I've never received any “official instruction” in the art of fly fishing. I learned through patience, practice, trial and error, and from just getting on the water and working technique. My first fly rod was handed down to me from my grandfather after his passing in the early nineties. He wasn't much of a fisherman--in fact--he hated fishing. But he knew how much I loved the sport, so during a visit to Jackson Hole and after going through the process of having a rod custom fit to him, he purchased the rod that I ultimately honed my skills with. His thinking was that when we visited him, he could at least share quality time in the beautiful backcountry by accompanying my father and me while I learned.
He never got that chance.
When I first received his custom build, I found the reel was a mess; it had corroded and rusted completely even though it was “protected” in its own unique case. My Dad had an older model from his grandmother, so I mounted it. Having no idea what backing was I simply tied on some fly line, leader, and thought I was good to go. After all, fly fishing then was more about small brookies for breakfast and exploring backcountry then it was about huge trophies.
After high school I, along with my girlfriend who is now my wife, moved from Nevada back to my hometown of Sheridan, Wyoming. Since that’s where pretty much all father's side of the family lives. I finally had the opportunity to fish in pristine mountain wilderness whenever I wanted, and I took full advantage.
I fished Every Single Day, rain, sleet, and wind.
Conditions didn't matter and I didn’t care.
I was on the water after work and every free chance I got. I hardly ever fished with a buddy, I still don’t, and I’ve rarely been skunked. If I caught more fish than I could eat, I knew that people in my family would gladly take them. I never thought coming home with a creel full of fish was anything out of the ordinary.
A few years later a new career opportunity took us south to Casper--BIG FISH was all that was on my mind--and soon after arriving I got the chance to fish the fabled Grey Reef of the North Platte River with a coworker and fellow enthusiast. Grey Reef is where the big hogs are caught and it’s one of the premier area’s that consumes much of the fishing literature you see about Wyoming in both print and online.
With the addition of some nymph flies, 12lb leader, and tippet to my arsenal, we set out. Upon arrival we quickly started pulling our gear out, and were about to start casting when my friend asked with a sound of disgusted surprise, "What kind of fishing reel is that?! I took a quick glance at his and thought, "Uh-oh." I answered back with an abashed, "Hey, it's all I’ve got." He proceeded to critique my gear, as antiquated and minuscule as it was, from top to bottom and then asked, "Where's your net?" I didn't have one, never needed it. No waders either, my gear consisted of my dated rod and reel, an aged bamboo creel, and a dirty King Ropes hat. "It's going to be a long day," he murmured as we headed to the water.
I had never fished big water before and approached it much the same way I would a mountain creek. I started up stream hopping from rock to rock out into the middle of the river, while he headed down stream along the bank. My second cast drew a leap from a huge rainbow that devoured my fly. I set the hook, which sent me tumbling and splashing from my perch. Holding my pole above water and still holding tight to my catch I prepared to land what I believed was going to be the biggest fish of my life! It was, and after cramming him into my creel, I set out after another and then another, and soon had that old creel brimming with fat fish.
As I arrived, soaking wet and extremely happy, back to the truck I was met with an exclamation from my coworker of, "Wow you caught some beautiful fish!" I had indeed. I had also, however, given his critique some thought and said, “I need some new gear!” My coworker with all his fancy new gear was feeling dejected as he hadn't been able to land a single fish. And he replied with, "I don't think you do!"
This just goes to show that it's not about the gear you use but more about how you use the gear you have.
Join me on this continuing adventure and through regular posts and my experiences I will guide you to avoid the pitfalls of learning and mastering the fine art of fly fishing. And be sure to "like" HighlandFrog's Facebook page to be notified about future articles and updates!
Tight Lines, Friends!
The Anatomy of a Fly Fisherman: Complete Series