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Who Would Win in a Fight?

Who would win in a fight? It is the ubiquitous question of college dorm rooms, bars, and long car trips. Variations have found their way into sports (who can throw farther?), politics (who would govern better?), and historical debate (who would conquer more?).

Anglers haven’t spared fishing from being part of these hypothetical exercises. Between night time around the camp fire, long winters between seasons, and the inherent argumentative nature of the internet, the quarry and culture of fly fishing are pitted against each other.

I’ve picked out three arguments that I’ve seen and heard that fall into the “who would win in a fight” category. There are many more squabbles (particularly online) that take place, but these have the requisite quantitative/qualitative comparisons that fit in to this discussion.

What kind of flies are best?

Dries vs. nymphs. Nymphs vs. streamers. Egg flies vs. san juan worms. This conversation has a whole lot of tradition and sentimentality wrapped up in it. Dry fly elitists are called out by technical nymphers who are, in turn, looked down upon by streamer “bros.” And then there are bead fishers. Everyone has something to say about them.

But as much as there is a culture and even ethos around being predisposed to fishing a certain style of fly, there are a lot of practical implications as well. If you are a stalwart streamer angler, do you still pound the banks with six-inch rabbit strips when there are spinners falling everywhere? Will your high regard for Catskill patterns keep you on top even when there aren’t any bugs around?

We can all agree that fish feed (insert statistic that is surely made up here)% of the time on nymphs. But it isn’t as glamorous… or easy… as fishing with streamers or dries.

One handed or two handed?

So I’ve never casted a two handed rod. No spey, no switch, no nothing. It is one of my many fly fishing inadequacies. I feel like I can get away with being behind the curve on the east coast. If I lived in the Pacific Northwest, I would have probably given in to peer pressure by now. But I can also see how getting more gear… I mean finding more efficient ways to fish would be the right thing to do.

Fly casting is such an individualized and nuanced practice. There are definitely principles that must be accomplished to get the rod to move the line to present the fly. But overall, you can do a whole lot with your hand/wrist/elbow/shoulder/hips and still catch fish. Add a second hand to the equation, and there are literally endless possibilities for casting a fly.

Are there certain applications for spey casting? Yes. And dang does it look cool. Are there times when a singlehanded rod is much more practical? Of course. Personally, and I’m still forming this conviction, is that we need to be ready and willing to do both. Which means having options for gear. Lots of options.

What is the hardest fighting fish?

Whale shark. The end.

Okay, maybe that doesn’t reflect the spirit of the discussion. But, like the other arguments presented – and any who would win in a fight? proposition – boundaries and stipulations have to be put on the conversation.

Ultimately that is indicative of this whole scenario. Like fly casting or fly patterns, there are regional, generational, and preferential matters that have to be taken into account. When you get into the specifics, fly fishing in saltwater and fly fishing in freshwater have more differences than similarities. Even with the world getting smaller through the internet and diversity in the industry, west and east coast angling each have their separate characteristics. And that is just in the USA.

Who would win in a fight? is a question that allows you to show your love for something, show off your knowledge, or show off your acumen for debate. Like so many of the postulated opponents of these questions, opinions can’t ever actually duke it out. So the match is really one of wits between the armchair pugilists. Which is fine… as long as we remain civil.

Back to the question at hand. Which is the hardest fighting fish?

Let’s put the framework of North American, freshwater sportfish on the discussion. That cuts out tarpon (but there are populations that live….!), sturgeon (their status as a sportfish is clear!), and all of your other favorite, weird fish.

The discussion usually comes down to Atlantic salmon and smallmouth bass. Both are great. They jump, pull, and have relatively agitated dispositions. The attitude of a fish is important in debates like this. And although I think either would be fit to wear the made-up crown I’d coronate it with, my official selection deviates from these two contenders.

Pound for pound, I think the hardest fighting freshwater sportfish in North America are sunfish.

Yes. Sunfish. Ever catch a foot-long river bluegill? You’d be hard pressed to find a trout or bass of that size that could put the bend on a six-weight like a little sunny can. And they aren’t shy about eating either.

That is the crux of my argument. I could go into greater detail, but with cold, hard facts like that – why bother? I’ll write again about the merits of sunfish, but that is for another day. Until then, keep discussion what jumps, casts, holds up, tastes, insulates, costs, runs, and looks better. As long as you’re civil.


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