Crazy Anglers: the rare breed of dry fly snobs

To the average person, the terms "dry-fly" and "nymph" are likely foreign words that hold little meaning. However, to the angler, they are as familiar as the 'ABCs'. The terms refer to two kinds of lures used in the sport of fly fishing. Nymphs are lures that submerge beneath the surface of the water when cast. They represent insects in their immature life phases. Around 90% of a fish's diet consists of food found under the water, so there is a more likely chance that a fish will go after a nymph because nymphs impersonate a fish's most common diet. A nymph floats by under the water, passing right in front of fish lurking near the bottom. It is basically like handing food to a fish, presenting it before him as an easy meal. If you want to significantly up your chances of catching a fish while fly fishing, go for a nymph.

Dry-flies, on the other hand, are designed to float, like a bug that has landed on the surface of the water and that is riding the current down stream. If a dry-fly is presented in a convincing way, the idea is that a fish will believe that it is, indeed, the insect being impersonated. If convinced, the fish will strike the surface where the dry-fly drifts. To present a dry-fly in a convincing manner is a lot more challenging than it is to present a nymph. A dry-fly must land on the surface of the water in such a way that there is no doubt in the fish's mind about its legitimacy. This means ensuring that there is no drag from the line catching in a current, and that the line does not coil up on its self, revealing the deception and alerting the fish to danger. While 90% of a fish's diet comes from beneath the water, only about 10% of a fish's diet comes from the surface of the water. This means that even if a dry-fly is presented perfectly upon the surface, a fish may be finding plenty of underwater snacks to satisfy his hunger and therefore may have no interest in what drifts by overhead - even if it is a delicious, perfectly presented Purple Haze.

While most anglers enjoy using both nymphs and dry flies, depending on the time of day or the body of water that they are fishing, there is a rare breed out there - some may even call them crazy - that crave the challenge and art of using nothing but dry flies. My husband, Ben, is such an angler. He grew up fishing the blue ribbon rivers of Western Montana, slinging dry flies and reeling in countless majestic beauties that had to be wooed with deceptive accuracy. For him, using a nymph, or anything other than a dry-fly for that matter, would be cheating. One time, Ben and I were in a fly shop near where we live, talking to one of the guides working there named John. When Ben explained how he only fishes with dry-flies and preferably only in blue ribbon rivers in Montana, John shook his head in wonder and said, "You know, they write books about guys like you."

When he was first teaching me to fly fish, he explained to me how the majority of a fish's diet comes from beneath the surface of the water. I remember asking why, then, we chose to use flies that are less desirable to fish. To me, using a nymph and ensuring myself a catch seemed appealing. That was the point, wasn't it? To catch fish? But Ben, shaking his head, explained to me the point was not to simply catch fish. The point is trying to catch a fish. That is the beauty of fishing with a dry-fly. It is not easy; it is not about simply catching a fish. It is a challenge. An art. It takes skill and a true understanding of how a fish thinks and the various patterns of a river. If one is out on the water with the sole intent of catching a fish, then perhaps a nymph would be a better option. However, if one is out there to fish, then tie on a dry-fly and enjoy the process.

The process of fly fishing is what ultimately won me over. Once I learned that catching a fish is not the ultimate objective, I began to see the beauty of the sport. It is a beauty often lost on many people who think of fly fishing as a simple, mindless hobby which wastes time that might be spent doing something more productive. But I learned that fly fishing is anything but easy, and it is certainly not mindless. Reading the water, knowing where to cast in order to have the greatest likelihood of having your fly float over a hungry trout, and then getting the fly to actually go right where you want it to is a challenge unlike anything else I have tried. But all of the technical aspects aside, fly fishing is about so much more. It is about being in nature, one with the river. It is about enjoying the river as it exerts its force on your legs; It's about feeling the coolness of the water through your waders and the slick firmness of the stones beneath your boots.

As I have become a die-hard angler myself, I have absorbed some of the crazy. I am a bit of a dry-fly snob now, and I like it that way. I love the challenge and the art of using dry flies. I crave the uncertainty of success and I like how whether or not I catch a fish depends entirely on my skills as an angler. Sure, there are days where I wont get even a single bite, and at those times it becomes tempting to throw on a nymph and indulge the fish where they lay, submerged beneath the surface, unwilling to rise for whatever reason. But then I look over and see Ben, swinging his line in a perfect rhythmic 'C' shape, sending a dry-fly with precision to an intended pool in the river. He is at one with the water, his rod seemingly an extension of himself. That is the joy of fly fishing. It is not the catching of a fish, although nothing beats the feeling of the line tightening against your finger tips when a fish hits your fly. But it is the process of presenting a fly in just the right way, and the challenge of being out there in the river with your rod in your hand, that make up the true essence of fly fishing. And that essence can only really be found on a dry-fly...or so the crazy ones say.


My 5 "Must Haves" For Fly Fishing

I have gotten a lot of questions recently regarding what my "must haves" are for fly fishing. I have put together a quick little list of my personal favorite items to have on hand for a day on the river. So as not to insult your common sense, I am not including the basics, such as gear, on this list (read: rod, reel, line, etc...) Instead, these are just some extra things that I always have with me while fishing.

1. Sunscreen. I burn easily. Plus, wrinkles and sun damage are not cool, so I try my best to avoid them. I always make sure to use sunscreen. ESPECIALLY on my hands!!

2. Hat Or Buff. I like wearing a hat because my eyes are super sensitive to bright light, so it helps keep the sun out of my eyes. But, sometimes when a hat just isn't workin' for me, I'll throw on a buff as a headband. Check out my current favorite brand:

3. Snacks. I always carry a protein bar, dried mangos, or some other quick snack with me. Because I am ALWAYS hungry. 

4. Camera. Whether it's my fancy shmancy Canon or my trusty iPhone, (because let's be honest, who wants to lug a big camera around all of the time) I make sure to always have a camera handy. Not just for the grip 'n' grins, mind you. I have seen so many incredible things while on the river. Wildlife, breathtaking sunsets, my husband's gorgeous cast...I've learned the hard way to NEVER be without a camera. 

5. A Good Attitude. Because any time spent fly fishing is a good time, even if you don't catch a damn thing. And EVEN if all you catch are a few measly Whitefish. ;)

When You Kill It On a Dry Fly


If you've been fly fishing for long, and particularly if you have been using primarily dry flies like me, you are surely aware of the fact that some times the bite is on and sometimes it is not. When it is not, you trek up the river for hours, casting and switching out flies to no avail. It is disheartening. It is tempting to simply throw on a nymph or a streamer...anything to improve your odds of catching something.


Not catching anything can put you in a bad mood faster than snagging a bush on the opposite side of the shore can.

But, when the bite is on - well, there is no better way to describe it than to say that it is magical. The sense of euphoria that engulfs you when you land one giant trout after another on a dry fly is something that you wont get anywhere else. It means not only that the fish are eager and hungry, but that you are giving them exactly what they want. You're doing it right.

I recently just absolutely killed it on the Ruby river in Montana. It was unlike any other day of fishing that I have ever had. I could do no wrong. The moment my fly hit the water's surface, it was gobbled up by one monster after another. Killing it on a dry fly is not only fun and exhilarating, but it's also reason to feel pretty darn good about yourself. Because catching a trout on a dry fly is arguably tougher than any other method of fly fishing. It is fly fishing in its purist form, and when you catch over a dozen in a matter of a few hours on one? Well you can consider yourself the proud owner of some major bragging rights, my friend.


Leading a Life of Adventure



I am lucky to be able to live an adventurous life and to be able to write about it. I live for long weekends of backpacking in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, or heading East to go fly-fishing on the major rivers of South West Montana. And I am fortunate enough that whether I am swimming with sharks off the North Shore, or spending a lazy day at home, my husband is right there by my side. We are the perfect adventure buddies.

I am blessed to be able to go on so many adventures and to have so many amazing experiences with the man I love. I am also blessed to be able to inspire others. Especially when it comes to other women. In my opinion, fly fishing and backpacking and pushing one's self beyond what is comfortable or normal is important for everyone, but in particular for women. Whenever I hear a friend of mine talk about needing to go hiking more, "like Anna", or try fly fishing out after seeing photos of me gripping a big Brown, it gives me a rush. Because these activities have changed my life. They have opened new worlds up to me, and to see others show interest in trying them is thrilling and satisfying.

[Adapted from the article 'An Adventurous Life' By Anna M. Cohen. Check back soon for more details on where you can read the full article.]

Why I Fly Fish

"With My Silken Line and delicate hook, I wander in a myriad of ripples And find freedom."

Emperor Li Yu, 6th Century


I get a wide array of responses when people find out that I am a fly fisherwoman. I have had other women tell me that I am an inspiration. I have been told that I motivate other women to get outside, try new things, and seek out adventure. On the other hand, I have been told that I am weird for getting into fly fishing. A lot of women don't get the appeal of the sport, or of the great outdoors at all for that matter. To them, my behavior is deviant; strange even.

I can't really explain why fly fishing has captured me the way that it has. At best, I can try to put into words what draws me to it and what thrills me about it. It has something to do with the art and the science of it; of being outdoors in some of the most beautiful places that are inaccessible to those who are not willing to get their feet wet. It is the feel of a rod, swaying gracefully with every forward and backward motion of my forearm, and the elegant curve of line arching overhead. It's something about how it requires me to read the various movements of the river, and how it forces me to think like a fish, targeting it with a precise and calculated deception. It has to do with the feel of the river flowing against my legs and the cool chill of the water, emanating through my waders. It's the firm, slick rocks under foot that I must carefully maneuver over in my deliberate trek upstream. It's the way my muscles ache and my palms burn at the end of a long day on the river. And of is the sudden tightening of the line that comes simultaneously with the shattering eruption of a trout breaking the surface from somewhere deep below and grabbing hold of that fly that I placed ever-so intentionally overhead for him.

Fly fishing is a muscle burning, life changing, soul rejuvenating, gut wrenching, exhilarating, freedom finding, beautiful sport. I'm hooked.

How I Got Skunked and Why I'm OK With It!

528275_10201658467615283_992572218_n This past weekend, my husband, Ben, and I sped over to the family cabin in Montana for four days of studying, relaxing, and - of course - fly fishing. We were hoping desperately to time it just right so that we hit the big October Caddis hatch. Unfortunately, the hatch didn't happen during our stay. Ben had a few great bites and even kept one on the line for a little bit of a fight. But me? I got royally skunked. The fish completely ignored every single thing I threw their way. I got nothin' - no bites, not even the faintest sign of aquatic life lurking somewhere in a distant deep pool...NOTHING. All I had to show for my time on the river was a huge new blister. I should have been discouraged. I should have been pissed. But you know what? I couldn't stop smiling a huge stupid grin the whole time I was out there. Yep, I got skunked this weekend, and here is why I am OK with it:


Even though I wasn't catching any fish, I was having the time of my life! I was in one of the most beautiful places in the world on a blue ribbon trout fishery; my husband - the love of my life- was just up stream of me; aside from the sound of the rushing water in which I stood, submerged up to my waist, the world was silent around me. I was surrounded by mountains and Aspen trees. A soft wind blew gently through their leaves. Gorgeous blue birds flew over head. The sun beat down, its rays just warm enough to keep me a comfortable temperature, despite the frigid waters of the river pouring against my legs, clad in my Frogg Toggs waders []. Yes, despite the lack of fishy conquests, I was content. More than content. I was happy. I was enjoying myself. I was breathing in the fresh, crisp, fall, Montana air. I was with my best friend, fishing in an extraordinary river that runs right by our family cabin...I realized how blessed I am.

See, that is the best part about fly fishing. It allows you to be present in the moment. It allows you to be with someone you love, and yet, alone in a sweet isolation - just you and the river; just the motion of your rod and the gentle, deliberate 'C' of your line, swooping overhead. It allows you to feel each rock beneath your booted feet (my boots are from Redington and I love them []). Fly fishing brings you to some of the most breathtaking places, and lets you see them from a point of view that not many people get to experience - from the middle of a raging river or from a distant shore.


As Ben and I clambered up the river bank, on the eve of our trip's end, we smiled at each other. We walked back up the dirt road towards the cabin. Blue birds flitted in the trees and the shadows grew longer as the sun sank lower and lower behind the mountains. Yep, we got skunked. But we still had a damn good time.


The Start of a Beautiful Obsession


Image We had 11 days set aside and a wide open road ahead of us. My husband, Ben, and I took off before the crack of dawn on a fly fishing trip that would take us all over South West Montana. It was my first fly fishing trip and I was more excited for it than I could ever begin to explain. I had spent the past year practicing casting in the backyard. I had taken an excellent fly fishing class through Creekside Angling Company []  and I had been avidly following the incredible April Vokey of Fly Gal Ventures []. I was ready.  Armed with my new Redington rod and reel [] and Fishpond chest pack [], I expected to step out into the river, throw out one of the nifty new casts I had been taught in my class and land a monster.

Ben has been fly fishing all of his life and he is (and I'm not being biased here, I swear) nothing short of exceptional. He has a gift and I have watched him weave magic with a rod, reaching far out into the flowing expanse of a stream, laying the fly just so on the slick film of the surface. Nothing is more thrilling than that moment when a trout, drifting against the current deep below and upon gazing upward sees the fly that was so intentionally presented before it, acts upon it, surging up and seizing that fly in its mouth. It has taken the bait. It has been fooled. I have seen Ben do this time and time again. He had coached me and encouraged me and helped build my excitement. Now was my chance. It was my turn to show off my new skills and join the elite league of dry-fly fishermen.

We reached our first destination, the family cabin,  around dinner time. The cabin sits off the beaten path, way back in the mountains outside of Missoula. My father-in-law and mother-in-law live at the cabin for about six months out of the year and they were waiting for us when we pulled up. We were ready to pass out from exhaustion. It is about an eight-hour drive from our home in the Pacific Northwest to the cabin and we were beat. No fishing for us that night. We scarfed down a home cooked meal, courtesy of my mother-in-law and hit the sack.


The next morning we woke up bright and early. My excitement was through the roof. This was it. We geared up and hit the river. The family cabin sits on a blue ribbon fly fishing river. I stepped into the water, all April-Vokey wannabe and began unfurling my line in the way that I had practiced so many times back home. I tried desperately to imitate what I had seen my fly fishing instructor do; what I had seen Ben do; what I had seen April Vokey do in her videos. Nothing. My line kept getting tangled, I kept hearing Ben and my father-in-law yelling at me from down stream, "Keep moving!". Cast, pull in line, take two steps up river, repeat. After a few hours the sun was high over head and it was beating down with an intense heat. My father-in-law and Ben had each already caught several fish and I was still 0 for 0. My hands were sore and blisters were starting to form. I was getting a sunburn on my arms and I was starving. My bubble was completely burst. Ben made his way up to me and asked how it was going and if I was about ready to head in for the day to await the evening hatch. I felt tears stinging my eyes (I know, I know, pathetic) and I looked at him and said, "I don't think I have what it takes!". Ben smiled and laughed at me gently. He put his arm around me and reassured me that I did have what it takes and that we would try again that evening. Reluctantly, I allowed myself to be led back into shore and we began the long hike back down along the riverbank towards the cabin.

I was beat. Defeated. Discouraged. Disillusioned. I felt betrayed by April Vokey. By anyone who made fly fishing look easy. It was NOT easy. I had been as fooled as a fish buying into the illusion of a fly drifting peacefully on the surface of a creek. Dumb. I ate a big lunch, tried to take a nap, but ended up laying awake for about an hour dreading having to face defeat on the river once more that evening.

The air got cooler, the sun got lower. It was time. We trekked back out to the river and I will admit, my attitude was less than positive. But, upon entering the waters nestled between the mountains in a quiet, tranquil valley...something felt different than it had that morning.  It was just me and Ben on the river that night. My father-in-law had stayed back at the cabin with my mother-in-law. Ben let me get up-stream of him a ways. All I could hear was the sound of the river rushing around me. The sky took on a pinkish hue as the sun set lower and lower. I cast my line out, pulled it in, took two steps up-stream, repeated. I felt myself beginning to relax. I was enjoying myself. I was still not catching a dang thing, but I was loving the feel of the rod in my hand and the pull of the smooth line against my fingers. A bald eagle soared lazily overhead, low enough in the air for me to see every detail of its beautiful body and the contrast of its stark white head. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, took two steps upstream and cast out my line.

*Bam* The next bit is a tad fuzzy, it all happened so fast. The thrill of feeling a trout hit the line, the rush of the dance, wrangling that powerful, squirming body out of its watery lair. I was squealing uncontrollably and hysterically.  Ben began making his way as quickly as possible upstream towards me shouting, "Stay calm! You've got this, bring the fish in close to you!" Well ladies and gents, after a few life-changing minutes I was sliding my hand down the line, grasping that dear, blessed Purple Haze [a type of dry fly] and lifting a 13-inch rainbow trout out of the water. I took the fish in my hands, grinning stupidly from ear to ear while Ben laughed and congratulated me. I have never seen him so proud of me and THAT alone was the best thing in the world. I removed the fly from the trout's mouth and stared at it, gripping it (undoubtedly a bit TOO tightly) in my shaking hands.

The start of a beautiful obsession.

Ben snapped a few shots of my first conquest and then I gently lowered the fish back into the river, facing it up-stream, holding it loosely until it found its strength and powered its way out of my hands and out of my sight. It was the start of a beautiful obsession and a damn good fly fishing trip during which many more fish were to be caught and now I officially have the fever. The fly fishing fever, that is.