Putting a bend in a fly rod is the true notion of success in fly fishing. It means that all the puzzle pieces were placed correctly, from being in the right place to choosing the correct fly to placing that fly in the correct spot to fool that fish into eating it. The puzzle is completed only by netting the fish, but the bulk of the work is done as soon as the rod bends. Many people set out on this quest at least once, some continue, and others seem to become fully engulfed in a never-ending quest to pursue the next bend.
While every person’s quest differs slightly, there is always one common denominator, the starting point. For a fly fisher, that starting point is the idea of learning to fly fish to catch a fish, any fish will do at this stage. It can be a small fish, a large fish, a trout, a bluegill, or even a sucker or a ladyfish, the result is always the same, a bent rod and a first fish. Only then can the evolution of that quest begin.
My personal quest started by chance when I got a summer job helping out at a fly shop at the age of 14. I knew how to catch fish with a spin rod, but had never cast a fly rod. Apparently, the shop owner saw something in me, I just wasn’t sure what it was at that time. That summer, I dabbled in fly tying, talked fishing, learned the gear, and went into fall with the necessary gear to begin my own fly fishing quest. I spent days on the local creek down the road from my parents’ house casting my poorly tied serendipity flies at brown trout, I even got one to taste it once.
I can remember the day my friend and I were sitting in the tall grass when he handed me a Royal Wulff. I tied it on, hunkered next to the bank, cast out, and within several casts, was hooked up on my first brown trout. It was not that moment, but not long after, I realized I was one of the “others” that would become fully engulfed in fly fishing.
There was a group of four of us that fished regularly and we all progressed extensively by feeding from each other’s knowledge spending countless days on the water; weekends, after school, holidays, during school hours… didn’t matter, we fished. It didn’t take long for us all to master our local creeks full of browns, brookies, rainbows, and cutthroats and so we began a new pursuit of the bigger, pickier fish that inhabited the tailwaters around Colorado.
This new evolution landed us sleeping in the front seats of small sedans, eating baked beans and granola bars for days while chasing big fish around the famed waters of the state and routinely passing up on small fish opportunities. Sometimes, we even slept in tents and grilled dinners, but time was of the essence. Especially when we began chasing these large fish at night as they seemed to let their guard down a bit and the “crowds” had gone home.
As our quest evolved, we ventured into chasing new species that proved to be bigger and more difficult. We had Pike and Musky on our brains and continued to push our fishing knowledge to all new levels with new endeavors. Not that we quit trout fishing, we just expanded our range of targets. This continued into saltwater as our pursuit pushed on to find the fish that proved the hardest to catch, and many times meant the largest we could find, or not find. No fish was safe from our pursuit, but our pursuit also evolved even more.
Maybe it was the change in our daily responsibilities, or perhaps the growth of the sport of fly fishing, I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but our quest evolved again, and finding the biggest fish was no longer necessary. It seemed we had gone back to our roots in that any fish was fun again, it didn’t matter if it was big or small. What really mattered is that we were fishing and we were back to the root of the quest, to pursue the next bend.