I can recall the exact moment I decided I'd learn to fly fish. We had just descended the Beartooth Pass from Montana into Wyoming driving through ruggedly pristine mountain scenery.
As we rounded a wooded bend in the road, scent of pine flooding the air, we were greeted with the most picturesque setting: a clear ribbon of mountain water curling it's way through the thick forest, like a snake hugging the land, sunlight glinting off it's gurgling riffles, bordered on our side by rocks and debris brought down in the spring of the year from above, and on the far side framed by pines, like soldiers standing alert and watchful, guarding the secrets of the waters and of the trout which lay below. In its midst stood a young man with his back to us, privy to the beauty, unaware of our eyes, rhythmically casting, softly laying down his line, immersed in his task; in its grace and elegance.
I recall staring at him, in a dream-like state. Not wanting to drive further. Wanting to stop the car, and wade out into the stream to join him. To lose myself in that mountain stream, in the perfumed air, plunge my legs into the cool water and feel it tug at my calves as I slowly worked my way along it's gravel bottom. I no longer wanted to watch. I wanted to be a part of it. I could feel it knawing at me deep inside. I turned to my husband and simply stated "I want to learn how to fly fish", to which he nodded in acknowledgment and replied. "Yup".
And so, Christmas that year he bought me a basic fly rod outfit. Cabelas brand, 8 1/2 foot, 5 weight, weight-forward line, reel and carrying case. It was all I needed to begin learning. I didn't know squat about fly-fishing even though I'd fished my entire life. (I still rate myself a "ginner" when it comes to fishing, never having delved deeply into all there is to learn about bait, rods, reels, line, fish, etc.) Needing to acquire basic knowledge, I began "reading" fly fishing catalogs. Orvis, Cabelas, Bass Pro, L.L. Bean... whatever arrived in the mail. Each night I'd page through the catalogs learning the names of the various equipment, what they were used for, and the different sizes available and on and on. This was good introductory "stuff" but I needed some good hands-on teaching.
Next, I looked up the BOW (Becoming an Outdoors Woman) schedule for spring, and was lucky enough to locate a weekend-long fly fishing program being offered in central Wisconsin. I promptly called and signed up with my sister-in-law who also been wanting to learn how to fly fish.
Day one of BOW was tremendous and tasty. Upon our late afternoon arrival, we split up into groups of four (there were roughly 20 of us in the fly fishing class). Each group prepared trout a different way: one with milk & dill, one with lemon & butter, another with Cajun seasoning, yet another with tomatoes. Some were grilled over a campfire, others fried in oil in a cast-iron skillet, some baked. All were simply tender, melt-in-your-mouth delicious and easy to prepare. Of course, we shared our work with everyone at camp, whch turned into incentive for many to learn to fly fish at the next BOW event.
Day two included a variety of fly fishing lessons, beginning with an introduction to the gear required, rules and regulations in the state, different baits used, basic entomology, and proper handling of the fish. Our first hands-on activity involved each of us pouring ourselves into a pair of waders, wading into a nearby creek and thrusting our hands into the muck to observe which critters were available for trout food. We overturned rocks, sifted through handfuls of mud, and studied the stream; how it ebbed and flowed and held the fish.
Later in the day we all practiced casting using a variety of rod lengths and weights. I was more than a little embarrassed to learn I had one of the most "unique" casts the instructor had seen in a long time!
Day three was a half-day lesson focusing on dry and wet flies and the various hook sizes available. Each of us actually tied two flies (successfully!) and practiced a few basic knots necessary to get underway.
The 3-day BOW program was a very extensive introduction to the world of fly fishing, yet I became worried as I quickly realized the enormity of the task at hand. There was simply so much to learn about fly fishing!
The reading I'd done on my own and the classes gave me plenty of basic knowledge but also supplied me with innumerable questions which drove my husband nuts. He knew the basics, he'd fly fished before, but he was no expert, and I was fast becoming, well, like a "noseeum" to a fly fisherman: annoying. And so, for my Birthday he bought me a pair of Cabelas waders with felt-lined soles and a "certificate" for a 1-day guided fly fishing lesson accompanied by a guide in Southwestern Wisconsin.
Finally, over a year since I first received my fly rod, I was ready for a day on the trout stream. My destination into the beautifully lush unglaciated valleys of southwestern Wisconsin was sure to be memorable. The previous spring and summer 'd ventured out a handful of times alone, feeling quite inept, and my husband and I had caught quite a few bluegills at a nearby lake, but I had yet to catch my first trout.
After meeting my guide, we headed to the west fork of the Kickapoo River, a renowned trout stream in Wisconsin. It wasn't long before I was releasing my first Brown Trout back into the clear waters and smiling ear to ear. The day was absolutely beautiful, the only day in over a week that the sun shined bright and clear, made even brighter by the fact that I was able to reel in numerous Browns throughout the day. No trophies, not even close, but each catch was special and thrilling to me.
That insatiable gnawing in my belly was gone, my spirits soaring with each cast as I now knew "how to fly". I had taken the first big step into new territory and I loved it, eagerly looking forward to more days spent in waders and to more days releasing some fantastic trout.
Make sure your first step is a solid one by researching your guide and their services. Clarify what you're looking for in a guide and what you expect from your outing. Don't hesitate to ask for references. Still new to fly fishing, being with a guide was intimidating for me at first, and I would caution all who hire a guide to make it clear what level fly-fisherman you rate yourself. Be honest and up front as you don't want an experienced guide feeling frustrated with your lack of skill once you're on the water.
The next step is up to you. Get out and spend time on the water, whether it's casting or actually fishing, just get out there! The best teacher is experience, the best skills-builder practice, and the best days are days spent on the water enjoying it all.