The Day I Almost Quit Fly Fishing

A Turning Point in My Fly Fishing Adventure

This story begins as most stories do that revolve around frustrated fly fishing trips in Colorado – Cheeseman Canyon.  It was 6 years ago and I could see fish feeding above and below the water all around me, but they wouldn’t take my fly.  I tried all the top flies the internet told me to use.  I fished all the patterns Pat Dorsey uses on this section too.  I covered different colors and sizes going as small as a size #24 even.  I used 4x, 5x, 6x and even 7x and the fish would still not eat my fly.  My casts were good, but it was clear I did not have the right fly on and I was stumped.

I took a break, sat down on the streamside, pulled out my flask and had a sip.  I’ve been fishing for over 6 years, and had become a decent angler, or at least I’d thought.  I knew how to make good casts, present flies well in a variety of situations and was good at landing them once I hooked them.  I’ve fished the difficult waters of South Island New Zealand with success and I really believed I could catch fish better than this at Cheeseman. I simply couldn’t find the right fly.

Then something remarkable happened.  A bug landed on my knee.  I almost brushed it off instinctually, but then I hesitated and looked at it.  I never really had taken the time in the past to look at insects but this one wasn’t biting me and I decided to watch him.  As I watched him, I noticed several more just like him along the banks.  As my eyes adjusted I could notice even more on the rocks and it hit me.  Could this be what they were eating?  I tied on a dry fly that looked similar, matching the hatch as I as told to do from my fly fishing mentors.  After 100 more casts with 7x tippet, still no fish.  Despair had officially set in.

“My casts are good, the fish aren’t spooked and continue to eat right in front of me above and below the water, I’ve matched the hatch as best as I know how and they STILL WON’T EAT.  What am I doing wrong?” At that point there was only one reason I wasn’t catching fish – I didn’t have the right fly, and I seemed to be incapable of doing so.

I decided to hit some different water and try to find some fish as dumb as me in hopes I could avoid the skunk for the day.  As I walked back up to the trail, I met another angler.  I asked him the usual, “how’s the fishin’?”.  He responded more dramatically than I had expected.  “Great!”, he said “Never seen the fishing so good on this river and I’ve been coming here for years.”  At this point my pride was completely shot so I figured I’d put the knife in the coffin and asked, “I haven’t caught a single fish, what are you using?”  He showed me his fly and it looked just like the naturals but without the wings.  I asked him what is was as I didn’t know my bugs very well.  “Mayfly emerger.” he said.  “But isn’t that just like an RS2?” I replied trying to defend my previous fly choice earlier in the day.  He looked at me and could tell I was frustrated and he decided to give me the advice that changed my fly fishing career forever.  He said, “You can’t rely on favorite patterns every time, you have to learn your bugs and identify them every time you’re on the water.  That’s the real secret to this whole thing.”

That Advice Changed the Way I Fished Forever

It was remarkably simple yet I was left with a huge gap in my knowledge to apply his advice. The best way to catch a fish is to imitate what they eat. You can’t imitate what they eat if you can’t identify it correctly. It was in that moment I committed myself to learning my insects so I wouldn’t get skunked like this again.

That began a 5 year journey of discovering insects, learning their behaviors and changing the way I approached fly fishing forever.

It wasn’t easy finding reliable information on aquatic entomology. I found that you either found academic resources that gave you way more info than you could ever need or understand without a PHd, and fly fishermen that shared the knowledge were all over the place calling insects different names and mis identifying insects left and right. I couldn’t figure it out without piecing it all together over a long period of time.

Fast Forward 5 Years

After spending the last five years researching, learning and creating the fly fisherman’s practical course to entomology, I returned to Cheeseman canyon to see if my knowledge made a difference. Instead of rigging up in the parking lot like I used to, I packed my rod and headed to the river. When I got to the river, the first thing I did was sit and watch. In less than 3 minutes I noticed those same insects I had seen so many years ago that I know was able to identify as a blue wing olive, a mayfly. As I watched more, I could see only a few trout rising and most were feeding below the water in the main holes. I snuck in behind them and put my bug seine that now include for free with the online course and put it around my net to collect the insects below the water. Despite the BWO mayflies in the air, there were a healthy amount of white colored midges in the water. Using that knowledge I tied on a baetis nymph as the lead fly in case they were willing to come up to eat and then a small white midge. Knowing the hatch was not the main menu for the trout, I took an educated guess with what I found in the water. Knowing my insects prior to the trip, I came prepared with a lot of midges and baetis expecting those on the water based on the region and time of year.

I began to work the run of fish and within 15 minutes landed three. These fish ate my flies all day long. While cheeseman still proves to be a challenging river for a host of other reasons, I walked home with over 20 fish to my net and a record day for myself in the canyon.

I’m so glad I didn’t quit

Though it was frustrating that day, it was a real turning point for me and the advice I got that day changed the way I fished forever. I became a student of entomology and of the fishes habitat. Once I applied that knowledge on the river, I consistently caught more fish anywhere I went. This systematic and practical approach to fishing saved me hours of time trying different flies, and hundreds of dollars not spent on gear in the hopes it would make up for my lack of fly selection skills.

I don’t know where that angler is who gave me that advice, but I owe more than I can ever say. He not only gave me the motivation I needed to become better at what now is one of the most relaxing and rewarding hobbies I have in my life, but he also gave me the drive to create this online entomology course which has allowed me to live my dream of teaching you how to catch more fish. The support of my customers puts food on my table for my wife and kids and I’m very blessed by God to do what I do.

I want to share my success with you

The best way that I’ve found to pass this information along to anyone in the world so I can help them catch more fish anytime and anywhere is through a practical online course. I consolidated the information over my 15+ years to provide a simple and powerful framework that you can use when you get out on the water so you catch more fish.

The course can be taken as many times as you want and at your own pace. It’s broken down into 8 lessons and covers every major insect you need to know. It is the only resource you need to learn what took me 5 years to create. For only a quarter of the cost to hire a guide, you can likely double the amount of fish you catch if you don’t know this info already.

If you’d like to get more satisfaction out of fly fishing and more fish to your net, this is an excellent place to start the journey. Check out the course details below and you can always contact me with questions. Part of the course benefit is direct access to me to help answer any questions you have about fly fishing, even non-bug related.

Take the next steps to change the way you fish. Just think of all the trout you’ll get to meet 🙂