Social Distancing Has Become Social Fishing

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

It has been astounding how social distancing has pushed people to the rivers. I used to consider it crowded when I saw one or two cars parked at one of my favorite spots before Covid-19 hit. Now, I am relieved if I see only six or seven cars. There are pro’s and con’s to having so many people on the river. Let’s take a look at a few of each.

Pros to so many people on the river: First, and foremost, people are lonely and looking to stop and talk. This is a great opportunity to learn from other anglers. Just last week a friend and I walked what felt like half-way to China to get away from the crowd. I had just finished fishing a little riffle pool and was glowing in the aftermath of catching a 14” brown on my “killer beetle” pattern (one of my earliest blogs provides tying instructions if you want to try it). As I straightened out my line and prepared for the next cast, two younger guys walked up. They were laughing as they thought they had walked far enough to get away from the crowd too.

As usual, we went through the “How are you doing on the river today?” ritual. Earlier in the morning I had landed eight fish during the Trico spinner fall, one of the fish was a 15” brown. They were happy for me and asked some follow-up questions. Then I asked them, “How are you doing?” They were killing it and had 10-15 fish apiece in a couple of hours. I was impressed as the afternoon had not been at all like the morning for me.

Friends tell me that I am like a lawyer cross-examining a witness as I pump people for details on what they were doing and using. In this case, no pump was needed. They were like an Artesian spring. The information just came gushing out. They were Euro-nymphing. Seizing the opportunity to learn, I asked whether they would show me their set-up. Fifteen minutes later I was ready to try Euro-nymphing and knew how to do it.

They were 35-40 years younger than me and full of confidence. One of them said, “We could probably catch fish out of the run you just fished in five or less casts!” This was a no-lose situation. If they caught fish, I was going straight to the fly shop to get everything I needed to Euro-nymph. If they didn’t catch anything, I would know that my dry/dropper rig was doing fine.

So, I enthusiastically said, “Go for it! Let’s see what you’ve got.”

As it turned out it was a draw. The first guy didn’t catch anything on his five casts. After his fourth cast I casually said,

“No pressure, but this is your last cast to save face.”

He laughed, and made his last cast to no avail.

The second guy saved face by catching a 4-5” brown on his fifth cast. I couldn’t resist asking whether he counted fish that small.

He never hesitated and responded, “I most certainly do!”

Giving into temptation again, I replied, “That’s so small it’s not even a cigar!”

He nearly doubled over laughing and retorted, “Nope, it is a Tiparillo!”

I learned a ton and had a great time learning from these guys! What more could you ask for?

Another positive is that it forces me to fish new stretches. Every year I promise myself to learn another stretch or two. But, when it comes right down to it, I have a limited time to fish, so I end up talking myself into fishing one of my favorite known stretches. Now when I give in and I get to “my spot” there is a 50:50 chance someone is already there. If I want to fish, I need to keep walking to unfamiliar open water. Inevitably, I find it exhilarating to discover where the fish are in these new stretches. Obviously, it takes a little longer as I have to learn where the fish are. In the end, I have more options for where to fish in the future.

Alternatively, I can choose to fish behind someone. Since they are fishing the obvious good water, I have to look at the same “well known” water in a new way to see if I can find new less obvious spots missed by the fisherman who beat me there. Again, it is less efficient, but always brings a special satisfaction when I catch a fish in a new spot on a tried and true stretch.

Cons to so many people on the river: In the past I could pick a stretch and strategize how to fish to end up at a specific spot at just the right time. Last week an out of town friend was fishing with me. We got on the river before sun-up and were fishing at a pace to put us in a great stretch for the Trico spinner fall. Were just starting the last hole before this stretch and the mating balls were forming. It looked like we had timed it perfectly until a very friendly angler stopped to talk with us. He had never been this far upstream before and wanted to know what was coming. It was bittersweet to tell him what was up ahead and watch him fish the water we had hoped to fish.

Another challenge is sharing the water with newer fly fisher people who are unaware of stream etiquette. I have had people get in the water within one rod length of where I was standing and start fishing. Eventually, I found that if I politely and calmly inform the person what I was hoping to fish, they almost always comply and go up (or down) further before fishing. I have found very few people who will not comply.

As an aside, when I am the person approaching someone else who is already fishing, I always ask them what they are hoping to fish and work around them so they can enjoy their fishing as well.

Overall, the pros exceed the cons. While it is disappointing not to be able to fish where I was hoping to, I find that I am learning more of the river and getting lots of different ideas on how to fish and what to use. In the end, it is best to “go with the flow!” Having and keeping a positive attitude makes it a better experience for everyone.