Fly Fishing Catch and Release
I started fly fishing in 2006 and knew nothing of fly fishing catch and release. I had memories of picking up my Daddy’s fly rod and wondering how it worked without a thumb press on the reel but being highly intrigued by the graceful loops he cast over the water. Fast forward to repeats of, “A River Runs Through It” and I knew I wanted to someday sidle up to Brad Pitt and ask the standard inquiry… “having any luck?” So I took myself to an Orvis fly casting workshop and got to feel the weight of my own graceful loops unfurl on a park lawn. That gave me confidence to join some friends on a trek up Frying Pan Road out of Basalt Colorado. Located on the edge of Pitkin and Eagle counties in the White River National Forest, this stretch of road is postcard perfect, quintessential Colorado. Red cliffs against cobalt blue sky framing green rolling hills of manicured estate lawns and well irrigated alfalfa fields. It’s so beautiful the mountain goats, chipmunks, horses, and birds of prey, frolic along like a Disney movie.
On that day we stopped before we got to the infamous “Toilet Bowl - home of the big fish”, and watched football sized trout line the banks of the Frying Pan River and casually sip their lunch from the water’s surface. It was my first time to sight fish with a dry fly and I’ll never forget the glory of casting above that fish's head, watching her turn to take my fly, and the corresponding sensation of that life vibrating through my fly line. It was the day I got “hooked” and I’ve never looked back. From there, I learned about fly fishing catch and release.
Trout Unlimited outlines the Catch and Release process. We just want to make sure EVERYONE gets to catch their Rainbow and ensure our waters stay full of healthy fish. Social media urges us to post everything we do online and that's fine if you know the right way to do it without harming the fish. Grip and grin... but do it right.
Basalt is still a drinking town with a fly fishing problem and the bar is directly across from the go-to shop in town; Taylor Creek Fly Shop. I hadn’t set foot in the Roaring Fork Valley in five years but I knew exactly where to go to get the most accurate river report and the flies the fish were hitting. I walked through the door and had a ‘Norm’ moment, “Sabrina!” Scott Spooner, Missouri boy gone Colorado Guide and Store Manager, is dedicated to the sport and facilitating the love of the tug. I was so happy to know that the things that make Basalt the heart of Colorado fly fishing have not changed.
Armed with the ‘flys du jour’ I headed up to my happy place on the river, early enough that I was the only car in the pull-out. The feeling of ‘wadering up’ when you can actually see the pink flash of rainbow trout fish heads popping up to vigorously slurp their breakfast is nothing short of euphoria. “We gonna catch a lotta fish to-day!” I waded out to my favorite spot - a shelf of rock that delivers you to the end of an eddy line that bubbles into smooth water and creates the perfect restaurant setting for hungry trout. I tied on one Adam’s Parachute, greased it up with a little bug butter and laid out the first cast in five years. Wham! A beautiful Rainbow Trout about 13” and healthy girth. Then another, and another… I caught and released eight before I stopped long enough to take in my surroundings fully and appreciate the significance of the day. The very water that lured me to the sport of fly fishing in the first place was now serving me up an angler’s feast and for that I am humbly grateful!
My nirvana was slightly interrupted by the arrival of three more anglers wading in below me and fishing with over-sized strike indicators. Two guys and a girl with apparent fly fishing deficiencies. I knew they weren’t going to have any luck because these fish were as spooky as the Adams family. By this time my fish count had hit numbers more appropriate for donuts so I waved at the girl and motioned for her to come on up to my spot. Alyssa had never fly-fished before and along with that big indicator she had a large split-shot on the line and a nymph. We got that mess off and I tied on one of my own flies for her and showed her where to cast and how to get her line to lay out smoothly. Third time out she set the hook at the right time and we got that fish to net! The smile someone gets when they experience that thrill is that of pure joy. Alyssa went on to catch a second fish on her own and successfully got the barbless hook out and returned it with her pre-moistened hands, just as she was taught. I now know the joy of paying it forward in terms of fly fishing instruction. And who knows, maybe Alyssa will now help someone catch their first fish and pass on the time honored practice of fly fishing catch and release.