I caught my first trout – a rainbow – on November 11, 2015, my 55th birthday. It took three months of practice and lessons from my teacher – my husband Tim – but I finally did it. And, in the process, I got hooked.
Though I’m just a beginner, I can honestly say fly fishing is the most enjoyable sport I’ve ever “played.” I love everything about it, starting with the gear: the creative thinking and skill that goes into hand-tied flies, waders and felt-bottomed boots that enable me to wade in water up to my butt, the smooth mechanical perfection of my reel and line, and all the clips, gadgets, and objects that help transform me into a walking fish camp.
But most of all, I love my fly rod, an Orvis 8’6″ Clearwater (4-weight) that Tim gave me for Christmas. I love the process of taking the four pieces out of the carrying tube, matching up the little dots, pushing the pieces into position, and holding it up to the sky to make sure the snake guides line up. I love screwing the reel into place and threading the guides.
And I love that my long, thin, light-as-a-feather rod (with a tip as skinny as a juicebox straw) constantly amazes me with its strength and ability to bend, vibrate and twist, constantly overpowering the feistiest fishes (and tangliest tree limbs).
The respect I have for my reel guy is surpassed only by the respect I have for the real guy who made all this possible, my Tim.
For close to a decade, Tim’s been fly fishing the Mitchell River and Stone Mountain, both locales about a 90-minute drive from our home in Greensboro, North Carolina. For the past couple of years, he’s tried to talk me into joining him. “I know you’d enjoy it, and I’d love to have you out there with me,” he’d tell me. “Oh, it’s definitely on my bucket list,” I’d respond. “One day, one day…”
Starting out, Tim fished with an old 2-piece Wright-McGill rod that had belonged to his grandfather. It’s the same rod he used to teach me how to fly cast last summer – in the playground of our neighborhood elementary school.
It’s also the rod on which I caught my 55th birthday rainbow trout and, about an hour after that, the most beautiful brown trout I’ve ever seen in my life (though I say that about all my trout).
All the credit for getting me to that point, and for turning me into a rookie fly fishing monster, goes to Tim, of course. But, after three years of “thinking about learning to fly fish,” the events that took it from bucket list item to check mark look something like this:
As a home furnishings industry journalist, I attend many trade shows, including the semi-annual Las Vegas Furniture Market. When I was booking my Greensboro-to-Vegas flights for last July’s market (my 18th Las Vegas Market), I noticed a nice itinerary on Frontier Airlines and, breaking with Delta tradition, decided to give it a try.
I changed planes in Denver, had a nice flight, but began thinking more and more about how a trip to Colorado was also a bucket list thing for Tim and me.
A few days after my trip, because Frontier now had my email address, I began getting offers for ridiculously affordable direct flights to Denver. Tim and I took the bait, and booked a trip to Estes Park — because of the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park and the Big Thompson River — for late August.
I researched online and found a great little cabin (Loveland Heights Cottages) with the right “Colorado cowboy shabby chic” look I was going for, a great rate, and a big deck overhanging the clear, rushing waters of the Big Thompson.
“Yes,” said the owner, when I made our reservation. “You can fly fish here, but only with barbless hooks.”
“Great!” I agreed. “No barbless hooks,” whatever that meant. “We’ll see ya in a couple weeks!”
Okay. Trip booked, now just one detail remained. I needed to learn to fly fish. And thus our fly fishing life, together, began: casting lessons on dry land; shopping for waders and boots; a new reel for grandpa’s rod, which I would be using; advance research on licenses, flies and hatches (Tim’s responsibility); and enough time for a few practice sessions in the Mitchell River before we left for Colorado.
From the time I first went into the water in waders (August 20) up until my birthday, (November 11), I casted and casted and casted… in North Carolina, and every day while we were in Colorado. Those wonderful tug-tug-tug vibrations began to come more often, I began to recognize when I pulled in too quickly or too late, and, finally, I began to see the trout in the water.
Tim patiently changed out my flies, steered me toward the deep holes and hot spots, even gave me permission to stretch the truth when a neighboring angler would stop and ask me, “Caught anything today?”
“Oh, just a couple. My husband is doing better than me today,” I lied on more than one occasion. I even learned to tell the other guys what kind of fly I’d caught my “fish” with.
But, somehow, even coming up empty, I fell more and more in love with it. Being in such beautiful places, surrounded by beautiful wildlife, scenery and sound… sharing something with my husband that he was so passionate about… appreciating the physical workout of navigating river rocks and surprisingly strong currents. Most of all, I love the way it stills my mind. There’s so much quiet and solitude, yet just enough mental monitoring and strategy involved to keep your head from wandering back to the office, or perusing your latest list of worries. It’s being “in the flow,”totally mindful of your current state and nothing else. Time slows, your senses sharpen, and you enter that wonderful, blissful zone.
I was perfectly happy with all of that, and probably would have been content to fly fish with Tim and catch nothing for the rest of my life.
But then, I woke up on the morning of 11/11/15 with a strong urge to take the day off and spend my birthday fly fishing with my husband. My birthday has always been a lucky day for me, so why not expect that today might be the day I finally land one? Plus it was just a beautiful, unseasonably warm fall day. Great day to enter the zone.
And then it happened. Tug-tug-tug. Then stillness. Tug-tug-tug again, followed by a silver flash and a lot of splashing on the end of my line. It was on my hook! I could see the pink egg pattern thingy in its mouth! Oh my God! Tim!! I think I CAN do this!!!
“Keep your line tight,” Tim said as he waded over with the net. “Keep it tight.”
“Please please please take a picture!!” I wet my hands as Tim had instructed and nervously scooped up my little rainbow while Tim photographed him for future generations, then gently twisted the hook out and returned him to the Mitchell River. It wasn’t until then that I realized I had just held my first live fish. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness, oh my gosh, oh my goodness!”
That feeling. That exhilaration, satisfaction, excitement. I wanted to do it again, really, really badly. I wanted to do it again so bad it hurt.
And I did. About 45 minutes later, and this time on a back cast upstream (so as to be able to stand and cast from a sort-of awkward spot under a bridge).
This time, though, I settled down. This time, I held the line tight while I reached around and unhooked my net. This time, I pulled the line close and scooped up the most beautiful brown trout the world has ever seen. I dipped my hands in the river, then picked him up and held his slippery, sweet, spotted little fat body close.
And when I looked up, there was my sweet Tim standing there with his rod and his iPhone, taking the picture.