Zen and the Art of Not Fishing At All


The other day, I had the pleasure of being reminded of one of the great traditions of fly fishing.

It’s a tradition that we all practice once in a while, even if we don’t notice it.

It usually sneaks up on you unexpectedly and it even makes its way in to more than one scene in “A River Runs Through It”.

This great aspect of fly fishing that has been practiced for so long can best be described as not fishing at all.

It’s the moment when you actually stop fishing, look up and around, and realize that you need a second to just sit on the bank (or in your boat) and watch the water run by.

This is one of my favorite fly fishing rituals especially when I have a few friends to talk story with, and look back on all the good times the river has brought me. It’s bullshitting at its finest, and its impossible to walk away from feeling anything but great.

A fine day on the river.

Like I said before, this need to just chill out for a second can sneak up on you.

Many different situations, events, circumstances, or outcomes can lead to this moment, and usually they differ from angler to angler.

For me personally, it’s usually brought on by a whole bunch of dudes racing to put-ins and even more dudes than that racing down river as if they are trying to outrun a flash flood.

For others, it may be brought on by a tough day of fishing where you just flat out give up, or a really good day of fishing when you need a few minutes to just reflect. It can even be brought on by the simple knowledge of a cooler full of cold beers that always seem to taste better while sitting next to a river.

The truth is, we all need this time to sit back and just take it all in because otherwise, we are only seeing a very small fraction of what fly fishing really is. It’s more than staring at your flies all day in an attempt to trick every single fish in the river in to eating them.

In the end, I think we can all admit that this act of laziness can be incredibly rewarding, even when the fishing is really good.


Fishing for more tales from the river? Check out Matt and Bryce’s other posts: Skwalla Season on the Bitterroot RiverFly Fishing: The Comedy of Tragedy, and An Ode to Brown Trout, or visit the Fish It archive.

Be sure to visit the Make it Missoula fishing page.


Photos of Missoula Fly Fishing Experts Matt Devlin and Bryce McLean

Matt Devlin (left) is originally from Annapolis, Maryland and learned to fool trout on the technical waters of the Gunpowder River. He has fished in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. He thinks about flies and fishing a whole lot.

Bryce McLean (right) was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was ten, his family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his second season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth.