Fly & Tenkara, Freshwater, Stuff we've learnt, Trout

The generalist: a fly fishing manifesto

Some fly fishermen specialise. They focus on one species. They learn every subtlety in behaviour. They develop an deep almost spiritual understanding with their quarry of choice. They become truly excellent fly fishers.

For most fly fishermen (but not all), the quarry of choice are trout. This makes sense. If god exists, trout were designed by him/her to give pleasure to fly fishermen. They are spotted with bright colours. They are pretty. They live in pristine, varied, beautiful environments. They eat insects. They eat insects off the surface. The rise. There is nothing better than a rise. They come in all sizes. Wild six inch dry fly eating machines that populate the smallest of streams to 20 lb beasts that dominate the pool, true apex predators. As a fly fisherman, solely focussing on trout is understandable. There are very few fish that suit the medium so well.

Trout and fly fishing are a match made in heaven.
Trout and fly fishing are a match made in heaven.

I am not a specialist.

For better or worse, I am not that sort of fly fisherman. I love chasing trout. I enjoy a good dodding session as much as the next guy. Dry flies + willing trout is pure enjoyment. My problem is I have just as much fun chasing, carp, mullet, tailor, bream, trevally, bass, cod and anything else that swims. So while I am not a bad trout fisherman, I am not a good one either. I will never be a very good trout fisherman. I get too easily distracted. I spend too much time chasing a multitude of other targets.

A good month in the life of a generalist.
A good month in the life of a generalist.

I am loathe to admit it, but fishing for trout all the time can get a little monotonous. Maybe its my generation Y roots. After a few trout sessions, I am itching to chase carp. After a few carp sessions I am itching to chase natives. After that, I simply NEED to hit up a trout stream. Or maybe the estuary. You get the idea. I will fly fish for anything that swims and I love it.  I’m a generalist through and through. Give me a fly rod and some species of fish and I’m happy. I don’t need trout in a pristine stream, carp in an urban drain are more than enough to entertain me.

Of course, there are drawbacks of being a generalist. I can’t hope to be as good at any one thing as the specialists. I will never be a great trout fisherman.

There are also advantages. The biggest is that I don’t need a trout stream nearby to go fishing. Stuck in the city for a week, easy I’ll chase carp. Down the coast. The options are endless. Inland somewhere. Natives. As a generalist, there are fish you can catch on fly everywhere. Being a generalist means that I get to fish more. A lot more. Personally, thats the major drawcard. So maybe I’m a generalist because I just really enjoy fly fishing.

There are other advantages too. One thing being a generalist teaches you is to be flexible. To be a generalist you NEED to be flexible. To learn quickly. Often success hinges on changing up styles and techniques time after time after time while on the water until you begin to figure things out. Every moment becomes an opportunity to learn. Being a generalist is all about learning. Learning from other fishermen (if you get the chance to fish with a specialist take it and sponge off them, they know more than you ever will), learning from trial and error. Its about being constantly slightly out of your depth. As a generalist, your failings and lack of knowledge are always front and centre of the fishing experience. Rarely do you feel you have “got” something. Which is personally how I like my fishing to be. A “good” failure is just as rewarding, if not more rewarding, than a lazy success in my eyes.IMG_6650

Of course in many respects that is similar to being a specialist. In the end fly fishing is fly fishing, no matter what the target, no matter how you chose to enjoy the sport. There are far more similarities than there are differences. Many of the lessons learnt on one species are transferable to others. In the end, fly fishing is about problem solving and no matter the species the problems are more or less the same. Where are the fish, what are they feeding on and how do I fool them with some fluff on a hook.

Eventually specialists understand those questions deeply. They can solve even the hardest of problems. As a generalist, its more often than not about finding a solution quickly that is “good enough”. Encounter a really hard problem and you often get stumped. That is where as a generalist, I can learn a lot from the specialist. They have been there and done that and more often than not figured it out (and written about it). Reading and talking to other fishermen about those situations can help you solve them the next time you encounter them without spending hundreds of hours on the water. As a generalist, I can learn a hell of a lot from the specialists.

On the flip side, I think that the specialist can probably learn something from the generalist. While not all fish are trout, perfectly designed to be chased with a fly rod, some are close. Some are very very close. I firmly believe that even the most avid trout nut should at least give chasing carp on fly a go. Trust me, its challenging and a load of fun. Should at least consider chasing Australian bass on cicadas in mid-summer. When it comes off, its pure bliss. Should head out to the lowland rivers at least once chasing cod.

The joy of being a generalist is getting to taste what is great about so many different species in so many different environments. I think even the most avid trout nut could benefit from those experiences from time to time.

Summing up, my fly fishing philosophy is that there are a lot of different fish out there and they are all fun to catch.



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5 thoughts on “The generalist: a fly fishing manifesto

  1. “If god exists, trout were designed by him/her to give pleasure to fly fishermen.”

    I think you are mistaken. 🙂

    I think god created cod, and particularly trout cod, better known by the old name of blue-nose cod, to give pleasure to fly fishermen.

    They are speckled with handsome colours. They are pretty. They lived in pristine, varied, beautiful environments. They ate insects. They ate insects off the surface. They rose.

    Unfortunately our early fly-fishers and fisheries “managers” were too busy culturally cringing and wanting to ape their flah-fishing “superiors” back in England, to appreciate what they had before them.

    (I know you guys know this. I’m just stirring 🙂 … )

    1. Too right.

      I am looking forward to Lake Sambell and Kerford opening so I can legitimately go chasing them on the fluff 🙂

      Hopefully in the not too distant future, on a river somewhere 🙂


  2. Nice post Hamish. If there is one good thing about trout, it’s that they basically invented fly fishing. Now we can enjoy fishing for numerous other species in possibly the hardest way ever conceived to catch them…


  3. Like you I’m a generalist as well. I prefer trout, remember the addage, “trout don’t live in ugly places.” But I only fish with a flyrods and I like my water moving. Nice pics Hamish.
    P.S. God does surely exist!

    1. Thanks Tim!

      I can’t pick a favourite! I like trout, but I’ve got a pretty bad carp addiction, I love my bass and cod and I’m keen as mustard to do more saltwater fishing. They are all so different and all so much fun in their own ways.

      One of the things I love about fly fishing is the appreciation it gives you of places you may not have appreciated otherwise. Sure, it takes you to wonderful places (which is rad), but I also firmly believe it can bring out the beauty in almost any environment. For example, chasing carp in Melbournes creeks made those polluted, man made environments take on a whole new character. A beauty emerged that I would never have found otherwise.


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