Purity and Fly Fishing

I’m a fly fisherman. I have been self-identified as a fly fisherman basically since I picked up a fly rod back in 1996. It is how I choose to pursue fish, it is how I choose to spend time in the wilderness and wild places. Somehow, it became a foundational part of who I am.

Fly anglers, especially trout anglers, tend to be purists. Once you start casting #22 tricos, you are less likely to thread the worm on the hook. It just… happens. You tend to start looking for other fish to catch on a fly, maybe even revisiting species from your bait soaked childhood with an eye toward enticing them with a fly. There is a mindset that seems to emerge. You fish with a fly rod. You release your catch. You change in these and maybe other, deeper, ways.

I went through this change myself. I started out throwing single salmon eggs to steelhead, and worms for bluegill, a panther martin here or there for the odd trout, a jig for shad at the opening days of summer. That was my childhood. Then I went fly fishing for the first time and it was a bit of a revelation and I was voracious in my appetite for the “quiet sport.”

So, it is with this growing fly fishing pedigree that I find myself slicing up strips of squid and threading them on big circle hooks on a rig that also includes an 8 oz. pyramid sinker and then hucking the whole thing out into water that is the color of chocolate milk, or maybe a mudslide.  There is even the much maligned bell atop the stout rod to indicate when a fish has found the stinking squid in the fast moving and opaque tidal flats of the San Francisco Bay.

There is one primary reason for my sudden interest in this type of fishing…

The girl and her shark.

My girl pretty much loves in out there. She loves sharks, almost, if not more than she loves snakes. She has little use for ponies or unicorns or the color pink, for that matter. What she loves are what she calls her “dangerous creatures.” These include sharks, snakes, crocodilians, and, to a lesser extent, tigers, bears, leopards and the like. When I understood that we could actually catch sharks, and just a few minutes from the house, well… it was on. I got the gear. I got some advice. I learned to snell a squid hook. I got a cart to haul all this stuff the 1/2 mile to the end of the pier and we got to embracing the stinky, smelly goodness that is bait fishing.

I baitfish.

Taken by the little girl

That would have been rather unexpected a year ago and I might have even scoffed at the notion. However, I find myself out at the pier rather often these days and, surprisingly, I’m enjoying it.

If I had a choice between baiting a line and throwing a fly, I would choose the fly pretty much every time, if it were just me to consider. However, if the options were to catch fish with my daughter or to not go fishing, I would take the stinky squid every time.


Purity would have kept me from this experience and I think both my daughter and I would be poorer for that.

Still, I’m not likely to put a shrimp on when pursuing bonefish or to thread that worm on a hook for trout, but I will be less judgmental of those who do.

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  1. Kids have a way of smashing all that purity nonsense and we end up being better and smarter anglers for it. Crickets for bluegill? Hell yeah.

  2. Don’t worry it just a midlife crisis. Enjoy. Btw flyfishing isn’t pure it’s not why we do it. It’s the challenge that we appreciate and I bet in a few years there will be shark coming in on the pier on a fly (yes it can be done). Next time I see you on the flats ill explain how that can be Donnie better yet while your daughter is baiting you can be flying Don’t forget the chum. It helps!

  3. Lawrence Snyder

    It’s still fishing.

  4. Where I’m fishing I don’t think fly fishing is really an option. The water is the color of mud. There is no “seeing” a fly. I suppose a shark could sense a fly with the little ampullae of lorenzini, but that would be about it. Can you catch anything in conditions like that?

  5. Way to go man, the little one is going to be at your hip soon enough on a bonefish flat because of the time you’re putting in on the pier. And..I bet its fun as hell.

  6. The most important thing in the world is that little girl and teaching her to love nature! Because you bait some day she will be fly fishing for bones, right next to you. Making fishing fun is your job now… as any old fisherman knows sometimes you just through what work… even if its a hand grenade.

  7. Right on. I love following along with all your pics on FB. And you have the coolest little girl. Ever.

  8. My grandfather took me fishing when I was 5 years old and I have been “hooked” on fishing ever since. It’s a natural part of the progression. I started fly fishing when I was 11 years old on a boy scout trip 25 miles up the Elwha River in Washington state. The changeover was fairly quick but I still have spinning rods in my garage, and when I used to visit my granddad in Kansas, we fished with worms.

  9. I do have the coolest girl. You are right!

  10. Went through the same thing with my daughter Bjorn, it’s all about priorities my friend …..

  11. Ah, the old San Mateo fishing pier….caught many a shark off that pier when I lived in the bay Area. Good memories, those……

  12. You can catch fish in water with visibility of 1 inch. Try a rattle rouser. Done it in galveston many times. I don’t know how they find the y but rousers and other flies that make noise and push water gurglers poppers etc work

  13. All fIshing is fun, the best fun ever is doing it with your kids. You are planting a lifelong seed that she will thank you for, and you will be so glad you did. Enjoy!

  14. OK… I want to do this… but I’m going to need some different flies… you have any links to those sorts of flies?

  15. Best post ever.

    Als0 – check out a scent additive if you’re going to try the rattle fly – add a little pro-cure shrimp or (if they make it) squid.

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