Dan Fallon Fly Fishing Article Column 1 2017
My life as an avid fly fisher began in the early 1950s being taught the art by uncles who were not masters by any means... As an over eager five year old I soaked up everything available on how the sport actually was practiced. Few if any magazines existed in those days.
Running into people who were well versed and kind enough to take the time and sow seeds, which would flower into life long obsession was the only path! First fly rod was purchased with hard earned cash from my early morning paper route. Took almost six months to save enough to buy that fiberglass beauty.
Long before the romance began with hand made Bamboo it was humble fiberglass that provided many thrills. Growing up in San Francisco California meant either long drives into Nevada or the local trout fishery at Lake Merced. A man made nice little lake near Daly City.
Spent endless hours working the Merced waters early and late.
By my 10th Birthday the fly fisher life was firmly implanted and the first fiberglass fly rod a distant memory. Like all outdoors fishing students learning about flies and presentation and reading currents became and endless occupation.
Life and all its twists and turns began to infringe on my precious fly fishing time.
One thing was very clear before my teens ended. Woman would come and go as would various education and life experiences.
One constant would haunt me into my 7th decade and hopefully a little beyond? The feel smell and thrill of uncorking and tying up one of my beloved Bamboo rods near waters known to hold trout or salmon.
After joining the Marine Corps in 1965 then serving in Vietnam and other far away countries all the while working one of my fly rods whenever possible. I clearly understood my obsession would be life long. Many of my Vietnam fly fishing adventures mentioned in past columns.
By the time I decided to work as a guide taking many clients into Yosemite Park and working the mighty Merced River. The time came to begin serious writing and establishing my fly column which has run almost continuously since 1999.
I had two fly schools for many years. One near little town of Shingle Town upper California and one near Yosemite Park.
Teaching fly fishing is much like teaching five year olds Quantum Physics...
For several years I gave private lessons consisting of two long mornings going over basics. Understanding theory, entry fly tying, presentation, casting, safety.
Followed by much dry casting work then either river or stream time for several hours.
Fly School Memories
One fly school weekend in the tiny upper California hamlet Shingle Town my clients were a couple consisting of a very wealthy older man and his thirty something girlfriend. They were full of life and anxious to attempt learning to fly fish! It became clear quickly the young woman was a natural.
She in no time was casting easy forty, fifty foot loops that were impressive. Her older romantic interest slightly over weight was much slower and less agile. By the time we began working a large pond full of trout the young lady was easily reaching every area she threw at.
The portly fellow was struggling so I spent much time explaining little clues like turning and watching your line fully straighten loading and then throwing.
He slowly improved while his gal became the ideal student. At the end of two days she was well on her way and he surely would be finding other outdoor activities. Teaching fly fishing basics great path to getting to know strangers quickly.
Casting and presentation most difficult hurdles to understand and learn.
In the few years I taught and guided fly fishing near Yosemite National Park, Merced River and fly waters near Mount Shasta. Many clients had no fishing history of any kind!
Soon after the movie, "River Runs Through It" came out I had several actor and diplomatic clients and at times their spouses or girl friends. Youngsters 16 and under and woman were my most successful students by far. I found kids and woman understood the basics faster!
The morning theory class complete with water tank to demonstrate exactly what flies look like to trout and salmon. Students watched how a free drifting mosquito is pulled along and rides currents imitating a dying insect unable to fly.
Or seeing up close the action of a deep diving nymph hugging the bottom and driving hiding trout crazy if presented correctly. Hopefully by lunch time before the long afternoon learning to cast and read currents.
Students understood the why and the how to replicate a dying or distressed insect that will almost always attract a hit and tight lines...
One afternoon while waving goodby to a family of four who just finished my two day fly school for beginners. A van pulled up and three orange robed Monks approached and me and asked, "Sir, have you ever taught Monks how to fly fish?" Those bald headed young men were the best company!
I began with the morning theory class right then for three hours before dinner. When I told them they would have to loose the robes when we started wading in the morning and maybe wear ball caps.
As the bright early sun would surely burn their bare heads! They smiled. At 8am they showed up dressed like New York Yankee’s in pin stripes and Yankee ball caps. So much fun from then on.
We worked a large acre farm pond full of Trout easy to catch. The Monks caught many fish laughing and asking for help removing tiny flies carefully. They quickly understood the magic of spending long hours watching currents and relentless casting for positions in feeding lanes.
When I decided to give them extra joy by introduction to working Mouse patterns near waters edge and under trees or near weeds. They were thrilled watching me work a tiny mouse and seeing the water explode as a nice Rainbow smacked the little brown mouse with long tail wake.
They absorbed the technique of moving a mouse around quickly so his tail leaves a visible wake that attracts fish. Their eyes were huge when the mouse caught fish after fish. That evening we worked dry flies as the Sun went down catching and releasing many fine fish with my own Mosquito pattern.
On several occasions especially when teaching fly fishing entry skills near Yosemite Park. Many people would sign up for fly school not having any idea what skills were required. I would always have a long chat with perspective fly students and ask questions. This pre sign up talk was crucial.
Some wanna be fly fishers really had no idea one had to learn to stay upright while wading fast dangerous waters if they one day learned enough to attempt fast waters!
When I explained learning to easily cast line out to 50-70 feet and hit pie plates eight out of ten times would be intensive training and take many years. I guess I lost many students and pay checks.
But, I never held the mystical believe fly fishing either fresh water or salt was for everyone. Oddly the qualities I noticed most successful students possessed were mindfulness, low blood pressure, humor, devoted love of the outdoors.
They had much respect for the sport and they all read books often. Those outdoorsmen with the opposite traits such as attention deficit or easily bored or obviously hyper wired... Those who were more often buried in their cell phones or constantly checking the cell were doomed in understanding even the very basic fly fishing rules of the road.
I fondly remember taking an awfully attractive budding actress to lunch in order to refund her fly school fee. “ You young lady are so talented and movie star attractive with a bright future in movies, plays! Sadly it is my humble opinion fly fishing and its many complicated demands may take away from your meteoric rise on the big screen.“
She laughed and we both joked about how many extra hours and endless teaching had less then expected results. “I ‘m going to take full blame for your frustration. I can recommend several other fly teachers all female who may get the job done!“
My most favorite weekend teaching fly basics near Mount Shasta on the Fall River during the annual Hex hatch. This annual hatch was primarily a night event.
A family of five, four girls one boy all talented outdoorsmen. Their parents were both successful happy partners who loved to laugh. I knew within a minute a grand weekend was ahead.
The youngest daughter was like a sponge. She quickly started tying good examples of California Mosquitos as I walked the family along a long a table filled with Bamboo Rods, reels, flies, lines, vices, feathers from around the world.
Maps and three fly tying stations with all the tools and feathers. The little girl confessed she had been practicing and studying at home for weeks. It was her idea to spend a weekend learning fly basics.
By the end of the second late afternoon on my boat casting at night to endless Hexaginia everywhere. Everyone had caught and released many fish asking me if they could do it again next year... I still hear from them after many years.
The small hamlet of Shingletown near Mount Shasta has several private and public ponds stocked every year. Locals spend much time drowning worms. These ponds were wonderful places to learn casting and working dry flies and learning nymphing techniques. Picnic tables privacy during week days made for perfect fly schools.
I used to always stay at a high class Bed and Breakfast called Angeles Bed and Breakfast. One of my early students was only 14 now he is a dentist with his own family and has fly fished all over the world. We speak many times a year.
Many of the woman became experts and now have endless fly adventure tales to spin. I taught for several years and guided many California fly venues like Mount Shasta, Yosemite and most of the Lake Tahoe area including Carson River one of my favorites next to the mighty Feather River.
California and Nevada are resplendent in world class fly fishing venues. One has to simply hire a local Guide and ask questions. Guides are always the best and most current sources. Do your self a favor and try to hire local Guides when fly fishing new waters. Your fly life will be much richer for it no question.
Fly fishing unlike many outdoor sports can be practiced deep into old age. I have many friends in their late 70s and 80s still throwing wide easy loops and catching releasing wild trout and salmon.
Of course cutting back on raging waters wading or hiking endless miles may occur... Love of cold clean fresh air and the thrill of catching releasing endless wild fish is always mesmerizing centering and highly gratifying. Reading and oil painting have remained constants, fly fishing and all its endless surprises rule my universe...
Written by Dan Fallon © 2017