Fly Fishing 101, Part 24
My First Fish On A Fly
Here is a little break. One of the readers of this column put everthing
together and went fishing! Here is Matt Brown's story. We hope you can
relate to it, take some encouragement from it, and get inspired to Go Fish!
Look for Matt in the Chat Room as Host FFNewbie. If you have a "first fish
on a fly" story you would like to share,
email me.~ DB
Do you remember the first fish you ever caught on a fly? I
do, vividly, as it happened less than a week ago. My name is
Matt Brown, FFNewbie to those that frequent the chat room in
the early evenings, and I've been fly-fishing for all of two
It's not like I've never caught a fish before. I've been
fishing since I was three (I'm 23 now), and have caught
hundreds of fish. Most of them were caught on spinning
tackle, cast from the beach near my home in Haleiwa, Hawaii.
A few were caught on deep-sea trolling rigs off of
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. And some were trout, perch, and
smallmouth bass caught on ultra-light tackle here in
The problem was I couldn't catch a fish with a fly-rig. I took
the prerequisite fly-casting lessons from a local shop, I read
the books, I watched the Saturday morning fly-fishing shows,
bugged the hell out of the veterans in the chatroom, and
fished 2-3 times a week. For over two months. With no catch
to show for it.
Oh, sure, I'd see the occasional trout rise; once I even saw
a fish rise inches away from my fly. I'd see a school of yellow
perch hovering near the bottom, but they just laughed at my
woolly-buggers and hare's ears. When I switched to
streamers I even was able to get a strike, but the fish were
The reasons for my inability to catch fish were prolific.
"You're flies are too large." "Try yellow or white." "You need
to work on your presentation." "The fish are only going after
small nymphs right now." "It's really too early to expect many
fish to bite." "You're just learning.
"You're just learning." That was the one I clung to. No, I
embraced it. I was learning how to fly-fish! I was learning how
to tie my own flies. I was learning how the equipment worked.
I was learning how to finesse the fly to the fish, rather than
shove it down its mouth, or snag it as I piloted a boat by. I was
learning how the fish live, what they eat, what they saw, and
what they thought. I was learning to fish all over again.
Then one morning my boss rewarded me with a new
fly-rod and reel. It was a beautiful, graphite, 4-piece,
5-weight rod. I was stoked! I couldn't wait to go fishing — my
earlier fervor, starting to fade, was restored to it's full
capacity. I loaded the spool with the supplied backing,
Cortland 444 floating fly line, and leader. I set everything up,
and decide to tempt fate at a local lake.
When I get to my favorite spot on Sammamish Lake, right
where the creek enters at the state park on the south side,
the fish are rising everywhere. They're engorging themselves
on small, brown gnats. Of course, I have nothing in my box
that even comes close to matching. So I try a woolybugger …
no luck. Ok, a hare's ear … no luck. A white streamer … no.
Yellow? Nope. A San-Juan worm? Not a chance. Aargh!
Cold, wet, pissed-off, and empty-handed, I go home. I set
up my vice, and look into my tying box … what would match
the flies? I decide on yellow wood-duck flank feathers for the
tail, brown dry-fly dubbing, the wood-duck again for a wing,
and dun hackles. I tie up 4 flies, from a #16 to a #12. Maybe a
little on the large side, but a very nice approximation, if I do
say so myself. Next time, I'll have something to work with.
So I go back to Sammamish. Walking along the bank on the
way to the river mouth, I'm looking at the water. There … a
fish just rose. And over there is another. So with a spring in
my step I continue on to "my spot". I tie on one of my new
brown flies, and make my cast. The fly rolls off the end of the
line, and lightly drops a few feet away … perfect to my eye.
But not to the trout's. The exciting splash of water as the fly is
inhaled, a vibrating tug on the line, and a jumping, panicked
fish was not to be mine. Dejected, I clip off my fly, spool up my
line, break-down my rod, and just as sunset is beginning, head
On the way to my truck, where I earlier saw the fish rising,
I see a splash of water out of the corner of my eye. Well, I
can't just go home now, can I? So I re-set up, and make a cast
… nothing. A twitch of the fly … nothing. Another cast … and
another … then BLINK! The fly is gone!
What the hell do I do now? Panic, of course. Yank back on
the rod, jump, swear, yell, lose control, do just about
everything but jump into the water after the damn thing …
and I lose him. I probably tore the poor fish's lip to shreds in
those three seconds. Yet, I'm happy — I was able to hook up
to a fish, on a fly that I tied. Smiling, I drive home in the dark.
The next day, I kick off work a little early, and head for
lake. I am determined to catch a fish. I won't make the same
mistake again — wherever the fish are rising is where I'm
going to fish. I step into my hip boots, and slip into my
camouflage-jacket. Then I add my vest, complete with
clippers, forceps and 7" knife. I put together my rod and reel,
and tie on a fly. I'm ready, though I look more like I'm headed
off to fight a war than go fishing.
Again, I find a spot where fish are rising. A decent spot to
cast from; only a few trees around, and some bushes to my
right. I strip some line, and wag a few yards through the
guides. I make my first cast, and catch it! The tree about 5
yards behind and to the right of me. I look back and my fly is
stuck about 30 feet up. No way I'm going to get it down. I
point my rod tip right at it, tighten up the line, and yank. The
leader breaks about 7" from the line, so I sit down to re-tie
Quite a few minutes later, I'm back in action. I'm more
careful this time, and make a cast. Not a very good one, but
the leader's not bunched up too badly and I leave the fly
alone. SHLIMP! There went my fly! I almost go to set the
hook, but remind myself of the last debacle … so I go for
patience. Almost immediately, I realize there is no fish on the
other end of the line. Damnit!
So I make another cast, but out of the corner of my eye,
see that I've got a really bad tangle in my leader. Argh! I bring
in my line to untangle, and then I see it — it's not a tangle, but
a fish! I caught a fish! A ¾ inch smolt! The thing is so small,
that the length of my #14 fly is larger than the distance from
the fish's dorsal to pectoral fins. So small that had the hook
gone through the roof of its mouth rather than the side, it
would have been impaled right behind the eyes. It was by far
the smallest fish I've ever caught on a hook!
Laughing hysterically, I take the hook out of it's mouth, and
put him in the water. Immediately he swims away, healthy.
Still laughing, I decided to head for another spot, one that
maybe holds some bigger fish. Along the way I cross paths
with a pair of spin-casters. I tell them of the catch, and all
three of us chuckle as we head our separate ways. I don't
catch anything else that day, but I don't need to. I've already
caught the monster from the deep that I've been searching
This weekend I caught another fish, some would say a real
fish. The 7" rainbow trout similarly took a fly that I had tied.
She was a good little fighter, and the moment she plunked my
fly was terribly exciting, but it wasn't the same. I'm more
proud of the little guy, if not just for the odds against catching
a fish that small with a hook, than just about any of the fish
I've ever caught. I would never, not in a million years, trade
him in for the trout as my first fish. ~ MB