The Beauty of Being a Terrible Fly Fisherman
Day 1, April, 2022 — Frazier River, Colorado
Fly fishing is a confusingly evasive thrill for me, a potential addiction should I give into the cravings. The sport conjures up romantic mental images of simple rustic pleasures, being absorbed in nature, standing in wild streams with big blue skies above, a light breeze blowing as dragonflies, mayflies, and other fish food work the river’s lush banks. Leading to the ultimate climax of casting the perfectly placed fly into an eddy where the most brilliantly colorful brown, brook, or rainbow trout is waiting almost anticipating your offering; leading to the ultimate fly rod bend that triggers a rush of excitement while the failed fish’s escape ends with it being scooped up in my net.
Only the well-crafted words and imagery of Norman Maclean could more brilliantly master this as he did in his book, A River Runs Through It.
Well, my first day of early spring fishing along the Frazier River wasn’t all that romantic or thrilling but was packed with adversity and adventure and in the end was soul filling few hours that I’d like to share.
The excursion actually began the night before as my upstairs neighbor, a teacher, and fishing enthusiast, met me on the front porch for beers and to skillfully and joyfully tie several nymph rigs for me to use. He, a young man who likely has never owned a pair of reading glasses, pierced the eyelets of these tiny flies and managed the knots in the tippet as if he were cleating yacht lines to a mooring. In the end, he cheerfully set me up for a successful day of fly fishing the Frazier like the pro that he is.
Note: watching him master this made my eye balls hurt emphasizing the importance of bifocals for my tackle bag.
I set off with my rigged up fly rod in hand for about a mile walk along the riverside trail until a found a social path that led down to the river. The path took me through the tall evergreens, over deadfall, and through bushes to reach the river. Piles of snowdrift remained along the trail under the shade of the trees and was thick, deep, and icy all along the western bank of the river.
Thoughts of bears coming out of hibernation circled in my head while I watched as a duck couple floated peacefully along the river. Once they saw me approach, they made a dramatic and loud exit, letting me know I was intruding on their privacy.
The fresh air smell was accompanied with the hint of mountain evergreens. The view about 20 miles across the vast Frazier valley was of the snow capped Byers Peak which was adorned with an occasional splash of bright sunshine as the clouds moved by. The sounds of the cold water from the recent snowmelt flowed over the rocks. Dead beetle kill trees still standing, holding on to earth by dying roots would screech as they rubbed against one another from the force of the winds.
I stood on the bank of the river for a few minutes studying the water, the eddies, rapids, curves, shallows, and holes, trying to think like a fish. Asking the profound fly fishing question, where would I be if I were a fish?
Once I chose my strategy, I looked up and down the river for all the natural hazards that could grab my fly, then slowly, but with great purpose and anticipation, removed the fly hook from the eyelet on the rod allowing the rig to blow freely in the wind over the water. I marked my spot about 10 feet across the river where the water runs with a little less force and deeper, a likely great spot for a fish to lay and wait for my tasty wet artificial nymph.
My first several cast were not accurate at all, clumsily landing on my side of the river where I quickly cursed the wind. I made a few more attempts and alast, the orange bobber landed perfectly in position in some shallow rapids only a few inches deep and just up river from the target. It floated into some deeper water, mid-river and with a few tugs on the rod, it was now positioned exactly where the water was flowing into my targeted spot where the hungry fish were likely waiting.
Then, it suddenly stopped as the fly was obviously eaten up by a snag on the bottom of the river. I attempted maneuvers to free it by manipulating my rod, moving up and down the banks, and lots of mumbled self-talk directed at the snag and fly. The snag finally released but brought the small, water-logged stick with it.
I lifted the fly up in the air to grab the hook to remove the stick but instead, the rig was caught by the wind and the fly hook snagged the back mesh part of my baseball cap. Not that there was anything special about my Patron tequila fly fishing cap, but I felt a bit foolish now having to remove the cap and the stick from my rig, tearing the cap just a little as I tugged on the hook.
I recovered from this incident with some stoic style resiliency and continued to work upstream, searching for fish, but mostly I just caught snags along the bottom and on several occasions, other riverside obstacles.
The greatest travesty of the day came while trying to de-snag stuck rigs. It would launch into the air where it would perform acrobatic maneuvers as it struck my rod, creating an artistic tangle of sorts that would then require about 15 minutes of patience while trying to untangle the knotty mess with an ever increase wind.
But I forged on, walking the river, casting, unsnagging, and untangling. As the day progressed I gained more patience and skill at managing these tangled messes, growing my confidence that fly fishing was possible if I show simple fortitude.
As I walked back up to the trail, I met a nice man and his puppy pooch, Barbara. We made friendly acquaintances and the man was also really nice. As I left them to head back down another trail through the trees to another spot he hollered, “Hey, I forgot to ask, have you had any luck?” My reply, “yes, 10 snags, 3 tangles, lots of sticks, and my hat, but there are worse things, right?”
I finally decided to call it a day after losing the bottom section of my fly rig to a bush across a deeper section of the river, just after walking my cheek into a dead branch.
You might read this and think one of several things like, he’s a terrible fly fisherman (you’d be correct), what a terrible day, or maybe I should spend more time with my neighbor learning this sport. But in the end, the entire day, breathing the fresh air, hearing the natural river run in front of me, concentrating on the rock, eddies, shallows, and holes, all these things fed my soul, made me a better human, providing an appreciation for the natural and wild.
It also reminded me of another time I had while unsuccessfully fly fishing the Lochsa River in Idaho, when I wrote the following:
There is something remarkably relaxing in rigging the line incorrectly, casting terribly, looking for obvious empty fishing holes, and not catching anything but the bush behind you.
For me, this plays true once again and reminds me of what is truly special and addictive about this sport.