It took a Texas Ranger to introduce me to fly fishing. I credit him with teaching me how to fly fish.
This was not the kind of Texas Ranger who was armed with a six-gun or a baseball bat.
He was a college professor from Texas who worked every summer as a seasonal Ranger-Naturalist in Rocky Mountain National Park. His name was Jerry Williams, and he led a weekly fishing demonstration in the Moraine Park campground amphitheater. My younger brother, David, and I attended our first one in 1977 when we were both in high school. We must have attended one of these hour-long sessions for five years in a row.
Every year, the demonstration played out the same way:
Jerry Williams began by showing us three dry flies that would work in most places in the park– a size #14 Adams, a #14 Renegade, and a #14 Royal Coachman. Then, he had us in stitches telling us how some kid with a spinning rod and a big ugly Budweiser plug for a lure caught the monster brown trout that he had been trying to catch for weeks out of a stretch in the Big Thompson River, which meandered through the meadow in Moraine Park. Next, after admitting that his favorite meal was catfish and hush puppies, he said that he had found a sure-fire recipe that would work with even the biggest, tasteless brown trout.
“Just put that trout on a pine board, put it in the oven at 350 degrees for twenty minutes. Then, take it out, throw away the fish, and eat the pine board!”
The audience, usually about thirty campers, doubled over in laughter every time.
All of this led up to the dramatic moment of the presentation.
For over a decade, Ranger Williams had always gone down to the Big Thompson in the meadow below the ampitheater and caught a trout. He had never failed in a decade of weekly fly-fishing demonstrations.
Would today be the day to end the streak, or would it continue? The tension was palpable. But every year he caught a fish and kept his streak alive.
The Big Thompson River, and all of its side-channels that ran through the meadow, were full of brook trout. Even on a bright sunny day, Ranger Williams could coax an eight-inch brookie from an undercut bank to take his fly.
This inspired my brother, Dave, and I to pool our money and invest in a fiberglass fly rod. The reel set us back about $7.99, and the double taper fly line (Jerry said we needed to get a decent double taper line) was more expensive than the rod! During our high school years, we dabbled off and on with fly-fishing. Our casting was, well, nasty. Often, the slap of our fly line created ripples and sent trout scurrying.
But most of these pools and runs had ample time to recover, though, because our #14 Royal Coachman spent about as much time lighting in the branches of a choke cherry bush or a Ponderosa pine as it did on the water’s surface.
Still, we always managed to catch a handful of brookies.
Rise amid the Clutter
It was almost two decades later before I really got serious about fly fishing. But even with my crude skills, I had enough sporadic success to keep me hooked on fly fishing. The moral of the story: find a good stream or lake with brook trout. Not only are they a beautiful fish, they are forgiving. They fight like crazy, too.
Ranger Williams was right. Even when your line and leader land in a tangled mess, a brookie will often ignore the clutter and rise to take the fly in the middle of it.