Most fly anglers I know have some level of passion for the sport. It is not just the act of fishing with a fly, but everything that encompasses the sport. Fly fishing is a historically rich sport, dating all the way back to the 2nd Century Roman Empire as described in many sources (Fly Dreamers/Fly Fishing History and Wikipedia/Fly Fishing to name two). Ironically, there are a few who have specific passions for fly fishing but for whom fishing is not the main thing. Some relish the history, and are collectors of rods, reels, and flies as they survived over the centuries. Others focus all their energy on fly tying, creating works of art that will never be fished. There are conservancies that purchase land on which productive trout streams reside (usually acquired from private farms and ranches) in order to protect and improve both the species and its environment. Many are rod builders whose creations can also be considered works of art. And there are those whose passion is to simply cast a fly line, competing in fly casting contests around the world (see this video of the 2019 World Fly Fishing Championships in San Francisco).
I believe most of us do fish, and most who fish also practice “catch & release” which offers many benefits that other forms of hunting and fishing do not. A single hook fly with a barbless point is the ideal hunting weapon that allows the capture of amazingly colorful fish of all species and their subsequent release, unharmed, in the hope that they will grow larger to be caught again another season. And there is that primeval lure of hunting fish, learning where they reside in the waters and the insects, worms, and baitfish they consume. As any hunter or angler will tell you, just being out in the Lord’s natural creation is the primary goal, and the capture of our pray is secondary… which is especially true on those days we come up empty handed.
As for me, when it comes to fly fishing, I think of myself as a Renaissance Man. Everything about fly fishing interests me. All of it fascinates me. For example, while I have only dabbled at fly tying, I am amazed by those who can tie highly effective flies that are also beautiful to my eye. My good friend Bill falls into that category. For me, building fly rods is where I’ve focused most of my creative effort; since starting in 1977 I have built fourteen rods, five of which were gifts for others. I have my own stash of reels and fly boxes as well as an assortment of inflatable fishing tubes. With Bill’s encouragement and gracious help I have expanded my horizons toward brackish water species, including striped bass in the California Delta. But my main passion is angling, and when pressed I would admit that trout, and the environs where they are found, are my favorite fish to pursue.
This might explain why I tend to rush into sharing what I know with friends who demonstrate an interest in fly fishing. I can overwhelm a newbie quickly with my own enthusiasm, and there is so much to share I can complicate things quickly if I am impatient. It seems the most common thread among beginners is the lovely fly casting. It can be beautiful to watch, and it seems to be meditative. We fly casters all started with the basic overhand cast and recall the difficulty we had keeping the arc of our casts smaller rather than larger (the old “10-o’clock-to-2-o’clock” guidance), often because we let our wrist bend back rather than keeping it rigid at the end of the backcast. And then there’s the timing of the cast and the power stroke, which changes as the line length changes (a longer pause as the line being cast gets longer). And this is just the overhand casting part. We have not begun to discuss other types of casts, the selection of fly lines, or the flies themselves. Oh my, no wonder many think fly fishing is just for a select few.
My friend Luis became a recent sufferer of this process. When he expressed an interest in fly fishing, I gave a short casting lesson and loaned him an Echo practice rod. After some practice he purchased a beginner’s outfit: a four-piece, five weight, nine-foot rod with a reel spooled with a five-weight floating line. In June 2022, I invited him to fish Cold Creek Pond one morning. His casting was as good as one could expect for a beginner, but he did not feel any noticeable strikes. We began to formulate a plan for a late winter trip to Baker Reservoir, a “put and take” type water for those seeking family fun in the Baker Dam Recreation Area (BDRA). In the angling world, “put and take” refers to water where the fish population is maintained only for recreational fishing by restocking with aquaculture fish. In my previous two visits to the BDRA, I landed a total of 33 Rainbow trout, including two that were sixteen and eighteen inches, respectively. I hoped that the November 2022 stocking would give Luis the best chance to catch his first trout on a fly.
As most everyone knows, the winter weather of 2023 has been relentless with atmospheric rivers of tropical water vapor dropping rain and snow on earth’s northern latitudes. In our southwest region, rains have been almost a weekly occurrence, with the snowpack substantially above normal in the higher mountain ranges. We found one day, Monday the 13th of March, with no major rain or wind forecast for the BDRA. It seemed to be a good day for Luis to earn his navigation stripes on a Fish Cat style float tube. As for me, this would be my first float trip since suffering nerve and muscle damage to my right foot and leg (see A Pause in the Life… for that detail). My hope was that I would be able to navigate by kick-paddling while casting my Boo rod, but if not I could resort to using the oars integrated into the Savage Gear float tube.
The weather was as forecast for the BDRA, but I foolishly neglected to consider what the reservoir water quality would be like after several weeks of consistent rain saturating the slopes and arroyos around the reservoir. It was a disappointing color of caramel, if not the consistency of it. Flotsam was everywhere, and I did catch and release a branch that was suspended below the water surface. The trip was a wash out as far as the fishing, but we did accomplish our float tubing objectives, if not our actual catching of rainbow trout. More importantly, it was a fantastic opportunity for two long-time friends, disciples of Christ Jesus, to spend time discussing our hopes and prayers, especially for our children and grandchildren. It was a wonderful day trip for so many reasons.
I leave you with the Priestly Blessing the Lord told Moses to have Aaron and his sons say to the Israelites:
The Lord bless you and keep you;Numbers 6:24:26
the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.