“Can I drive Pop?”
The truck stopped twenty yards short of an empty gravel parking lot. From the lot you could see the lake through grey, leafless trees. It was one of four around Kansas City that was stocked with trout in the winter. The rest of the year we fished for bass and bluegill and crappie, but in the winter, you could catch trout here, so I took my son.
He sprung from the booster seat.
“Watch your boots.”
He climbed over the console on his knees, and I grabbed him under his arms and shifted him onto my lap. Immediately, his hands clutched the wheel. His face was a focused grin.
“Okay. Grab this and pull it back and down like this.”
I put the truck in drive and back to park. He overshot and I helped his hand move it back up to the D. When I gave it gas, his face scrunched in concentration. We rolled slowly forward.
“There you go son. Good job. Okay now straighten it out. Back the other way. Good son. Nice work.”
We sat alone in the truck in the gravel lot with the motor running.
“Can you put it back in park?”
He put it in park.
“Alright hop over. You want your donut?”
He clamored over to the passenger seat, and I offered him the white paper bag.
He pulled out the chocolate donut with sprinkles from the gas station. With his free hand, he grabbed his hot chocolate. It was cold outside, and he ate the donut smiling and looking out at the cold. The trees were grey and leafless and reflected back off the water through yellow, dead grasses. There were curved sheets of ice in places along the shore.
“Ahh. It sure is a good day for donuts and hot chocolate and fishing.”
The pitch of his voice was childlike, but he said it as an old man would who was remembering something far away that made him smile.
I lifted my coffee and he raised his hot chocolate.
“Yes, it is son.”
My mind drifted to the rivers and mountains my father brought me to as a child. The lake was so far from those places and for a moment I felt bad that this was all I could give him. I felt it was not enough. And then, just as quickly as the memories came, I was back with the lake and the small person waiting anxiously to go fishing with me. I saw myself in his smile and knew it was more than enough.
“It sure is.” I answered him.
He finished his donut quietly. I love to watch my son when he is silent. When it was gone, he wiped his hands on his forest camouflaged overalls.
“Well Pop. Let’s go catch some fish.”
“Alright. Hop out and put you hat on.” It was very cold.
We all have home waters.
Redefine Fly Fishing for You.
My introduction to the river hid me from home waters nearly all my life. I grew up in Washington State visiting Montana on vacation with my family. When I was old enough, I worked on a cattle ranch in Montana on the Stillwater River. My father taught me how to read a river and how to track deer and elk, and how to be quiet in the woods. After high school, I went to school in Colorado and learned to fly fish on the South Platte and Big Thompson Rivers. Fly fishing was a cold trout stream in the Rocky Mountains. But it did not have to be.
When I left Colorado, I felt I was leaving fly fishing behind with the mountains and rivers I had known for something else. Another adventure, but far from wading through trout streams. In a way, I was right, but now I know I never had to leave fly fishing.
When people ask me what makes fly fishing different than other types of fishing, I never answer with mountains, or rivers, or trout, or flies, although often it is expected. I simply explain that in fly fishing, it is the weight of the fly line that is used to deliver the fly or lure to the fish instead of the weight of the lure. The how of it, is the true difference.
I am happy to elaborate if met with confusion.
“You can fly fish for all different species of fish in all types of water. Lakes, oceans, rivers and ponds. Bass, marlin, pike, trout, and more. It’s not all A River Runs Through It.”
But we are the stories we tell ourselves. My story put fly fishing someplace far away. A place I left at twenty two, filled with beautiful memories that only served to solidify the myth I believed. I had opportunities to explore so many fun and exciting fisheries while I was away from those mountains. Places I recognize now as wonderful fly fishing locations.
Two things opened my eyes. First, an opportunity to talk and learn from passionate fly anglers from all over the United States on the Wadeoutthere Podcast. Their fly fishing journeys are filled with fish and waters, stories and memories that are every bit as powerful as my own. Second, was raising our son and knowing that I had to give him that gift no matter where we called home.
How to Embrace Your Home Water.
Fix Your Mindset.
The first step in fishing your home waters is to fix your mindset. We do not always get to live close to a trout stream. Some are lucky. Some make choices that put them there. And for some, like me, life carries us away. I took far too long to see fly fishing in a different light. Whether you have an idea about what fly fishing is because of a past experience, or you believe it is something else because of what you have seen and heard from others, fly fishing can still be an amazing opportunity. There are so many great aspects of fly fishing. It is worth trying to open up and shift your mindset to allow for fly fishing to become the species and waters you have around you. The opportunities are there if you look for them.
Find a Fly Shop.
I am always surprised at some of the places in this country that I find fly shops. A fly shop can help connect you with the fishing opportunities in your area and some of the places that are only a drive away. Most of all, a good fly shop is there to help. They want you to connect with fly fishing. It’s a win-win. You get the joys of fly fishing, and they make some money.
The resources are robust. Ask questions. Pick up gear and flies. Even consider getting a guide to help demonstrate fishing the local water and giving you some skill sets that can be practiced and repeated. A guide is even more valuable if the type of fly fishing you are embarking on is new.
Wherever you call home, the odds are you are not the first person who has thought about chasing the available fish on the available water with a fly rod. In Las Vegas, a kind elderly man working the fly fishing section at Bass Pro Shop, turned me on to the idea that I could reach fly fishing for trout in Southwest Utah. When I moved to Missouri, two fly shops within thirty minutes from the house had everything I needed to fish warm water locally, or head south to the Ozarks.
Find a Book.
There are hundreds of books that will help you learn about fly fishing the waters in your local area.
When I lived in Colorado, I picked up the book, Fly Fisher’s Guide to Colorado, by Marty Bartholomew. This book was very useful for finding places to fish and flies to fish with as a beginner fly fisher. Although many of the streams I read about ended up on my bucket list, for the rivers I did fish, this book provided great information on hatches and access.
The “Fly Fisher’s Guide…” is a series of books with information about many places in the United States. When I moved to Missouri I bought, Larry Kinder’s version, Fly Fishers Guide to Arkansas and Missouri. I wish I had fixed my mindset and explored much of the fly fishing closer to my home for warm water species, but it was still an excellent resource for chasing trout down in some of the spring fed streams along the White River system.
These books are valuable to the fly fisher that is searching to connect with their home water because they touch on all of fly fishing and not just specific species and waters. This makes them perfect for embracing your own home waters. My family and I just moved to Utah this past August. and guess what is on my Christmas List? Fly Fisher’s Guide to Utah.
Get on the Internet.
The internet is the obvious answer. There are so many You Tube videos, and fly fishing articles, and blogs that will result in more opportunities that you know what to do with.
Gink and Gasoline is a great blog that has good information about fly fishing, and they spend time doing more than chasing trout. Check out their categories on warm water, saltwater, steelhead, and carp in addition to trout. It is a wonderful resource for those that love all kinds of fly fishing. You can find them here:
Don’t Overthink Gear.
Just get something. You do not have to get the most expensive gear and often you can use what you already have with different fly lines, leaders, and tippets. Of course, if you are getting into saltwater game there may be some kit to buy, but chasing smallmouth, panfish, and most bass will work fine with a 9 foot 5 weight, which is what most trout fishermen and women start with.
There are so many options to buy used fly fishing gear on Facebook Marketplace and Craigs List as well. You have very little to lose and it can get you in the game quickly.
They Fish Home Water.
I am grateful to the folks that have shared their home waters with me on the Wadeoutthere Podcast. They truly helped me see how much bigger fly fishing is than my own story. Chasing steelhead or tarpon is just plain exciting. I look forward to those future adventures.
Here are a few individuals that helped make me believe we all have home water:
Jen Ripple started out fly fishing for warm water species. Eventually, her passion for fly fishing led her to starting her own fly fishing magazine for women: DUN.
LISTEN: WOT 52: Jen Ripple from DUN Magazine Talks the Driftless Region and Women in Fly Fishing
Marissa Williams was born and raised in Florida. When COVID left her with time on her hands, she began fly fishing in the beautiful ocean waters she was surrounded by.
LISTEN: WOT 62: A Beginner Perspective on Saltwater Fly Fishing with Marissa Williams
Dan Moyers left the Midwest and was introduced to fly fishing for trout in Colorado. When he moved back to Indiana to raise his children close to family, he embraced fly fishing for smallmouth.
LISTEN: WOT 64: Indiana Smallmouth and Keeping Fly Fishing Fun with Dan Moyers from Catchflo.
Lael Johnson grew up in Kansas wanting to be a fishing guide. When he moved to the Seattle area for work he took his passion to the next level and pursued a career fly fishing for Steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula.
LISTEN: WOT 43: Steelhead on the Olympic Peninsula with Lael Johnson from FlyGyde.com
Brendan Gomez is a firefighter in New York City. When I learned he also fly fishes not far from work, I was fascinated to learn of the incredible saltwater fly fishing at Montauk and Long Island.
LISTEN: WOT 15: Saltwater Fly Fishing Montauk New York with Brendan Gomez
Beware of “The Drive.”
I took a lot of pride in the effort I put into getting to and from a trout stream when I lived in Las Vegas. I would drive three and a half to four hours one way to fish eight hours and then come home. I did this because there was not much water at all where I lived, and I fell in love with the Sevier River in Southwest Utah.
Embracing the Drive worked well for me, and the Sevier became my version of home water while we were stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, but it also set me up to miss out on some wonderful warm water fishing in Missouri after we moved.
Rather than embracing the fish that lived in the warm water lakes and ponds where I lived near Kansas City, I left fly fishing for the times I would make the drive down to places like Taneycomo, or Bull Shoals, or Crane Creek where I could find trout.
The big difference was that we started a family in the Midwest. Twelve to sixteen hour days gone fly fishing chasing trout was suddenly less palpable. I had convinced myself that the drive was required for fly fishing when I had everything I needed (minus trout) five minutes from the house.
I fished the waters close by with my son as he grew older quite often, but mostly with spinning gear. Fly fishing was still reserved for trout and waters that were much harder to reach. But it did not have to be that way. I came to the realization that I needed to embrace my home waters late. We were already on the move to Utah when I decided to explore warm water fly fishing close to home.
Home Waters Mean Progress.
You do not have to sacrifice the kind of fishing that you love, just remember that you can augment it and stay connected to fly fishing as well as progress. The skills of casting, mending, tying knots and even tying flies call all help you progress. You will also learn things like different types of hooksets and casting for distance.
I still love fly fishing for trout in the rivers of the Rocky Mountains. And that’s okay. It is what I grew up with, and when I am wading those rivers, I feel home.
Our family’s move to Utah was largely an effort to build a life surrounded by those mountains and rivers. It’s what my wife and I love, and what we want for our children. But looking back on our time away from the mountains, I know I would have enjoyed and progressed more as a fly fisher if I had understood sooner that we all have home waters.
Where are your home waters? Wadeoutthere.