So, You Think You Can Fish…
My dad came into my room at about 4 a.m. and told me it was time to go. I was 12 and my youth wanted me to stay in bed, but my future was calling. My dad and my uncle had rented a car to make the 4+ hour drive from our home in Arvada, CO to a big box flagship store the next state over. Although his 1967 Volkswagen Beetle could’ve made it, it would take a while and there wasn’t a ton of trunk space.
A few hours must have passed as I woke again to the sun shining through the rental car’s window. We were on our way. That day was filled with a lot of surprises. Just seeing the mammoth store for the first time was incredible. More surprising, though, was what my dad purchased for me while we were there.
You see, my dad was a very frugal man. My mother (they are now divorced) would often quip that my dad would die of starvation with $1,000,000 under his mattress. That was most of my life with him, but that day was different. My dad purchased me a complete fly fishing setup! Sure, it was inexpensive, but it was everything I needed. The vest, waders (neoprene), boots, rod, reel, line… the whole shebang!
I wore the waders around the house for several days before I took them to the lake by our house. I remember the first moment that I ever stepped foot into water in waders. My fishing life would be forever changed. “Wait, I’m in the water and I’m not wet! WHAT? I’m part of the water now!” Yeah, that sounds a little “hippyish,” but was just as true then as it is now.
I spent hours teaching myself to cast, although I did it alone and I wasn’t a great teacher. My father wasn’t a great teacher either. He didn’t teach me much about the art of fly fishing. Rather, he bought me all the gear, handed me some old dry flies out of his box, and sent me on my way. Needless to say, I wasn’t “hooked.”
Sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Although I had fished my entire life, I had no love for fly fishing. Literally, my earliest memory is holding a rod along a river bank. We were salmon snagging if I’m not mistaken. I may have a memory of falling down the stairs at a young age, but I don’t know which happens first. The point is, I was raised on fishing, yet despite the shiny new gear, I lost interest faster than my waders dried out. Why? Because, unlike a lot of other fishing (think red/white bobber and a worm) there’s so much more to fly fishing. Dry or nymph? Streamer? Swing? River? Lake? Warm water or cold water? Water temperature? Hatch? Weather? It goes on and on. This is why they call it an art. You don’t ever master it to the point of moving on. You just get better and better the more time you commit. It’s truly a hobby for a lifetime. I just didn’t think it was for my lifetime.
Fast forward. My mom ran over my fly rod when I was in my late teens. That gave me a good excuse not to pick it up again. I went to college, got a job, got married, and had two kids. I kept fishing over the years. Spin fishing. Lake fishing. River fishing. Bait. Lures. Whatever. Just not fly fishing.
How fly fishing became my newest hobby
My wife, who knows me better than I know myself, surprised me one day. On Groupon, there was a coupon for a beginner fly fishing class from Minturn Anglers which used to be located in Parker, CO. (If you’re searching for a similar trip, make sure to visit the guided trips page on our website!) She purchased it. A few months earlier my mother had purchased me another basic Cabela’s setup; waders and all. She insisted it was because she knew how much I loved fishing and wanted to give me another outlet. I teased that it was because she crushed my dreams like she crushed the wrapped graphite with her car. Six one, half dozen.
Before I had a chance to go to the beginner fishing class, I went on a guys trip with some friends and I threw my fly fishing gear in the bed of my truck along with my spin gear. We camped along the Taylor River outside of Gunnison, CO.
There were a number of issues with that trip. The weather was a big one. The other one was that I was the only one of the four of us who didn’t mountain bike at the time (I took that up later). I had my untouched fly fishing gear in the back of my truck where I thought it would remain. In fact, I had just been throwing a Panther Martin from my Eagle Claw glass spinning rod for the first part of the trip. Tired of sitting at the campsite by myself, I called my wife and asked her if I could spend some money. She’s never said no to that question and, yes, I’m well aware of how lucky that makes me.
I booked a half-day guided trip from a local fly shop. I met Jake, my guide for the morning, just as the sun was peaking over the mountain tops. I insisted on wearing my cheap neoprene waders with attached boots. Jake repeatedly asked me if I wanted to switch into a nice almost new set of Orvis waders with separate boots. “What a sucker,” I thought, “Mine are all one piece, these will be way easier.”
I chuckle now as I write this because we don’t know what we don’t know, but man, I didn’t know much!
I insisted upon using my unused 6wt big box setup too. Jake asked me if I wanted an Orvis 5wt. I wondered why this guide was trying to give me a lighter rod. I wanted a heavier rod. After all, that meant fishing was easier, right? Bigger fish? Greater distance? Again, the ignorance. He tied on a rig. “Three flies! What? That’s ridiculous! Three! Ha!” I remarked to myself. “I’m not that desperate! Wait, and a tiny little bobber (indicator) and weight between the bobber and flies?!?! This guy is nuts!” Yup, I had a long way to go.
You’re probably a bit concerned, yourself, that you’re reading a fly-fishing article written by a guy that was this… uneducated, we’ll say. But, you made it this far, so keep reading.
I spent the next four hours slipping over rocks in my rubber-booted waders, using a fly rod that was too heavy for the stream, missing strike after strike because the “bobber” wasn’t red and white (although Oros makes some pretty sweet ones now that look like a traditional bobber . . . or a Pokeball), tangling my three flies, snagging, hooking myself, hooking the bank, hooking trees, and, oh yeah, catching one 6 inch trout. It was glorious. I was in. This was to be one of my new hobbies and passions.
What sets fly fishing apart
Wait, how did I arrive at that conclusion? Why did I fall so madly in love? It’s because, like Socrates at his trial, I recognized that I knew nothing. I’d been fishing my entire life and yet I knew almost nothing about fly fishing. I stand by the fact that I could (and still can) read a river pretty well, but otherwise, I knew nothing about fly fishing itself.
My dad had only briefly taught me about dry flies. That’s it. Put a worm on a hook under a bobber and we can often do fairly well (no knock on lake fisherman).
Fly fishing was and still is different. No matter how much you know, you can always know more. Your cast can always be better. The river is always changing. You can tie your own flies. Change up your 9’ 5wt for a 10’ 4wt, a two-handed switch rod, a 3wt glass rod, or if you’re feeling extra adventurous, a 10’ 2wt and go Euro Nymphing. You can throw streamers, softly land dries, or drown a nymph rig.
This isn’t meant to be elitist. Quite the opposite. Anyone who claims to be a “master fly fisher” either hasn’t exposed themself to enough or they’re just lying to themselves. Every guide I talk to, when I mention how much they know, they say, “Yeah, but I have so much more to learn. I learn every day.”
So, what’s my point here? If you are brand new to this sport, embrace the journey. Regardless of how much you know about fishing already, there is still so much more to discover and it’s wonderful.
Do yourself a favor, though. Either take a fly-fishing class or save up and split a day with a guided day (like one of these from Minturn) between you and your buddy. You’ll learn so much and you’ll get started the right way. Another tip for those of you who tend towards frustration . . . don’t let it go when you’re on the water. There’s a lot to learn with fly fishing and you’re not going to master it in a day, a week, or a year. Force yourself to enjoy the process.
If you’ve been in this hobby for a while, continue to push yourself to learn more. Try, as Duane Redford (Author and Guide) encourages, to master a stretch of river. Maybe try tying your own flies; there’s very little more gratifying in fly fishing than coming up with a new pattern or landing a fish on a bug you tied in your basement. As my father-in-law says, a great way to “get on the water without leaving your house.” Make an effort to learn from others. After all, someone always knows something you don’t.
I think we as humans often crave adventure. Even if that adventure is getting up at 4 a.m. and traveling to a different state. Adventure can be hard to find in this day and age. But so many of us find in it fly fishing. It’s because each fly we tie is different. The flows can change a run we’ve fished 100 times. You’ll learn things you never knew as you start out. There is always something just around the bend.
Give it a try or try something more… even if you think you can fish.