The Bobber Wars

Whatever your preferred method of catching trout, whether you’re a part-time guide, full-time instagram model or a weekend warrior, there has been an interesting squabble on the fishy internets regarding the use and abuse of bobbers, deep nymphing and the likes. Sure, this argument has been completely made up for pure clickbait by two of the industry’s most popular bloggers, but the faux-argument has been a great look into the opinions of anglers everywhere regarding the benefits of the bobber, or the horrors of the practice – depending on where you stand. It all started with Kirk Deeter’s Field and Stream blogpost, “My Year Without the Bobber (And What It Taught Me)” , which seemed innocent enough: a seasoned fly angler going bobblerless. Good for him. But what came next was meant to incense, and it did a great job of sparking controversy and comments from all corners of the angling world. In his next “bobber” volley, “Is It Time for Bobber-Free Water?” Kirk takes shots at lazy guides, numbers-obsessed clients, and anyone hanging a nymph on the Missouri river and across the world. He describes a day on the Missouri fishing with a friend, targeting sippers in a back eddy only to be disturbed by multiple boat guides running double bobber rigs through the hole they were fishing. The story has it all: seasoned anglers who “deserve” the fish they’re working for, dudebro guides not worth their fees, and fish-counting clients oblivious to their fishing faux pas.  It played exactly as he’d hoped: stirred the pot but some good, boys. Upping the ante, and firing back from a different perspective was Louis Cahill’s post, “Kirk Deeter’s One Man War on the Bobber” which shot holes in Deeter’s argument and sparked even more of a flurry of comments from across the board. Kirk let the cat out of the bag on The Angling Trade’s website, that yes the controversy was all cooked up in the minds of two of the internet’s most popular angling writers, and Louis returned with his own explanation of the Play-Fight Heard Round the Angling World, (as I deem it should forever be known as.)

None said war was fair. Here is the image that Louis Cahill of Gink & Gasoline chose to run with for his response to Kirk Deeter’s call for bobber free water. All credit due to Louis and Kirk both for sparking controversy and playing the game. 

Reading through the comments on these articles can take an afternoon, but man is it worth it, and you should take some time this weekend and get a taste for the fun. Sure, some will make you mad, and some will make you nod your head in agreement. Have the Bobber Wars come to an end? Probably not. But as anglers, we ought to all learn a bit from the results of this interesting fishy media experiment. As a working guide, a dusty shuttlebum and a lover of all hate mail and dirty looks from bankie locals whose spots they blame me for blowing out, I’d be remiss not to give my opinion on the topic from my perspective as well. What I’ll take issue with is Kirk’s take on the state of guiding in Montana. Kirk makes the argument that having clients bobber fish is lazy guiding, and worse, contributing to fish mortality at a dangerous rate. He argues for some “bobber-free water” much like ungroomed powder runs at a ski resort. I’m all for it. Though I do have to take a bit of an issue with his target, the working guide.

As a guide, nothing bores me more than staring at a bobber from the boat, and like most of the guides I respect and work with in Missoula, the bobber is my last resort for finding fish. We’ve all got a box of down and dirty flies that might come out when the fish aren’t cooperating, but for many guides, myself included, it pains me to dig them out of the bottom of the pack. Our job is to educate, entertain and help anglers new and old learn the sport, improve their fishing and experience as much of the process of finding fish in some of the world’s most treasured places. Frankly, I’m lucky to guide in a place where hatches are prolific, and dry fly fishing is often the best option. It’s my first choice as a guide for my clients, and as a young guide, the guides I look up to the most know how to get it done no matter the conditions bobber or not. I feel lucky every day I’m on the water to call myself a guide, and I take the job and my client’s learning experience seriously.

That said, I feel Kirk’s pretend-pain… We’ve all been there. I can recall a day last season when Zach and I visited the Mo and were lucky enough to be the first boat to the put in, a situation we knew would not last and surely it didn’t. Stopping to watch some risers and rig up, we were surrounded by boats in an instant, clients bobber-dogging up hot fish while we sat and waited for some space that never really came. It happens. No big deal. Sure, it can piss you off, but nobody goes to the Missouri to fish in solitude. (At least I hope not.) Of course, there are plenty of guides in western Montana that are ok with hanging the bobber for their clients and yelling, “Set!” 4,578 times a day, but the outfits that run this way aren’t the ones you hear fish stories about at the boat ramps. If you ask any of the guys that have been around for a while, they’ll tell you the same: Bobbers have their place and are a necessary tool sometimes for client’s success, but give them a client willing to take a few on top with well placed casts and good drifts and they’ll go home a lot happier than knocking 30 dinks with a pigsticker and a lazy set. Good guides get into the job because of a pure love of flyfishing, and protecting the rivers and fish we love is a priority above all else. Sure, things like Hoot Owl restrictions can cause hair-tearing frustration for guides who get a bit fish-obsessed, but for the most part we all take it in stride knowing the fish are benefiting from the break from the pressure when conditions get weird. I’d argue that from a conservation standpoint, the working guide in western Montana whose livelihood depends on fish health is probably working harder to keep fish healthy than the average fly flinger.

While I agree with Kirk’s sentiment regarding bobber-free water, I’d argue that guides will be happy to take great clients on that bobber-free water, and their clients will find similar success right in front of the salty bank angler. The same anti-bobber sentiment will only find a new focus – perhaps weighted flies will be next. To take it back to Kirk’s original analogy about ungroomed powder runs: We all know the old ski bums that can’t stand to see a pack of snowboarders slash through the trees in front of them while they catch their breath. Rather than blaming their lack of off-season exercise or their skinny old school skis for getting bogged down in the deep stuff, they focus on the hoots and hollers of the young fellas ripping by them as the source of their lack of success. Ban all snowboards! Just like ungroomed runs at a ski resort: Don’t let an off-season guide get to them before you.

The best part about Louis and Kirk’s slap-fight is that they’re both right. They both make great points about our sport.  I tend to side with both of them, depending on the moment, and it’s ok if you feel the same, or if you take an adamant stand on one side of the issue or the other. They served up this ball for anglers to smack around, and it makes for one hell of a fun topic to bash about. No matter your opinion on bobbers now you owe it to yourself as an angler to read the articles, give it a think, and learn a little bit more. Because that is the point of their exercise, really. And the one point they both make is perhaps the most important: We can always improve as anglers, and that is what makes our sport so great as a lifelong pursuit. Have fun, do it your way and keep improving. Try new techniques. Hit the river with just one box and give it hell, or load a boat with every known fly in the world and see what works. I for one am happy to have you out there on the water and I hope you stick around for a while. And I know Kirk and Louis feel the same, bobber or not. It’s all in fun, this argument, meant to spark conversation and introspection. But I’m serious about those ungroomed ski runs: look out for those off-season guides. They’ll make you feel silly about your turns like they do your fly casts.

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