Four years ago when I met my fiancé Laura, she wouldn’t have known the difference between A-Rod and a fly rod. Being a Texan who spends much of his time backpacking, camping, and fly fishing, and the rest of the time writing about it all, I took it upon myself to teach Laura to fly fish. Despite living in the DFW Metroplex for the last ten years, she nonetheless loves the mountains and the outdoors and seemed open to the idea.
On our first fly fishing trip together near Ruidoso, New Mexico, Laura caught trout. She already had an undying patience, an unforced cast, and a keen eye for where trout sit. Like most fly fishing newbies, she came with some natural skills, and the trick for me was just helping bring her up to speed on some of the gear and techniques. I’d given her a couple of front lawn casting clinics, and she had the one-hand cast down. But I did a quick streamside lesson on how to string up the rod, how to tie on the fly with a simple clinch knot, where to position herself on the edge of the water. Her only concern seemed to be, "But won’t that hook hurt the fish’s lips?"
I think the first thing I shared with her was how critical polarized lenses are. We had eased up to a bridge over the stream flowing below Bonita Lake. Several trout danced in a pool above the culvert. "Look at those trout!" I squealed, pointing in anticipation. Laura (a total skeptic) was like, "Bullshit. Where?" I handed her my shades. She swapped out her enormous Jackie-O’s and was shocked that the trout just appeared with mine on, and disappeared with them off. "Magic glasses..." I offered in my best Forrest Gump voice. Still, she refused to wear anything but her Jackie-O’s, for the sake of fashion. All in good time, I thought. She'll make the switch soon enough.
Next we tackled the cast. "You don’t have to wave your rod around all day like you see on tv." But she chucked and chucked, while I dismissively rolled my eyes. "It’s wasted energy." She was happy to change her motion and stop waving her rod around all day; she said it might make her armpits sweaty and that wasn’t gonna work. It wasn't long before we were tackling the mend. "Just keep enough line out to cast the fly about 15 to 20 feet upstream. Keep moving up, quietly, stealthily, slowly. Pick up the line when it passes you downstream, and cast right back upstream. Place the fly above every place you would be if you were a fish, and let it flow through it." She took to my instructions like a fish to water.
She moved upstream, me standing just beside her, and it wasn’t long before a teeny little brookie flipped after her fly and splattered frigid water upon her bare legs. She jumped and screamed and plucked her line away from the trout like she was playing keep away - a great opportunity to discuss setting the hook. "Ugh, you pulled the fly right out of its mouth!" I barked. "Don’t be so reactive. See the take through. Then just very easily but deliberately raise your rod tip, like this." I showed a simple, gentle hook set. Laura looked at me over the top those giant sunglasses and wiped her leg off, as if to say, Bullshit, I can’t do this.
I got her settled down and knew if we spotted another trout, she'd try again. Sure enough, a few minutes upstream, another trout. "Same thing as before. Just let it actually have the fly this time. Then, a gentle pop upwards."
Before I finished my sentence, BOOM, she was fighting a six-inch brookie, yelping and dancing around on the slippery cobbles like a drunken pixie. Slack in her line, boisterous yelping, trying not to break a nail… it was like streamside, reality-show drama. Somehow I got my hands on the rod and helped her land it. It was her first trout. I took a picture, more of her smile than of the fish, and since then, Laura has been my fishing partner on nearly every outing.
These past few seasons Laura has really evened out the fly-fishing learning curve -- wading, reading water, delicate presenting of the fly, and catching fish all by herself. Most importantly, she’s much more composed when a fish strikes than in our earlier days, so it’s not so embarrassing for both of us.
It wasn’t until we visited the Brazos River Ranch in New Mexico that she finally put together all I had taught her and caught her first few trout without my intervening.
We first hit a tributary named Horseshoe Creek so she could get her bearings. Full of brookies and easy to navigate, Horseshoe guaranteed her luck, and a shit ton of fish.
I strolled within yelling distance upstream, catching fish after fish for about an hour. By 10:00am, frustrated with my constant tips, suggestions, instructions, and reminders of "Guerilla Tactics," she told me to buzz off and do my own thing. So I did. I put down my rod and started taking pictures. The scenery there is jaw-dropping, and I got lost in the beauty of it all, photographing a waterfall, feeding trout, and even an unsuspecting pronghorn antelope.
Next thing I hear is Laura’s squealing echoing in my ear. I turn, and a good clip downstream I could see her rod bouncing from the fight of a nice brookie slashing around in a pool. "Keep calm! Keep your line taut! Keep its head up! Keep it out of the rocks!" (I realized just then that there is a lot of "keeping" to do when fly fishing.)
Bounding back with my camera, I snapped a few shots of the bout, and when she finally got it to hand, man, I wish I could describe the feeling when I saw her smile.
Snap. Snap. Snap. I took a few quick pics, and then she knelt at the creekside and released it. "Gentle. Head upstream. Let it rest in your hands until it swims away on its own…." She’d finally done it. Her first trout without help. It’s still one of my favorite memories on the water.
The next day she repeated the whole show, only difference was, she was playing with the big boys on the main stem of the upper Brazos. They were feeding voraciously on top, sucking grasshoppers off the surface and turning over with a SPLASH to take them.
Laura’s demeanor was all business. You couldn’t miss the feeding lane – it was three feet wide and literally about 50 feet in length. And, suddenly, it happened. A heavy trout took her fly and zipped across the entire pool. Line whirred, water sprayed, but unlike before, she kept her cool and did the work.
That fish resisted for two or three minutes, but she finally netted it and posed for a picture. She’d done everything right and bagged her first nice fish – a big Brazos rainbow.
No matter who you are, with the right information and instruction you can learn to skillfully catch trout in a very short time. You may not have me or Williams on the stream with you, but that’s why we wrote An Introduction to Fly Fishing for Trout -- to give you a fun-to-read, easy-to-understand streamside companion to help you learn to catch trout FAST... or help you figure out why you aren’t. Within one season, I transformed Laura from her DFW Metroplex, Jackie-O Sunglass persona, to a wild, world-class trout-catching fly angler all on her own. Williams has helped countless others do the same. After lifetimes of helping friends and family master the gentle sport, we want to share those tips and strategies with so many others.