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Fly Fishing Jazz: On Stage Fright

by Kirk Deeter

Matt Guymon Fly Fishing Photographyphoto by Matt Guymon

Do you suffer from “stage fright” when you fish?

You’re with your buddies, wading up the river, when you see a big brown trout rising.

“You take the shot.”

“No it’s your turn.”

“Thanks, but let’s let (Bob) have this one.”

Are you really being that gracious, or are you a little bit nervous about making that cast?

If you’re nervous, that’s good.  You should be.  That means you care.  And it doesn’t matter how skilled you are, if you don’t feel a little gurgling in the pit of your stomach at the moment of truth, that means you really aren’t contemplating the task at hand.

And you’re not alone in feeling that way.  If I told you that Sir Laurence Olivier had stage fright so bad—in the middle of his career—he actually had the people give him a shove onstage, would that make you feel better?

The thing is, there’s a fine line between letting the excitement of the moment energize you and letting it consume you and mess things up.  A good portion of what makes an athlete great versus merely good revolves around the ability to use nerves as fuel.

There are two ways to look at it: from a fishing and a casting perspective.  First, let’s get real here and realize we’re matching wits with something that has the brain the size of a pea, or maybe a peach pit.  It’s not a life-and-death situation, at least not for you.

So you make a bad cast.  You whiff.  You punt the fish.  So what?  Who cares?  (Even if it was a 150-pound tarpon laid-up in the shallows, a mere 40 feet away from you.)

When you play golf, you miss putts.  You move on to the next hole.  In fact your ability to shake off the misses is usually what separates a good round from a bad one.

The second point is that there really is nothing like practice to smoothe the nerves.  When you’ve done something so much that you barely think about it and it just happens naturally, the nerves are less of a factor.

So why don’t more of us anglers spend time practicing?  Forty feet in four seconds.  Casting into the trash can.  Whatever works. A musician certainly doesn’t play live without practicing.  If I’m practicing a song for a performance, I’ll practice it over and over, until I can play it faster than I really have to.

I think that’s true with the cast also.  The reason we practice those long hero casts isn’t because we want to be in a place where we actually have to use one.  We want to be able to ease back into a comfort zone.

And when you’re comfortable (not too comfortable, mind you), you’ll always be first in line to make that cast… unless you’re really polite.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT, the national publication of Trout Unlimited, and a frequent contributor to MidCurrent.
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  • Smsofthackle

    I’ve got three hula hoops. They’re all a different size. I go to the park and toss them out to various distances and try to put the yarn Adams in the hoop. When I feel cagey, I’ll try to put it smack dab in the middle. The windier the better. I was practicing one day last fall and a little guy came along while I was occupied with a cast and started to do his hula hoop thing. His dad came over to apologize, and then hesitatingly wondered if he could try it. Well, he bought his first fly rod a week later, and we meet once a week (weather permitting) to practice. His first comment to me as we got started was, “I”m a little nervous about doing this in front of you…” But, you know what? He likes the pressure.
       Great column, Kirk.

  • Soth130

    My first time actually fly fishing cured me of the “stage fright”.  I was on a stream with a friend when we came across a couple of other fly fishermen, all decked out in the latest gear.  I was hesitant to cast in front of them.  Until I saw them cast.  One hit the water with every stroke, not just the line but the tip of the rod as well, the other laid all his line out on his back cast then cast it forward.  I immediately thought “Hell, I can do that!”.  I went on to catch my first fish on a fly that day.  I realized that as long as you get the line out in front of you on the water you can catch fish, after all the fish are in the water not the air, casting will come with time and practice.

  • Badcaster

    Funny, I seem to catch more fish with an audience. 

  • Mike Sepelak

    Good stuff, Kirk. I look at it this way. If I have to worry about what my fishing partners think about my casting skills then I’m fishing with the wrong guys.

  • Erin Block

    As a recovering classical musician…I dealt with this a lot. I ate a lot of bananas in those years. Great post, Kirk, I identified with a lot of this.