A couple weeks ago I made a decision that could potentially impact the trajectory of my life. I did not buy a house, invest in an emerging business, or max out my 401K contributions. In fact, my decision was really nothing smart or potentially lucrative, it was 100% to silence my buddies, Nick and Ryan.
After 26 years of fishing spinning reels, I’ve decided to learn how to fly fish.
For the better part of the last two years, Nick and Ryan have gone full tilt into the world of fly fishing and have been in my ear about giving it a shot. To be honest, they have not done a very good job at making it look appealing.
More often than not, when I fish with them I catch more fish, and spend more time fishing instead of being tangled or pondering which clouser I am going to tie on to my tippet. Did I say that right? Though, their persistence and pure excitement when all of the elements come together is something I have taken notice of and is somewhat inspiring.
Now, I have never been against fly fishing, nor am I a devoted spin fisherman. I had a brief dabble with baitcasting reels, but those unfortunately ended up at the bottom of the Lynnhaven (stories for a different time).
I guess I just never understood or thought I was in a position to pick it up. Growing up, I used to sit on the couch every Sunday morning and watch the Spanish Fly with Jose Wejebe. Initially, I was just pumped to see the different types of fish he caught, but watching his technique and hearing his passion kept me a regular viewer.
Lucky for me, Ryan and Nick have enough gear to ease me into this new world so my initial investment will be minimal. My only upfront costs are the sounds of laughter coming from them as I struggle my way through the process.
That being said, I am excited to give this a shot finally and hope to add the fly rod as a new tool in my arsenal of fishing gear. Lucky for you, you’ll be able to follow along as we document my journey.
This past Wednesday we made a trip up to the mountains for my first attempt at fly fishing. Right off the bat, this was an interesting decision to me. I’ve been fishing a school of upper-slot red drum most of the summer and these guys wanted to go to the mountains to catch Brook Trout. Not to mess with the flow, I didn’t protest the decision and was excited for a change of scenery.
Ryan was able to head up to Nick’s house the night before, but I went to a concert with my wife and would need to leave early the next morning. I left my house at 3:45am to meet at Nick’s house for a 6:00am departure. “Hope this is worth it,” I thought to myself as I slurped my first few sips of coffee in the truck.
When I pulled up to Nick’s ahead of schedule I shot him a text so I didn’t wake his wife or baby girl. No response. For the next 15 minutes I sketchily sat in my truck, lights off, truck running, as people in his neighborhood passed by walking their dogs and staring at me with flashlights.
The neighborhood watch in his parts is on point. I felt like Marv from the “Wet Bandits” in Home Alone.
We eventually link up, load up Ryan’s truck and head towards the mountains. This was the first time the three of us had been together in a few months, so we spent most of the ride catching up on life.
Ryan had just spent the previous two weeks out at Sturgis, and filled us in on the sights and sounds he experienced out there. To the disappointment of Nick and I, Ryan didn’t come back with any new tattoos or sporting a new leather jacket with an image of a newt riding a motorcycle.
Nick updated us on dad life, his new job, and stalking drum down in North Carolina on vacation. Before we knew it, our ears were popping from the elevation change and we started to see streams from the road. Ryan pulled over onto a gravel shoulder and it was game on.
Nick and Ryan decided to try this section for 30 minutes or so and if we don’t catch any trout, move to the next area. “Tim, how pumped are you going to be if they are hitting dries?” Nick asked me. I responded, “I have no idea what that means, but I’ll be excited if they are in that little stream.”
They immediately get out their rods and reels, and start speaking gibberish. I tried to pay attention to what I knew, which was basically piecing the rod together and understanding the importance of a leader.
Tippet was a word that was thrown around a lot and I’m still not sure if it is a critical piece of the puzzle or just a fun word to say. Ryan showed me how to connect the leader onto the fly line and tied on a dry fly.
To be specific and technical, I used a size 14 Parachute Adams, which for some reason prompted me to reminisce about throwing toy army men with parachutes off my deck as a kid, but I digress. The rod I used was a 4wt Eagle Claw Featherlight fiberglass rod paired with an Orvis Encounter II reel.
Rigged up, wading boots on, I was ready to go. The only thing missing was a khaki brown floppy hat. “You think there are crayfish in here?” I asked, channeling another childhood memory. My initial thoughts approaching the water was doubting that fish would be in such a small stream and how quickly am I going to slip on one of these damn rocks.
Lesson number one covered how to naturally present the fly in areas where the water is flowing by rocks, into deeper pools, or along seams where bubbles were present. Bubbles mean oxygen!
Similar to saltwater fishing, these fish will be hiding behind anything that breaks the flow of the stream which allows them to wait for food to come to them. Also similar, was the need to have enough tension on the line so when the bite happens you can set the hook quickly. Lesson number one was easy to grasp.
We moved over to a section of the stream that had water rushing down an elevation change into a deeper pool with a few rocks providing hiding places. “This is a good spot,” said Ryan.
Lesson number two was casting. I was excited about this because I had no idea how I was going to cast with trees all over the damn place. I also had envisioned a nice flowing stream in a meadow at the foot of a mountain where I could let it fly, but that was not the case.
Due to the overgrowth and obstructions in the area, the key was line management and to pay attention to what was behind you. In this case, it was trees and Nick. Holding the rod in my right hand, we let enough line out for me to have the fly reach its destination.
Actively pinching the line above the reel helped me keep excess line from spilling out. Instructed to raise the rod up vertically, as opposed to back, and swing the rod down towards the spot I wanted the fly to land. This attempt was a success in that I did not get snagged on the trees or hook Nick, but my fly landed nowhere near where it needed to be.
Instead of having the rod flip down, I gave it more of a forward swing which caused the line to catch up and not roll forward away from the rod. A few more attempts improved, but I wasn’t getting the motion down. “See, it's more difficult than it looks,” my two “friends” energetically commented.
Ryan stepped in to demonstrate as Nick walked up ahead to see if any trout were in the next pool. On his first cast, Ryan landed Mr. Adams right at the bottom of the elevation change and we watched as the fly started to drift downstream.
Right in the middle of the drift, a splash happened as if someone dropped a rock into the stream. “That was a fish,” said Ryan. He quickly casted to the same spot and this time successfully hooked the fish. “They are hitting dries,” Ryan yelled up to Nick. “It’s just a creek chub,” he said.
I took away two things from that moment. One, I couldn’t believe the aggression from such a little fish. Two, they couldn’t come up with a better name? Regardless, I was pumped to see a fish caught and shocked at the excitement it created.
Ryan handed me the rod and I attempted a couple casts to the backside of the pool. My first drift went just in front of the seam I was targeting, so I fired a cast right back up into the spot. I watched the fly drift down, gripped the rod way too tight with my right hand, and had my left hand ready to strip line as if I was going to fight a marlin, and splash a fish hits and I lift my right hand up to set the hook.
One half strip of line with my left hand gets the fish to me and I lift it out of the water. A creek chub! My first fish on the fly was a creek chub. But, I didn’t really care. I caught a fish. The pressure was off the remainder of the trip. A hoot from Nick came down stream and Ryan high fived me. “I’m a creek chub guy,” I said.
We spent another 30 minutes or so trying to find trout in that area, but it was full of creek chubs. I didn’t care though. I spent the remainder of the time practicing the different angles of the roll cast just hoping to hook anything, the adrenaline from that little creature shocked me. The call was made to trek another 45 minutes north with hopes to find some trout.
At the next spot, we hopped out and made our way down a heavily wooded path that opened to a solid stream. There was a bit more water here and a nice deeper pool directly upstream of where we stood. Ryan made one cast with a dry dropper setup and landed a beautiful 5”- 6” brook trout. Pumped out of our minds, the three of us start working our way up this stream.
Not too long after, Nick landed a solid brookie. We had found them, which was great. Unfortunately, this stream had even more trees and obstructions, so I spent a fair amount of time getting stuck or having to constantly pull the line back out.
Every time I would lift the rod tip, not paying attention, my fly would slide all the way back to the guides. Line management is key.
Thanks to the instruction of Ryan and Nick, I felt confident enough to meander the stream and attempt some roll casts on my own. Trying to make a good cast and watching the fly drift downstream were challenging and fun.
I was determined to land a trout. I had some shots too, about six to be exact, but who’s counting because I definitely wasn’t counting each of the hook-ups. Ultimately, I ended up unsuccessful in landing a trout.
My struggles came with setting the hook. I made an effort to not Bill Dance the hookset, but it seemed at times I was not setting the hook hard enough. The only hooksets that worked were for my new friends, creek chubs.
Nevertheless, I had a blast and can’t wait to get another shot. I get it. Who knew such small fish could generate a thrill. It was fun to see Ryan and Nick in their element, and for the first time in a while catch more fish than me.
To wrap up the day, we pulled over into an open area down from the steam to indulge in a thoughtfully curated lunch by our resident hipster friend, Nick. At this point, I’m assuming every fly fishing adventure ends this way.
The menu for this lunch consisted of several types of smoked herring, cajun pickles, mango habanero pickles, avocado, artisan crackers, figs, chili rubbed mangos, and some Dubliner aged cheese. We had ingredients for special beers, but forgot beers! What idiots.
Nick demonstrated the assembly of our lunch, aggressively licking his lips the whole time. “Take a cracker, then some cheese, then add fish, throw some fruit or avocado, and top it off with a pickle. Shove it in your mouth,” he instructed.
Never did I think I would be eating smoked fish out of a tin can, but the entire concoction was delightful. Hipsters can definitely be trusted when it comes to food.
On the drive back home we recapped the day. We laughed with each other, and mainly at me. “I guess I’m not a trout guy, I’m strictly a creek chub guy,” I said.
Ryan chimed in, “Can we call you Chubs?”
“Yes! Chubs Peterson, just like the dude from Happy Gilmore,” yelled Nick.
And so we have it, Chubs Peterson, my fly fishing alias has been born. The journey will continue and Chubs Peterson will learn to fly fish. Stay tuned.