There are essentially three ways to learn how to fly-fish: through a mentor, through a guide or winging it on your own
AVON — Despite a consuming dedication to fly-fishing, it’s not uncommon for Jeff Lyons to spend hours, even days, on the water without catching a fish.
Technically, catching fish is not part of his job description, although pretty much everything else pertaining to fly-fishing is his job. Lyons, an 11-year fly-fishing guide and Orvis Fishing Schoolinstructor at the Cordillera Lodge and Spa near Vail, is in the business of seeing other people catch fish.
On a good day, he might not even pick up a fishing rod, although such occasions are rare. Much of his clientele, both at the fishing school and his guide gig with Avon-based Fly Fishing Outfitters(970-845-8090), includes novice fly-fishermen (and women), folks who are intrigued by the pastime but don’t really know where to begin.
So they call a guide, or realistically, a teacher, someone who can provide the hands-on instruction to walk them through the dizzying amount of information and techniques required to go from tying on a fly to landing an actual fish.
“There’s a lot to take in when you first pick up the sport, for sure,” Lyons said from the banks of the Eagle River. “A little instruction goes a long way.”
From Denver to Durango, guys such as Lyons abound in Colorado these days, the seasonal throngs who work the summer months tying knots, untying tangled lines and attempting to convey the nuances of their sport to vacationing tourists thinking they’d like to take a stab at this fly-fishing thing.
There is no formal guide registry in the state, only that of the numerous outfitters that employ them, which might range from a one-man operation to nearly 30 guides on staff during high season at a larger operation such as FFO. Some of the best go on to achieve minor celebrity status, mostly in the word-of-mouth form of requested bookings long in advance and hefty tips for exemplary service, while most are satisfied with spring-to-fall work in a field — and stream — they are passionate about.
“It’s a pretty awesome gig,” Lyons said.
To the uninitiated, it may seem like overkill. It’s only fishing, right? How hard could it be? Consensus holds that there are essentially three ways to learn how to fly-fish: through a mentor, through a guide or winging it on your own.
“It’s kind of like trying to teach yourself how to play golf. It usually doesn’t work out so well,” said Lyons, whose uncle taught him to fly-fish at a young age. “Everybody tends to get the same kind of bad habits going. Some people wait 20 years to hire a guide, but the smart ones hire someone before they ever get started.”
While it may sound like a sales pitch, the testimonials speak for themselves. Conditions ranging from river flows to water temperatures can vary on a daily basis, making it difficult for anyone who lacks intimate knowledge of a fishery to dial in prime locations, timing and equipment. Technique is another matter altogether.
“I’m not sure how many times I’d go with a guide before I’d even attempt it on my own, but more than once, I know that,” said Todd Baird, a resident of Dallas who joined his buddy Don Grove for their first day of fly-fishing with Lyons while vacationing in Vail this week. “We learned a tremendous amount in a day, but probably didn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to technique. I don’t think it’s something you can do once a year and be good at. I wouldn’t even know what fly to use.”
With bass fishing resumes under their belts, the Texans set out to learn about fly-fishing even more than to actually land any trout. But after spending the day wading the Eagle River and literally landing his first two brown trout on separate flies at the same time, Baird confessed to becoming an instant convert.
“It won me over while I was out there,” Baird said. “I went into it for the education but came out of it with an interest in pursuing the sport.”
Both men saw the value in hiring a pro to get them off on the right foot, quickly recognizing the challenge of learning not only how to cast a fly, but where and how to drift it, set the hook and fight the fish on lighter tackle than they’d ever seen previously.
“There’s an art to it, no doubt about it,” Grove said. “I’m all for having a guy that knows what he’s doing.”
Despite swift river currents and cool water temperatures yet to trigger prolific insect hatches, the anglers managed to land four fish in total, much to the relief of their guide.
“It’s pretty awesome when you put it all together and stick one in the net,” Lyons said. “But it doesn’t always happen like that.”