Starting fly fishing (At age 70)

STEPHANIE WATMAN
Posted 4/5/18

I grew up on Long Island, surrounded by water, and those waters held lots of fish. My dad, an aeronautical engineer, loved to fish. He fished to relax and unwind. As a teenager, I accompanied him …

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Starting fly fishing (At age 70)

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I grew up on Long Island, surrounded by water, and those waters held lots of fish. My dad, an aeronautical engineer, loved to fish. He fished to relax and unwind. As a teenager, I accompanied him many a day on our 23-foot cruiser. We used blood worms for flounder and squid strips and killies for fluke on the Great South Bay. The boat rule was, “If you want to fish, you have to bait your own hook.” And I did. But that was a long time ago. Little did I know that I would be catching exquisite fish in the future—with no messy bait required.

Starting fly fishing

At age 70, I hardly expected to renew a 55-year-old friendship, and I certainly did not anticipate that my new partner would be a fly-fishing nut. But that’s what happened. Thus, I was introduced to fly fishing as a new challenge. Would age and gender be issues?

Well, I always loved sports and outdoor activities. I have played in a softball league, have played golf, and for the last 30 years my passion has been tennis. I started playing tennis at age 40—and I thought that was a late start. It’s not only physical for me but mental as well. Playing tennis gives me a deep satisfaction down into my core. As I love competition, would fishing be another challenge that would give me a similar sense of accomplishment?

I imagined fly casting must be like hitting an overhead in tennis. Well, was I ever wrong. I found out it was not so. With golf, I knew the concept of “swing easier, go further.” I began to see similar principles in fly casting. I had to rethink some of the concepts that were drummed into the heads of every one of my generation: “try harder, go further,” a post-war American mantra. But as I have learned, this is not necessarily so in golf, tennis or fly casting.

There is certainly much to learn, more than I thought. My fly-fishing mentor shares his insights and gives me fly-fishing tips. We fish together, and he makes suggestions about my casting. Sometimes I cast perfectly, and at other times I want to smash the rod. I have felt that about tennis, too. The tippet tangles, and I take five giant steps back and ponder my errors. It has been frustrating at times.

So why have I kept going, starting a new sport at age 70?

I enjoy the challenge, but there is much more. The serenity on the river and the beauty of this new world awakened my senses. A new dimension and sense of being alive has been added to my life. But my mind and my body were not always working together. So I had to stop and think and possibly retool.

Joan Wulff to the rescue

Joan Wulff’s Fly Fishing School helped me immensely over my early frustrations. Two full days of school with fly-fishing pros teaching me the proper way to cast, together with the essentials of a fly-fishing experience gave me a sense of independence on the stream. I discovered that the starting rod I had been given felt too stiff, and that the rod I was casting needed to be more flexible and lightweight for me. The rod had to “fit.” I made a switch to a lighter rod, a four-weight Thomas and Thomas, and now I am in the game.

I learned to hold the rod loosely, but to tighten my grip to snap on the backcast and then to gently bring my elbow down and grip the rod tightly again and push my hand forward with a snap. The fly lands gently on the water. It is a thing of beauty when done correctly. The casting stroke is gentle, graceful and effective.

The notion that fly fishing is a man’s world was a preconception that I discovered was without basis. Case in point, Joan Wulff, perhaps the foremost fly-caster today, is known and admired the world over. I learned from her that it is timing and gentle force that are the foundations of effective casting and fishing.

…and success!!

So it came to be that I became a fly-fisher in my own right last season. We were on the Lackawaxen River. It was a beautiful evening. I saw the tell-tale ring of a rise and intuitively made my cast. The fly landed where I wanted it to. It was perfect. The trout took. I followed my instincts and lifted. I was fast to a wild creature—a beautiful rainbow. At first, I felt a bit panicked, but I played the fish and brought it to my “guide’s” net. One quick vanity photo, and the fish was back in the water. It swam away strongly. I was fulfilled and happy. I did it!

Opportunity, without limitations

Now it is I who am hooked! So I now am in a position to suggest fly fishing as an opportunity for everyone, whether woman or man, young or seasoned. What seemed so intimidating is, in actuality, a lovely and enriching outdoor activity for everyone.

It helps to hook up with an experienced fly fisher, but you can also get good start-up advice at your nearby tackle shop, local chapter of Trout Unlimited, or by visiting the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum. We also have a number of licensed guides active on our rivers who would be glad to help you get started. You can find a list at www.nps.gov/upde/planyourvisit/fishingguides.htm. Once you feel the rod bend and release on a proper cast and watch the line deliver your fly to its target, you are apt to become hooked on fly-fishing as I have been.

Are you in?

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