There I stood, 9-foot fly rod in hand, wearing uber-sexy hip waders and aggressive-soled boots, anticipating a face-plant in the cold waters of Colorado’s rapidly running Poudre River.
I was far from a vision and way out of my element.
Learning to fly fish has long been on our bucket list, so when Hunka Burnin’ Hubby and I were invited to go with a pro and his family, we jumped at the chance.
“You’ll need gear,” said Lead Fisherman. “Waders and boots and five-weight rods and . . . “
The list trailed into a vast cloud of mysterious items required for hunting Colorado trout in their natural habitat – tippets, Parachute Adams dry flies, clippers, bent nose forceps, fly buoyancy powder, lanyards, polarized sunglasses, and mesh-pocketed vests to keep everything close at hand.
Packing the truck felt like preparing to encounter aliens on an uncharted planet. In a way we were, heading to parts unknown from our base camp in Fort Collins.
To this point, fishing included a bargain-bin reel on a clearance-sale pole, with weights and bobbers that eventually snagged tree bass on mossy flatland farm ponds. We’d head out in stupid-early darkness, hauling a cooler full of weenies and a cheap charcoal grill in case the fishing stunk. We smelled of insect repellent. We ate a lot of weenies.
Fly fishing involves strategy and elegance. It’s about using the appropriate fly — a tiny, hairy affair — to match a trout’s discriminating taste.
It requires waiting for water to warm in the midday sun, and steely-eyed perusal of stream flows and backwater pools where fish wait for larval entrees.
Lead Fisherman was a trout master, with decades of knowledge and experience tucked under a well-worn ball cap. He chose a place in remote Cameron Pass, a fair-distance away from Fort Collins.
“It’ll take us an hour-forty to get there,” he said. “We’ll turn off the highway and drive some gravel, so don’t get lost.”
He took off like a shot. Lead Fisherman was a jet pilot in a former life, and I struggled to keep his bumper in sight. Away we zipped through sharp curves and switchbacks, past crumbling rock and ancient cliff. We had a white-knuckle grip on steering wheel and “oh-no” handles. I imagined him peering squinty-eyed through a bug-spackled windshield, envisioning trout fried crisp over an open fire.
We drove miles of washboard gravel rough enough to make our one-ton truck dance, leaving great clouds of dust in our wake. Eventually we parked, and laden with gear and expectations, hiked 3 miles ever downward to the sparkling Poudre River.
Hunka and I approached that cold water like it was trying to swallow us whole. The rocks were slick beneath our alien boots, and we struggled to find purchase without going belly up.
“Don’t whip your cast,” Lead Fisherman instructed. “Keep your wrist static and let the line do its work. Aim for places where trout like to hide.”
He demonstrated with the grace of a philharmonic conductor, s-curving his line through the crisp autumn air, and sending his fly in its exact intended spot. A second later he had a bite, and his eyes sparked with happy anticipation.
“They’re active today!” he called before meandering downriver to give Hunka and me room to practice.
Hunka caught on immediately, gracefully arching his line to burbling pools of backwater goodness. He wasn’t tournament-ready, but he did catch some beautiful trout.
My cast was akin to tomahawking crickets on a picnic bench. Whip, whip, snag, whip, whip, curse was the name of my game. I caught a couple small trout, though I was content to make their acquaintance and set them free.
We drove and hiked and fished some more. We grumped and laughed and had the finest of times. We can’t thank Lead Fisherman and his family enough for making us part of their remarkable world.
I know we’ll fly fish again and again, until we get it exactly right. That’s the true spirit of adventure.