I don’t know exactly how I got into the “idea” of fly fishing. It might have been after watching Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It. It could have been partially due to a guy I was dating who dabbles in fishing, a girlfriend who is an obsessed angler, or perhaps that ragged, army green fishing vest and wicker basket (for all of the fish that I wasn’t catching) from a trailer-mate in Moab a few summers ago. It definitely wasn’t that I needed to take on another expensive (gear-intensive) hobby or that I had a lot of experience fishing growing up. One of my only memories of fishing brings me back to my father and me on a small boat in a family friend’s lake with stocked fish in Cherry Valley, California. At the time I didn’t understand what “stocked” meant but man, I remember that we really pulled some beasts out of there. My other fishing experience is from a few years ago during my career as a stand-up paddleboard guide on the Colorado River. I saw a Mountain Dew bottle floating in the river and so, in attempt to lead by example I made my way over to pull it out. It was the most difficult 2-liter bottle I ever got my hands on. Once I was able to get ahold of it I realized there was not only line attached to it but a fishing hook as well. And on that hook- a HUGE catfish, probably the biggest fish I’ve ever “caught.”
I picked up a fly rod from a gear store that was going out of business last summer. I don’t like walking into a venue where I know little about what’s going on (car dealerships, mechanics) only to feel prey to someone who is trying to sell something, but that’s exactly what I felt like that day when the owner of the shop caught me eyeballing fly rods. Almost instantly he had me convinced that the last rod left was “just my size.” Surprisingly convenient for both of us I guess, I bought the rod.
A year later I got around to picking up a reel and finally getting some line on that thing. I quickly figured out that this matter was going to be more complicated than I had hoped. Similar to climbing, there are about a gazillion knots you could learn. Instead, I opted to learn about three and know them well. I accumulated some hip waders combined with the previously mentioned green fishing vest that really made me look like I knew what I was doing; I was hypothetically ready to hit the water.
In theory the next step was to slay some fish. Too bad I still had so much more to learn; Flyfishing really starts with the art of throwing bugs, intricately tied flies, or nymphs, that all look the same but have different names. This reminds me of the time that I ran into an employee from the Department of Natural Resources. In his spiffy brown DNR uniform he told me with a straight face that there are more brown trout per cubic foot on the Ogden than any other river in North America. If I was going to catch browns then the Ogden was the place to do it. I decided to head up Ogden Canyon to try my hand at casting and quickly learned that this was my next roadblock. The Ogden River is not a place for inexperienced anglers such as myself. Casting is hard enough, but integrating tight trees on a narrow river left me tangled up in despair, literally.
I stood in the only wide opening I could find on the Ogden, trying to feel the weight on my rod for my back cast, stopping, and then getting that bug in the water without making a huge disturbance. I was sloppily slapping the water with not only my intended cast but on the back end as well. Finally, a friend took the time and the patience to lead me to her special fishing hole (not on the Ogden, but still in the Wasatch) where she mercilessly slays fish and helped me dial in my casting. The graceful approach is more important than getting the bugs too far out there, especially with the size of the rivers in the Wasatch. My casting still isn’t fantastic, but drastically improved. Thanks to Nichole who now guides on the Madison, she’s one of the few female flyfishing guides in the west.
Being that learning how to fish is humbling and requires excess patience, I should have been instantly turned off. Instead, I caught a glimpse of myself via a reflection in the car window and I couldn’t help but notice that I looked good in my sweet hip waders and that even sweeter green fishing vest. I was also anticipating taking a summer job for Fish and Wildlife on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska so there was increased incentive to learn how to fish, I wanted to slay big in the Last Frontier. That effort was totally in vain; come to find out the fishing on the Kenai River is all about “combat fishing” (imagine skiing the Cottonwoods on a powder day) and requires neither knowledge of bugs nor traditional casting.
Now, back to the Wasatch and me looking good and trying hard to catch some fish. I was casting decently and for the most part I understood how to read the strike indicator. I’m still struggling to set the hook; I can feel bites and initiate the fight but still lose fish. Not only does flyfishing invite humility and require patience, it demands tenacity. Luckily, that’s one thing I have. In short, I keep throwing bugs in the Wasatch and despite what that gentlemen from DNR told me; I am yet to pull a Brown out of the Ogden with my fly rod.