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Down by the River

The Orvis Fly Fishing School Baptizes a Novice in the Intricacies of Casting Lures and Catching Fish
Mark Vaughan
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

(continued from page 3)

I soon discover that having a fly attached to my leader has an amazing psychological effect on my ability to put the line where it ought to be. After several frustrating attempts, Davis suggests that I try 'rolling' the line, using an abbreviated cast that eliminates the backward motion altogether. Still, the fly seems to have a will of its own, getting caught on rocks in the shallow water, snagging on weeds along the bank. By the end of the afternoon I have come to realize that there is more to catching a trout than being able to make a decent forward cast.

By midmorning on the last day of fishing school it is sunny and already hot in unpredictable Vermont. The Browns are spread out along the 60-yard length of earthen dam that forms one edge of the spectacular Equinox pond, preparing our gear for a last go at catching the wily trout. We have just sat through our final formal presentation of the course--on fly-fishing equipment--in the pond lodge. The amount of gear and paraphernalia available has me wondering if I will have to remortgage the house to take up the sport seriously. Even a moderately priced outfit (including rod, reel and line, waders, vest, assorted flies and tackle necessities, stream thermometer, polarized sunglasses, appropriate cap and sundries) could set me back about $1,000, and that is only for trout fishing--to say nothing of bass, salmon and saltwater fly gear.

While I am still getting the line out where I want it, one of my fellow students, a stocky young man fishing off some rocks near the lodge, catches the first fish of the morning. Over the next hour he proceeds to take a trout about every 10 minutes. By the sixth time, I am pretty annoyed, both at him for catching so many trout and at myself for not even getting a strike.

Rishell suggests that I put the fly out about 50 feet, where a trout made ripples in the water. This requires shooting line, and it takes about three tries for me to make the cast. I watch the fly drift slowly over the spot where the trout ought to be and I cannot really believe what is happening when it disappears below the surface, not until the tip of my rod bends low with the strike. I've hooked a trout! I bring him in slowly, savoring the feeling that what is happening here is all between me and this fish. When I finally get him close to the shore, I reach down and hold him while I take the fly from his mouth. It's a medium-sized brown, about 14 inches. After I let go, the trout stays steady for a moment and then with a flick of its tail darts back into deeper water.

Though there's still an hour before it is officially over, for me this is the end of the course. In three short days I've gone from less than zero to being able to catch a fish with a fly rod and reel.

* * *

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.

Getting Outfitted

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