Don with Brown Trout 

When one begins to wander down that mysteriously shaded and winding path to becoming a fly angler, there are numerous lessons to be learned.  Quite often these lessons are ascertained from other anglers who have had the fortune of having information passed on to them by some kind lady or gentleman.  Some of us, however, have gleaned much of our knowledge from the professional service firm of Trial, Fail, Retry, and Succeed, LLP.  The LLP is there simply to limit the liability of the owners of the firm should you sustain irreparable damage from your experience.  After all, Harry Middleton’s grandfather first refused to teach him the art for fear of his mother’s reaction to his ruin.  And, of course, the “succeed” may come after much failure.  While I fly fished streams as a kid for bass, it was somewhat later in life that I began fly fishing for trout.  I can remember like yesterday the day I caught my first trout on a fly.

I was fishing on the Caney Fork River.  I had been there for quite a while casting some fly that was probably a carryover from fishing for bass in the streams of my youth.  I gazed up stream and witnessed an older gentleman moving slowly, methodically casting along the edge of the river.  I noticed that about every twenty yards or so, this guy would hook a fish.  Up until that point, I was probably blaming my failure on the weather or some other obscure excuse such as that.  Of course, we still keep those excuses tucked away in our creels just in case we are having a bad day. 

He was a large man, not obese but muscular, and he cast that fly as though his arm extended the entire length of the cast and dropped the fly delicately on the water.  I watched and tried to learn.  Finally, my patience would not hold my tongue any longer.  I called in desperation, “Sir, what are you catching those fish on?”  Thinking that he would either ignore me or tell me to be quiet, you might expect that I was surprised when he stopped his fishing, walked over to me, and proceeded to give me a lesson on fishing with a Hairs Ear nymph.  He also gave me a couple of flies.  He turned and walked away following the lesson without my even getting his name.  He did tell me that he grew up fishing streams in Pennsylvania.  I often wonder if he stopped as he carried his blurrily body back up steam to watch me catch my first trout with his fly and kind instruction.  If he did, I know he felt good, but not as good as I did.  I wish I could thank him today. That began my period of search for fly fishing wisdom.

After that day, I began reading all the materials I could find on fly fishing for trout.  I learned a lot from books by Lefty Kreh and others.  I also purchased a couple of videos to assist me along the path to the glory hole.  I am still looking!  Along the way, however, I did find a new resource that is invaluable.  Oh, there is a price to pay for utilizing this resource.  But, what I am talking about is really critical to fly fishing.  One can garner more information in this depository of fishing knowledge than anywhere one can plunder.

Steve and I have been fishing together for over ten years now.  It has been a magnificent ten years.  We have reached some conclusions about the laws of fishing.  One of those truths is that there are required fees that go along with the casting pleasure.  One of those truths, I call the privilege fee.  We have fished together in Arkansas, Oregon, North Carolina, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Wyoming.  This privilege fee can be illustrated in our trip to Oregon a few years ago.

We prepared for the trip by acquiring our license in advance and asking our guide, Mike, what flies we should bring along.  He provided a list, and we ordered several flies.  Our plan was to fish the McKinsey River with Mike for two days, and then fish on our own for a couple of days.  We had to make a change of plans as someone failed to notify those in charge that we needed lower water levels in order to safely wade the upper McKinsey.  We decided to cross the mountain range to the desert side and fish the Metolius.  We had a couple of really good days with Mike on the McKinsey River.  We caught a lot of fish, took a sometimes scary drift boat ride down the upper section of the river, and ate some great smoked salmon that Mike had prepared.  When we crossed the mountain range, we stayed in a neat little town called Sisters – named for twin peaks the town was nestled near.  When arriving at the Metolius, we headed to the fly shop – Camp Sherman Store and Fly Shop.  As many fly shops do, this shop had a board that provided the local “hot list” of flies.  We compared the list to the flies we had so astutely planned to carry with us.  You know, not one fly that we had been so careful to purchase and pack was on their list.  So, we loaded up with about $25 worth of flies.  The next decade was spent trying to find a place to fish.  Well, it sure seemed like a decade.  We drove up and down this short stretch of river stopping along the way to check out the wading possibilities.  This river has its beginnings at the side of a small mountain and the upper portion is wadable.  Much of the lower river is composed of deep seams between eroded rocks with extremely heavy current.  If you misstep off the edge, it could be a life-ending step.  Anyway, we finally decide to fish primarily from near the bank, and before long a hatch was coming off.  The hatch did match one of the fly patterns we had purchased.  As a side note, weight is not allowed on the Metolius so getting down deep is extremely difficult, if not improbable.

The next morning we headed north as we needed to be working back to Portland for our flight home the following day.  It was a strange coincidence, but the Deschutes just happened to be on the way.  We stopped at The Riffle Fly Shop in Madras, Oregon.  The guy at the fly shop informed us that we were just at the tail end of the salmon fly hatch – a prolific hatch for that river.  So, we purchased our mandatory twenty dollars of flies as well as a roll of 4x  Rio fluorocarbon tippet.  Once again we had paid our privilege fee. 

We drove down the dirt road as the guy in the shop had instructed and rigged our rods.  I was watching my feet carefully as our guide in Eugene had warned us of the huge population of rattlesnakes around the Deschutes.  Well, we did not see any evidence of a salmon hatch that day.  Nor did either of us hold a fish.  We blamed the weather as a cold front had worked its way into the valley the night before.  See, we reached down into our dark empty creel and pulled that excuse right out.  And, actually, we had little time to fish and wading access was somewhat limited in this area of the river.  I for one was much more interested in avoiding the rattlesnake hatch than anything else.  At one point, I left Steve and headed down the path to seek another place to enter the river.  I had walked a moderate distance down stream finding few opportunities.  On the way back, I was walking along trying to enjoy the immense beauty and vastness of this place while paying close attention to the area just in front of my feet.  Suddenly, I heard a very slight but unusual noise.  I stopped immediately.  Just ahead about five yards was a large prairie rattler.  He only made a subtle noise to let me know he was crossing the path.  I watched him move across the path and settle under some sagebrush.  I then proceeded upstream to find Steve.  When I told him I had seen the snake, he wanted to go and find it.  He did, but only by sound.  He did not see the bad boy.  We then decided that we had consumed the privilege fee we had paid.  So, we walked back to our car and headed to Portland.  Our Oregon trip was nearing the end – one more gaze at Mount Hood.

We have learned over the years that the privilege fee is a given for each fishing trip.  Even if we have fished the river fifty times, we still stop by the fly shop, browse, talk to the people in the shop, and hope to learn the secret no one else has bee told.  At times we wonder if the flies noted as being hot in some shops are really just what they are overstocked in or maybe the hatch is over as in the shop at the Deschutes.  What we do know for sure is that certain streams do have flies that work extremely well.  I have flies in my fly boxes that are homeless.  They can’t tell me what their name is or what steam they were acquired for.  This is a real dilemma.  What does one do with flies like Chuck’s Emerger, Eat at Chucks, Salmon Fly, Red Ass, Trout Candy, Speck, and others?  Now, some of these flies can be used at multiple steams.  But some are flies I purchased for a particular stream.  I have a multitude of other flies that are homeless, but can’t add them to the list because I just do not remember their names.  The solution to this problem is actually simple.  I now keep some small organizer boxes (3X5).  When I go to a new stream or old stream where I buy special flies, I just label the box for that stream.  You can also add a label for the name of the flies if you like.  Then, your flies are no longer homeless, nameless wrappings of feather and fur.

Regarding privilege fees, can you imagine what things would be like without these grand institutions of knowledge in which we pay the fees.  Long ago, Steve and I came to understand that it is just understood that we must pay the fees.  I have come to understand that it really is a privilege to pay them.  Where would our sport be without these individuals who love it so much that they are willing to spend most of their time helping us be successful.  Of course, there are some shops that have no desire to help anyone.  I have made it a habit over the years to try and locate the local fly shop in towns or cities I travel to in connection with work.  I have been in a lot of shops.  Most are nice and helpful.  I did walk out of a shop in Georgia once.  As with most shops there was a board that listed the flies that were working, but it did not indicate the size.  I was going to buy some flies to fish a local stream and asked the guy behind the counter what size flies I should purchase.  I asked the “customer service” specialist there who said, “It depends.”  To make the story concise, I really did not get a straight answer, and the answer I received was so tainted with poisoned arrogance, that I simply walked out of the shop.  I doubt that the shop is still there – at least under that management.  Contrast that with Little River Outfitters.  The first time I really had some time to just browse around the shop I just watched the exchange between customers and the employees in the shop.  I stayed there quite a while observing.  I was simply amazed.  As I said, I had been in a lot of fly shops over the years.  There are shops you go in that you would think that you were talking to Warren Buffet – wait, no he is actually a nice guy.  You know, I really can’t explain where they get their arrogance.  I think the guys at Little River Outfitters probably do as good a business as any shop in the east – maybe in the country.  So, why are they so nice and helpful?  Oh wait, maybe there is a correlation here.  Anyway, I have learned more from this fly shop than anywhere other than my own reading.  The message board is a tremendous source of knowledge.  Just pull up the posts from “Plateau Angler” or Hugh Hartsell some day and read them.  You will learn a lot.  Or pull up the posts of “sammcdonald” if you want to learn a lot about the park.  There are many, many others I could name.  This is a tremendous asset.  Or just visit the shop and sit around and listen to the advice.  You will be enlightened!

The point of all this is simple.  Pay the privilege fees and understand that they really are a privilege.  Otherwise, our knowledge base will be depleted.  Can you image going to a stream in, say, West Virginia and not stopping by a shop before heading to fish.  I cannot!  You will probably pick up some files that might become homeless unless you find a way to identify them.  You just might find the perfect fly for that stream at the time of your visit.  Of course, you can probably use the old standards like a Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail, Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, and others and do pretty well, but we really need to support those local shops when we can.  They are the backbone of the sport which truly is a marvelous privilege.

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