By Kimberly Toms
Water presses against my legs, quietly urging me to join its direction. I stand firm, dedicated to my spot – the spot – within casting distance of where I sense trout congregate, awaiting the dance of my hand-tied fly upon the river’s surface. Ten o’clock, two o’clock, the rod swishes through the summer morning air. How I love that swish, slicing into the peaceful breezes where cell phones and computer screens don’t exist, that place where stress breaks free from your soul.
Upstream our guide assists a fellow amateur with his casting. There are four of us here, yet I feel it is my river. This is my river in Montana, my moment in time. Nothing else exists. Nobody speaks. The only noises are those of my swishing rod and the rippling stream.
I have enjoyed the rivers, streams and lakes of many geographies offering the same peaceful side effects, despite very different settings. When fly fishing, it is not so much where you are that matters. Fly fishing is an escape, an art form that you physically and mentally inhabit, becoming one with Nature and the relationship between seasons, elements, insects, and fish. Despite your physical involvement in the action, to the fish you do not exist. It is almost as if you are the painter of a great landscape, swishing your brush on the canvas to depict the natural order of things.
For some, the art may be in the catch of a beautiful trout, steelhead or salmon. But for many, the pleasure is in the peace, the swish, the dance of the fly. I will divulge that – although I always quickly pull in my limit in bait casting – I have never caught a single fish by fly. Perhaps I am too easily swept up into the romance of the pursuit, to spoil it with an actual catch. The life parallels in this pasttime stretch well beyond art mimicking life or vice versa, I see.
Perhaps I catch nothing because I’m just a terrible fly fisherman. To me it doesn’t matter, as the amount of stress I sweep from my life – within moments of my feet submerging in the crystalline water – makes all of the travel and effort completely worthwhile.
For others, the fly itself is the captivator. Caddis, nymphs, midges, pupae, larvae, gnats…each fly has its artistic and scientific appeal. Flies are all at once beautiful and utilitarian, each representing an insect at the appropriate life stage for the season of fishing.
As for your life stage and appropriateness for this sport, you will find that fly fishing solo is some of the best one-on-oneself time a person can spend. I fished in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado when I mistakenly believed my marriage would last, and found peace in the moments. I fished when I was pre-divorce, contemplating big moves and life changing events. I found peace in those moments. I even found peace when post-divorce, perhaps casting the line with a little more fervor, but losing myself to the introduction of the fly to the water. Now, as I am contented in my life and just want a nice vacation, I know that fly fishing will help me find peace, again.
That said, one does not have to travel alone to gain that quiet peace when fishing. Even larger groups of friends break up along the stream to each have their own casting space on the water, then enjoying reflection about the day’s pursuits after the sporting is done. Some of the best time spent during fishing trips is over a group shore lunch or evening dinner when your arms are heavy from the action.
Outfitting & Educating Yourself
So, you’ve decided that this sport of solitude on blue waters is worthy of pursuit. But, where does one start? Like most sports, it begins with outfitting. The right equipment and clothing are the first keys to landing the big fish.
With an outfitting history of over 50 years, Cabela’s offers a wide selection of outdoor adventure goods and supplies for both newbies and seasoned sportsmen. Their approach is more retail and less comprehensively educational, but Cabela’s likely has everything you need for your adventure – or a how-to session elsewhere. Cabela’s has locations in several states, as well as a catalog and online presence at Cabelas.com. There are some courses offered, such as Beginning Fly Tying, but the rotation is varied among the outdoor sports Cabela’s focuses upon.
Long known as the crème de la crème of river sport outfitters and one of my favorite brands, Orvis offers everything a fly fisherman of distinction needs for the river or to merely look the part. If Ralph Lauren is considered the fashion of polo players and stylish Hamptons picnickers, Orvis is the equivalent for fishermen. From waders to chic adventure clothing, flies to reels, Orvis has quality products and brands available within each of their brick and mortar locations, as well as online at Orvis.com. Beyond the gear, Orvis also offers a Beginner’s Glossary, the “Beginner’s Corner,” articles, videos, fishing reports, and seminar information, all on their website. With a little time invested in browsing and reading, you will be ready to step into the store with some confidence.
A formal class certainly isn’t required, but if you want the fullest perspective, Orvis Fly Fishing Schools offer small class instruction from masters of the sport. For the ladies, they have a program for women, taught at their school facility at Manchester, Vermont. There, as is true of most Orvis co-ed fly fishing schools, aspiring fishermen learn about gear and tackle, casting, knot tying, fly selection, stream insect science, water and current reading, and landing that big fish – so the catch may be safely released back into its natural habitat. Perhaps the one school I can fathom attending at this point in my life is the Orvis/National Outdoor Leadership School 30-day “Ultimate Fly Fishing Experience,” a session in the wilds of Wyoming, where students learn not only how to fly fish like a pro, but also about backpacking, drift boat handling, rowing, and big water fishing.
Besides national names Orvis and Cabela’s, your local fly fishing supply store likely hosts a good selection of “how to” classes. These stores may range from mom-and-pop shops where a shopkeeper will teach you to cast one-on-one, to impressive retail outlets with seminars on casting, fly tying, and everything in between. Regardless of whether you study online first, attend school, or just brave jumping into the sport in one swoop, you’re sure to find that your local fishing supply shop is your new Heaven.
Going Local, Building a Social Circle
Once you start on a personal journey into fly fishing, you will soon note that sport-focused groups and clubs are all over the place. You don’t have to be alone on the water. In any major metro, there are likely more than a couple of such groups to join. Quite often, there are specialized clubs for women or other specific demographics. This is one way in which fly fishing is much like golf, with a second shared trait being the addictive nature of the sport. Also like golf, you and your equipment are alone when in action, but you find instant, easy camaraderie with co-enthusiasts in downtime.
Tap into your local guide and supplier resources, too. You’ll find that most fishing supply shops and guide services are started not by businessmen, but by people who love the sport first, and want to share that love for a living. In a local supply store, all one must do is ask a salesperson about the area rivers or streams, and the likely result is a bounty of insider’s where-to-go information. If you ever thought your Uncle Joe or Aunt Jean had big fish tales, you’ve heard nothing until you’ve had a conversation with a licensed guide.
Additional local opportunity insight is provided through seminars and tying lessons. In those sessions you will learn much about your local waterways, most suitable flies, and species of fish that are available. While these sessions won’t likely offer the flash and polish of an Orvis program, going local provides precise information suited to success in your immediate geography.
Book Your Trip
While anyone can learn to fly fish on a local stream, a true fishing vacation is a quick way to fine tune your emerging skills, and to gain more rapid success and appreciation for the sport. There is a vast network of fly fishing lodges, resorts and guide services to be found throughout North America, South America and in countries such as Ireland, England, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland, and beyond. Fly fishing is an international language.
Although you can head to the Alps or green hills of the Emerald Isle, starting close to home will not be a problem. Many fly fishing resorts are first class or extreme first class, as like golf this pastime is considered a “gentleman’s pursuit.” But, you can find lodges with a smaller price tag and standard comforts. Guide services are available for day trips, during a hotel stay, or when you want to enjoy accommodations that do not offer fly fishing.
Cabela’s and Orvis both are widely known for representation of select fishing and sporting lodges, through their individual endorsement programs. These properties, safaris and guide services are reviewed to ensure they are the best of adventure sporting service provision. I visited my first Orvis-Endorsed Lodge at age eight, the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, Colorado. Little did I fathom at the time that I would spend the next thirty or more years in what are now Orvis Lodges and Cabela’s approved adventure destinations coast-to-coast.
Keep a Journal, Use an App
When playing golf, one often keeps a scorecard. A number of these can often be found in a old-timer golfer’s bag, stashed there after each round on the greens. Today’s golfers naturally turn to the apps.
Similarly, fly fishermen often keep journals about their exploits in fishing. These notes of weather conditions, calendar dates, stream conditions, techniques and flies used can all provide a snapshot of what works on your favorite rivers, and what doesn’t. Patterns will emerge and those patterns will help you determine which gear to pack for your next outing. You can choose to keep traditional written journals, or leverage the technology in your pocket by using an iPhone app such as FishAngler, Navionics, FishRules or FlyWise.
With or without lessons, apps or outfitting, just getting out into nature and giving it your best try is where the addiction creeps in. Once you feel the water pushing and pulling at your leg muscles as you steady yourself and swish the line, you too will find yourself among the many fishermen pursuing the solo yet highly socialized sport of fly fishing.
If you decide you do not wish to head to the river alone, have no fear. There is an app for getting social on the flies, too. Simply find your way to FishBrain to connect with others who appreciate a great river and the dance of the fly as much as you do.