On the Fly: If you can’t row, you can’t go, or so the saying goes

Scott Spooner
On the Fly
Anglers on the Roaring Fork River
Shannon Outing Photography/Courtesy photo

There is an adage here in the valley amongst the local fly fishers — if you can’t row, you can’t go. This refers to how we rotate around the boat while floating the Roaring Fork and Colorado, everyone getting a shot at the coveted front spot, as well as the back seat and the middle, where the work gets done. If you don’t know how to row, your friends are less likely to ask you along.

Learning how to handle the sticks can be challenging, but after a few days, you start to get the swing of it. The main challenge is listening to your instructor (beer-drinking buddy) and turning your brain off at first, as most of the moves are counter-intuitive to what you think you need to be doing. When your instructor tells you to point the boat at what you want to avoid, it takes a minute to wrap your head around that concept.

Nothing will make you appreciate the skills of a skilled oarsman (or woman) than getting behind the wheel yourself. A talented rower works on his or her angler’s fly drifts as hard as the angler, as the boat needs to equal the speed of the dry flies or indicator moving down the river. This requires a myriad of small adjustments, whether it is slowing down or speeding up the boat, as well as the angle of the boat in relation to the bank, the distance kept between the boat and the sweet spot, and so on. We have all ridden with someone who doesn’t pay attention to these subtleties, and the boat feels like it is flying past the honey holes all day.

You also pick up the nuances of boater etiquette as you learn, which includes being tidy and surgical on the boat ramp, staying clear of private property, giving other anglers a wide berth, and the host of other ways you can be an effective and conscious river steward. If you have the itch to learn to row, hit up that friend who has a boat, and get some stick time. Pro tip: Your stock will rise if you bring the food, beverages, and run the shuttle!


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