Like many of you out there who enjoy the sport, I grew up with fishing as a part of life. I can't tell you when my first experience with fishing occurred, nor can I tell you when I caught my first fish. I do, however, vividly recall the first fish I caught that left a lasting imprint on my young mind. It was a three pound largemouth bass taken on a windless, balmy summer evening by a black and green beetle spin, just off the edge of the moss line in our family farm pond. I remember the wake the fish made as it chased down my lure and the feeling of extreme anticipation (and maybe even a little fear) as I watched the fish take. I remember feeling the strain of the fish as I set the hook on my fiberglass rod topped with the always faithful Zebco 33. I remember marveling at the size of his huge mouth as I hoisted him from the water. To anyone else in the world it was just another bass, but compared to the tiny bluegills I was accustomed to catching, this fish was a "monster"!!
Growing up in Western Oklahoma, a guy like me would be the last one you would have expected to pick up a fly rod. Granted the species I chased as a youngster in the local farm ponds differed somewhat from those traditionally pursued by fly fishermen of the time, but the experience for me was still the same. I remember being told that a fly rod was used mainly by well dressed, well spoken anglers for trout who resided in far off lands of clear blue skies, with no wind, and misty mornings. So, why the Hell are we going to use one in Oklahoma, I wondered in my teenage mind? After a little practice in the yard and the reassurance of "you'll get the hang of it," my Dad whisked me away to our local haunt to show me just what could be done with this new found instrument. To say the least, that first time on the water was a little awkward as I am sure all beginning fly fishermen would agree (with the exception of Chance who I think was born with a rod in his hand!). But, I knew a few things for sure after that day......when you actually managed to get the line out on the water without it looking like a bomb went off, bluegill would absolutely murder a small popper twitched ever so slightly over their nesting grounds, a bass would explode seemingly out of nowhere on a hair bug, and both fought more (at least in my mind) on a fly rod in the hand than the 'ol spincast outfit. It seemed as though every fish caught felt like the legendary "monster" bass I caught all those years ago.
So, that is how the "Passion of the Fly" began. The more I fished with the rod, the more I began to understand fishing as a "sport" instead of a means to make a meal. I began to build a respect for the fly rod and the connection it seemed to make between fisherman and fish. But, little did I know that my love affair with the new found method of fishing would be cut short. I'll admit that there was a darker time in my past, mostly due to being a teenager and Western Oklahoma winds that no living creature should ever have to endure, where the fly rod was laid down in favor of the quicker and "easier" baitcaster!! But, throughout that "experimental" stage of my youth when plastic worms, spinner baits, and hula poppers were the norm, the faithful fly rod always loomed in the back of my mind. Sadly, it was quickly dismissed as too much "work" for a kid interested only in catching and keeping as many fish as he could, in the least amount of time possible. And so the neglect of the fly rod continued for many years as high school came and went, free time in college was spent performing other "necessary" extracurricular activities, and slowly my life ahead began to take shape.
It wasn't until I had settled on Broken Arrow, OK as the location for my official transplant, and my second year of marriage had nearly been put in the books that I received a call from an old college buddy, Mr. Chance Maxville. The plan was to spend a four day weekend on the Current River in MO chasing trout with fly rods. Fly rods? Trout? Are you serious? I hadn't cast a fly rod in dang near a decade, not to mention I had NEVER fished for trout in my life! Reluctantly I agreed to the whole madness, on the condition that I could bring a spinning rod with an assortment of essential "trout lures" that all the Internet articles said I needed as a back up for my fly rod.
Needless to say, the spinning rod never saw the light of the day after our arrival in MO. I was "convinced" by the other members of our party that the fly rod would be a much better choice. After an afternoon of frustration of not having cast the damn thing (even thinking about it now gets me frustrated!!) for so long, and managing to catch only tree trout & bush bass, I finally hooked my first trout ever on a dry fly. It was a beautiful little brown like nothing I had ever seen. And, to sweeten the deal, it was taken on a dry fly tied by none other than Mr. Derek Matz, one of my best friends and fellow sufferer of all things fly fishing. Upon landing that fish, the Rolodex of memories in my head began to spin taking me back all those years to the farm ponds of Western Oklahoma where I chased bluegill and bass on the fly. It wasn't until later while sitting around the glow of the campfire that I realized what had occurred. No longer was I the kid that cared only about catching as many fish as I could, as fast as I could. With that one trout brought to hand by a fly rod, all the frustrations of the afternoon had melted away and I realized that fishing could be about so much more. The stars must have aligned just right that night, & the fish gods must have smiled, because the following day of our trip was amazing and one we still talk about to this day. There is nothing like catching trout with dry flies on a scenic river to bring a new meaning and kindle the spirit for the sport. To this day I thank Chance & Derek for convincing me to go on that trip, and for steering me towards fishing with my fly rod once again.
Due to the demands of life and the pursuit of the "American Dream" the opportunities for me to chase fish on the fly since that trip have been a little sporadic at best. But, because of that, any time I do get the chance to chase fish with a fly rod in my hand, be it bluegill and bass from the neighborhood puddles or trout stocked in the Lower Illinois, is time well spent to feed the need. Sure, I still enjoy chasing fish with conventional tackle and have nothing against those who do. But to me, there is nothing like the calming factor and connection you get when fishing by a method used for hundreds of years by previous generations of anglers.
So, in closing I would like to thank Chance for getting me interested in the sport again, and for allowing me the opportunity to post about it on this blog. I feel fortunate to have a friend who feels so passionate (to the point of being obsessed) about the sport, and who has given his time & advice to make me a better fisherman.
Until next time......keep squinting, and tight lines.