For Mike Dawkins, an operating partner at Worldcast Anglers in Victor, Idaho, the beauty of fly-fishing is that you never stop learning. There’s always a new fly to try, an uncharted area of water to explore, or a different type of fish to catch.
During Teton Valley’s busy summer months, Dawkins’ days start bright and early, getting clients ready to head out for a guided trip or chatting with visitors looking to explore Idaho and Wyoming’s ample waterways.
“I have a chance to be impactful on people’s outdoor pursuits,” Dawkins says. “When they come back in after a day of fishing and are excited to keep learning more, that is very rewarding.”
From seasoned anglers to father and son beginner duos, Dawkins and his team enjoy pointing people in the right direction and getting them out on the river. Helping educate excited fishermen and fisherwomen is an anchoring part of the experience.
Fly-fishing is a style of fishing that presents imitations of natural food sources to a fish in its natural environment—versus fishing with bait that relies on the fish’s senses and honing in on smell.
But whatever the style of tackle, catching the elusive fish is infectious. So much so, that in 2014, according to Outdoor Foundation statistics, anglers went out fishing more than 900 million times—that’s 20 excursions per angler. And some of those eager anglers even headed to Jackson Hole.
So, how do you do it? For starters, Dawkins says to do your research and stop by a fly shop. Inside, you’ll find industry experts ready to share their knowledge.
Over in Jackson, Scott Smith, owner of Grand Teton Fly Fishing, says the most fascinating part of the sport to him is the massive world of flies.
“There are a lot of flies you can use; it’s part of the mystery,” Smith says. “Depending on the environment you are in and the timing, every insect will be in a different stage of its life cycle. There are a tremendous number of variables.”
On a day in July, he might tell you to stock up on Parachute Adams, which are used to imitate mayflies, but versatile enough to pass for a variety of bugs. A few days later, the Elk Hair Caddis could be the fly of choice. These dry flies resemble adult caddisflies or small stoneflies. But whatever the best bug may be, Smith makes his selection based on his extensive knowledge of local invertebrates’ life cycles.
A dry fly—a type of fly that sits on top of the water—is used to match the current bug hatch and resemble what is flying around in a certain period. A nymph is submerged underwater and represents a stage of a mayfly, caddis, or stonefly. A streamer fly is submerged and pulled underwater to mimic moving insects or small minnows.
Sound complicated? Don’t worry. Smith and Dawkins know you don’t always have to pick the perfect fly.
“Fly choice is only 50 percent of the battle,” Smith says. “What’s more important is how you present the fly to entice the fish. I’d rather have a mediocre fly and present it well, than a perfect fly presented poorly.”
Smith knows it’s all in the cast. He suggests finding your target spot in the water, keeping your wrist stiff, and beginning with your rod in front. Cast the rod backward to allow the line to load, then make a forward cast to present the fly so it lands softly on the water—rather than slapping the surface—as if it were a live bug landing on the ripples.
Sound a bit confusing? Don’t worry; avid fishermen and fisherwomen could spend a lifetime perfecting their cast and presentation.
Just ask Dawkins and Smith.
For these pros, every summer on the water is a new opportunity to learn a bit more. Stop by the fly shop and pay them a visit. They might even tell you their secret spots.