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woman fishing beside the river

Lessons Learned from a Fly-Fishing Newbie

By Karin Gamba

When a friend who teaches fly fishing to people of all ages in the Roaring Fork Valley asks if you want to learn how to fly fish, you don’t say no. Let’s do it! People come from all over the country for the opportunity to fish our rivers, streams and lakes; as a Glenwood Springs local I had yet to wade into this sport, accessible just minutes from my front door.

All I knew about fly fishing was it looked idyllic based on eyewitness accounts of anglers fishing the region’s gold medal waters and some stunning cinematography I’d seen in movies like “A River Runs Through It.” Admittedly, there would be a learning curve, but after mastering a few techniques how hard could it be?

Lesson 1. Fly Fishing is Easier and Harder than It Looks

After assembling our fly rods, we practiced back casting in the backyard. When done properly, this cast is gorgeous with the entire length of line unfurling behind and then, after a short pause and a downward flick, in long straight line in front of you. Magnificent! We also practiced knot tying, specifically the surgeon’s knot and the clinch knot. Neither is overly complicated or difficult to learn, especially when you’re practicing with a cord on a tabletop instead of nearly invisible tippet. On dry land, it was easy to get a knack for these skills. Then we headed to the Roaring Fork River for some in-situ practice. It didn’t take long for me to turn my line into a bird’s nest of tangled monofilament and lose my Chubby Chernobyl fly from a poorly tied knot!

Lesson 2. Muscle Memory is Real

Whatever your hobby is, if you’re any good at it, you’ve practiced—a lot! You’ve probably also made every conceivable mistake there is and hopefully learned from it. Fly fishing is no different. That day on the river with my friend, he caught two beautiful rainbows close to shore almost instantly. Despite help in choosing the proper flies, tips for casting and mending my line, and instruction on how to set the hook when the fish did nibble, I came up empty. Was I disappointed? Of course. But each time I head to the river, I learn something and there’s progress, even if it’s just a tiny nymph-fly-sized improvement, and that’s all the encouragement I need to keep coming back.

two women fishing

Lesson 3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

In the couple of months since I’ve been at this sport, I’ve learned that anglers are a friendly bunch who are happy to answer questions. Don’t be intimidated to walk into fly shops in Glenwood Springs and ask for help. Tell outfitters where you are planning to fish and if they have suggestions for flies that might work well in your situation. Based on professional advice, I stocked up on streamers for a high mountain lake outing. While it was my fault that I didn’t properly set the hook when they chomped, the streamers were indeed tempting to those cold-water brookies. Another benefit of outfitters is they offer guided fishing trips and classes. The Fly Fishing 101 class I took was free and specifically for newbie women anglers. In addition to taking a deep dive into stream entomology and ecology and identifying mayflies, stoneflies and caddisflies, we practiced roll casting and learned about fish handling, conservation and angling ethics.

Lesson 4. Every Day on the River is a Good One

How hard is fly fishing? It depends. I know people who have never fished before and plunked their fly in the water and reeled in a trout their first time. That hasn’t been my experience. Am I frustrated I haven’t caught a brookie, brown, cutthroat or rainbow yet? Sure, a little. What I have learned is that fish in my net or not, days when I’m on the river are never disappointing. Surrounded by the beauty of nature, alone or with a friend, I’m just grateful for another opportunity to cast away in the paradise of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Learn more about how to get started fly fishing in Glenwood Springs and make plans to visit today!

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