Guest Blogger: Phil Rispin, fly fisher, photographer & more, find Phil’s photography here

My Dad’s hunting, fishing and drinking beer partner was Don, a shirt tail relative that had grown up with Dad south of Edmonton, Alberta. They had both gone to school together, left high school in grade 11 to go to war together, served in the Canadian Navy, and together they saw the worst that the U-Boats could do to men and equipment while they did their best doing their job to protect allied shipping in the North Atlantic. Both of them got married at about the same time, there were four sibs in our family and 3 children in Don’s. To say that Don and Dad had a close bond would be an understatement.

Our fishing and hunting trips would start on Friday evening around the kitchen table in our home where Don, Dad and some of their other old war buddies would drink beer, smoke cigarettes or pipes and talk. I may be wrong but I think this is the way WWII vets handled PTSD. During the evening’s conversation plans would be made for Saturday’s fishing or hunting trip and we the kids would be all ears, straining to hear whether or not the kids would be coming along. As we approached our teens the answer to that question was usually a yes and we would be inducted at least for a day or two into that exclusive group of men.

1280px-Men_fly_fishingI have to admit to more than a little frustration with Don. He was to my way of thinking a poor fishing or hunting partner. During the previous evening’s discussion, it would be decided that departure time would be before sunup so we could be in place to either fish or hunt when the sun came up over the horizon, but inevitably when we arrived at the Gilles household to pick Don and his son up, no lights were on and it was obvious that everyone was still in bed. Dad would bang on the back door, the dog would start barking and Don would show up in his underwear as if all was normal and well with the world. There would be breakfast to make and consume, lunch to make and pack and equipment gathered. By the time we left Don’s place the sun was already high in the sky. To say I was frustrated with the situation would be some more understatement, but except for some mention of the day’s events to my mother at the end of the day, I never saw Dad get upset about this. It was simply the way of things. Fish were caught, Duck, Grouse and Pheasant were shot and memories were made in spite of the late start and a relationship between two men was maintained.

I am very fortunate to say that I have three fishing partners. One who has become a close friend over the past 16 years or so and two that had to become fly-fishermen before I would give my blessing to their marriage to my daughters. That wasn’t difficult because both my daughters had the good sense to marry guys who enjoy the outdoors with a good deal of hunting and fishing mixed in with the hiking, mountain/rock climbing and mountain bike riding. During the summer trip to the south western part of Alberta, I have the privilege of being with all three of them. This got me wondering recently as to what makes a good fishing partner?

I thought I could make a quick shopping list of traits to answer that question but its much more complex than that. In the fly-fishing club I belong to you can see a number of different types of partnership. These folks have often been fishing together for years and each partnership seems to have its own personality. So I went looking for traits that might be common between fishermen but that didn’t work very well either so instead I have given the partnerships names.

  1. There is the “mentor partnership”, one of the guys is older, very experienced and very capable. The other guy is younger and learning fast. There is a friendship of sorts but the younger member of this pair benefits the most from the relationship. The younger man will often talk in excited tones to others about the fishing trips they take together and the older man will talk happily but only if you push him into it.
  2. There is the “odd couple” partnership which takes two very unlikely characters and puts them together. There is a lot of humor involved as the two individuals tell stories not only about the fish they’ve caught but they tell stories about each other to dispense some humor to anyone who will listen. Their other purpose for telling the stories is to goad the other partner a little bit and get a reaction. Eventually this partnership builds a large number of hilarious anecdotes with all the typical fishermen’s exaggeration. They love to share these stories with anyone who will listen and it’s worth your while as the stories get better and funnier with practice.
  3. There is the “quiet couple” partnership, two guys of equal fly fishing ability that enjoy each other’s company who rarely talk about their fishing trips to others unless asked. They are often very well educated and they can talk about heavy topics that impinge upon their lives that have nothing to do with fly-fishing. On stream they often fish alone without seeing each other until the end of the day at the truck where they compare notes and quietly enjoy each other’s success.
  4. The “husband and wife” partnership. The husband-wife partnership is perhaps the one that is most fraught with trouble. Inevitably there will be some level of competition between the two with hard feelings on the part of the partner who isn’t catching fish. One guide tells a story about a couple where the male half said he was experienced enough to take care of his own needs for the day. The wife on the other hand was completely teachable knowing she needed to learn everything. She listened carefully to the guide’s instruction and by the end of the day she was catching not only large numbers of fish she was catching large fish. The husband in this case had experienced a disappointing day and instead of celebrating his wife’s success was angry with jealousy over what she had accomplished. It makes one wonder how fly fishing may have contributed to some divorces.
  5. The “father-son” partnership. In my experience the father-son partnership can go two ways. I have guided two pairs who competed with each other in much the same manner as the husband-wife partnership mentioned above. The following summer I got repeat business from one of these pairs but only the father showed up; the son had found other things to do. At the other extreme I’ve watched as a dad stepped back and allowed his son all the opportunity to learn and catch fish. The father in this case got as much joy over his son’s success as he might have if he was catching the fish himself.

So what do I want in a partner? Well I enjoy teaching some but I also love fishing so my preference is to get all the teaching or mentoring out of the way before arriving at a stream having provided enough information for the newer fisherman to spend the day without too much babysitting. I like company during meals and in the evening around the fire. I enjoy company nearby on the stream so I can either show-off what I’m catching or take part in the joy of my partner’s catch. For me this means taking lots of pictures and generally congratulating their success. Being within shouting distance has some advantages too in that you can quickly run over to the partner and see the fly and techniques being used. This trading of information ups your chances of catching fish yourself either by adopting what your partner is doing or avoiding it. I want my partner to be in relatively good shape so that they can spend a day fighting current in their waders walking miles in one day. I like to fish with people who are not afraid of the big carnivores that live in the areas where we fish but have instead a healthy intelligent respect for them doing what is necessary to reduce the chances of having a dangerous encounter. Finally I like fishing with people who at the end of the day will have enjoyed being out in the wilderness taking part in an age old practice without the need to have caught the biggest or the most. It’s fun if they can relate stories from the day that help us all enjoy the day over again and perhaps learn something new.

Finding a good fly-fishing partner is like striking gold and I feel very blessed with the people in my life who have been and still are great partners.


  1. No words could be wiser Phil; you explore a social aspect of fly fishing we don’t offen discuss. I remember coming to the realization, back in my hang gliding days, that despite the solitary nature of that sport (hours aloft working air currents trying to get above 14,000 feet or playing a chess game with the atmosphere in a bid for some far-off cross-country goal)…despite those lonely “one man, one glider, big sky” hours, the camaraderie was still a profoundly powerful element of the whole experience–the shared anticipation while setting up on a mountain top, discussing meterological assessments prior to launch, and the unbridled exhuberance in the landing field, taking hours to accomplish a 30-minute break-down-and-pack-up job because we were just so incredibly high on life. And fishing has nothing on flying in the embellishment arena, by the way–our log books were filled with exploits that could only be topped by a later telling of the same story.

    Despite all that, when my friends one-by-one trickled away from the area I found myself flying less and less until I became more an owner of seven gliders than a pilot. The buddy connection was far bigger to the whole thing that I’d ever realized.

    I mostly fly fish alone–I can count the times over the last decade that I’ve fished with a buddy on one or two fingers. I think it’s because I know of nobody in my area who not only enjoys fly fishing but who would be willing to suffer the schedule pressures I adopt for myself–how early I have to hit the road to get a couple of stream hours because I feel the need to get home again before my family’s day is impacted. But it’s a shame because we can learn all sorts of things from fishing partners, from new stretches of stream to new go-to flies to…almost anything.

    I had to laugh that your engagement consent hinged upon fly fishing adoption. I’ve often said that if I’d had a son then 16 years later I might have had an occasional driver to bring the truck down for me from blood-and-guts hang gliding hills, but I had a daughter instead, and she’s pretty, which means in a few years I may have no end of such drivers. And now that every time I “fly” I add the word “fish” to the end of that word, I think I might be headed into an era of perpetual stream-side compatriots.

    Great article Phil; I enjoyed it very much. I’ve had other thoughts to add to the fishing buddy topic, but they’re already in the queue so I’ll just wait until they’re published.

    – Mike

  2. If you don’t mind…could I, may I add another type fishing partner to the list? I was a mentor at age 28 to a long haired, pot smoking and other drug taking young man of nineteen years of age. In all honesty, my habits were none the better than his. After all…this took place in the 60’s and the first half of the 70’s. The difference was my knowledge and experience with a fly rod. Now, move forward 44 years and looking at the now history of marriages, children, and of losses and the combined joy and pain that life experiences bring to all of us…the sum total of big fish, all the long drives to get to the big fish the huge numbers of beautiful sun rises and sunsets and I must add the seemingly hundreds of wild horses, deer, elk, antelope that we have seen and photograhed…the multitude of scenes that we have viewed through our front windshields, i must admit that my friend, my fishing brother who is now 63, has now become the impetus, the drive, the push in our partnership. I think i still catch more fish and bigger fish but i could be wrong…but he is first out of the hotel bed. He is the driving force. He plans the trips…he keeps a loving eye on me…although he’d never say that he does. Times change. Roles reverse. Unknowingly we both stopped the illegal use of chemicals years and years ago…on the same day. Unknowingly we both committed our lives to Christ years and years ago…on the same day. Our fishing partnership will go into eternity…it will last forever.
    Thanks…I hope this has added to your thoughts on fishing partnerships. It’s been a marvelous, glorious road. May HE greatly bless you!

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