The Changing Look of Fly Fishing
From On The Water, February 2018
A creel, a bamboo rod, and a hat with flies in it—this is the stereotype that comes to mind when people think of a fly-fisherman. It is generally true for the older generation of fly-fishers, but in recent years, younger anglers have started to alter the appearance of a fly-fisher. It’s interesting to see how things change over time… music, technology, cars, and especially fashion. Fly-fishing is no different. From equipment to tactics, the sport has evolved, and one of the most prominent changes is in its look.
I’ve been part of this evolution. Instead of a creel, I wear a sling pack. My rods are fiberglass, and my fishing hats have outlines of trout and there are no flies stuck in the brims. Even with the different styles and fashions of the sport, the reason we chase fish with a fly rod remains the same – the sight of a trout rising to sip a dry fly, or the thrill of your line going tight with a huge brown. We fly-fish for the challenge, the adventure, but most importantly, we fish for the experience.
I have been an avid fisherman my entire life, but it wasn’t until my first year of college that I fell in love with fly-fishing. I attend the SUNY College of Environ-mental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York. Here, I found a group of serious trout bums. It wasn’t long before they took me under their wings, showing me everything they know about the sport. I quickly caught the bug and fell in love with fly-fishing.
Forty minutes north of our campus lies the famous Salmon River in Pulaski, New York. Thousands of fishermen from across the Northeast flock there in the fall for the king salmon run, and my friends and I follow the crowd. We find ourselves there almost every weekend during this time.
After reading and hearing about the incredible run of fish, I was eager to land my first salmon on the fly. However, I quickly learned the difficulties of salmon fishing with a fly rod. Despite many trips to the river, I had nothing to show for it. Around late October, the salmon run hit its peak and the reports were encouraging. It had been pouring for two days straight, and the river rose to a dangerous level. I woke up to a text Saturday morning that read, “My secret spot is loaded with fish, you coming today?” Without hesitation, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my gear.
It was a torrential downpour, and I couldn’t believe I was about to go fishing. After our one-mile hike to the spot, we studied the river and found a few seams where we thought fish would be holding. Six hours of fishing in the pouring rain, and I found myself in one of the worst tangles of my life. I cut off the leader and sat down on the bank. My friend, Nick, who had caught his fair share of salmon in his life, said, “Use my rod for the last ten minutes and then we can head out.”
He told me exactly where to cast. “No not there, too far. That’s too short.” Finally, I made a cast he liked. “Perfect, now follow your fly with the rod tip.” I felt a thump on my line and set the hook. Fish on! The reel screamed as the fish ran downstream. Before I knew it, I was in my backing, and Nick yelled, “Follow the fish or you’re going to lose him!” There I was, practically floating down the middle of the Salmon River, fighting a monster salmon. Nick and our other friend, Alex, were about a hundred yards in front of me with nets. The fish then got wrapped around a log and Nick waded out to untangle it. After the fish made a few more runs, we finally landed him.
As that fish entered the net, I put my hands up to the sky in the pouring rain and screamed, “YES!” There I was, staring into the net at my first-ever king salmon on the fly. When I look back on that day, the memory is crystal clear – it’s one of those days I wish I could relive. It was at that moment I realized what fly-fishing was all about. Not the fancy apparel, gear, or equipment but, rather, the time spent on the water, creating a memory that will last forever.
Young and old fly-fishermen have a few differences in appearance and attitude that sometimes creates tension between the two generations, but we fish for the same reason. When I was chest-deep fighting my salmon, my equipment and apparel didn’t matter. I was having the time of my life battling a monster of a fish. That feeling and excitement is shared between all fly-fishermen, no matter what gear you use or clothes you wear. At the end of the day, any two fly-fishermen can sit around a table and share stories of adventure and excitement, knowing exactly how the other person feels. The exhilaration of a fish on the end of your fly line is a bond shared between all people lucky enough to pick up a fly rod.