My path to fly fishing began with a very boyish act. Our family owned a dairy out on Colorado’s high plains. We all worked hard, but for the 8-year-old me, time ran slow on long summer days.
And on this particularly long June day, I swiped a tub of cheese from my mom’s refrigerator and fed it in tiny pieces to the trout in our irrigation pond. Great entertainment, watching the fish dart from the depths to consume my offerings. A fishing kid’s dream, this pond was filled with cold spring water and it grew heavy rainbow trout with blue-green backs and crimson sides.
Forced to confess my sins to my mother, I sensed that she appreciated my desperate measures. Those were slow days for her, too. But she needed to make a stand. The cheese was gone and so were my fishing privileges. My fishing pole and tackle box, confiscated for one week.
Time to get creative, because not fishing meant not living. At least that’s how it felt.
Prior to our arrival on the dairy, a fisherman had left a trout fly stuck to a board in our garage. It was old but wore its age well, with a bright green chenille body and wings made of deer hair. The hook seemed a bit rusty but strong. And, like a gift from the fish gods, two feet of clear monofilament line were attached to the fly.
The country life had provided me with a sense of resourcefulness, and I used this gift to create my first “fly line” by tying together two lengths of bailing twine, followed by the monofilament leader and the fly.
I was back in business, so long as mom didn’t catch me sneaking off after the chores were done.
She didn’t, and I soon managed to sling the fly across the pond. The cast was no thing of beauty, but it was good enough. The fly plunked onto the water surface and lazily began to sink. The chenille glowed and flashed in the summer sun, and I slowly retrieved my line.
There may be no greater thrill in fishing than to see a trout rise to your fly. And on that June morning in 1968, a gorgeous fish charged from its hiding place and smashed the old bug from the garage.
The fight raged in the clear water. I could feel the fish lunge with powerful tail swings. Its silvery iridescent scales flashed in the sun. The fish jumped to shake the hook. It was game on. And then it wasn’t. The chunky rainbow had broken free, and I could see it dart back to deep water.
Disappointment grabbed me for a minute. But those feelings were soon replaced by something better. I had made a discovery.
Sure, I could have used bait … Velveeta, if I wanted more trouble from mom. I could have caught plenty of fish. But the fly was of the trout’s world, representing a natural meal, a smaller fish, or perhaps a drowning beetle. The game had changed. I’d met the fish on the fish’s terms. And it felt grounded and natural.
There is plenty to talk about and explore in the world of fishing equipment… rods, reels, waders, etc. And today’s technology has made fly fishing easier, more expensive, and certainly fun and interesting.
But the cool thing about fly fishing is this: Catching fish via this ages-old method requires fishermen to get cozy with Mother Nature. It’s a gateway to a new appreciation for the outdoors and for the various furred and finned critters that live in our fields and streams. It will challenge you to sit streamside and observe mayflies flapping along the willows, or to watch a fish sip tiny midges from the water surface.
What do you see? What do you sense? Apply the answers to your fishing. Step into the water and become a part of the stream. That’s what is cool about fly fishing. And Colorado is the place to do it.
The state’s snowpack creates thousands of miles of streams and rivers, and trout reside in most of them. Close to Colorado Springs, the Arkansas and South Platte rivers offer excellent fly fishing. And our mountain lakes, the North Slope Recreation Area on Pikes Peak, plus Elevenmile, Spinney and Antero reservoirs, provide opportunities for big fish.
Like other outdoor pursuits, fly fishing can be expensive, but it’s possible to purchase all of the essentials, and start catching fish with an investment of $200 to $300. The idea is to understand what the fish are eating and present to them a reasonable imitation that behaves like the real thing. Pricey equipment isn’t necessarily needed.
Trout reproduce naturally in many streams and rivers, and some are stocked to maintain a steady fish population. Releasing trout to fight again, or to make baby trout, is a good idea. Some water carries special “catch and release” restrictions. Other streams and lakes may have limits of one fish or four. Buy a fishing license before you go. A yearly license costs about $36. Short-term licenses are available for less. Know the rules and protect the resource.
In May, before the high-country snow began to melt, I explored new parts of the Arkansas River. In one spot a massive rock jutted into the current and created a quiet pool on the down-river side. I sat on the bank and watched the small, moth-like caddis flies (a favorite natural fish food) flop on the water’s surface. The trout were there, hungry, prowling.
I had learned that trout love to eat caddis as they rise through the water from the riverbed to the surface. The caddis are vulnerable. They are candy for hungry trout. I tied on an imitation “caddis emerger” pattern (this is geek-level stuff) and cast it into a swirling current that settled into slower, deeper water.
And from the depths I could see the chunky brown trout chase my fly. I felt the jolt in my hands and my fly rod bent toward the water as the fish sprinted for the current, and we duked it out in Mother Nature’s arena.