Fly fishing and golf: Kindred spirits?


Most of us have heard it said that golf and fly fishing have many similarities. And for whatever reason, many folks who pursue one, also partake of the other. Like doctors and attorneys, among others.

I should mention that while I’m not much of a fly angler, I am much, much less of a golfer. Over the years I’ve golfed several times, and there was a fleeting lapse in judgment a few years ago when I thought I might want to do more of it. I even went so far as to purchase some golf shoes and a second-hand set of beginner’s clubs, but neither ended up seeing much use. And even though I may not be a golfer, I’m certainly no stranger to the game. My brother-in-law likes to spend time drinking beer in the clubhouse of his hometown course hit the little white ball around, and my two nephews are accomplished golfers: one of them works at a golf course in Arizona and the other plays golf on his college team. Despite bad golf genetics, both of my kids enjoy the game and they both work at a local golf course. So while I myself have not embraced the game, golf is all around me. To that end I feel qualified to draw comparisons and contrasts between golf and fly fishing.

Let’s quickly review the similarities:

• Golf and fly fishing are said to have originated in Scotland. For a good account of the history of golf, go here.

• Both activities involve a steep learning curve and can be frustrating for beginners.

• Equipment for either activity is not inexpensive. Certainly one can acquire entry-level tools for either endeavor, but the prices quickly go way up from there. If you pursue either activity, eventually you are going to melt a few credit cards in the process of acquiring gear.

• Golf requires that you have a nice, relaxed stroke. Fly casting requires that you have a nice, relaxed casting stroke. Trying to add a great deal of power in either endeavor will surely have dire consequencess that may result in a stroke.

• Keep your wrists straight when swinging a golf club. Do the same when casting a fly rod.

• Swinging a golf club requires the use of both hands (however, it is common to use only one arm to throw one’s club into a pond). Casting a Spey rod requires the use of both hands (however, the more common style of fly fishing uses only one arm to cast into a lake, river, or pond).

• Golfers “drive” the ball, hopefully a good long ways.  Fly anglers will “drive” a long ways hoping to find good fishing.

• Golf requires a set of clubs that includes several different clubs for different situations, although one could theoretically golf with just a 3 iron. Fly fishing requires a quiver of rods that includes several different rods for different situations, although one could theoretically fish with just a 3 weight rod. But this should be avoided. If you golf, get a full set of clubs. If you fly fish, get a whole bunch of rods.

• The longer the club, the longer the distance one can theoretically hit the ball. The longer the rod, the longer the distance one can theoretically cast the fly.

• A “hybrid” golf club combines the qualities of both a wood and an iron. A “hybrid” fish is the result of cross-breeding, such as a “cuttbow” which combines the appearances of both cutthroat and rainbow trout.

• Golf has Tiger Woods. Fly fishing has a Tiger Trout.

• 2010 Masters Champion Phil Mickelson sports a “mullet”. A species of sport fish is a “mullet”.

• There are pink golf balls, just as there are pink fishing flies.

• One plays golf.  One plays a fish.

• In golf you can hire a caddy to carry your clubs. In fly fishing you can purchase a caddy to hold your floatant.

• When golfing you want to sink a put. When streamer fishing and nymphing you want your fly to sink.

• In golf, a birdie is a good thing.  When fishing, birdies are a good thing – they often signify a hatch.

• Golf and fly fishing seem to attract a lot of doctors and attorneys.

• There have been epic movies made about both golf and fly fishing: Caddyshack and A River Runs Through It.

• With golf, one can walk the course or ride from hole to hole in a cart. Similarly with fly fishing, one can wade the river bank or ride from hole to hole in a drift boat.

• A “creeper” in golf refers to the odd stranger that you inadvertently get paired with for 18 holes. This person makes you feel uneasy, and you want to crawl under a rock to hide. In fly fishing, a “creeper” refers to  the larval stage of the stonefly, easily found crawling under stones where they hide.

• In golf, one is attempting to propel a small object using a long-shafted tool over a great distance into a small hole. In fly fishing, one is attempting to propel a small object using a long-shafted tool over a relatively long distance into a fishes mouth, which is like a small hole.

• One bad shot on the golf course and you can lose your ball. One bad cast while fishing and you can lose your fly.

• It’s not uncommon to hear a golfer use the term, “Ahh, bugger!”  It’s not uncommon for fly anglers to use a woolly bugger.

• Both golf and fly fishing have verbal warnings intended to protect others. “Fore!” is often yelled during golf to let another golfer know that they’re about to get hit in the head by your ball. “Duck!” or “Shit, look out!” is often yelled during fly fishing to let another angler know they are about to be struck in the head by your bead head streamer.

• The term, “hook” is employed by both golfers and fly anglers.

• “Impact” is another commonly used term in both activities. In golf, “impact” refers to the moment at which one’s club face strikes the ball. Fly anglers refer to “impact” as the moment at which one’s drift boat strikes a rock.

• A “Lie” is also a common term in both past times. In golf it refers to the position of one’s ball following a shot. In fly fishing it is an inaccurate reference to the length of one’s fish.

• “Shank” refers to a bad golf shot in which the ball shoots right (if right handed) at a severely sharp angle, rather than going straight (it is much worse than a slice or a hook). With regard to fly fishing, the shank is the straight part of the hook.

• Both golf and fly fishing have a “leader”, and both are out in front.

• The “nearest point of relief” during a round of golf is the reference point used for taking relief without a penalty from interference by an immovable obstruction, abnormal ground condition or a wrong putting green. As pertaining to fly fishing, the term refers to the next available place along the river where a drift boat can pull in so that an angler may relieve themselves without interference.

• An “open face” is when a golf club is aligned to the right or left side or another of the target, depending on whether the golfer is right or left handed. In fly fishing an open face refers to a sandwich made in haste with only one slice of bread, and it is usually held in either the right or left hand, depending on whether the angler is right or left handed.

OK, now let’s review the many differences:

• Golf is a four-letter word.  Fly-fishing has ten letters, and sometimes even a hyphen.

• When you’re golfing, a body of water is a hazard to be avoided.  When you’re fishing, I would hazard to say that a body of water is to be sought out.

• If your golf shoes are covered in sand, that’s a bad thing. The same thing can not be said about your wading boots.

• I’m dangerous with a golf club in my hands. I’ve hurt people I love, albeit unintentionally, when swinging a golf club, and I’ve come dangerously close to hurting others on two other occasions.  I’ve never hurt anyone else with a fly rod, although I’ve bounced a few flies off the back of my own head. Luckily, I’ve not flossed my ears or the ears of anyone else. Yet.

• If your golf score stinks as badly as a skunk, there is no way you can look back on that day with anything but contempt for the game. Even if you get skunked while out fishing you can still enjoy a day on the water.

• Golf requires ridiculous clothes: collared shirts and “nice” pants. Come on, really?  Why dress up to spend the day out playing on a large grassy field? T-shirts and jeans are what I think of when it comes to play clothes. Waders, on the other hand, are a functional tool. And they’re cool looking.

• Depending on the rules, you may be allowed to take one Mulligan in a round of golf. In fly fishing there is no limit on the number of do-overs one can take.

• Golf involves penalties should you make a bad shot or lose a ball. There are no penalties for making a bad cast or losing a fish before landing it, other than to have your buddy laugh at you and question your manhood.

• There is no loud talking during golf. There is much hootin’ and hollerin’ while fly fishing.

• I sold my golf clubs in a garage sale. I keep my fishing gear in the garage and it is not for sale.

• In golf there is such a thing as a “Net Score”. In fly fishing there is no such thing.  Fly anglers are not the least bit competitive, nor do they keep track of how many fish they, or others with whom they are angling, have caught.

• Golfers are notorious liars. They’ll cheat on their score if given the opportunity to do so without getting caught. Anglers are an honest lot and are never known to exaggerate the size of a fish or the total number of fish caught.

• Many golfers travel to desert areas to pursue their game. I don’t know many fly anglers who seek out fishing destinations in the middle of the desert.

• It is not considered manly to golf with a pink ball. It is perfectly acceptable for a man to fish with a pink fly.

• In golf, shooting par for the course is a good thing. In fly fishing, getting skunked is often par for the course and is not a good thing.

• Certain well-known golfers have been known to chase strippers, while some fly anglers are known to chase stripers.

• I consider it a chore and I go out of my way to avoid golfing. I will avoid chores and drive out of my way to go fishing.

• A bent golf club is bad.  A bent fly rod is good.

• Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler will watch golf on television occasionally (as was the case recently when the Masters tournament was underway). If I happen to be watching a fly fishing show on television, Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler will leave the room every time.

In conclusion, I will admit that there are more similarities between golf and fly fishing than I initially thought possible. In fact, I was quite shocked to find that there are actually more similarities between golf and fly fishing than there are differences. However, there is one more notable difference: I’ve heard fly anglers proudly proclaim that they gave up golf. I’ve never heard a golfer say that they gave up fly fishing.

I will continue to fly fish, and not golf, forever.


PS- At the request of a fly fishing Facebook friend who threatened to “unfriend” me if I didn’t mention that “golf is about as stupid as stand-up paddle boarding”, I have to do so. However, in the defense of stand-up paddle boarding, it could be employed as means of accessing some decent fishing water. (sorry, Mike)



  1. Patrick

    Good stuff! Great way to start my Friday. But your brother-in-law is waiting too long for the beer…the few times I’ve golfed we took our beer with us, on the course. I’d never drink and fly fish, though.

    • admin

      Beer while fishing? I’m with you Pat. No way. I tend to exaggerate when I drink beer, and I wouldn’t want to proclaim anything but the accurate facts when fishing.

  2. Dave

    Strippers and Stripers. How similar. Only one ‘p’ separates the two and makes a HUGE difference. Now, I do know fly-anglers who actively pursue both, which would make another parallel into golf.
    We (fly anglers) are an honest lot, and would NEVER stretch, strain, bend or break the truth about the size, and number of fish we caught.
    Great read man. Good stuff to give me a giggle on this Friday morning. It definitely helps to pass the time until tomorrow morning when I can be comfortably standing in 48 degree water chasing some trout and maybe a steelface or 2.
    Have a great weekend

    • admin

      After I posted this I realized fly anglers strip streamers, so we are in fact strippers. I’m sure I just touched the tip of the ice berg and there are many more similarities and differences. Hope you catch some feesh- thanks for chiming in, and cheers…

  3. Rebecca

    Well, I don’t golf. Tried it. Took the lessons and such, but I never made my Tiger Woods connection.
    Now, I’ll mention a difference I can’t believe you forgot! In fly fishing you don’t have to crush down, swing over or under your chest region with your arms like you do with golfing. ‘Course, thats probably just a female issue as some things can get in the way, but still….an important difference!

    • admin

      Rebecca, I think you need to take up Spey casting. And I am relieved that you never made the Tiger Woods connection- he seems to have made so many ; )

  4. Rich Schaaff

    I actually have 2 hole-in ones, but I have never cast my fly into the open mouth of a willing fish….I would gladly change that if I could……

    • admin

      Rich, that’s impressive- you are obviously an accomplished golfer. I won’t hold that against you, however, and look forward to a day when we can compare our angling unaccomplishments.

  5. Joann Sturza McNamara

    Great comparison. I do want to say I have seen many people on the golf course who should not be there. I live on the golf course and watch people every single day. You can learn a lot about a person in 4 hours on the course. Add a little wager and you can learn even more. I believe the golf bug is simply one good shot away. I would love to take up a activity that doesn’t require you to post your score after EVERY round. This is the one thing that I dislike about golf. I would imagine you can learn quite a bit about someone out fishing as well. I am afraid I would look like the idiot out on the fairway who shouldn’t be there while casting a rod. Additionally, I am rather impatient as well. I think it would fun to fish with you Kirk. I would definitely dress up in some get up like John Daly:)

    • admin

      Sturza, if you dress up like John Daly, I’ll take you fishing. It’s true- you can learn a lot about a person when you fish with them. For example, whether they are a lousy fisherman or not!

  6. Stan the Goosemaster

    Two great endevors that can bring so much satisfaction on minute. then cause so much aggrevation the next. Just as the one good shot in golf, brings the golfer back, so does the one beautiful cast and fish , bring the angler back.

    • admin

      Bugger, Stan- I didn’t realized you were a golfer. That changes things…I think what turned me off golf was that one good shot that never materialized.

  7. April C

    Ah, alas – too many similarities to bother noting the differences – as a slave to both sports, I must confess: the true commonalities are 1) both are individual sports – it really doesn’t matter what my buddy does, 2) both take place outdoors, and for those of us who hate the confines of interior places, this is a plus, and 3) sometimes the beauty of ‘mechanics’ can authentically overtake the results – ie, ‘wow, that was a great swing (the ball went in the woods but who cares’ or ‘great cast -if there’s not a trophy brown there then I’m a Monkey’s Uncle’ = here’s your banana, Unc, but it’s been fun….

    • admin

      April, thanks for chiming in- I actually had you in mind when I wrote this entry, given your accomplished status as a golfer and fly angler.
      It’s be interesting to know which you would chose if you had to give up one or the other… 😉

  8. Jay

    Just thought this quote was relevant to the discussion:

    “I am not against golf, since I cannot but suspect it keeps armies of the unworthy from discovering trout.”

    ~Paul O’Neil

  9. Mike Sepelak

    Fly fishing and golf!? Are you @#$%ing kidding me? I suck at golf.

    Well… Maybe you have a point…

    • Kirk Werner

      Or, more likely, I simply have WAY too much free time to ponder such matters.

  10. Thad Lineberger

    We don’t GOLF, we PLAY golf. As in, we don’t baseball, we play baseball. We don’t basketball, we play basketball. I don’t understand when folks write about golf, that they mention that “they golfed”. Not even sure that is a word!

    Seems to me that sportsmen/writers would know that.

  11. James Green

    Really funny article! I’ve just made the golf-fishing comparison myself and thought I’d Google to see if someone else felt the same. Here’s mine in case you fancy a read (not as funny as yours I’m afraid!):

    • Kirk Werner

      James, as you suggested in your blog post, you are nuts. But to answer your question, no—you are not alone. In fact you’re in rather good company over here at the UA. Thanks for visiting and taking time to comment.

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