Welcome Beginners

Part Three

Through The Eyes of a Beginner

By Don McPherson


This is part 3 of a new series, written by a beginning fly angler about his experiences and adventures in the world of fly fishing. It is a documentary - intended to encourage other beginners. It may also revive a few memories from old fly anglers.

This was a big day for me, not only did I have a new rod to try, but I had my first fishing vest, new wading boots, and a used float-tube to get acquainted with. After putting on my heavy neoprene waders, vest, and lacing up my boots, I started to assemble my new pole. As I try to slip my reel base into the proper slot, it won't fit. I turned the reel around, still won't fit. Now, seriously doubting the quality of my new rod, I make a close examination of my reel and discover that the base is too thick to fit in the slot. Determined not to let this stop me, I search for a rock. What do I plan to do with a rock you ask, well file the base of my reel of course. After trying several rocks, I found one course enough to actually remove some metal. So for the next half-hour, I file a little, and try to fit the reel on again, file a little more, and try again. Finally, the reel fits in the slot. Another sign that I'm moving up from beginner's status, I have solved a problem in the field!

Now that I have all my gear on and ready, it's time to find a spot to fish. There are no other people here, so I have the whole stream to myself. This stream is running through state land, so access is not a problem. Since access and other fishermen present no problems, it is solely up to me and my vast knowledge of trout habitat to pick my spot. Since I the only knowledge I have of trout habitat is the fact that they live in cold water, I decide to look for a place that I can cast unobstructed.

After rejecting several prospective sites, I decide on a spot near a small bend in the stream, with tall reeds on the banks. As I approach the creek, I see a lot of small fish surfacing on the opposite bank. These fish are performing flips and twists that would make an Olympic gymnast proud.

Once in position, I set about the task of selecting a fly. I study the water and rising fish for a while, and have no idea what to try. I look in my fly box for some help and all I see is flies that I have no idea how to use. My box is filled with flies my mother had tied for my dad, who fished beaver ponds when I was younger. I remember him using brown woolybuggers a lot so I find one and tie it on.

Tying flies on to leaders has always been a weak spot for me. Knot tying is one thing that you'd think a lad who spent six years in the Navy would have no problem with. Wrong! I make a few attempts to tie the fly on using what little knowledge of knots I remember from my naval training. Nothing seems to hold, so I settle for just passing the leader through the eye and tying a double knot and hoping for the best.

Once I have my size 4 woolybugger tied on; it's time to cast this beautiful rod for the first time. So I strip out what looks to be an ample amount of line, and begin to cast, keeping in mind the only casting instructions my father ever gave me. "Keep your elbow close to you side and move your arm back and forth between 11 o'clock and 2 o'clock." As I began working line farther out, I started to feel the magic of my rod. I cast smoothly, and the fly was actually landing where I wanted it. For several minutes I continued to cast the fly to rising trout and slowly retrieve it, but did not get a strike.

Now I was a little concerned, because of all the flies in my box, the woolybugger was the only one I was very familiar with. I knew there where times when you needed to fish nymphs and times when it was better to tie on a dry, but I didn't know when those times where. So I stopped fishing for a while and started watching the water. After several minutes of enjoying the quiet of the stream and watching a few fish rise, I saw a swirl of water at the beginning of the bend I was fishing. As I intently watched the bend, every so often I would see a flash in the water and the water would stir just a little. Not able to see what it was from behind the reeds, I slowly waded out a little way into the stream. Nothing happened for several minutes, then out of no where, I saw the shape of a large fish spin just under the surface and dart back towards a riffle by the bend.

Ah ha, I thought, this trout must be feeding on something under the surface. Slowly, the stuff I had read during the winter started to make sense to me. This fish was taking nymphs or some type of food below the surface, not on the surface. Now this may seem like an obvious observation to a seasoned angler, but previous to this, I thought fish only ate flies and only ones on the surface or real close to it. So I look through my fly box, hoping to find some type of nymph, not sure what exactly a nymph looks like. Then I remember that during the winter I had tied some prince nymphs. I had tied them, not because they were nymphs, but because they seemed pretty easy to me.

After tying my fly on, I began casting up stream of where I had seen the fish. I remembered something about the importance of a good drift, so I made an upstream mend in my line, and watched intently as the fly passed over the spot that held what I was sure was a huge rainbow. On the second cast, I saw the fish move towards my fly, he seemed to look at it and turn away. So I cast a few more times and thought my drift was just off a little. I moved downstream just a few feet, in hopes of having the fly make a straight path over the fish.

I made my first cast and watched as the fly approached the bend. Bang!

The fish took the fly and headed downstream fast! I couldn't believe it! I held my pole above my head and let the fish run. When it seemed to slow a little I began to reel, gently, afraid of breaking this fish off.

This was awesome, my first fish on my new rod! The fish bent the four weight enough that I feared something might break. The fish would run towards me and I'd reel furiously.

After several minutes of fighting and several acrobatic leaps by the trout, I finally had it in my net. This was unbelievable! This was certainly the largest fish I had ever caught, and I caught it on my new rod. I don't know how big the fish was, just that it was the biggest one I had ever landed.

When I hooked that fish, everything was just right, the fly, my presentation, everything. That it was probably much more luck than skill didn't matter to me. Things had been right, and I had landed that fish.

The uncertainty of what lies beneath the surface of the stream. The challenges of getting everything just right, trying to out smart the fish. These are the things that keep me coming back to fly-fishing.

I guess if I learned anything that day, it was to pay attention to the water, see what the fish are doing. Instead of blindly casting to fish, I found one and worked at that fish for a while. This sport can be frustrating at times but when you get it right it is pure magic.

I enjoy getting engrossed in the life of the stream. There is so much going on at each part of the stream. Fish moving, bugs hatching, the currents, all these things play apart in your chances of landing a fish. If you can pick out these aspects, study them, and try to put them to use, you'll increase your odds of landing fish. If nothing else, you'll be in tune with the environment that holds these magnificent creatures we pursue.
~ Don McPherson



Previous Beginners Journal

Return to the Beginners Journal
Part 1 Reflection | Part 2 Sorting the Equipment
Part 3 The New Fly Rod | Part 4 A Little Respect
Part 5 Snapping 'em off! | Part 6 Get a Few Lessons!
Part 7 Stuff | Part 8 Tube It?
Part 9 Take a Little Time


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