Can you remember the first time you picked up a fly rod? I can. I was seventeen years old in the backyard of my friend's house in Golden Valley, Minnesota. It was a 9 foot 5 weight complete starter kit with an indicator tied on so I could practice casting for our upcoming expedition. We were heading to Yellowstone National Park for a week to fish the Gardner River, Firehole River, and Slough Creek with huge Stoneflies and Salmon flies paired alongside classic Copper Johns.
This trip would unknowingly ignite my wildfire love for fly fishing and impact so many others that I crossed paths with in my twenty four years. It began in my home state of Minnesota with two childhood friends, it led to the creation of The Hope College Fly Fishing Club in Western Michigan, brought me to San Pedro, Belize in search of Bonefish, and guided me to my current home here at Anglers All in Littleton, Colorado.
Unlike many other anglers, I wasn’t born into the trade. My father would rather watch paint dry than go fishing. I truly began fly fishing by chance, and fell for the clarity standing in flowing water brings, the journeys, the lasting friendships, and most of all the inclusive culture that promotes growth of knowledge and preservation for the waters and species that we fish. My experience in the past several months here at Anglers All stands out to me because this place, with it's relaxed atmosphere, welcomes any fly angler of any skill level. The culture here is one of sharing knowledge and experiences which lives into the phrase, “there are no dumb questions in fly fishing.”
IMAGE: Matt Harkema
Fly fishing is a sport that is easier to break into than you might first believe, but will require a dose of patience. Patience is a big factor, not only in fishing, but in the gradual accumulation of knowledge and gear so as to not break the bank. I can attest to this as I stretched the abilities of a 9 foot 5 weight Orvis Clearwater Rod, Redington Behemoth ⅘ Reel, and a Loon Outdoors Hip Pack in my first few years. I waded through the waters of Gray’s Bay, Lake Minnetonka casting for Bluegill, Crappie, Bass, Catfish, Pike or anything that would eat a small steamer or popper and spent thousands of hours on Minnehaha Creek, a tributary of the Mississippi, searching for small carp.
Trout fishing was an attractive, but foreign, idea I thought only possible out West until exposed to the opportunities in southern Minnesota and northwestern Wisconsin. Fishing Winnebago Creek with Pheasant Tails and Zebra Midges or the Kinnickinnic River with a killer fly called “The Pink Squirrel,” the summer before I left for Hope College in Western Michigan was my first introduction to local trout fishing.
In Michigan, a world of fishing opportunity would open up to me. I didn’t have a clue that besides the gold standard trout fishing out West I had briefly experienced in Yellowstone, Michigan offered similar access to trout fishing plus larger salmonids running upstream from Lake Michigan.IMAGE: Matt Harkema
A few months after arriving at Hope College as a freshman I took some newly formed friends out to Macatawa Creek to teach them how to cast a fly rod. I hope this serves well as a formal apology to their parents for changing the trajectory of their lives! These friends and I ended up being the creators of the Hope College Fly Fishing Club. Our group was small at first, but quickly exploded: we grew from just a handful of members to over a hundred by our senior year. We were all hooked. One friend became a guide in Kalispell, Montana, a few years later. Another went on to veterinary school where, over this past summer, he researched the efficacy of a new vaccine for a strain of bacteria (Aeromonas salmonicida) that plagues aquaculture.
This club gave us an opportunity to partner with great fly fishing brands like Orvis, Costa, RIO Products, Sage, Redington, and a handful of other small local fishing companies. These generous partnerships allowed us broke college kids to get some bigger and badder outfits to chase huge fish. And, in western Michigan, that means a few different species of salmon and the elusive ultimate prize: Steelhead. My first big upgrade was a pair of heavy waders for fall, winter, and early spring fishing - my summer waders just weren't cutting it for those brutal Michigan conditions. My next major upgrade was a 9' 8wt. Sage Pulse rod with a matching Sage Domain 8 Reel to fish for Steelhead, King Salmon, and the occasional surprise Walleye on the Pere Marquette, Muskegon, White, and Grand Rivers.
IMAGE: Matt Harkema
A significant amount of time was spent fishing without catching, trying to figure out new rivers, new flies, and new ways to configure reels, lines, and rods. I was swinging Egg Sucking Leeches and drifting salmon egg patterns in sub-zero degree weather, hoping to finally get the reward of a monster fish. My first Steelhead came after thousands of hours and casts later during a frigid winter morning session on the Muskegon River. A #12 Roe Orange Otter’s Egg was just enough to fool a thirty-six-inch buck; a dream fish that only accentuated the addiction.
IMAGE: Matt Harkema
My repertoire of rods and reels began growing, now adding a Sage Spectrum C 3-4 and 9 foot 4 weight Lefty Kreh Temple Fork rod into the mix for smaller flies on the Au Sable River. I found the rod for a steal of thirty bucks at a garage sale where an annoyed woman mentioned her ex-husband gave it to her for an anniversary present and wanted it gone. Even though I thought there might be some bad juju attached to the rod I used it to catch beautiful brookies whose colors mimicked the changing orange and red fall leaves surrounding the seemingly endless stretches of wadable water the river provided in Northern Michigan.
IMAGE: Matt Harkema
College was coming to its conclusion and I was going to soon end up with an English and Business degree coupled with what some might think was an unhealthy addiction to fly fishing. There was an open-ended question that unsettled my mind. What I was going to do after my four year “vacation” of fly fishing and playing college lacrosse was over? I can remember writing one of my last college papers when a thought occurred to me, maybe I can turn this passion of mine for fly fishing and writing into a career.
Two years later, here I am in Littleton, Colorado working at Anglers All aiding the eCommerce, Media, and Retail teams here on the front range of the Rocky Mountains with another rod and reel added to the quiver, an Orvis Mirage LT III and 9' 6wt. Echo E3 Rod for larger trout. Again, in a new place, I had to take on a student mindset to learn my new home waters. Tailwaters like the South Platte and the Blue, freestone rivers like the Colorado and the Arkansas, and even small Front Range streams like Clear and Bear Creeks - every fishery offered me a new, unique opportunity to adapt and learn. There is no substitute for learning through experience. I now utilize new fly patterns such as the Amy's Ant, Gummy Crane Fly Larva, Golden Stone, Barr's Flashback Emerger, and the Chocolate Foam Back Emerger. I also have to keep my eye on data like snowpack levels in the spring, determining between private and public access along rivers, reading water flows, river temperatures, and studying up on my entomology.
IMAGE: Matt Harkema
It took a lot of time and patience to be where I am today, writing this story. Quite similar to the building of knowledge, techniques, and arsenal of gear to be able to catch fish on a fly rod. It took moving back to Minnesota after graduating from Hope College to work at Orvis Minneapolis in order to build the right connections and experience. Then taking a chance moving out to Denver the day before Colorado shut down due to Covid-19 to be closer to industry action without anything guaranteed.
To date, I still consider myself as a novice in the sport of fly fishing; at least, when compared to anglers with anywhere from ten to forty plus years of experience on the water. But I'm of the belief that when you start to believe you're an expert, you stop learning and progressing. I believe myself and those I work with here at Anglers All share that very same excitement, passion, and growth mindset I felt as I first picked up a 9' 5wt. rod in that backyard in Golden Valley, Minnesota. When combined, our team at Anglers All provides a unique range of fly fishing knowledge that can answer nearly any fly fishing related question for all levels of anglers in salt or freshwater.
If you are new to fly fishing (check out our used gear on eBay for great deals), a veteran of the sport, or somewhere in between feel free to come by the shop in Littleton, visit us online, or give us a call for any inquires you may have and always remember that “there are no dumb questions in fly fishing.”