EVOLUTION OF A FLY FISHERMAN
I was seven or eight years old the first time I saw a picture of a fly rod. It was in a magazine and while I can’t be certain it was probably “Fur, Fish & Game”, a magazine my family or I have subscribed to for over 60 years. I remember being quite taken with those pictures of gentlemen wearing chest waders, a fishing vest and a narrow brimmed hat full of flies. However, the one thing that really attracted my attention was the bow in that long, thin fishin’ pole.
As far as I was concerned I was already a fisherman. We fished with worms and bobbers and caught a lot of bluegill and bullheads. We were a success as far as I was concerned, but I couldn’t get those pictures out of my mind.
As I grew older I bought or subscribed to other outdoor magazines such as “Sports Afield” and “Outdoor Life”. They contained more pictures of fly fishing except that now I read the articles. With all the talk about leaders, tippets, different weight lines, different action rods, the only thing that made sense to me was that these folks were having an inordinate amount of fun catching fish! Certainly something that much fun must surely be illegal in Missouri. Being blessed, or cursed, with a curious mind I simply had to try this kind of fishing, as soon as I made certain it was legal.
At the ripe old age of fourteen I took my lawn mowing and hay bale bucking money to a local hardware store. There was only two in our little Ozark town and the other didn’t handle fishing equipment. The proprietor didn’t know anything about fly fishing nor did any of the employee’s, either one of them, so I was on my own hook so to speak.
The store had no fly rods but there was a spinning outfit complete with rod, reel and line. Upon examining the rod, a 7 foot solid fiberglass beauty with a sliding band seat, it was determined that it could be made to pull double duty as a spin rod and a fly rod. For whatever reason the store had in stock a single action fly reel and a level line. The spinning kit, fly reel and level line followed me home.
Bear in mind this all occurred in the northern Ozarks at a time when most people who fished were in pursuit of the food it provided. It was during the mid to late 1960’s. We had only recently learned the Great Depression had ended…not that we could tell any difference.
At that time I did not know one individual who fly fished so again I was on my own hook. The old “American Sportsman” was still on television and I had watched fly fishing in action there. It didn’t look all that difficult. Wave a rod in the air, feed out some line while you’re waving it and get the bug in the water somewhere close to where a fish might be holding or feeding. I remember a neighbor lady asking my Mother what I was doing as she watched me practice casting. Mom told her I was learning to fly fish. Nearly everyone knows the response, “why is he fishing for flies”, except that she was dead serious. Then Mom would explain as best she could about using flies for bait. This neighbor lady was in her late 70’s and I’m certain she thought I was catching flies out of the air to use for bait. But then our neighbors always thought I was a little “tetched in the head”.
The day had arrived when I was really going to fly fish. In my little Sucrets box, no way was there money for a vest, there were three popping bugs, black, red and white and 3 black gnats attached to in-line spinners along with a few lures for the spinning outfit. It was about a five mile bicycle ride to Red Oak creek and approximately a ½ mile walk before you reached water that held fish. This was at a place called Big Rock which is exactly what it sounds like; a big rock about 12 feet high with a nice pool of water beneath it and pleasant riffles above and below the pool. I am confident it has now filled in with gravel.
To expedite matters, that day I became a fly fisherman. To my great surprise and delight the first fish I caught was a largemouth bass about fourteen inches long and the fish was caught on a popping bug. Instantly I learned the joy of fly fishing and why all those folks wore such huge smiles on their face. My very first fish caught on a top water fly. I’ve been hooked ever since.
As the summer wore on I fished the spinning reel less and less and by the end of the summer had become determined to save my money and purchase a real fly rod. I actually became a fair hand at keeping that level line in the air and placing the fly where I wanted it to go. This was done without benefit of a tapered leader and tippet. All I knew about, or owned for that matter, was four pound mono off the spinning reel, which I used for leader and tippet. As I said, things were still tough in the northern Ozarks in the mid to late 1960’s, especially for a fourteen year old kid.
As time passed I acquired books on fly fishing and had the privilege to fish with some fine ladies and gentlemen from which I always learned something. With the advent of “the web” even more knowledge has been accumulated. My success at catching fish has increased considerably and my focus has gravitated more toward trout than warm water species. However, smallmouth bass will always be my favorite.
God has blessed me with the means to have fished in several states and spend time in places too beautiful to describe. Anyone who has fished the Rockies, Catskills, Adirondacks or the Southern Appalachians knows what I mean. The boreal north harbors beautiful country also. There have been many wonderful acquaintances and a few close friends have been made.
Needless to say many rods and reels have passed through my hands since that time. Now, some 44 years later, I fish exclusively with vintage bamboo fly rods and silk lines. During the intervening years I learned about leaders, tippets, line tapers, started tying flies years ago, learned some entomology and had a ball learning and fishing. This past winter I restored my first bamboo fly rod and what a treat that was.
Is my experience any different from most? With the exception of starting with a spinning rod and not having a mentor, I think not. We all had to start somewhere. This wonderful fraternity to which we belong is a generous fraternity. Today most are willing to offer their knowledge and help a newcomer along. Many are willing to give first chance at a run to a newcomer or the person they’re fishing with. You don’t find that generosity in many outdoor activities.
One thing I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that even after 44 years of chasing fish with the long rod; I am still a rookie and have much to learn. The more I learn, the more I know there is to learn.