Still Learning to Fly Fish

8 trout and fly rod

Not everyday is catch and release… Had enough for a fish fry.

Back in May 2014, I was fishing one of my favorite spots on the river. I was casting a small dry fly (PMD) and wasn’t having much luck. I noticed a guide from the local fly shop and his client were catching fish regularly, but they were not fishing dry flies.

I walked over to watch and asked the guide if he would show me the rig he was using. He showed me the Provo River Bounce Rig (read post on bounce rig). I returned to my spot and started to re-rig to attempt to copy what the guide was doing.

While I was rigging, a gentleman walked towards me and stopped to watch the trout feeding below a riffle in the pool. He was probably wondering why I wasn’t fishing.

I told him he could fish the hole if he wanted. At first, he declined because he didn’t want to crowd my spot, but I told him I would take me a few more minutes to rig up and I would like to see someone catch a fish.

He waded in and immediately started catching fish one after another on a bounce rig. It seemed like he caught a fish on almost every cast. It took me a while to finish rigging because I was watching him catch so many fish. I joined him in the pool and started fishing the new rig. He continued to catch fish, while I didn’t get a single strike.

Finally he asked if he could look at my rig. I showed him the rig and he immediately cut it off and started re-tying it. I was a little surprised, but I knew he was trying to help. He said my tags were too close together and the rig was not long enough below the strike indicator. He said some other things about the size, length and type of tippet and using the wrong nymphs, but it was too much information in a short time and I don’t remember it all.

After he re-tied the bounce rig, he returned the two nymphs to me and asked to see my fly box.

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When he saw my pitifully meager supply of flies, he made a comment to the effect that I didn’t have what was needed. He selected a couple of nymphs from his box and tied them on for me. After he added a few green weights and adjusted the depth of my strike indicator, he told me to give it a try.

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Fly Fishing Lesson

I made a few awkward attempts to flip the weighted line upstream, but with a little direction from my new mentor, my casting improved and I soon hooked a fish. As I played the fish, he moved into position and netted the fish for me. He told me he was a retired guide and it was an old habit.

We both caught a few more fish on the bounce rig before they stopped biting. Jim immediately knew why and also knew what to do. It was almost like someone flipped a switch and most of the fish stopped feeding below the water and concentrated on the Blue-winged Olive (BWO) hatch that was suddenly in full swing.

Jim quickly changed his rig and was back to catching fish on a dry fly in a few minutes. I switched back to my PMD, since I didn’t have any BWOs. When he noticed my lack of success, he suggested I add a length of 6X tippet and handed me a couple of his BWOs, saying you won’t find any like these at the fly shop.

After a few minutes of coaching, my stoke shortened and the little BWO was landing quietly on the water. After a few more casts, he helped me to mend properly to prevent the fly from being dragged across the water. As soon as I could present the fly at the right place and got a descent drag-free float, I was catching fish too. I just had my first fly fishing lesson. I learned more in an hour than I had all year.

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We fished and talked for a while. After learning I was a wildlife biologist, he mentioned he was opening a fly fishing school and was interested in having someone like me with knowledge of birds and wildlife to incorporate into the fishing school and his fly fishing videos. He also wanted me to point out local birds and wildlife along the river, especially to the the occasional non-fishing spouse.

From that, our friendship and business partnership began. Since then, every time Jim and I fish together, or when I watch him teach someone else, I get the benefit of his 60+ years of fly fishing experience.

My fishing buddy is Jim O’Neal, the well-known Provo River fishing guide.

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Most People Would Enjoy Fishing More If They Had a Little Instruction

Jim made the comment to me that it doesn’t matter if it was a kid fishing for the first time with a simple push-button reel and a big red bobber or an experienced fisherman with a $30,000 bass boat and all the best gear, most people would get more enjoyment from fishing if they had a little instruction. I can vouch for that.

Think of all the people (especially the kids) that have gone fishing for the first time and got skunked. What happens the next time someone asked them to go fishing? Are they excited? Do they want to go again? Probably not.

As adults, we know getting skunked is part of the game. That’s why we call it fishing and not catching. In fact, if it were too easy, most of us would probably stop fishing and do something else, but kids need to have some success if they are going to get excited about fishing.

Consider attending a fishing clinic, a fly fishing school or hiring a guide once in a while, unless you are lucky enough to have a professional fishing buddy like me. I am a stubborn, hard headed DIY kind of guy, but after fishing the last few years with an expert, I see the benefit from a little professional instruction.

Some lessons are easy to to learn and quickly pay dividends. Others take time and a lot of practice to master. Sometimes we only need a few small adjustments to be successful. The most important thing I have learned from fishing with and watching a professional, is to check the rig often if you aren’t getting any strikes. Professionals constantly make changes until they find a combination that works.

For those of you who knew Jim, we fished together, made videos and guided until November, 2020. Jim passed away in May 2021.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?