First Time Flyfishing
My First Trip Hooked Me
When I was 14 years old my family went on a family camping trip to a private campground in West Georgia on a hill called Pine Mountain. Pine Mountain Campground had a very nice lake of about 20 acres, or maybe more. It was a beautiful place and a lot of our church families came together for the fellowship. One of the folks along on that trip was a doctor. I had known him because he had two daughters and a son near my age. He loved deer meat and every season my father and I would bring him a hind quarter or some really good pieces of the deer we had taken just to share with him.
Dr. Jackson liked to fly fish. I had seen people doing this before but had never done it myself. He needed someone to paddle him around the lake in a canoe so I volunteered. That was something I did know how to do well, never having to change sides of the canoe as we circled the edges of the lake. We went out on the water just as the sun was bringing first light. It was a crisp, cool spring morning - absolutely beautiful.
We walked down to the edge of the lake and Dr. Jackson had his fly rod, a small box of flies and a towel to wipe his hands after he handled the fish. That was all the tackle he needed. I was beginning to like this already. Most of the fishing I had done required tackle boxes full of lures, hooks, sinkers, swivels, leader wire, pliers and all sorts of other "stuff." It looked like Dr. Jackson was getting in the canoe with about one handful of things required to catch fish.
Dr. Jackson took the front seat of the canoe and settled in. He was not a tall man, a little stout with a beard and a great smile. He always had a great, fun attitude about him. He quietly told me to paddle keeping him about 30 feet from shore, and going fairly slow. No problem for me as I watched him tying on his first fly. This was a floating bug like thing - about the size of a pencil eraser with rubber bands sticking out in all directions to look like legs. There was a small hook coming out the bottom of the body of the creature and it had a flat end where the hook was tied on. Dr. Jackson told me it was called a "popping bug" because he could do a slow jerk and it would make a "pop" on the water getting the fish's attention and hopefully making them want to bite.
Just as we pushed off he started pulling line out of the reel letting it fall into the bottom of the boat in front of him. when he had a good pile of line he pulled down on the bug stretching about 8 feet of line out of the end of the rod tip. there was about 3 feet of heavier fly line and about 5 feet or more of regular monofilment line making the "bait" look like it was out on the water by itself. I asked Dr. Jackson how he was going to toss that little bug without any weight on the line. I got my first lesson in fly fishing.
When you are fly fishing, you are casting the line - not the bait. The baits don't weigh anything - so the line is much heavier. In fact some fly lines are "weight forward" encouraging the line to fly much further. Others are "level" and floating, which allows fishermen like Dr. Jackson to use it from one end for several trips, then if it begins to get waterlogged and not float as well, turn it around on his reel and use it from the other end. There are also sinking lines, and more technical lines. So when I first saw Dr. Jackson with a minimum of tackle, I was sorely mistaken. With fly fishing, you may not need everything you have for a specific trip, but that doesn't mean that back home there aren't tons or piles of equipment from fly tying boxes to thread, feathers, hair, stuff that looks like yarn, glitter, eyes, and hooks. You don't use the same fly rod for bream as you do bass, or bass as you do for salt water trout or for trout as you do for bonefish. All new rods are needed of different length, strength, stiffness, and all these also have different reels with different lines - all different weight lines and styles. Then there are leaders, tippets and of course flies.
But for our little trip on the pond that morning, Dr. Jackson had a 5 weight 7 foot rod and level floating line. I positioned the canoe about 30 to 35 fee from the bank where he could cast to his left and ahead of the boat. He lifted his hand pushing forward then back whisping the line back and forth slowly in the air above - then in a smooth motion brought the rod down which caused the line to sling outward toward the bank - and as it rolled out on the water I could just make out the little popping bug quickly looping out and dropping softly on the water about six inched from the bank. Almost immediately a bream (or sunfish) hit the lure floating on top of the water hooking himself. Dr. Jackson pulled up on the rod and started sliding the line back through his fingers pulling the fat little bream back to the boat. The rod was bending against the strain of this little giant.
In a few seconds the fight was over and the fish landed. It was full of color, bright an fat - and in a few more seconds the hook was out and the fish back in the water. A big smile on Dr. Jackson's face indicated he was pleased. He took his towel, wiped his hands and started his cast again. Within a few seconds another smaller bream was on his hook, brought in and released.
This was the case for the next hour. We hadn't paddled about a third the way around the lake and Dr. Jackson tossed the bait up beside a tree that had fallen out into the lake. The trunk of the tree was bleached white and the dark water next to the trunk erupted in a big way. A bass jumped up through the water into the air about a foot shaking his head all the way up and down. Dr. Jackson set the hook and the fight was on. For around three or four minutes he pulled and the two-pound bass pulled back. It was so much larger than the much smaller bream we had been catching. The fish finally tired and Dr. Jackson pulled the fish up next to the boat. He carefully reached down and put his thumb into the fish's mouth and grabbed him out of the water. He held it up for me to see. What a beautiful fish and how much fun was that?
I backed us out of the edge of the water where the wind had blown us while we were admiring the little bass. Then Dr. Jackson asked me - would you like to give it a try? Are you kidding - I was thinking - of course. So we beached the canoe for a minute and got out on the bank where he gave me a little bit of a lesson before we got back in the canoe - switching positions. I pulled out several feet of line on the floor in front of me just like I had seen him do. Then pulled some line down through the tip of the rod, again as I had watched him do just an hour ago several times. I began to wave the rod to and fro seeing how the line would stretch out in front and behind me as I let out more and more line.
Finally, I pointed the rod to a place near the bank and the line rolled out beautifully in front of me - and the bug dropped softly on the water. It sat there for a few seconds. Nothing. Then Dr. Jackson said "slowly raise the rod tip about 4 feet." I did. He said, " now give the line a little short tug, just about six inches really fast," I did and the little bug made a popping sound on the water. Dr. Jackson said, now just wait a few seconds. He hardly got those words from his mouth and another bass came erupting up through the water sucking the bug into his mouth. I instinctively jerked the rod back setting the hook in the fishes jaw. The fight was on and in a few minutes the fish played out. It was up near the edge of the boat when Dr. Jackson told me to put my thumb in its mouth and grab his lower lip. I did hoisting the bass up out of the water. My grin had to be ear to ear. First cast, first fish - and then we got to argue whether mine was bigger than his as I released my fish back into the lake.
That trip was some forty years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. Within a week I had my first fly rod, reel and line - and a half dozen popping bugs. Since then I have fished for trout in the mountains, bass, bream and others on lakes all across the country, bone fish in the Bahamas and salmon in Alaska. I have to owe my first experience to Dr. Jackson - my good friend. My son was 9 when he tied his first fly that later that week he caught his first trout on. I was there when he caught his first bone fish in the Bahamas. I hope he too teaches his son. It is a wonderful thing.
Some very good friends of ours offered to let us stay in a cabin they own in Dubois, WY. We went there this July and the change in temperatures from an average high in Georgia of 95 to an average high of 72 in Dubois was already a welcome improvement.
Then we went fly fishing...WE went fly fishing. Since I wrote the story above about my first time fly fishing I was a very young teenager...forty-five years ago. I have been fishing in a lot of places since then, but my wife has never taken it up. She actually went along with a guide and I into the rivers around Dubois, primarily the Wind River. What a treat to see the guide working with my wife Karon to understand how to move the rod, watch the strike indicator, fish a fast moving stream - AND land her first two trout on a fly rod ever! Sure, neither trout will win a world record or set a state record for size - but the fact she tried it and liked it was most important! Waders and all, we took pictures, had coffee and cakes on the riverbank, in general had a grand time.
Never miss the opportunity to introduce someone to fishing. It is fun, challenging, and rewarding. Give it a try!
Fly Fishing Books
Davis Lake Campground
Great place for camping and learning how to fly fish
Pine Mountain is home to Calloway Gardens, the Little White House, and Davis Lake Campground - where this story initiated.