Five Questions That Sound The Newbie Alarm by Jon Hazlett

June 01, 2016 4 min read

Is that an Osprey?

If you spend enough time behind the counter of a fly shop or have logged a few days on the oars guiding, you get a lot of questions about fishing. They say there’s no such thing as a dumb question. I disagree. But, if there is a gray area, I have found it. Within that gray area lies what I call “questions without answers”, questions that sound the newbie alarm. We’ve all asked them at one time or another. And that’s o.k., for now.  Here’s my top five.

What time of day do they start hitting? Now this is the million dollar question. If there was a definitive answer, the sport of fly fishing would eventually cease to exist. It would get so crowded at the “time of day they start hitting” that fights would break out like an MMA cage match. Fly fishing would become a contact sport, and we would need shoreline officials to call penalties and team doctors to follow concussion protocol.

There are too many variables to predict a specific time, like weather, water temps, barometer, moon phases, and so on. Sure, certain hatches come off at certain times on certain rivers. But in general, every day is different and timing varies. Bug hatches and when trout feed can be fairly consistent, when the aforementioned variables are also consistent. Otherwise, you just have to go and find out for yourself.

For steelhead and other anadromous fish, it is even more difficult to dial in. There is a misconception that steelhead bite only in the morning and evening. While it is true that steelhead do not prefer direct sun light, in my experience that is not always the case. On a tailwater steelhead river like the Rogue, often steelhead get most active once the sun warms up the water a bit. That usually occurs mid-day.

What fly they hittin’ on or What’s your favorite fly?Yet again, I have no idea. Nobody does. Yeah Larry I’ll just tune into river cam 347 and see what the trout are eating at this very moment. Favorite fly? It’s the one they just ate.

How deep is the river?Oh I love this one. Every fishing guide gets asked this one several times a year. It’s hard to keep a straight face when this question is posed. I often wonder what the question really is. How deep is it on average? Right under the boat? The deepest spot? Right here where we’re wading? Over there? My typical response is a definitive answer, like, 6.732 feet or I just say “I have no idea”. Does this question stem from a fear of water? If it’s really deep is that a deal breaker? Are you a certified scuba instructor and want to do some exploring today? Somebody please help me with this one.

How do we get back to the truck and/or Does the river go in a circle?Every American citizen should be required to be a Boy or Girl Scout, go to some kind of outdoor school, go on a rafting trip, or at least look at a map for goodness sake. I mean seriously people, do you see a motor on this boat? I have two oars and we are floating down a river. I am not rowing back up river 8 miles and it’s physically impossible for a river to go in a circle. How in the world do you get up in the morning, get both shoes on, and make it through a day without dying?

It's called a shuttle service folks. I pay a dude $20 to drive my truck and leave it at the take-out. He has a key to my truck and I leave the money in the ashtray. I use this thing we call a cell phone to arrange the shuttle ahead of time. We put a man on the moon 50 years ago, don’t sound so amazed when I explain how a shuttle works!  

What am I doing wrong? or Why is fishing so slow? Where should we start. Well, you set your coffee on my dashboard instead of the cup holder and when it tipped over, 16 ounces of cream, sugar and coffee gushed into my defrost vents. Now my truck smells like the dumpster behind Starbucks. You insisted on helping prep the boat and broke 3 rods. You cast your two nymph rig into 6 inches of water within 30 seconds of launching and lost everything in front of the boat ramp. Your casting stroke looks like wind shield wipers on the fastest setting. When you got tangled you shook the rod like it had a venomous snake on it, and created a bird’s nest suited for a bald eagle. Every time you set the hook you were ten minutes late, except each time you hooked the oars. Instead of walking ten more feet to take a leak under the tree, you showed the whole world how cold it was outside. You squeezed the fish so hard for the picture that it’s now 8 inches longer. It took you so long to land that fish that it was able to spawn 3 times. You put your cigar out on the side of my raft and then asked, “Is this a company boat?”. You continue to instruct your wife on the finer points of fly fishing based on your six years of experience fishing in Alaska. You set the hook so hard that you literally ripped it’s lips off. Other than that you did great!

Bonus question. At what elevation does a deer turn into an elk?I am pretty sure it’s around 8,000 feet. No, this isn’t a fly fishing related question. But, someone did ask this question at a lodge I worked at in Colorado.  

OK, so you might think I am a pompous jerk. Just to be clear, I am not pompous. And even if you don’t find it on this list, that doesn’t mean there’s not more questions that sound the newbie alarm. I am sure there are many more that I can’t think of. But I will promise you this, the next time I hear one of these questions without answers, I will politely answer it, as I always do, in a way that would make my mom proud.

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