Flying into river fishing’s last frontier
It started out like a normal August morning. I was meeting a client around 6 a.m. for an exciting day of chasing river bronzebacks.
The Vermilion River was our flow of choice as we headed east after meeting just of off Interstate 39. His name was Art Beyda and it was his first Camp Smallmouth trip. Little did I know, as I drove my trusty truck east on Illinois Route 18, that the day would be an epiphany. A whole new world was about to open and I would take the first steps into river fishing’s “last frontier.”
Upon arriving at the Vermilion, Art asked if he should tackle the early morning smallmouth bite with the spinning rod or the fly rod. Before answering I noticed a gentle fog rising from the surface of the river. My answer was simple – get out the fly rod. Art was one of only a couple of clients in four years that has even brought a fly rod. Anytime a client even hints about bringing the long rod, I encourage them to do so.
Of course, I always tell my clients that I know very, very little about fly fishing (this will begin to change), but do know where the smallies live in the river and also am very well aware that river smallmouths are easily fooled by long rodders every year.
So Art put his 9-foot fly rod together and he and I lumbered down the bank and jumped into the river. After just a few minutes we saw fish starting to rise just downstream. So we quickly moved down stream to where the fish were busting and Art began firing his popper into the fury. After a few casts, the first bronzeback was brought to hand and our day was off to a good start. After a couple more small, scrappy smallmouths landed with the ol’ trusty popper, Art and I knew it was time to get back in the truck and head up river to greener pastures.
On the short ride upstream Art asked a question I’ll never forget, “Hey, I have an extra fly rod with me, you want to try it out?” Now I have been asked before by other friends if I wanted to dabble in the “dark side” (as many spinning rod anglers call it). But in the past I had always declined. I don’t know what it was about that particular day, but I immediately told Art that I would like to give it a shot. What possessed me to say that, I will never know. It was almost like the all powerful river gods had deemed it was time for me to make the step over to the other side.
When we arrived at our next fishing spot, Art unveiled his newest fly rod and handed it to me. Of course, a few pointers were in order. While perched on the road adjoining the river, Art provided me with the basic premise behind fly casting. After a short, 10-minute lesson, I felt like I could possibly at least make a cast long enough to possibly catch my beloved smallmouth bass. So we jumped back in the Vermilion and began to trudge upstream with both of us slingin’ our fly rods.
It only took a few casts, while in the river, to realize that maybe fly fishing would be something I could learn to love. It seemed that every cast I made was a little better than the last. Even though Art was on a guide trip with me, he took over as my fly fishing mentor. He was more than happy to do it, which made me uncomfortable at first, but later I realized that I could surely make it up to Art in the future. His words of encouragement really kept me going. Matter of fact, he remarked that he was very impressed how well I was doing for just for my first day of fly casting.
As we continued upstream, Art caught a few smallies, not on the fly rod but with the spinning rod and a No. 5 Rapala floating minnow, if I remember correctly. Meanwhile, I just kept on fly casting. I began to think how much fun it was just to cast. Catching a fish would just be a bonus for me on this particular day. Every time I made a decent cast I would let out a chuckle in delight. Art could tell that I was rapidly taking to this fly fishing thing.
Upon reaching our final upstream stretch, I was starting to feel cocky and began to really push the envelope when it came to casting distance. Now I wanted to catch my first smallmouth. Art suggested I put on a small, black wooly bugger.
Who was I to disagree? I knew nothing about which fly was best at any given time.
So I tied on the mini wooly bugger and began working the water to a froth. It was not long after tying on the bugger that it happened. I caught my first smallmouth on the fly rod.
I must admit that this first smallie on the long rod was purely accidental. As I was messing with my fly line down near the reel, my fly was still out in the river probably sitting on the bottom or graciously drifting downstream. When I got down fixing my line problems, I tightened up the line, and to my amazement something was pulling on the other end.
I feverishly stripped in that first smallmouth, which only measure a measly eight inches. But to me it was eight inches of pure bronze and it marked a new beginning of my bronzeback chasing career. Upon landing the juvenile smallie, I was ecstatic.
Art insisted on a picture. Why not? My first fly rod bass deserved a picture, no matter the size.
After snapping a few photos, I was back again flailing my fly line across the Vermilion River. It was not long before I had caught a couple more on the black wooly bugger. To say I was hooked is an understatement. I was already planning on our walk back to the truck how I could get a fly rod of my own. I feverishly tried to get Art to sell me the fly rod I had been using all afternoon. Though he declined, he did tell me that he thought they were still on sale via the Internet.
I could not wait to get home to check if the sale price was still valid. I told Art he had created a fly fishing monster.
Upon arriving at my truck, my thoughts turned to how surprised my wife was going to be when I tell her that I have a new side hobby. I was fairly sure she would not share the same feelings I had pertaining to this new wrinkle in river bass fishing. I told Art I would just blame him, which brought a smile to his face.
Sure enough, when I got home I could not hold back my excitement. I felt like I did when I caught my first smallmouth on conventional tackle nearly 20 years ago. I let my wife know immediately that a new chapter in fishing was just beginning. Her response, “Oh great.”
Now, fast forward to the present. My fly fishing passion is now unbridled. I own four fly rods and am already making my own flies. My spinning rods and casting rods are collecting dust.
Each day I awake and cannot wait to get out and do more fly fishing. Heck, I even spent time fly fishing on my lunch break at a nearby public pond.
I was able to catch a few respectable smallies on the fly in the fall of 2008. Now I can’t wait for the chance to chase bronze for real this spring, armed with my newest weapon. It is going to be a challenge, but I am ready and willing to conquer the challenges. If it was not a challenge, everyone would do it – It is the difficulty which makes it great. If you see me out on a local river flailing a way, wish me luck as I travel across river bassin’s last frontier.