“Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise.” ― Horace
My fly fishing beginnings are humble. When I bought my first fly rod I was a hardened Largemouth Bass fisherman, in fact at the time there was nothing better than catching a bucket mouth on a yellow single bladed spinnerbait in Forest Lake and Lake Kohlmann. But like all things I wanted to try to catch Bass in another way, so for some reason I thought about getting a fly rod. I went to Burger Brothers in Roseville MN and talked to a sales person whom asked me about my fishing and what I fished for and put me into an 8’ 6 weight St Croix Rod and a Browning reel. He helped me pick out line and spooled the reel with backing and put my line on for me. There were weird knots to tie and I told him I didn't know them, so he showed me as he went along as he helped set up my new gear. I bought a couple leaders and a few flies, I was mostly set.
I went home and looked at my new stuff and thought, “Now what?” There was no internet to watch YouTube videos to learn how to do anything fly fishing related. So I went out in my front yard and tried casting. I guess I really never thought of books, or taking a lesson, teach yourself seemed to be the way to go. I certainly know now that it wasn’t, but for someone that had never had a fly rod in their hand or even really thought much of fly fishing, the casting motion came fairly natural to me. I was able to get a fly out about 30 feet or so with minimal problems, which I figured would be enough for what I wanted to do. My next task was to find some waders which I did the next day I think if I remember right. After all my new gear was procured, it was time to go out and give it a try. At the time I was dating a girl whom luckily for me was an avid fisherman as well and enjoyed being out on the water as much as me. We would take my little 14’ boat out on area lakes and fish for hours. It truly was a great time of my life. Not much of a job, I lived at home with my parents, didn’t need much money, so I fished a lot and I fished with a person whom at the time cared for deeply. We had a great time together always on the water but, saying that she didn’t have much interest in fly fishing so she would come with me and sit on the shore and read while I attempted this odd way to catch fish. The first place I ever used my new fly rod was at Lake Johanna in Roseville MN, it is a smaller lake with a sand bottom, a fair amount of aquatic weeds in the right places, but more importantly it was loaded with pan fish, Largemouth bass, Northerns and Muskie. In fact the only Muskie I have ever had on my line was at that lake, but that is a story for another day. Lisa set up shop on the shore with a blanket and her book, while I geared up and waded in a bit. I will never forget it; I put on a glo-bug fly and started casting (badly). I remember the guy at Burger Brothers told me to get the fly out and “strip” it in and showed me a few different stripping styles, well sure enough about 2 casts in I had my first fish on a fly. It was a very bold little sunfish that hammered that little glo-bug. I don’t think Lisa could believe that I actually caught a fish so quickly, but when I think about it, Sunfish eat anything, the fly or presentation doesn’t really matter when it comes to them, they are aggressive and hungry. So saying that it really wasn’t all that impressive like I thought maybe it was.
I remember many days at Lake Johanna with my friend catching sunny after sunny, and then finally I got my first Bass on a fly. I think if I remember right he was maybe 8” long, but as Bass go he put on the aerial show, a couple nice jumps from the lake to show that he wasn’t giving up. It was truly an amazing feeling at the time to accomplish what I set out for. A Largemouth Bass on a fly! I fished for a few years like that. That St Croix got a lot of use. I caught a lot of fish with that rod. Sadly I never got into any big Bass, but lots of 10” – 14” fish so that was always a good time. I always wanted to get a big one, but it never happened. My biggest Bass was 22.75” which was a beast. I have still have the photo of her. I should scan that to digital and post it. I was young, good looking and that fish was massive!
The thought of catching Trout never even crossed my mind as I remember those early days; it was only Bass and panfish. I do remember seeing a video of a guy catching a bonefish on a fly rod and I was mesmerized. That was now my goal, to hook a Bone on a Crazy Charlie fly and watch the line peel off my reel as he runs for the horizon on some lonely flat in the Caribbean.
While my understanding and love of fly fishing has changed over the years and Lisa and I have parted ways, my goal of hooking a Bone has stayed with me. I don’t fish for Bass much at all anymore; I haven’t caught one in years, it is all trout now. But that idea of standing knee deep in that warm blue water, sight casting to a single Bone tailing and seeing my Crazy Charlie skirting across the bottom out of the corner of his eye, coming to investigate, eating and making that run to the edge of the ocean still weigh heavily on my mind. I will catch a Bonefish before I stop fly fishing. I want to hold one in my hand, I want to see that silver/gray skin up close, shit I might burst into tears when I pull him out of the water to take that Charlie out of his mouth. I will not apologize or be embarrassed at all if that were to happen, because only I will understand the road that brought me to that moment in my fishing time.
I think about this story every once and a while when I am out fishing. My fishing places are different now, the Eagle River, Roaring Fork, the Yampa, the Blue River and my beloved FryingPan, which are all world class fly fishing locations. My roots are in Lake Johanna in Roseville Minnesota, which no world class fly fisherman has ever heard of. I remember those times with Lisa, learning to fly fish, catching sunnies and thinking I was a great fly fisherman! It is both funny and sad how things change. That time in my life there was nothing else but fishing and a girl. No real responsibilities, no cares, no worries. But those things are what brought me to now, and I wouldn’t change any of it.