Tossing Flies in the San Miguel

Photo by Austin Halpern

I didn’t learn how to fly fish as a kid, but my dad did teach me how to fish with a spinner reel. I remember catching rainbow trout at the kid’s fishing pond at Town Park, at Miramonte Reservoir, at the Down Valley Pond, and at Trout Lake. I’d sit with my dad in silence, warm silence, until one of us felt the tug on the line. Bam–strike!

The funny thing about fishing is that it isn’t really the fish that get totally hooked; it’s the people. And boy, was I hooked. Still, I always wondered about those cars parked on the side of the highway–the men in tan wading suits carrying tall rods.

Many years later, I decided that it was time, and I bought all the fly fishing gear for cheap at Bass Pro Shops. I would at least look the part. I watched video after video on YouTube, learning how to taper tippet, how to tie a double surgeon knot, and how to choose a fly. Fly fishing is way more complicated and requires far more skill than bait-fishing. I stepped out onto the Valley Floor, where the San Miguel ebbed widely through the grass.

Nothing but tangles. Still, I kept at it, despite getting many more tangles along the way. A couple of outings later, I caught my first fish out on the Dolores–a trout the size of my hand. They only got bigger from there.

Fly fishing became, like hiking and mountain biking, another way to explore the mountains that surround my hometown– except I always fly fish alone. In the San Miguel, or the Dolores, or the South Fork, or the countless other streams I wade into the frigid water. I follow the ripples, the eddies, the pockets of water behind large rocks, and the places where the currents merge. Here, the trout–browns, rainbows, brookies, and Colorado cutties—wait. Only if I present the right fly in the right way do they flicker to the surface, my rod going taught. Only if I keep the right tension am I able to bring the fish in.

Unlike when I bait-fished with my father, I always release the trout that I catch.

Sometimes the fish just don’t bite. Sometimes, the tangles overwhelm me. That’s all part of it. Even this summer, several years after learning, I’ve been struggling, the fish smirking at my flies. But for all the frustration, there are those nearly indescribable moments on the water. This time it came on an early morning on the Dolores. The water was murky from the rain the night before, and I didn’t get a bite for the first hour and a half. Then, a large shadow rose out of the depths and took my nymph. I reeled instinctively, and when I went to scoop it into my net I nearly tumbled into a deep section of water.

I caught it. The rainbow trout’s scales glinted in my palm as I removed the fly.

What I’m trying to say is that there’s no better place, no better way, and no better activity to learn than fly fishing in Telluride–my home.