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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 months now.

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 Washington State.

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 never hooked.

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 home.

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 everything.

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 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 for.

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

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