Addicted to Tricking Fish: Fly Fishing the Front Range
By Emma Castleberry
When 10-year-old Chad LaChance moved from Florida to Colorado, his grandfather gave him a fly rod. Young LaChance says he “ran with it,” because fly fishing just seemed so… Coloradan. Decades later, LaChance is still running with it, as founder of the Fishful Thinker, a TV show and Colorado-based guide service.
“I fly fish because I like to trick fish,” says LaChance. “I enjoy tricking that fish into biting something that he shouldn’t in any way, shape, or form, bite.”
LaChance says this trickery is achieved by mastering the drift of the river. A fish’s real food isn’t tied to a string — it’s drifting along with the river’s current. By carefully selecting your artificial lure and where you cast it, you can make something unnatural seem natural.
Sound complicated? LaChance says it’s really not.
“Fly fishing is far easier than a lot of old school fly guys want you to believe,” he says. “There is nothing mythical or magical about it. A fisherman is a fisherman. A lot of the same principles apply.”
Learning to fly fish
While fly fishing isn’t too hard to learn, lessons can still be valuable for newbies. Marty Staab, a fly tying specialist at Elkhorn Fly Rod & Reel, says that the right instruction can save new fly fishers from common mistakes.
“As an adult, [classes] really help to speed up the learning curve and get an idea of the big picture and get some instruction on fly casting,” he says. “It will get you past an awful lot of the trial and error.”
At Elkhorn, fly casting instruction starts at $30 an hour. They also offer private Introduction to Flyfishing classes starting at $90 for one person. Rates are reduced if you can bring a friend, which Staab recommends.
“Find a buddy and learn together. It’s both a solitary sport and a social sport,” he says.
Jarrod Collins, assistant manager at St. Peter’s Fly Shop, says he regrets not pursuing instruction in his early days of fly fishing.
“The one thing I wish I had done in my first couple of years is taken a guide trip,” he says.
St. Peter’s offers a variety of classes including a four-hour Intro to Fly Fishing class for $100, a full-day class for $150 and classes on specific subjects like entomology and fly tying. They also host free demonstrations regularly.
For practice, LaChance of the Fishful Thinker recommends fly fishing in a pond before graduating to a river. He often takes students to reclaimed gravel quarries that are filled with small blue-gills.
“Fly fishing for pond fish is fantastic practice,” he says. “It’s the same flies and rod for trout, only you’re in standing water. The river forces your line but the pond lets you decide.”
When to go
Fly fishing is a year-round sport for those who are willing to undergo a little discomfort.
“Everybody here at the shop fishes 365,” says Collins of St. Peter’s. “It takes a certain level of commitment and craziness to go out in the wintertime, but gear these days makes that possible.”
Summertime lends itself to more comfortable water temperatures, but there are other factors that make fly fishing easier in the fall. While humans are gorging themselves on turkey and mashed potatoes as the weather gets colder, the fish are following similar instincts.
“There is a phenomenon called hyperphagia where everyone eats more in the fall,” says LaChance of the Fishful Thinker. “In the fall of the year, the fish are most aggressively eating. You can throw bigger flies and fish will go further to get a fly.”
Thus, this time of year is the best for fishing by LaChance’s standards. Not only because of the patterns of the fish but also the patterns of people: as students go back to school and many folks return to indoor hobbies with the colder weather, the best fishing spots get a little more peaceful.
“September and October is some of the absolute best fly fishing of the year in Colorado,” he says. “In September and October, you can get away with big bugs and long casts and it’s quiet.”
Where to go
Collins of St. Peter’s recommends the Cache La Pouder and Big Thompson rivers as two excellent places to fly fish. He also says Horsetooth Reservoir holds a wide variety of fish species.
Staab of Elkhorn agrees that the Big Thompson River is one of the most popular spots for fly fishing in Colorado.
“The Big Thompson is a gem,” says Staab. “It has very beautiful rainbows and a good population of fish.”
Staab also recommends fishing above the community of Drake, at the confluence of the North Fork Big Thompson and Big Thompson rivers.
Some of the Fishful Thinker’s favorite spots to fly fish include Gore Canyon on the Colorado River, the upper reaches of the Arkansas River, and Yampa River State Park outside of Steamboat Springs.
Rods, reels, waders, boots, vests: the gear choices for new fly fishers are limitless, but budgets usually aren’t.
“I would recommend spending the bulk of my budget on the line and the rod,” says LaChance. “Those are the important parts of what you’re casting.”
Specifically, LaChance recommends a 9-foot 5-weight fly rod and a weight-forward floating fly line for beginners. Fly fishing starter kits can be found for around $200.
Staab of Elkhorn warns beginners against purchasing the cheapest gear, especially if you’re confident you’ll come to love the sport.
“There is a wide range of fly rods and reels available and some are very inexpensive, but they will be the type of gear that you will outgrow if you enjoy it,” he says.
Perhaps a less obvious — but highly important — gear purchase would be polarized sunglasses.
“If you can’t see the scenes in the water and the bottom content and the fish and bugs on the surface and your fly, you can’t catch fish,” says LaChance.
Sunglasses also provide protection from eye injury, one of the most common risks in any type of fishing.
When asked about risks beyond eye injuries, the pros all agree that there is one other prevalent danger of fly fishing.
“Your spouse will start to wonder where you went and when you’re coming back,” says Staab of Elkhorn. “You start sneaking out of work early. Its very addictive.”
Apparently, addiction to fly fishing is a problem shared by many anglers.
“It’s incredibly addictive and there’s no treatment for it,” says LaChance.
So, if you’re planning to give fly fishing a try, be prepared to love it — perhaps a little too much.
Published in the October issue of Loveland Magazine.