Now, I am saying the following knowing there are exceptions, but in my life time not many that I can recall: almost every true learning experience for fly fishing came standing beside a man older than me. I have watched younger anglers and studied their ways, but to actually stand at the water’s edge and receive advice, suggestions, see into a fly box at a suggested pattern….that has, for me, for the most part come from men older than me.
Just an observation from my life. So, if you are an older beginning fly fisher, you are going to have to work harder (humor intended) to find that elder fly fisher. Now, as it were, the other day I encountered such a fine gentleman. I was exploring the access points to suitable fly waters around Eugene/Springfield, Oregon. Killing time, wasting time probably, while on a business trip. As I attempted to look at the river and not run over a jogger, I saw a silhouette out in the river. I thought pull over and go watch. I couldn’t fish at that moment, but at least I could spend/waste a few minutes watching someone else. I parked by the only rig in the area (his) and donned my coat. It was still brisk out. I walked a trail until I came in line with him, then made my way down to the river. Now, what did I learn by eyes and ears:
The man was fishing a spey rod, running line and a smaller head. He effortlessly cast out against a rock outcropping that plopped the smaller, darker fly into a quiet slot, which then took it swinging downstream into a seam and the nicest, chattering riffle. He let the fly hang after the swing and twitched the rod tip. Then he would strip in the running line, gather the loops into his bottom, steering hand on the butt and start over.
He was using a wading staff that he managed to use and then secure out of his way. He was fishing some 40′ out from shore, and the current was hitting him right above the knees. The pressure of the water against the back of his legs suggested the current was faster than it appeared and he moved with caution while using the wading staff.
He soon reeled in and tethered the dark fly and put a neoprene reel cover over his Sarcione (spendy) reel. Once the reel was protected he turned the rod around with the tip to the rear, secured his wading staff and started a slow wade toward me.
As he arrived to land, I could see he had all the accoutrements of a more seasoned fly angler that been used and broken in. We exchanged all the pleasantries and he chuckled as he maybe felt obligated to answer what I had thought, but really didn’t know the current status: he explained why he was out steelheading alone in April for Summer fish. He explained what site he went to in order to check numbers of fish over the falls below; he told me how many had come over and statistically how many fish he thought likely had made their probable way to the area. Then he again chuckled that he was trying to find just one of those maybe one hundred fish. Just a low probability gamble on a low probability pursuit.
He was happy, bubbling, vital. Just into his 70’s he had that energy. Probably why he proudly had that SB decal on his rig. So, now we talked and it was an easy going conversation. He talked about the oversized turbo disc on his smaller dark fly for agitation/animation; he talked about his travels (impressive bona fides), he remarked about the river being about a foot to high, hence the slower wading; and how it taxed him (would probably me too then). And, the explained contours, and buckets and tubs and ledges and skating flies with riffling hitches. He did all this in the softest voice. No brashness. No arrogance. He had no clue what I knew or didn’t know, but out of all this observation and hearing I learned several knew things for this spot and the area. It was an easy going encounter of the perfect order.
This is the type of encounters I have had over the years. I can picture the old gents on the Wilson, Trask, Deschutes, Crooked, Minam, East, Tunkwa….I met and who shared their subtlest of tips that changed my success and enjoyment of the sport.
As I made my way back to my rig, I felt lucky to have met that man. I hope I have that vitality and twinkle when I am his age in the not too distant future. And, I hope I continue to share with reckless abondon (no, no I won’t give up the spot…that’s just understood).