Fly Fishing and Photography


Log Fall

OK, I’ve not added a post for a couple of weeks. Some bad weather and the Thanksgiving holiday have prevented me from getting out to the forest for any photos or inspiration.

Oddly enough one thing I have had time for (while doing some waiting) was to read a small book on fly fishing – The Art and Science of Fly Fishing by Lenox Dick. It may be a bit of a stretch, but let’s see what I can find in common between fly fishing and photography.

This book is very light on things like how to tie flies, complicated high tech tackle, and fancy casting methods. The author states right in the introduction that the two most important factors in fly fishing are “the ability to read the water and proper fly presentation” and later he reinforces the point with “Flies are fascinating and fun to experiment with, but they are third in importance to reading the water and proper fly presentation”.


By “reading the water” the author means being able to look at a stretch of water and figure out where the fish are likely to be feeding. Some important locations are in the calm areas on the lee of large rocks or other obstructions, the entrance and the exit of deep pools, and along undercut stream banks.

By “fly presentation” he means understanding how to cast the fly to the correct spot and how to let it work with the current so that it appears to the fish as a real bug and not some artificial lure that you tossed into the water with a plop and then yanked about randomly.

Understanding the water and understanding how to work the fly comes not from a set of rules but rather from study and patient observation of the lives of the fish and of the bugs. Dick includes a chapter on entomology describing the life cycles of the more important “flies” so that the reader can get a handle on when (time of the year and time of day) and where (near the bottom or near the surface) fish will be feeding on the little buggers. He also suggests netting live bugs from streams you plan to fish in order to match your fly to the size and color of the real thing.

Familiarity with a good fishing spot is important too. A local angler can observe a stream when the water levels are low to spot rocks and shelves that are submerged at other times of the year. Long study allows one to ferret out less obvious and less accessible areas that are overlooked by the casual fisherman.


I’m not a fly fisherman, but I have a collection of hunting, fishing, and general outdoor books on my shelves. I picked this one out sort of randomly. I expected long chapters covering the minute details of gear and casting. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Dick took a more holistic approach to the subject that obviously comes from spending more hours standing in streams catching fish than from reading books by the fire or from practicing his casting in the back yard.

I see a parallel to nature photography here. Certainly a nature photographer needs the right equipment and a good understanding of how to use the technology to his/her advantage, but the technical aspects are not as important as some make out. Beware speding too much time wrestling with the fine points of one brand of lens over another at the expense of experience, knowledge, and “feel” for the subject itself – nature. Equipment should be third on the list of priorities.

Spend more time observing the forest than perusing catalogs. Return to favorite areas over and over to learn the subtleties that casual walkers miss. Read fewer books about photographic techniques and more about trees and water and bugs. Spend more time dreaming  about light and visualizing images than about new gear.



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7 Responses to “Fly Fishing and Photography”

  1. Cutthroat Stalker Says:


    Great post. You’ll find that a fair number of fly fishing bloggers are interested in photography with varying degrees of success – just like our fishing. As I read your post it struck me your mentioning a fisherman’s familiarity with the water one is fishing. You could call it a fisherman’s sense of place (terroir – new word to me, but very familiar concept).

    This sense of place for a fisherman is something I’ve been writing a rough draft of a post on. Funny thing that I should be writing that and stumble across this post. Because of your beautiful pictures and writing, I looked at your other posts and what should I read, that sometimes we stumble across things that connect back.

    When seeking fish, fly fisherman are naturally “in nature,” therefore we are in prime photography territory. Carrying a camera is commonplace, but extending our range from, “Look at this fish I caught,” to, “Look where I caught this fish,” has led to some wonderful sites combining the two.

    I found the posts and pictures here so lovely I’ve added your site to my blogroll.

    We have some common interests. I left a note on your “So what’s a forest rat?” page.

  2. forestrat Says:

    Hey Cutthroat,

    Thanks for stopping by and adding me to your blogroll. I’ll get over to your site as soon as I can (these pesky day jobs always get in the way).

    The web may be mostly junk, but this ability to make connections between ideas and people is one of its saving graces.

    I have fished all my life ever since my father, an avid pike fisherman, took me out as a kid. I never got into fly fishing though. Maybe I should give it a try this spring.


  3. wdkarstwo morskie Says:

    Ciekawy blog, dodalem go do ulubionych, bede tu napewno wpadal czesciej

  4. forestrat Says:


    Thanks for coming by for a look.

    I hope you can read english better than I can read Polish. With help from the web, I believe your comment says “Interesting blog, I have added it to my favorites, I’ll come back often.” Am I close?


  5. Art - A conversation With Rattus in Silvam | Cutthroat Stalker Says:

    […] If you are interested in photography and thoughtful writing, head over to Mark’s Forest Rat website. He always has some great thoughts and pictures. Mark’s not an angler, but I happened across his site last December with a post of his titled, “Fly Fishing and Photography.” […]

  6. Art - A conversation With Rattus in Silvam | Cutthroat Stalker Says:

    […] If you are interested in photography and thoughtful writing, head over to Mark’s Forest Rat website. He always has some great thoughts and pictures. Mark’s not an angler, but I happened across his site last December with a post of his titled, “Fly Fishing and Photography.” […]

  7. Fly Fishing and Nature Photography Says:

    […] Forest Rat writes of learning to appreciate and understand nature to become a better nature photographer. He made this realization by reading a book about fly fishing, of all things.  Read the water, understand entomology, and presenting your fly like a living insect are keys to success in fly fishing. © Mark Whitney […]

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