Fly Fishing - It's About More Than Catching Fish
- by Betha Cochran
The best days of my life have been spent on and in the water – boating, swimming, fishing on the banks with my father, and now fly fishing all over Colorado. Through fly fishing, I have gained a whole new appreciation for rivers and lakes, and with the help of others I have learned how to be a cautious hiker and how to do my part in protecting these amazing habitats. When I see trash on the ground (or if I have some), I shove it in my pack and bring it back with me. When I’m walking in the river in the spring and fall seasons, I am cautious of walking on spawning redds and I definitely don’t disturb them while they are doing their thing (making babies). I love seeing the new life of every species throughout the year. No matter what type of wildlife I encounter, I keep my distance and admire – without disturbing them.
What makes fly fishing such an amazing activity is that you can do it all year long. I was very skeptical when I first started fly fishing in the winter. Never enjoying winter sports very much as a child, I quickly realized that having gear and being prepared are the most important things when planning a trip any time of year. Whether I’m planning a trip in the warmer months, or colder months, I always make sure to check the weather beforehand. New challenges are presented in these conditions, and you need to be adequately prepared. Below, I’ve outlined some of the basics I’ve deemed necessary to have an enjoyable experience on the water.
Spring and Summer Fly Fishing
The sun is out, the snow has thawed and the bugs are constantly hatching. It’s the perfect time to take a hike to an alpine lake to catch brook trout and cutthroat trout, or walk the river banks in hopes of finding some fish in pocket water. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and forget to take care of your body. The best way to avoid dehydration, sunburn and burning out is to have all of the right gear and to take plenty of breaks throughout the day. After getting weird burns all over and struggling from dehydration, I have learned what to pack and how to dress. This is what I bring, but you may need to make some changes to fit your personal needs.
Usually I wear light pants or leggings, occasionally I’ll wear shorts but only if I’m planning on fishing for a couple hours, and not all day. Unless I’m working on my tan, I wear long-sleeved sun shirts (they are light enough so that you don’t over heat). I also wear a tube - you want to cover up any skin that is showing on your face and neck if you plan on being outside all day. I use my huge collection of trucker hats to protect my face and it makes it easier to see in the water. One of my biggest regrets on explorations is forgetting to bring my polarized sunglasses. My eyes burn and I can’t see anything underwater!
When the water starts to warm up, I wear my neoprene socks and wading boots, thus keeping my feet warm and preventing rocks or sand from abrading my feet. Last but not least, the things that I forget way too frequently are sunscreen, snacks, and WATER. We need water almost as much as the fish do, so take breaks. I can’t stress that enough.
Fall and Winter Fly Fishing
It is extremely important to have a lot of gear when fishing this time of year. If you have spent some time in Colorado, I’m sure you are aware how important layering is. It’s always a good idea to pack extra layers and an extra set of clothes. I have slipped more than a couple times, dunked myself or created a hole in my waders. Then I spent hours with wet socks and numb toes because I wasn’t prepared. There have also been days where I got dressed and rigged up in the car because it was -10 degrees out and it didn’t get above freezing all day.
Even in the winter, I make sure to put sunscreen on any skin that might show, making sure to reapply to my nose and hands. Usually I’ll wear two or three layers with shirts and pants, a hoodie and a winter coat. Then I pull out the foot warmers or the battery powered socks to keep my feet warm on those really cold days, followed by my waterproof waders; always check them for holes the night before. Then I start protecting my face and neck with either a thick fleece neck warmer or a tube that protects me from the sun, wind, snow, and rain. Being able to wear something a couple different ways to adapt to the weather is crucial. I usually wear a trucker hat to protect my eyes and face from the sun, and a beanie over it to keep that heat in. After I get bundled up, I start setting up my rod, sliding on my sling pack and securing my net into place. Finally, I put on my gloves before my fingers freeze and I head to the river. If I need to wear gloves, I remember to remove them before touching the fish that I catch, as the fabric removes a layer of slime that protects the fish. This is very important when catching and releasing these beautiful living things.
There’s so much more to fly fishing than catching fish. Just being outside, listening to the bird’s chirp and the river flow, being cautious of the weather and prepared to explore all day are adventures in and among themselves. This is the only thing that excites me enough to jump out of bed at 4 am. I put hundreds of miles on my car every week, and I come home with bruises on my shins. Every dollar and every minute spent on the water is worth it. I hope these tips help you the next time you’re out on the water – whether it's your first time, or you've been doing it for years. Adventure awaits.
Betha Cochran grew up in Colorado and started fly fishing in 2016. Caught her first fish on a fly rod in the Big Thompson river running through Estes Park, and has been hooked ever since. Fly fishing has helped her get through some major trials and tribulations, and she's learned that the river can be a very therapeutic place to recover.