A Mentor when we least expected it...
If you take a quick glimpse at our social media accounts, you’ll quickly see how fortunate we’ve been over the last few years. But these pictures don’t tell you the whole story. Fly fishing harbors some truly amazing people and throughout our odysseys we’ve had the opportunity to meet a few. Famous fly tyers, guides, industry leaders, authors and everyday anglers just like us. Building credibility or name dropping isn’t the purpose of this blog post, so we’ll leave the identity of these individuals a mystery for now. What’s more important is how the encounters with these special people have influenced us.
Imagine for a moment, that you’re sitting in a bar in a well-known trout town when an older gentleman takes a seat next to you. He begins to ask you about your day on the water. You converse for a while, talking about anything and everything fly fishing. You have no idea who this person is, but it’s obvious that he’s “well-seasoned”. He tells you about his favorite dry fly patterns. He shares his “prime spots” with you, unsolicited. He appears to genuinely care whether or not you’re having a successful outing on the stream. He finishes his cocktail and he bids farewell. But before leaving, he gives you his card and tells you to take a look at his work. You place it in your wallet, thank him and wish him good luck on the stream. As you’re lying in your bed that evening, you decide to remove the business card from your wallet and investigate. It’s only then that you realize that you were in the presence of an absolute legend; an expert fly tyer, guide, fly fishing instructor and inventor.
I cannot begin to express how stupid we felt. But, in retrospect, I’m glad it happened the way it did. This man had no idea who we were, yet he freely shared his knowledge with us. He wanted to see us have a good experience and enjoy his favorite pastime. He could have easily sat there and ignored us or mocked us for our inexperience, but he did the opposite. The next day we watched him from a distance as he casted one of his famous dries on a long slow pool. After returning home, I found and purchased one of
his films on eBay. I hoped that someday I would encounter him again. Last year, while doing some research for a trip, I learned that he had passed away the week prior. He left a monumental legacy behind him. I still dwell on this experience from time to time. I’ll be forever grateful for his humility that evening.
Mentoring is often looked at as a time-consuming commitment. But I would argue that the greatest mentoring that I ever received was in that bar. He willingly shared his experience with us with the intention of helping us improve. Isn’t that what a mentor does? Fly fishing is unique and complex. There are so many parts to learn. Entomology, ecology, flies, casting, fly rods, fly lines, reels, leaders, tippet…The list goes on. I think it’s these complexities that make being successful so rewarding. Finding a mentor to help guide you through these aspects is a priceless acquisition. Eventually, with practice, confidence builds, and success is realized.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to mentor someone. She had no previous fly fishing experience and was thinking about getting into the sport. I’m no expert (by my standards), but I definitely have more experience than someone who is just starting out. When the opportunity arose, I immediately thought of the gentleman from the bar. This was an opportunity for me to “pass the torch” just as he did. I’d like to think that it put a smile on his face. In the hour that I spent with her, I know I only scratched the surface of what fly fishing is all about. But it felt good to pass along some knowledge and tips. I really hope that I get the chance to do it again. Books and YouTube are great resources, but they cannot compare to the experience gained from a personal interaction. If you’ve been fortunate enough to yield some success, consider passing on some of that knowledge. It doesn’t have to be a formal training session. It could be a chance encounter on a stream bank or perhaps at a bar in a well-known trout town.
See ya on the stream bank!
In Memory of Mr. David Brandt
(August 1944 – March 2020)