three ….back.” After weeks of practicing my casting in the back yard, by God I was determined to receive the fly-fishing glory that I felt the universe owed me.

The line curled and unraveled with each stroke as I drew closer to delivery. Then, on the final backcast, a slight miscalculation in timing resulted in an audible “ping.” Fearing the worst, I halted everything and quickly retrieved the line. Sure enough, the errant backcast had popped the fly right off my leader, leaving me dead in the water.

I stood there wondering how this could have happened to me for the fourth time that day. I was done with it. I threw my arms in the air, turned and began my exit strategy from the water. With one step left to reach shore, another slight miscalculation resulted in both feet flying directly out from under me, throwing me sideways into the shallow, rocky, river with my right hip landing squarely on my fly reel. Lying there in pain, my waders began filling with ice-cold river water. I caught my breath, pulled myself upright and examined the reel. Yep, I had bent the aluminum frame of my brand new fly reel, now ruined beyond repair. It had been the ultimate insult-to-injury moment, and what proceeded next was even more tragic. I unleashed the fury of an adult-size, full-on temper tantrum, thrashing wildly like a 2-year old in the bathtub. I was unhinging all my frustration from that day and I didn’t care who saw it or what they thought.

I’ve come a long way since those first ugly days on the river. Had it not been for the guidance of a few seasoned angling mentors, I may have bagged fly fishing altogether. For anyone who’s begun this journey and felt the frustration of the learning curve, here is some advice that helped me manage emotions along the way.

It will get better, I promise. I can’t recall how long it took to catch my first fish, but it was a long time. I flailed away endlessly on local creeks, rivers, and lakes to no avail. When it finally did happen, I was fishing stocked cutthroat trout in a high-elevation lake with dry flies. I managed to catch one little fish on that fly over the course of a three-day trip. I used everything I had learned, and it finally paid off. Over the course of the next few months, my skills improved and I started catching more fish. You will too.

It’s a journey, not a destination. Whenever you’re learning a complex new skill, the path of discovery will take you through lows and highs with detours, stops, and starts. Embrace that journey and forget about reaching an imagined level of proficiency. Becoming a seasoned fly angler takes years of practice and patience. Books and videos can never replace time spent on the water. With each fish you catch, you take another step on your journey that never really ends. You will learn and grow and build confidence every time you step into the water.

Don’t make it about the fish. It’s all right to want to catch fish; that is the end goal in the grand scheme of all this. Fly fishing is about spending time in beautiful, quiet places. It’s about relaxing and recharging with your friends or by yourself. It’s about taking pride in the skills you have spent the time to learn and leaning on years of knowledge and experience to put it all together. And when that fish finally arrives, it’s the icing on the cake. // (Brad Naccarato)


Fly Fishing Classes in May

With rivers raging with snowmelt this year, May is the perfect time to learn to fly fish or brush up on your skills with one of several free fly fishing classes in the works at Northwest Outfitters full-service fly fishing shop in Coeur d’Alene. Fly Fishing 101 teaches beginners how to cast, tie necessary knots, and understand gear terminology. Dates for this free, 2-hour class, as well as some classes for more advanced anglers, are in the works, so check the Northwest Outfitters website for details. Several free Women’s Fly Fishing 101 classes are on the calendar from 9:30 a.m. to noon on two Saturdays in May (May 6 and May 13). Learn more at // (OTM)


Brad Naccarato is a Spokane-based freelance writer who loves to chase snow, waves, trout, sun, dogs, and microbrews. He wrote about being seduced by a wooly bugger for OTM last June.

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