Looking to Try Something New? Fly fishing is a sport that involves doing, not sitting. As this article shows, fly fishing in Vail, Colorado is an art worth pursuing.
Before that morning, everything I knew about fly fishing, I learned from the 1992 movie “A River Runs Through It.” And that wasn’t much. Admittedly, the time or two I’d watched it, I was more interested in Brad Pitt than the sport. Still, I thought that if I ever picked up a fishing rod again, it would be to try fly fishing.
I’m not sure when I gave up fishing. After all, I came from a family of shore anglers, and I probably received my first fishing rod not long after I learned to walk. But within a few years, I grew bored of it. While the rest of my family cast lines and watched bobbers, I read and slept and probably complained a lot.
My brother more than made up for my lack of enthusiasm, though. Until the day he died at age 42, Brent spent every moment he could fishing. City lakes, forested reservoirs, trickling streams, and thundering rivers—it didn’t matter much. He fished from the shore, from a boat, from a float tube, you name it, and I never understood his passion.
Which is why I had to try fly fishing. If any type of fishing could interest me, it would be fly fishing. As I learned from the movie, fly fishing involved doing, not sitting. And I couldn’t think of a better place to try fly fishing than Vail, Colorado.
Year-round Fly Fishing in Vail
Recognized as a world-class skiing and snowboarding destination, Vail also has incredible year-round fishing. In fact, Colorado Parks and Wildlife designated the creek running from the ski town to Eagle River as Gold Medal Waters. That means Gore Creek can produce more than 60 pounds of 12- to 14-inch trout per acre. Surrounding rivers and lakes teem with nearly as many, so I was excited to try my luck anywhere in the Vail Valley.
When I pulled into the Gore Creek Flyfisherman parking lot in nearby Avon, Mike Geisler was waiting for me, and he led me inside. I learned, the first step in fly fishing is to gear up. He asked my shoe size—waders have feet like waterproof onesies with overall straps—and handed me a pair. Zipped in, and with my wader boots on, I felt legit. I was ready to go.
On Our Way
After climbing into Mike’s red pickup, we headed west through Avon. The fall leaves had just started turning a few days before and pops of yellow colored the trees along the road and on the Sawatch Range to the south. As I took it all in, I told Mike I’d never been fly fishing before. He assured me I’d have no trouble picking it up. In fact, he preferred to guide first-timers because they actually took his advice, unlike the “Garys” who thought they knew better.
While he drove, Mike shared his story, too. He spent his earliest days in a crib on his dad’s pontoon boat and, later, proposed to his wife while fishing. Sometimes (but less frequently as she entered her teenage years), his daughter fished with him. He fly fished, but he also ice-fished and fished from a boat. He even dabbled in hosting a reality TV show about fishing at one point, but it never got off the ground.
Getting Started on Eagle River
We pulled into the Eagle River Preserve. As Mike grabbed the gear, he handed me a walking stick. “That’s for the river,” he said.
I soon learned what he meant. Walking stick in hand, I stepped into the river and felt my foot slide across the flat rock it tentatively rested on. The walking stick kept me upright. Slowly, I followed Mike a third of the way across the water, placing each foot between the rocks as he instructed.
“You aren’t cold?” he asked as he handed me a rod.
Surprisingly, I wasn’t. I could feel the crisp air on my face and hands, but the sun kept the chill at bay. Even the water rolling by at mid-thigh was cool but not cold. To me, it seemed an ideal Colorado morning.
The Fundamentals of Fly Fishing
Mike showed me how to hold the rod, thumb over top, in my right hand. Then, he told me to pull out a few feet of line with my left hand. As if he could read my mind, he cautioned I wouldn’t be casting like they did in “A River Runs Through It,” with the line whirling around my head. Straight back, he instructed. Pause. Cast. Let the line sail.
My first try was abysmal. I hadn’t paused long enough, and the nymph, or fly, sank a few yards away, well short of its intended destination, the fast-moving water tumbling over stones in the middle of the river. Once I reeled the line in, Mike stood next to me, gripped my wrist and the end of the rod in his hand, and mimicked a cast. I could feel a rhythm: something akin to one, two, pause (three), four. My next cast was better.
It’s Not Always Easy
“Watch the indicator,” he said.
To be honest, I never could find the indicator, the fly-fishing equivalent of the red-and-white bobber used in bait fishing. Instead, I watched the end of my line where I thought the indicator should be, and as Mike told me to, I kept my pole just slightly in front of it. This helps make the nymph present more like an actual insect, he told me.
“If you see anything, if you feel anything, set the hook.”
Setting the hook requires raising the rod quickly and firmly without jerking it so hard that you break the line. I was familiar enough with that from my bait-fishing days. But I could never quite get the timing. If you think about setting the hook, Mike explained, it’s too late. You need to do it instantaneously. It’s a skill I never mastered that day.
Catching the First Fish
The next lesson was mending the line. At times, the line moves faster than the indicator, pulling the nymph instead of letting it ride the current. Then, you have to flick your wrist, and as you do, the line theoretically flies back behind the indicator. Between mending the line, casting, setting the hook, and keeping my balance, I had no time to get bored or to think of my brother.
It took about an hour, but somehow everything came together for a moment. I managed to set the hook, keep the fish on the line and direct it to Mike’s net. After he removed the hook, Mike took a few photos of me holding it and released it back into the river.
Okay, I thought. I’ve got this. And then, cast after cast, I fumbled. I missed a fish. My hook caught on the log behind me. Another fish almost made it into the net but wriggled away at the last second.
“You’re one and five,” Mike called out, referring to the fish I caught and the ones I’d missed. I’d finish the day two and seven by his count.
The Rest of the Morning
As noon approached, I didn’t care about the fish I caught or lost. Mike had stepped back to let me fish on my own, and I stood in the river, mending my line once, then twice. It suddenly struck me then that anyone can learn how to cast or mend the line, but it took years of practice to become proficient.
That’s when I understood the scene from “A River Runs Through It” when Pitt’s character stakes his spot in the middle of the river, creates his own rhythm, and catches an impressive trout. Fly fishing is an art worth pursuing.
Maybe that’s what Brent felt when he fished. Or not. I’ll never know. But the next time I’m in Vail, you’ll find me on Gore Creek or Eagle River, at least for a few hours.
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What You Need to Know
You can fly fish year-round in Vail Valley, including on Eagle River and Gore Creek. While spring is best for “trophy” fish, summer and fall are great times to hook a big one. In the winter, wait until at least mid-morning when temperatures rise and the fish become more active.
If you’re going fly fishing for the first time, you can hire a professional guide through local guide services like Gore Creek Flyfisherman. Professional guide services will provide waders, boots, fly rods, tackle, and gear. They’ll also provide instruction and set your lineup. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide on your next outdoor activity or trip to Colorado.