It may seem that the sport of fly-fishing is one of those private clubs of which you have quietly concluded you will never be a member. We have all stood at the river’s edge watching the gal standing in the center of the flow with the mysterious but alluring gear, creating art. A living Ralph Lauren ad. The rod – an elegant instrument even from a distance – bent like a C as the line makes an S: back and forth and back and forth. It presents itself as an otherworldly quest – all at once one with the river and one with God’s creatures. And how many of us think, “I would love to do that,” but then don’t and never do?
“How do you keep yourself from hooking your own back?” Pam Kyselka of Fort Defiance, Arizona, asks her fly fishing instructor Glenn Tinnin, in the middle of Durango’s Memorial Park on a recent windy Saturday afternoon. Nowhere near the water’s edge on this day, Kyselka still had troubling memories. “You cast correctly,” Tinnin answers, foreshadowing the lesson to come. Kyselka, who once watched her friend try to fly fish only to hook her own daughter’s ear, was one of five newbies taking Tinnin’s beginning fly-fishing course this May. “And the hook was barbed,” she says, the visual obviously scarred into her memory.
There are certainly easier ways to fish. Take the bobber and earthworm as exhibit A. But, like climbing rocks without ropes, there is an ilk of people who seek to turn their hobbies into meditations. “If it’s not a little hard, it really isn’t worth doing” Connie LeCompte, a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter and wanna-be angler, says to Tinnin. “Right?” Just moments before, LeCompte had caught her line in the only tree within casting radius.
Well, the barrier to entry rests only in your mind. It is accessible and surprisingly inclusive. Take Tinnin, who, from a distance, would be one of those clubby insiders. Up close, he’s a truly happy guy who wants everybody to be happy and catching fish – on a fly. “Fly fisherman can be jerks,” Tinnin (who has fly fished all over the world) confesses. Like surfers. Or really anybody who knows how to do something that separates them from us regular people. “But most aren’t,” he adds. Tinnin is regular as regular can be.
There are really three hurdles to getting your feet wet in fly-fishing. Get gear. Learn to cast. Know where the fish hide. The rest is just patience and a healthy dose of humility.
You can rent this stuff. Or you can own it. Here is a breakdown. Rods can be on the short side (for streams) or the long side (for rivers, lakes and oceans). Don’t buy a cheap rod. “I can cast with a broomstick,” Tinnin says, “but I cannot cast a Walmart fly rod. Don’t go cheap.”
A decent fly rod starts at about $150. Scott Fly Rods happen to build some of the best rods in the world right in Montrose. They are available at most local fly shops. Reels are not as important as rods, according to Tinnin, unless you are catching really big fish on a small tippet (that would be the end of the line for us amateurs). Reels range from $50 to $700. The higher the price, the more durable the material. You don’t need a $700 reel, although they are quite beautiful and would look stunning as a paperweight. “All the reel does until you hook a fish is hold the line,” Tinnin says. “In a small stream, you may never even use the reel. Everything is done with your hands.”
One could write a book on fly-fishing line alone, not to mention another tome on flies. Rest assured, a local fly shop can guide you in all of these decisions. Tinnin, who has owned more than one fly shop, says even seasoned anglers, when fishing unfamiliar waters, have to ask. “That’s what they are there for.”
Here’s the thing about fly shops that isn’t so true about, say, surf shops: the people who work in them want to help you. So this can be a good place to start. Simply ask. “What do I need to fish the Animas below the dam?”
Gear aside, “the number-one most important thing in fly fishing is: can you cast?” Tinnin says.
Casting is something that needs to be seen and not read about. Nonetheless, there is a method. Imagine a big clock facing you on the wall to the right. The rod will move back and forth between 9:00 and 1:00. Your effectiveness depends on acceleration and arm position. The rod should be doing the work. This takes practice. Never break your wrists. It is all below the elbow. Everybody in Tinnin’s class was breaking their wrists. Most looked more like they were chopping wood than casting line. Really, this is where a lesson (group or private), or a YouTube video at the very least, would be paramount if you want to avoid embedding a hook into your own shoulder blade or worse, into your friend’s daughter’s ear. “The only thing I have ever caught is myself,” says Stefaan Bultinck, one of Tinnin’s students. Bultinck can also add a tree limb to this list after Saturday’s class. Yes, casting is best learned initially on the nearest open patch of grass (and not the water) where you will no doubt have an audience of looky-loos wondering why in Sam Hill you are looking for fish next to a picnic table. Ignore them.
And where are the fish? Ask yourself, if you were a hungry trout, where would you hang out? Burning precious calories in the middle of the raging current, or in the eddies and inlets on the edge of the madness waiting for something tasty to float by?
Of course it may be 387 outings before you catch that fish, but therein lies the beauty. With fly-fishing, the process in itself is fulfilling. As Tinnin will tell you, it just takes practice, so you might as well practice in the river. Everybody hooks trees, loses flies and fails to catch fish. Even seasoned anglers. Who cares – because now you are the one in the river creating lyrical shapes and no longer the spectator watching and wishing.