It takes skill and finesse to choose a fine wine, the perfect color for a room, or the best way to organize your drawers. But, many wise fly fishermen would argue that a finer art is the choosing of a good fishing buddy.
While the wine you choose for the night can make or break your evening, the fishing buddy you choose can dictate your enjoyment on the water for years to come.
Choose wisely, and you’ll become closer to your friend and have a fantastic time fishing. Choose poorly, and you’ll be stuck between bad fishing trips and an awkward “break up” session where you cut the cord.
That said, it’s possible to make educated choices when bringing on a new buddy. Although sometimes you’ll be caught off guard down the road when someone shows their true colors, you can generally weed out the bad eggs before you get caught in a sticky situation.
Here are some things to look for in a good fishing buddy.
Someone who’s reliable
Whether you’re fishing in your backyard pond or 20 miles back in the backcountry, having a dependable buddy is crucial.
In terms of your less hardcore fishing scenarios, like a small local stream or pond, reliability may mean someone who is willing and capable of being your netter. It could also mean someone who’s able to get a rogue hook unstuck from your neck or take a good photo of your best fish.
Once you take things into the backcountry, though, reliability becomes way more important.
While netting your fish is a solid thing to do in the frontcountry, in the backcountry you need someone whom you could rely on if things got hairy. Falling and breaking an ankle, getting stuck in dangerous weather, and getting an infected wound are all very real possibilities in the wild.
When you’re looking for a buddy, make sure you pick someone who’d have your back even in the worst situations. In the backcountry, you’re partners and need to act as such. Someone who wouldn’t be willing to throw your arm over their shoulder and hike you out with a sprained ankle isn’t worth bringing along.
Someone who shares your preferences
If you fish with someone often, you’ll want to make sure your styles are compatible. This isn’t to say you have to fish the exact same way, as most people will have individual favorites.
But, if you prefer backpacking in to remote places and they like sitting on a lawn chair with a bobber, your fishing relationship probably won’t last too long.
Some preferences worth taking into consideration are…
- rivers vs. lakes
- hiking in vs. driving in
- target species
- staying out all day or just going for a few hours
- staying close together and chatting or spreading out and meeting up at the end
- taking breaks to eat lunch together and have a beer or fishing straight through
While there’s certainly no rule that says you have to fish the same way as your friends, you’re much more likely to want to keep fishing with a buddy if you’re both enjoying yourselves.
Someone who doesn’t whine
Like reliability, whether a person whines matters both on frontcountry and backcountry trips.
In town, whining may revolve around slow fishing, crowded rivers, getting up early, weather, hunger, or a variety of other things.
In the backcountry, whining could be about any of the previous issues, as well as a heavy pack, a long hike, or the destination not being worth the effort.
Regardless of what the whining is about, it gets old fast. The last thing I want to hear while fishing is how much fun someone else isn’t having. As much as frustration is natural, especially in fly fishing, spreading that negativity to others is pretty rude. Find a buddy who, even if the going is tough, will look on the bright side.
Now, this isn’t necessarily the case if you’re both having fun complaining together. On some of my most memorable days with close friends, the fishing was bad and we started having fun finding all sorts of things to complain about. This usually leads to jokingly complaining about non-issues. “I bet there aren’t even fish in this damn river!” can give you both a laugh and make you realize you’ve got it pretty good if a slow day on the water is your biggest problem.
So, maybe this point would be more aptly described as finding a buddy who doesn’t bring down the trip with negativity. Assuming you’re having fun complaining together, it’s probably, in reality, a positive experience.
Someone who lifts you both up
A buddy whose goal is to make you both have the best day possible is a good buddy to have.
While a little friendly competition is great, someone who’s constantly trying to one-up you gets old. It’s natural to get frustrated if someone else is having all the luck, but that doesn’t mean you should take it out on them or hold out on info just to bring them down.
This inevitably leads to hostility and a nasty break up down the road.
Instead, find someone who wants to help you and shares in your successes. A good buddy high fives you when you land a monster, and reassures you when you lose the fish of a lifetime. A little friendly teasing can be fun for both, but legitimate insults will dissolve a friendship quickly.
Along the same lines, a good buddy will help you out when they can. If they’re catching a ton of fish on a fly you don’t have, they’ll offer you one so you can catch fish too. Or, they’ll share what their split shot and indicator setup is so you can match.
A good buddy here could be described as a rising tide lifting both of your ships.
Someone who’s trustworthy
Most of the points on this list could also be applied outside the fishing world. This one may be the most important of those. Finding a buddy who’s trustworthy is absolutely vital in all circumstances.
First of all, trustworthiness means following laws. If I were on the water with someone who started breaking laws in regards to bag limits, private land, or illegal techniques, I’d be immediately on edge. Not only do you now have to wonder whether you can trust them in your own relationship, but they could drag you into sticky situations with other people.
In addition to actual legality issues, an untrustworthy buddy doesn’t help you out on the personal front either. You may have to think twice about sharing secret spots with them or loaning them a few bucks for lunch if they forgot their wallet.
In general, for fishing and for life, find yourself an honest buddy.
Someone who complements you
A guy or gal can be a perfectly nice person and also be a pretty bad fishing buddy. This isn’t something wrong with them, but it does affect whether you want them as a fishing buddy.
Complementing you can mean all sorts of things. A few examples include someone who wants to be in the front of the boat while you prefer the back, someone who wants to dredge nymphs while you prefer dry flies (so you can both successfully fish through the same runs), someone who likes the opposite half of the beers in a variety pack, or someone who mostly prefers taking pictures while you mostly prefer fishing.
This seems to go against the “sharing preferences” point, but it doesn’t necessarily. Sharing preferences is great for deciding what kind of trip you’re going to take (if you like hiking and they hate it, they’ll be miserable), but complementing each other means you have different minor preferences within the same overall fishing context.
Sharing preferences means you both want to take a drift boat trip. Being complementary means you each prefer a different end of the boat.
Someone who’s generous
Another one that’s good for life and fishing is generosity.
I’d like to think this one goes without saying, but it’s a good reminder when you’re deciding whether you’ve found a good buddy.
There’s something really enjoyable about fishing with someone who insists you take the better spot, get the first cast, or drink the last beer. These aren’t necessarily grand acts of altruism, but they can sure brighten your day on the water. And, isn’t having a good time on the water kind of the point?
Additionally, being generous encompasses many of the other points listed here. If you’ve seen your buddy demonstrate generosity, it’s probably safe to assume they’re also reliable, trustworthy, and uplifting.
Even if you find that your fishing styles aren’t 100% complementary, a generous buddy will most likely make up for that.
A good buddy can make or break your fly fishing experiences. They can be the difference between a lifetime of good memories and a sour association with fishing. What do you find important in a buddy? Let me know in the comments!