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The Four Stages of a Fly Angler

Shannon Messer

After working with numerous anglers over the years I conclude that anglers can be placed in four categories. This is based on observations, interactions, and conversations with anglers with varying skills and backgrounds. No category is more important than the other but it seems to be a direct reflection on one’s attitude towards fly fishing.

Category number one is the one that we all went thru, we want to catch a fish on a fly rod regardless of species. Landing that first fish on a fly rod is rewarding in many ways. For some that event is forever tattooed in ones brain. For others it is the start of an addiction.

I classify the fly angler that wants to catch numbers in category two. This category accounts for the vast majority of fly anglers that I encounter. As a society it is natural to outcompete our fellow counterpart. It is no different when it comes to fly fishing. Fly anglers want to catch huge numbers of fish. In my opinion anglers in this category use numbers to express their perceived skill sets.

Insta famous glamour shots seem to highlight the big fish category. With all of us carrying a camera in our pocket anglers are able to share photos of their prized catch on many social media platforms. Pick up the latest Fly Fisherman magazine and on the cover you will find a large Brown Trout. Tell me the last time the cover of a magazine featuring a five inch Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. It is human nature to land the largest fish we can and brag about it. Some anglers accomplish this by experiencing failures and successes and others are just lucky. You decide.

I feel that the final category is the one we will eventually migrate to. I call it the I just want to fish category. For me this is the final evolution of the fly angler regardless of skill sets. Somewhere along the way life events happen. Careers, marriage, and children have or will eventually dominate your life limiting your time on the water. I preach that we only have a set amount of time while healthy that we are able to do certain things. Early in life we fell invincible which clouds our decision making process. Often we are tricked into believing that we can go fishing a month from now. Months turn into years and before you know it time has slipped thru our hands. With time comes knowledge and we learn to prioritize things differently. I often find these anglers as the ones that are looking to escape. Some trying to recreate that memory of fishing with a loved one or maybe fishing with a loved one of their own. Regardless of what got us here we all just want to go fishing.

For me I fall into the later category. I have been blessed with a great wife and two awesome sons. One chasing his dream and the other just eleven who is changing and gaining knowledge everyday even when he doesn’t know it. I fish to reflect on these important people in my life. I fish to relive memories of years gone by. I fish for the one’s that have came before me and shared their love for the outdoors with me.

What category are you? Why do fish?


Not sure. I certainly like to catch that first fish (hopefully a brookie) on a fly I’ve tied. Don’t care about numbers but I want to catch fish (plural) and not fish (singular). I’ll post a picture of a fish on social media because I have friends who like to see post on social media that aren’t political. And I’m in that moment in life when I go as often as I get up to Jackson Co which is at least once per month but most of the time twice a month (to Anna’s aggravation sometimes). I’d rather catch a 5” wild native (for those who don’t understand, that’s a speckled or brook) than a 30” stocker, which usually loo…

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