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Salomone: The fancy stick

Don't be scared to fall in love with fly fishing

Michael Salomone
Colorado Parks and Wildlife on Tuesday said the Eagle River above the Eagle Fairgrounds should be safe for fish once again as long as anglers are off the water by 12 p.m. Temperatures in excess of 70 degrees Fahrenheit continue to be recorded downstream in Dotsero.
Connor Koenig/Courtesy photo

My youth was spent in Ohio. I don’t remember when I started fishing. It was always a part of life. As a result, the fish I pursued were warm water species like largemouth bass, bluegills and catfish. There was no fly fishing in southern Ohio. I grew very adept at using a spinning rod for any species.

When I moved to Colorado, I continued to spin fish — it was all I knew —but I kept seeing people fly fishing and I found myself watching. How does the line stay in the air? The long rods looked like “fancy sticks” to me.

The author preps his rod along the shore of the Eagle River.
Connor Koenig/Courtesy photo

I had watched the iconic Norman Maclean movie, “A River Runs Through It.” I had seen Brad Pitt’s magic. The whole experience seemed within grasp, but I found myself intimidated. My spinning rod was producing success regularly.



Why switch?

Then I felt the weight from a weight-forward fly line flex a rod. Wow. It seemed to click from the beginning. I started to collect fly-fishing equipment. My gear choices were crude and mismatched. Still, I waded through the river holding my fancy stick up high.



Nothing I had done before compared. Compared to jigging for panfish, worming for bass or plunking heavy weights into the depths for catfish, fly fishing was at the opposite end of the pool. And dare I say, “sexy.”

I watched LaFontaine — my favorite (still is) — in videos. He and others planted a seed that grew into a multi-decade career guiding fly anglers in Colorado. The fly rod became my only means of angling.

I took my love for the fancy stick to the salt in 1997 for the first time. On a rocky point located on the southeast side of Paradise Island, Bahamas, I watched the silver flashes in the electric turquoise waters eat my clouser. I’ve been hooked on saltwater fly-angling ever since. It has led to multiple trips off shore into the blue water with a fancy stick, pursuing Atlantic sailfish on the fly but coming back with Mahi-mahi and tuna. I’ve never let it happen before, but an Atlantic Sailfish on the fly has become my jinx.



I tell my clients not to wait until their next vacation to the Rockies to pick up a fly rod. A 4wt or 5wt rod and some top water poppers for bass and bluegills can be a giggle-filled angling adventure anywhere across America. They look at me and say “You can fish for bass with a fly rod?” I always tell them, “Yes! Bass and more … lots more.”

The clients are already feeling it. Just like I did so many years ago. The flex of a fly rod is a feeling more than it is technical conventions. An angler who feels a fly rod is going to make better casts. Certain things can be done to enhance that feeling, making it more prominent and easier to exploit.

By the end of a guided trip, a high percentage of anglers are going to want to invest in their own gear to continue this new found feeling on their home waters and to be more proficient with a fly rod for next summer’s trip. It is especially the younger fly anglers who will want to embrace their own rod and continue angling with a fly.

When new fly anglers realize the potential for applying their recently developed skills close to home, the attraction grows even deeper for the fancy stick. Beginning to understand all the many ways in which fly-angling can be applied to most any type of fishing and the pleasure level rises.

Don’t let the intimidation of fly fishing stop you from embracing a new love affair. Watching people swinging a fly line through the air can defy logic. It’s best to seek professional help to lay a solid foundation from which to build your fly angling skills.

The author gives some angling advice.
Connor Koenig/Courtesy photo

Contact Vail Valley Anglers to book a fly fishing trip and learn for yourself. Feeling a fly rod flex and deliver gives concrete meaning to the movies you’ve seen and to the anglers you watch on the river. You never know, you too might fall in love with the fancy stick.


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