Thad's First Fish on a Fly
First One’s Free
Sometimes fly fishing is a sport, and other times it is a little more like an addiction. I’ve definitely been known to disregard some basic needs like drinking water, eating, or applying sunscreen because I am just too focused on catching the next fish and can’t seem to set my rod down. Maybe my mentality while fishing isn’t the healthiest but it’s because I truly enjoy it. That being said, it is always a blast to be able to take someone out on the river and show them the ropes of a sport you enjoy so much. Introducing anyone to the sport is a good time, but it is especially rewarding when I get to introduce a good friend like Thad.
Fly Fishing 101
I would not claim to be the most qualified guide, but I do enjoy teaching the basics when given the chance. Plus, instructing others is a good way to solidify your own knowledge as you talk through subjects that usually just float around in your brain as you fish but are not necessarily structured in any practical way. There is also an element of challenge when it comes to conveying motions and knowledge that are second nature to an experienced angler but are non-obvious to the first time fly fisherman.
Thad was quick to pick up casting which is always helpful. A lot of first timers get hung up on the unnatural motion. Typically the way I outline casting is this. I let them know that the goal is to get your fly line traveling in a straight path/tight loop rather than an open loop because this helps us land the fly gently and accurately on the water while also gaining casting distance. The way we shoot line in a straight path is with smooth accelerations of the rod and into a hard stop. Think of the rod traveling in a range of motion between 11 & 1 or 10 & 2 on a clock. The last major pointer is to help get their rod tip traveling in a straight line path rather than in an arc. The way it sticks in my mind is imagining a painter painting a ceiling and dragging the rod tip along that ceiling with equal pressure the entire way. You don’t want to only be ticking the ceiling at the top of your casting motion. There’s more to casting than all of that, but those are good building blocks for the basic cast.
Next we are ready to locate fish in the stream. The rivers were at a fairly good flow so it made a lot of stretches of the river accessible and there was a wide variety of features to teach Thad about. Once water levels rise or drop substantially, the river loses some of its features and you don’t get the diverse fishing experience that is most useful for instruction. I let him know some of the main objective of a trout is to feed while simultaneously hiding from aerial prey and conserving energy. Because of this, fish generally like to stay in deeper and slower parts of the water, on the edge of fast water, and near/beneath structures. All of these things provide some protection from prey and fast moving water while allowing access to aquatic insects.
The Hunt Begins
After he had his cast pretty well dialed in and had knowledge of fishy spots to look for on the river, we were off in search of trout. One of my favorite features to fish on a river is a slight bend in the stream where there is a fast riffle that spills into a deep seam. You are almost guaranteed a trout if the fish are indeed biting that day.
We walked upstream and I pointed out the perfect stretch for him to try out. I had a dry fly with a dropper tied on his rod which would be perfect for the little pool we’d be working. He gave it a couple of really nice casts with no luck. I told him you’re not always going to see the fly sink when a fish takes the nymph, it could be as subtle as a twitch of your dry fly when a fish nibbles. He continued working the seam and WHAM the dry fly took a little dive and he set the hook on a healthy 10 inch trout. When we fish in the Cascades on the Snoqualmie, you get pretty happy with a 10 incher… especially when that is your first fish on a fly! He was stoked to get it and was instantly hooked on the thrill of landing a trout on a fly rod. He even remarked how sizable the fish felt on the rod. The current and the pliability of a fly rod really does make a small trout feel like you're reeling in a whole lot bigger fish.
Thad went on to get 6 or so fish that day which is absolutely incredible for his first time with a fly rod in hand, all the more impressive when you consider that the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie is not exactly a blue-ribbon stream. I couldn’t have drawn up a much better introduction to the sport for Thad. The only regret I had is setting his expectations up a little too high in terms of how many trout he should expect to pull out of the Snoqualmie. We hit another western Washington stream a couple weeks later and he got skunked unfortunately. It is all just the reality of fishing. Some days you light it up, and some days you question if you’re actually a good fisherman or if you just get lucky on occasion. But the more you go, the luckier you get.