Tall tales and big catches: The business of fly fishing
The line zipped through the air making a tight loop as it glided back and forth, gaining length, perfectly parallel to the San Marcos River. Eventually, a black wooly bugger fly landed gracefully on the water a few inches from the river’s edge, mimicking the insect’s natural behavior. A river bass or two below the surface were waiting and hungry.
Watching this process is comparable to a performance — strikingly romantic, very captivating.
Now unfortunately, that graceful line was not connected to my rod. Mine was busy thrashing about, and though it had a confident mantra, it nevertheless landed 10- or 20-feet shy of the intended target.
“Try and hit a little closer to the Elephant’s-ears next time, Kate,” my unwearied but obviously amused fishing pal Chris Adams said, over and over again. Full disclosure, I talk a big game I like to think I can back up. Really, I just love to fish and am slowly but surely trying to master the fly rod.
Fishing in Texas for me used to be synonymous with a bobber, worms and catfish. But fly fishing, a method using an artificial fly to mimic region-specific insects, requires a different skill set.
Here’s a hint: Do not, under any circumstances, say, “So, what bait are we using?” You’ll out yourself as a spinning-tackle-kind-of-angler, which there is nothing wrong with, but we are talking fly fishing. (No worms in a red Hills Bro. Coffee can allowed, think “A River Runs Through It.”)
Adams, a 31-year-old Georgia native who works at Gruene Outfitters in New Braunfels, has been doing this for a majority of his life all over the country and even has been a guide in Chile. But thankfully for those like myself, the sport welcomes enthusiastic newcomers of all calibers.
Central Texas is home to a variety of outdoor outfitters offering casting lessons, gear and friendly anglers to swap stories with, even if the stories are tall tales. “That’s right, my bass was at least 12 pounds.”
Hoping to live up to my own tales, I scheduled a casting lesson the morning of our trip with one of Texas’ most active women anglers Stacy Lynn, a Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor and the fishing manager at Sportsman’s Finest in Bee Cave.
With a contagious enthusiasm, Lynn met me at the crack of dawn with coffee and rod in hand raring to go. She has been teaching since 1998 and became a certified instructed ten years ago.
“In Texas, we have [a fish species] in peak season every month of the year,” she said. “There are very few states that can boast coldwater trout, warm water bass, sunfish, and saltwater fishing within the state, and here in Central Texas, all of that is anywhere from ten minutes to a few hours from your door.”
Circumstances like last year’s worst drought on record, heavy rain or other changing water conditions affect the fish population, she said, but just like any species, fish adapt to new conditions, and anglers become more resourceful.
Before I made the trip to Martindale to meet Adams at the San Marcos River, which is currently in peak season for sunfish and river bass, Lynn gave me a crash-course in my rod and equipment. Two key things to understand about your equipment are the length of the rod and the weight of the line. My rod is 8 and a half feet long with a 5-weight line, an average style for freshwater fly fishing. Saltwater fishing requires a different style.
“A fly rod works like a lever to lift and maneuver weight; a longer lever will lift more weight. It is about determining the best tool for the fishing style,” Lynn said.
Fly fishing requires a lot of knot-tying, a world I am yet to explore, so we left the logistics of tying the flies in the capable hands of Adams and went straight for casting.
The line extends by reacting to the movement of the tip of the rod, which should be a short but well-timed force. There in lies my problem. Like many former-traditional fishers, I tend to pop my wrist back and wave my rod in the air, leaving little time for the line to unload and reach the desired length before presenting the fly on the water. Recognizing a need for improvement, however, is half the battle.
But thanks to Lynn’s instruction — and later Adams’ patience — my cast saw enough improvement to land a decent-sized river bass. “I mean it was at least 12 pounds!” Oh, and he caught a few, too.