Colorado is world renowned for its world class trout streams and we here on the front range of the Rockies are fortunate to have one of the best trout streams in the world within a one hour drive of both Colorado Springs and Denver. The South Platte River is a fly fishing Mecca.
While fishing in general offers a degree of relaxation, fly fishing can bring you to a state of Zen that watching a red and white bobber floating lackadaisically on the water, waiting for a fish to come along and eat your worm cannot. When you become deeply involved in the art of fly fishing you become a part of the cycle of all that encompasses the environment of the river and all of the connecting pieces that eventually lead you to your goal; the trout.
I have to warn you. Fly fishing is highly addictive. It’s like watching “The Walking Dead” or “Breaking Bad.” Even worse, it awakens a primordial urge to become a hunter gatherer, seeking out all the knowledge of the environment necessary to thrive. You won’t be satisfied until you understand its inner mysteries in their entirety.
The typical novice will go out to the river with a friend who has experience and get a few pointers on casting and rigging a fly rod and when that first fish takes the fly its all over. Another fish has hooked a fly fisher.
Fly fishing for trout is more than just a way to catch fish. It’s a doorway into the entire aquatic ecosystem. The serious fly fisher understands seasonal changes in a river’s volume and temperature and what they mean to a hungry trout. They study the life cycle of aquatic insects. They know what time of the year and time of day those insects will be most active and available to the fish. He/she also learns to “read the water”, which is the ability to tell where in the river trout are likely to be holding and more importantly feeding. They become obsessed with the why, where, what and how of fishing. When the awareness of the complete system becomes clearer, you become less concerned with how many and how big a fish you catch and more intent on learning what it takes to catch fish. You also tend to be less interested in fishing to kill and take fish home for dinner and more likely to become a “catch and release” fisher. You are content to have fooled the fish with your imitation and allow that fish to go on to live another day.
By itself, catching a trout on a fly rod can be a thrilling achievement. Add to that the satisfaction of catching that trout on a fly you tied yourself and you are unlikely to ever drown a worm again. The goal of fly tying is to, as accurately as possible; create an imitation of the food trout will eat. The roots of fly tying (and fly fishing in general) go back to the Middle Ages when people realized some organisms that trout prefer to eat are too small to effectively put on a hook like you would a worm or minnow. Fly tying is both a scientific and artistic endeavor. Using an imitation of an adult stonefly when adult stoneflies are not in season is like trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver. You won’t get the job done and you ruin the screwdriver. The size, color and proportions of the fly also have to accurately match those of the live insect. Hence the need to know the science of insect life cycle and what bugs are in season and which are not. While some flies are simply a hook with some thread attached to it, some are beautiful and colorful works of art created from fur, feathers and synthetic materials.
While all of this may seem technical and laborious to the uninitiated, once you experience the thrill of your first fish on a fly rod you won’t be happy until you unravel as much of the mystery as you can. It is in the understanding of these principles that make a fly fisher successful on the river.
The rivers are full of people who catch fish. They are likely to be the ones who pass by and ask, “Any luck?” Luck has nothing to do with it to a seasoned fly fisher. It’s one thing to catch a fish; it’s another to know how to catch a fish. Fly fishing is not just casting a line and fly to catch a fish. Fly fishing is experiencing the totality of the river. From the sounds of the river flowing, to the tactile sensation of it as it passes around your legs while you wade, to understanding all the unseen that is the realm of the trout. After a time in your fly fishing life, you reach a point when you can take a break, lie back on the river bank and just watch and listen. Listen to the birds, crickets and frogs singing and feel the sun and breeze on your face. You hear a splash as a trout rises to take a bug off the surface of the river. You know instantly what that bug is and how it got to be there floating, waiting for a trout to make a meal of it. You become focused on the here and now and at the same time realize this moment has repeated itself ad infinitum. It’s that point in time when you pass from imprisonment in ignorance and delusion to a true vision of fishing. It’s the time when you become an integral part of the ecosystem of the river itself.
Today our day to day lives are increasingly filled with stress, depression and anxiety. We often work jobs that are thankless conveyor belts of repetitious tedium. Our society all too often deals with these conditions by dispensing drugs or psycho therapy that treat symptoms but ignore the root cause. We are becoming programmed automatons, no different than the computerized digital technology that we have become so dependent on. The world hasn’t changed. What people are doing in the world has changed.
The rivers still flow; insects hatch and the trout still feed on them the way they have for millennium. Being on a river fly fishing has a way of stripping away the stress of modern day to day life. When you experience the calming affects fly fishing have on you, you will want to share that feeling with others. Teach your children. Teach them at an early age and they will be less likely to suffer the debilitation stress inherent in life increasingly devoid of the touch of nature.
If you are one of the many who suffer the stress and thankless routine of an unrewarding job, or just someone who would like to take part in an activity that offers peace and a state of being free from tension and anxiety, fly fishing may be something you should look into. If you are wound up tighter than a girdle on a Baptist minister’s wife at an all you can eat pancake breakfast and don’t have the patience to allow yourself to absorb a challenge like fly fishing stick to the Prozac, try not to kill your family and forget everything I said. You’ll just wind up breaking your new rod and throwing rocks at the fish.