By Sean G. Baker
Guide with Three Rivers Fly Shop
Broken Bow, OK

We all start fly fishing by following a set of rules: Keep your rod tip between ten and two (or nine and one). Always fish upstream. Dry flies are for the surface and nymphs are for subsurface. The list is long and started hundreds of years ago on rivers and streams in what is now known as the United Kingdom. I would like to challenge you to re-evaluate those rules on occasion. I am not suggesting throwing out the rules of stream etiquette but rather the paradigms that many of us follow without really thinking about them any longer. I am suggesting that you experiment—whether that means submerging a dry fly now and then or stepping out of your comfort zone to see what’s around the next bend of the river.

As Americans we are supposed to have a sort of rugged individualism baked into our very DNA. Over my years of fishing, guiding, and teaching classes, I have observed that this sense of adventure and discovery has been lost to a certain degree by many fly fishermen. Here’s an example: I know a fly fisherman who drives about seven hours to fish my home waters almost every weekend. I can almost tell you exactly where he is going to be fishing, where he is going to be standing, the fly he is going to be using, and how long he is going to be standing there (all day). Now, I can tell you, he does pretty well in that spot and that he invariably catches lots of fish. But, I can also tell you that he doesn’t know much about our river beyond the reach of his drift from that spot. What happens to him if he gets there and can’t fish “his spot” for a variety of reasons? He is probably disappointed, a little lost, and I suspect he waits it out rather than trying something else. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am for him because we have about twelve miles of trout habitat that he can’t or won’t fish. I use this extreme example to make a point. We all get in a rut for a variety of reasons. In his case, he drives so far that he wants to make sure that he catches fish. He’s found a spot and a technique where he can do that pretty predictably. From my perspective, I think about all the missed opportunities he’s had to expand his view of the fly-fishing universe.

 “No man can enter the same river twice, for the second time it is not the same river and he is not the same man.”    ~ Heraticlus  

One of the best times to begin experimenting is when the fishing is great. It takes some discipline to change to something else when you’re dialed-in to either a great spot or the right fly. I can tell you that I’ve learned more about my options in these scenarios than almost any other time. Here on my home waters, we have a March brown hatch that starts in mid-February and extends through early April. It’s fantastic fishing, and it’s also an equally fantastic time to push your limits by trying different techniques or by exploring new stretches of the river. Last week, I went far below the normal fishing areas to places that are rarely seen by fly fishermen or really any people for that matter because access is tough. I had to bushwhack because the trail ended. I saw runs and pools that probably haven’t seen a fisherman in months. I had to make casts and mends that were new for me. I probably spooked way more fish than I caught down there. But, I know what I need to do the next time I’m there.

Another great time to experiment and explore is when the fishing isn’t that great. One of our shop’s guide mantras is to work on casting when the fishing is tough. That is something that anyone can do on their own. Find a spot where the current is fast, or where there are lots of different currents, and work on your presentation or your mending. That’s not something you can do in your yard or at the park.

The point here is to always try to get something out of every trip regardless of how the fishing is. Invariably, you will find that you will have more good trips. And, when the fishing is good, think how much better you will be when the opportunity presents itself. One of my favorite quotes is from the Greek philosopher Heraticlus. He said, “No man can enter the same river twice, for the second time it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” I think that is pretty profound when you think about it. The river is always changing, and we are hopefully better, more knowledgeable fishermen each time we enter the river. By experimenting and not being afraid to break the rules, you’ll expand your fishing knowledge and capabilities the next time you’re on the water.


Sean Baker is a guide with Three Rivers Fly Shop in Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Sean guides on the Lower Mountain Fork River for rainbow and brown trout. This is a year-round fishery with lots of insect hatches all year long. When he’s not on the river, you can find him painting or hanging out with his four-legged children and his wife Erica, who is also a guide.

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