The flight of a fishing line is one of the most beautiful things humans can do in nature. The action is one of the few movements that feel as graceful as the animals with whom we share these wild places.
Since I was a kid, the idea of being amid nature with my fly rod flicking was alluring. I had seen Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It” and that scene where he floats down the river, never letting go of his rod, seemed so exciting. Whenever I had the opportunity to go fishing, I always expected I would be in the most tranquil environment, accompanied by the rush of pulling fish after fish out of the water.
The reality of my fishing always turned out to be much different.
My buddies and I would go to Silver Lake on opening day, sit in a boat, usually in the rain, and drop our hooks in the water, hoping the stinky PowerBait we had put on would attract the fish. I would never get so much as a bite before my line became a tangled mess. I would huddle in a ball to stay warm, usually eating all my candy within the first
With my limited success with fishing, I had all but written it off, preferring to do my fishing at the grocery store. Then, a few years ago, my friend Eldad Efendi got into fly fishing. Soon, he was sending me pictures of his catches in incredible locations. I quickly forgot about all the disappointment fishing had brought me, and I once again started daydreaming of becoming a fly fisherman, basking in America's most beautiful places.
Lindsey Moceri, my better half, also got the fly fishing bug and, being the proactive type, she bought herself a setup and was on the waters in no time. She had limited success, as discussed in the Mount Baker Experience summer 2023 issue, “The Perfect Pairing: Fly Fishing and Gold Panning,” but she was out there doing it. I occasionally borrowed her fly rod and swung it all over the place, thinking I looked like a pro, only to catch nothing but branches and sometimes myself. While she tolerated me borrowing her setup, she was tired of me tangling her line and losing her flies. This past summer I decided to get my own setup and take a serious run at fly fishing.
I purchased an inexpensive rod sized for catching trout and other small stream and lake fish. I haphazardly dropped my line in different spots, firmly maintaining my streak of no bites. Then, it happened.
It was a calm evening standing on a Lake Whatcom dock; the mosquitos had started dancing on the water. I loaded my line, a term Efendi taught me, which means getting it wet so that it has weight to cast and sent my little black fly out into the lake.
In the past, I had been what I would call an active caster. I would send the fly out, reel it back in, then cast it again. That was the only way I ever had any fun with it. This time, I let the fly sink a bit as I slowly brought it back towards the dock. Efendi had told me to always keep my rod pointed at the water, so as I slowly reeled in my line, I made sure it was always pointed down.
Just as my fly was returning to the dock and I was about to recast, I felt a strike. I could not believe it.
With no sticks around to snag, I couldn't imagine what might be pulling on my line. I frantically reeled in my catch, and low and behold, it was a fish. I didn't have a net because I hadn't expected to catch a fish. I brought it up excited beyond belief. I remembered to dip my hand in the lake to wash the oils off my hands before freeing the little bass from my hook. I excitedly snapped a picture of my trophy before releasing it into the water.
This one evening changed my entire outlook on fishing. I went on to catch a couple more fish and was officially as hooked as them. I felt like a professional, so I knew I needed to step up my game. I had met Scott Willison, owner of The Confluence Fly Shop in Bellingham, at a free clinic he was teaching at the Nooksack River at Nugents Corner. I knew he would be the key to taking my fishing game to the next level.
As a local expert, I quizzed Willison on the ins and outs of local fly fishing. He recommends people start with a four to six-weight rod, which is good for trout and small bass. That should work well for Whatcom County's many stocked lakes and the small creeks in the foothills of Mt. Baker. If the creek game is where you want to be, a lighter two- to three-rod allows one to more nimbly navigate the often-tight areas.
To catch steelhead and salmon, which run in the Nooksack and Skagit rivers, as well as our bays, you need to step your game up to a nine-to ten-rod. At that point, you will also need to invest in boots and waders to deal with the chilly waters. To catch a fish, a net will be handy. Once you have the basic gear, it is time to select the correct flies for your area and what you are trying to catch. There are whole books written on this subject, so I won't go into detail here, but Willison would be happy to help you choose the correct ones for what you are after. This part is fun as each fly is almost its own character setting out on the fishing adventure with you.
At any given time of year, there is a wide range of fishing options locally. I like to ask locals who know what's going on, but another option is the Fish Washington app put out by the state department of fish and wildlife. This free app has a plethora of information, from available fishing locations to up-to-date regulations. Many fish species are closely monitored, so openings and closings can change quickly depending on runs. Make sure that before you go fishing, you have the proper license and are fishing in an allowable place.
When I went to chat with Willison, I aimed to learn how to catch a ton of fish. What I walked away with was a better understanding of what fly fishing is all about. Catching fish is fun, but depending on what you are fishing for, those catches may be few and far between. The real reward is the time spent in nature enjoying the beautiful place we call home. X