The Value of a Fly
North American Sportsman
Vol. 1, Issue 2
By Emily Whitlock
I vividly remember the fishing experience that led to my first fly-tying lesson. Dave had just begun to teach me to fly fish. I had mastered the Duncan loop, I knew about tippets and backing and I could cast 40 feet with some accuracy. I was feeling pretty good about things, and so was Dave. He invited me to one of his favorite trout streams, a tiny spring-fed creek which made its way through the limestone crevices of the Ozarks of southern Missouri. Dave said the fish were so big they hardly had room to turn around in the narrow stream. I was excited.
I'll never forget my first view of those big rainbows cruising from hole to hole, accelerating through the crystal shallows to the safety of the darker water. The images were coming off and glowing in the shafts of sunlight. I was beginning to understand some of the intangible benefits of fly fishing. I couldn't wait to get a fly on the water, and then I saw them rising up and around the stream, a beginner's nightmare...TREES! Their branches were everywhere my backcast wanted to be.
To make things even harder, the trout were taking only the smallest of the flies we had with us, 16-20 dryflies and nymphs. My finesse when setting the hook was non-existent, much like my very fine 7X tippet seemed to be. So I spent the day mostly losing flies in front of me to the hungry trout and behind me to the even hungrier foliage. I could see that my ever-patient Dave was beginning to grit his teeth as I added to the property value of the area by decorating it with Dave Whitlock originals. In fact he mentioned, more than once, that he ought to be catching all of this on film. At least then he'd have shots for a slide program that he could call "Getting Started Fly Fishing - Before and After." Obviously, I was prime material for the first half of the presentation.
That evening, after the long drive back through the twilight, Dave took off his vest and looked into his fly box. It was almost empty, and I was the only one fishing that day! He said, "That's it. Come here and sit down." I figured he was going to tell me that at least we could still jog and bird watch together, since the fly fishing hadn't worked out.
But instead he sat me down at his fly tying desk where I began to work with bits of fur, tiny feathers, spools of thread and Dave's patient instructions. Eventually several of the flies that I had left hung on branches, logs, rocks, and fish began to appear in front of me in the vise.
The glue was barely dry on my last fly when Dave asked me to go fishing again. This time it was different. I noticed that after putting in the time and effort to tie my own flies, I had more respect for the value of each one. I was more careful with my backcast and more patient with my hook sets. I spent more time fishing and less time quarreling with the trees and re-rigging my tackle. My flies stayed on my line and I caught more fish!
That's when I started to understand why Dave was so intent on teaching me both sides of this wonderful sport. What a rush to catch a wild fish on a fly you've tied yourself, to reel that gleaming jewel in, to be able to touch it, admire its beauty up close, thank it for the thrill and then set it free.
Dave still ties more of our flies because he's so good at it. But I keep learning and enjoying what he calls "the other half of fly fishing."
Article courtesy of Dave & Emily Whitlock - Fly Fishing with Dave and Emily Whitlock in the Oklahoma Ozarks