Down by the River
The Orvis Fly Fishing School Baptizes a Novice in the Intricacies of Casting Lures and Catching Fish
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94
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Driving home the night of my Battenkill excursion with Cairns, I light the last of my maduros. As the full moon rises over the eastern peaks of the Green Mountains I am reminded of a conversation with Don Johnson, director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, which houses the world's largest collection of fly-fishing tackle (including the outfits of seven U.S. presidents and such notable personalities as Daniel Webster, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Morse, Ernest Hemingway and Bing Crosby).
"Many people come to fly-fishing thinking it's just another way to catch fish, then they get caught up in this whole other aspect of the sport," says Johnson, a gentle bear of a man. "There is an intellectual and spiritual side to it that has to do with the fact that it is a very solitary pursuit. People who fly-fish will tell you that they are happiest and most at peace when they are out alone on a stream. Certainly, there is no other experience quite as satisfying as being waist-deep in a river with a trout on the end of your line."
Now as I drive, I understand just what Johnson meant. I can still feel the force of the current against my legs and the thrill of that big brown striking my line. I'm hooked on fly-fishing, and for the moment, everything seems right with the world.
Buying a fly-fishing outfit that matches your needs and level of expertise can be a daunting task. Orvis lists more than 90 different rod and reel sets, 14 kinds of waders, seven fishing vests and assorted accessories to fill 100 pages in its fishing catalog. Though a bamboo rod still carries a certain cachet in fly-fishing circles, most professionals agree that graphite is now the material of choice. Even master rod builder Dick Davis fishes with graphite rods because they are "lighter and more versatile."
With waders, vests and other accessories a good rule of thumb is simply to buy the quality you can afford. With fly rods it is a more complicated matter, since a rod that is appropriate for one environment can be completely inappropriate for another. Someone fishing exclusively on large Western rivers might prefer a 10-foot rod, while someone who fishes the small streams of the Northeast would chose a seven-foot-six-inch rod. Fly rods are also made to match a specific line weight (one through 13) with the type of line again determined by where you fish and what you are fishing for. A 10-foot rod might be sized for a four-weight line for mountain lake fishing, or for a 12-weight line for ocean surf fishing.
I asked Bill Cairns to suggest a basic Northeast fly-rod outfit and other equipment. His choice: a seven-foot-nine-inch graphite rod for five-weight line. As Cairns says, "sometimes you feel like a well-stocked tackle shop wading up a river." A list of other basic equipment he recommends includes:
* waders with felt soles
* baseball-type cap
* polarized sunglasses
* vest (with fleece patch)
* tackle and accessories
* assortment of three to 10 dozen flies
* fly floatant
* six nine-foot leaders and various tippet material
* stream thermometer
* surgical forceps
* insect repellent
* nontoxic split shot
* strike indicators
* small flashlight
* landing net
Where the fishing is always good
Ask a dozen fishermen to name the best trout streams and rivers in the world and you are likely to get as many different answers. Actually, fly fishermen usually give two answers: the river where they most often go and the river they have always dreamed of fishing.
There are many ways to judge a river, including the type of fish in it and the ease or difficulty of catching them, its size and strength, the average temperature of its waters and access to its banks. Generally trout streams in the Eastern United States are smaller, warmer and less rambunctious than those out West. Internationally, the same can be said for European rivers compared with those in such New World countries as Argentina and New Zealand.
Invariably, the people at Orvis point to the Battenkill as their favorite river, primarily because it is in their backyard. Lucky for them it is a world-class fishery. Other worthy trout streams most often mentioned by the fishing-school team include:
EASTERN UNITED STATES
* Kennebec in Maine for brook, brown and rainbow trout
* White in Vermont for brook and rainbow
* Beaver Kill in New York for brown
* Delaware River system in Pennsylvania for brown and rainbow
* Clinch in Tennessee for brown and rainbow
MIDWEST UNITED STATES
* Au Sable in Michigan for brook and brown
* Bois Brule in Wisconsin for brown and steelhead
WESTERN UNITED STATES
* Yellowstone in Montana for brown, cutthroat and rainbow
* Snake in Wyoming for cutthroat
* Green in Utah for brown, cutthroat and rainbow
* Yakima in Washington for cutthroat and rainbow
* Bow in Alberta, Canada, for steelhead
* Test and Itchen in England for brown and rainbow
* Irati in Spain for brook and rainbow
* Waikato in New Zealand for brown and rainbow
* Chimehuin, Limay and Malleo in Argentina for brown and rainbow
Of course, there are dozens of other good trout streams in the world--not to mention some great salmon rivers. As Nick Karas, outdoors columnist for New York Newsday and the author of numerous books on fishing, once told me, "rivers are like women; they are all good. Finding your special one is part of the sport." Happy fishing.
LEARNING TO FISH
Fly-fishing schools are almost as numerous as good trout streams. Most of the major ones offer soup-to-nuts comprehensive programs costing about $400 for a three-day course and $100 for a one-day clinic. Schools open in midspring and run through late summer. Some of the more noteworthy:
Allenberry Resort Fly Fishing School
Three-day course in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania: $345. Includes meals and accommodations. Telephone: (717) 258-3211.
L.L. Bean Fly Fishing School
Three-day weekend course in Freeport, Maine: $395. Telephone: (800) 341-4341.
Orvis Fly Fishing School
Three-day course in Manchester, Vermont, as well as locations in California, Colorado, Oregon and Hampshire, England, for $395. Telephone: (800) 548-9548.
Sage Fly Fishing Schools
Half- and full-day instruction through Sage Fly dealers in 26 states for $40 and $85. Telephone: (206) 842-6608.
Scott Fly Rod Company and Fishing School
Half-, one- and three-day courses in Telluride, Colorado, as well as in several other locations throughout the United States and Canada. From $50 to $550. Telephone: (800) 728-7208.
Wulff School of Fly Fishing
Three-day course in Lew Beach, New York: $400. Telephone: (914) 439-4060.
Fishing lodges in the United States and abroad also offer on-site instructions for novice and advanced anglers as part of their vacation packages. In its "Fishing and Outdoors" catalog, Orvis lists 24 lodges from Alaska to Florida, chosen for their excellent services, the quality of their accommodations and staff expertise for guiding and instruction. Fly-fishing outfitters and tackle shops are also good sources of information on schools and lodges--with many providing instruction and guiding services of their own.
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