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Flycasters offer insight into haunting hobby

Posted: Friday, June 17, 2005

''Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

''I am haunted by the waters.''

— Norman Maclean, ''A River Runs Through It''

In the world of fly fishing, many are haunted.

It is a hobby that can consume a person's mind, body and soul. It can take an angler on many journeys, from gaining knowledge that would rival an entomologist's, to tying their own flies and ''reading'' the water.

It can get to the point, in the winter, that the yearning to fish in a familiar stream can drive an angler nearly batty.

''Fishing on a lake, it's always the same. It's flat water,'' explains Mack White, 61.

''On a stream, every bend is different. ... The habitat is different. It's being out in nature and water, watching the fish bite.

''You have to be observant. You have to figure out what's going on, where the fish are, if they're in the fast water, what they're biting on.''

''It's just calming, really,'' said Chris Rhodd, 15.

''It gets your mind off things for a little while. ... But you can get obsessed, and then you can't stop.''

The Gillette teen recently was given a rod as a gift from his grandfather, who lives in Nevada. He hopes to fish with him this summer.

To make that possible, he's among the more than 20 students taking the Powder River Flycasters' annual fly fishing class.

For more than a decade, the Flycasters have taught the basics of fly fishing. They provide just enough information in four two-hour classes to inflame generations of anglers in the quiet artistry and beauty of the sport.

''It fills a lot of needs,'' fisherman and teacher Dwight Hurich said.

When he's not fly fishing, Hurich is an attorney in Gillette.

He's fished these waters for at least 40 years, and he's clearly been bitten by the fly fishing bug.

He's not alone.

''The guy was flailing away on the Yellowstone in the Park, having as much fun as a clown; the fish were out there, rising by the hundreds, just a cast away, but he was catching nothing. How could he? He slapped the water only a bit less on his backcast than he did on his front cast. His high loops, buffeted merrily by the wind, dropped the line 15 feet short or to the left of the rising fish to which he cast. His wrist, flopping back and forth, was a speeded-up metronome. ... I feared for an eye or a cheek or an earlobe.''

— Nick Lyons, ''Confession of a Fly Fishing Addict''

White can actually came he took up the sport as a baby.

Both of his parents, married six years by the time he was born, were fly fishermen. Before he could walk, they'd bring him in a stroller and tie it to a branch with a diaper, each working their way up the stream and pushing him along as they went.

Employed in natural resource management the past 37 years, White retired in September. Now he works for an environmental regulatory service and hopes to get more fly fishing in.

That's why he was trying to fine tune his casting.

''There's a cast for everything,'' Hurich said, demonstrating a cast against the win (only there was none). ''You can even curve your cast to go around rocks in the rivers and streams. There's the puddle cast if you fish downstream. There's the double haul if you need more distance. ... There's a million of 'em.''

The class must learn just two.

The roll cast, their first try, is one of the most difficult.

It's a functional cast for anti-snagging. It comes into use when trees, rocks and vegetation crowd a few feet behind a fly fisherman.

As students practiced the cast, fly-less lines snapped 20 to 25 feet behind would-be anglers, moving at a speed fast enough to crack coat buttons in half or yank glasses off an unwary face.

The tips of fly rods flew off as muscles rippled to send the line at Fishing Lake during a recent class.

Hurich pulled sweat shirts and coat sleeves over wrists so the arm would work ''like an extension of the rod.''

After a huge heave, line whistled through the reel and felt nearly perfect. But yards of tangled nylon landed only a few feet away in the shallows of the lake and completely around the rod.

Hurich and another teacher, Daryl Orbeck, hurried to retrieve the mess before it worsened.

Quiet giggles could be heard here and there.

In all the years they've taught casting, they've met only one student who couldn't get it.

They won't mention any names.

''I think you have to have a sense of humor to do this, period,'' Hurich said.

''The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad.''

— A.K. Best, author and fly tying expert

As the dying sunlight angled off Fishing Lake and sparked colors off nearby hills, solitary students tried the ''pick up and lay down,'' a basic cast that nearly every student mastered.

In their final class this week, students will learn the double haul and false casting, methods of adding distance.

''I love the aesthetics of it. You're doing something all the time,'' Hurich says of fly fishing. ''I like the detective part of it. Something satisfying for me is fooling the fish.''

Tami Bishop, who lives on a ranch south of Rozet, just wants to catch fish.

''My husband's a good fisherman and I'm not. I'd be right next to him and he'd just be pulling them out,'' she said. ''There was natural competitiveness and frustration.

''I never learned to fish,'' she added, taking a tentative cast. ''... They make it look so rhythmic.''

Grant Lindblom, 10, can't wait.

He and his father, Owen Lindblom, both took the class so they can spend some time together on streams in the Black Hills or Big Horns this year.

''It's just getting out and getting on the streams,'' Owen Lindblom said. ''It's a lot quieter. It's fun to catch them on a fly rod, too.''

''It is an art that is performed on a four-count rhythm between 10 and two o'clock.''

— Norman Maclean, ''A River Runs Through It''

Dave Horning of Gillette joined his daughter, Aubrey, 8, in the class. She put up with classroom lessons on the basics of fly fishing, the rod, the reel, the leader and the line. She sat still through much of the class on tying flies, as Hurich and Orbeck tied and lectured at the same time.

Then she got to the Fishing Lake to learn some casts, and stood side-by-side with her dad.

''I like to pretend I know how to do this and I thought I'd teach her,'' Dave Horning said. ''She's my ticket out of the house on Saturdays.

''It's fun. This is a good way to kind of empty your mind.''

''Three-fourths of the Earth's surface is water, and one-fourth is land. It is quite clear that the good Lord intended us to spend triple the amount of time fishing as taking care of the lawn.''

— Chuck Clark, fly fisher

Tips from the Powder River Flycasters' annual fly fishing class:

—BIGGEST MISTAKES: ''The most common mistakes made in casts by fly fishermen are breaking the wrist and getting in too much of a hurry, or not letting the line come out fully behind you,'' instructor Dwight Hurich said.

—FOR STARTERS: For beginning fly fishermen, he recommends an 8 1/2-foot rod with a 6 weight line. ''That's the perfect beginning rod in Wyoming. It's heavy enough to cast in the wind a good distance,'' Hurich said.

—BUG BUSINESS: In fly fishing, anglers try to use flies or insects that imitate what the fish are eating. To do so, they have to watch the hatch, the stages of metamorphosis and try to come close in size, appearance and even movement. That's why many dedicated fly fishermen tie their own flies. ''You have to literally play detective,'' Hurich said. ''It's one of the most exciting parts of fly fishing.'' Water temperature is key, too.

— The (Gillette) News-Record



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