May 22, 2006

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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My First Attempts at Trout Fishing

By Marta E. Rivas-Olmeda

My first official fly-casting and fishing lessons for trout occurred sixteen years ago, when Jorge, my husband, booked us for a trip to a fly-fishing school in upstate Pennsylvania. I have been fly-fishing for panfish, bass, chain pickerels and carps many times before, but taking lessons in a fly-fishing school was a new adventure for me. Up to this point, I had learned from Jorge all I knew about fly-fishing. He was my first instructor! The second one, although he doesn't know it, was David Whitlock. I became acquainted with Mr. Whitlock's fly-casting and fly-fishing techniques through an L. L. Bean fly-fishing video for beginners, which we have at home. Thus, I was looking forward to my time at the school, where I was hoping to improve my casting techniques and learn how to fly fish for trout.

By the end of May, our bearings led us to Hancock, New York, close to the Pennsylvania state line. We left Philadelphia midmorning Thursday and arrived at the school in the early evening. After getting our luggage and fishing gear into a small but comfortable room, we decided to go out for dinner. Before we left, and I guess just in case we were going to stay out late, a staff member told us, "Breakfast is served from 8:00-9:00 a.m. and classes begin immediately after." Upon our return from dinner, we set our fly rods and left them ready for the next day.

For this trip I had brought the only rod I had at the time: a 2-piece 6W 8 1/2 foot fly rod that we bought from the same L. L. Bean catalog from which we got Whitlock's fly-fishing video. I didn't have any idea of the rod's performance when I first got it, but I had used it many times prior to this trip and it had turned out to be a good rod. Waders and fly-fishing vests with a woman's body in mind were not yet available. Thus, a small size of men's waders and a youth vest completed my fly-fishing outfit. It was not a particularly attractive outfit, but I was sure the trout wouldn't mind it. As for me, all I wanted to do was to catch a nice Delaware rainbow trout!

My sexy waders!

The next day, classes were divided into two groups, basic and advanced, and our schedule was quite hectic and intense. We began our day with breakfast at 8:00 a.m. and ended it with dinner from 7:30-9:00 p.m. Between these hours, some of us attended a class for either basic or advanced fly-casting techniques as well as participating in seminars related to entomology, reading the water, nymphing, and fly-tying. We also spent time fishing in some sections of the river. By the time dinner was over, I was more than ready for a good night's sleep.

Nymphing Seminars

Through my years as a fly angler I have gotten accustomed to the stare of other fishermen and the words "Look, there's a woman fly-fishing!" Once at the school I couldn't avoid feeling some apprehension. Not only was I the only woman in the class, but this was my first attempt at trout fishing. Some of my classmates, including Jorge, had been trout fishing for a while and their casting techniques were far more advanced than mine. When the time to practice our fly cast came, I couldn't help but feel nervous. Following the instructions given to me by Jim (our fly-fishing instructor), I began to cast. While doing so, I could feel the eyes of my classmates on me. But despite feeling nervous, I managed to exercise some pretty good casts. Jim, Jorge, and other classmates gave me positive feedback about my casts, and this helped me relax. As I continued to practice, my feelings of nervousness abandoned my body and mind. My thoughts shifted from, "I'm the only woman here" to "Enjoy what you are doing." And that was precisely what I did. I began to enjoy my time at the school and was eager to catch and land my first Delaware trout.

Practicing my fly casting

Our "in vivo" fly-fishing experiences began during the early evening hours. We walked with our instructor to one section of the river, where Jorge and I were expected to put into practice what we had learned in the morning (Jorge his advanced fly-fishing techniques for trout, and me, my basic ones). With rod in hand, we followed Jim to one section of the Delaware River.

The view was spectacular, and so were the rising trout. Taking a look at the hatch, Jim selected its match from his fly box. He selected a beautiful mayfly that would do us the honor of possibly catching and landing a trout! However, at that moment, I felt that my probability of landing a trout was almost zero! Having myopia, and wearing glasses since my early twenties, my vision isn't exactly 20/20 any more. At times, and even with my glasses on, it is hard for me to see what is in front of me. I wasn't sure I could see a tiny dry fly floating downstream.

Jorge and I get ready for our fishing adventure in the West Delaware Branch River.

Looking at the beautiful scenario around me, I set myself in a comfortable position and began to cast. Jim corrected my casting and mending techniques, again and again. He gave me simple instructions to follow, but I felt that they included too many details. "Lift your rod, cast about 5 feet forward, follow the fly, mend now, and mend again". Trying to do as I was told, I couldn't help but think, "Well, one thing is the theory and another the practice." Just imagine me, trying not to slip into the stream while presenting a tiny fly in a manner that seemed attractive to a rising trout. It was like trying to cross the street while chewing gum at the same time! I cast and cast, but the trout didn't seem interested in my fly presentations. "You got a strike," I heard Jim say. With an expression of disbelief on my face I asked, "Did I? How come I didn't feel anything?" Being accustomed to using bigger flies when fishing for pan fish, bass, chain pickerels and carps, I found it amazing to catch a trout with a size fourteen hook or a smaller one. Jim encouraged me try again, and so I did. Occasionally my fly presentations were pretty decent, but I could hardly see the fly floating downstream. I was basically fishing by instincts (sort of like Zen). The moment a trout took my fly, I didn't know where it was. This delayed my reaction in setting the hook and, by the time I did, it was too late. The trout, being so smart, spit the fly in a matter of seconds; better say, microseconds.

Time passed and my fly rod didn't show any action whatsoever. Jim encouraged me to keep on casting while he went upstream to check up on Jorge, who had a rainbow at the end of his line and was working to land it. My interest in seeing the rainbow was stronger than my willingness to stay casting. So, upstream I went, towards where the action was. Jorge was doing a pretty good job working the trout. I felt happy for him, but as soon as he landed the rainbow, "el gusano de la envidia" bit me (envy overcame me). I definitely wanted to land a trout. The size didn't matter, just the joyful feeling of catching and releasing at least one. Motivated by this thought (and by my being gritty at the moment), I continued to practice my fishing techniques and fly presentations. I kept on casting and casting, but the trout, with their continuing smarts, were able to resist the temptation of swallowing my fly.

Jorge's fly presentations and casting experience rose up to the trouts' challenge. In two days at the school, he managed to land a couple more rainbows. As for me, looking at Jorge's trout was the closest I got to landing this beautiful fish. Nonetheless, the time spent at the school was the prelude to my trout fishing experiences. Trying to catch a trout with a tiny fly became an obsession to me. I sure felt challenged by these beautiful creatures and was determined to land one. Eventually I would, but that is part of another story.

The one thing that added some excitement to my experience at the school was getting my first custom-made fly rod. It so happened that Jim (in addition to being a great fly angler instructor and guide) was also a rod builder. We asked him to build us two 4-piece fly rods. Both of them were 7W 8 1/2 feet long and built on a Sage blank. At present, I don't use this rod as much, but it has a special place in my heart because it was my first and only custom-made fly rod. As for my 6W 8 1/2 foot L. L. Bean fly rod, it is now in Germany, a gift to a friend of ours, who hopefully is catching some good trout there. ~ Marta E. Rivas-Olmeda

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