It was a pleasant day when I pulled into Grant Village in Yellowstone National Park after fishing three days on the Madison River, fighting brown and rainbow trout.
Seated at the same restaurant table was Yvon Chouinard, expert mountain climber, surfer, skier, a self-made fly caster and owner of the famous Patagonia company, who thinks like I do when fooling trout.
You can guess what the topic of the day was - how to deceive trout into thinking that our hand-tied, soft hackle flies were special.
Our favorite haunts were similar, as we both spent years along the banks of the Snake River and hiking in the rugged Teton Mountain Range.
While our styles of presentation to trout were quite similar, Yvon went a few steps farther. He told me that the fly rod he used was 4 feet longer than my 12-foot special two-piece, 5 wt. This rod was built for me with a soft tip for nymphing by Sage Rod Co.
We both agreed that the foundation for using extremely long fly rods began well over 500 years ago and they are used in Japan by some of the best fly fishermen on the streams, so the idea is not new.
As we tried to outdo each other in trout fishing, my thoughts immediately went back years ago when I was probably not more than 60 pounds soaking wet and growing up with my grandpa in Milesburg. It was there that I remember him gathering up his 15-foot bamboo rod (sometimes called a pole) and heading to the confluence of Bald Eagle and Spring creeks to spend an evening and a long night hooking big trout.
What was different from Yvon's bamboo pole was that grandpa's pole had a reel attached to the butt section of the handle. Yvon told me he always attached his line directly to the rod tip, to which a floating line was secured.
It really does not make any difference because both anglers had long poles with a soft flexing action in the first 18 inches of the tip and medium action from that point to the cork, or handle. That allowed them to twitch their flies slightly with little effort, and not more then several inches in the water column, thereby imitating the emerging insects as they struggled to break through the more resistive film surface.
Once on the film's surface, a slight twitch of an inch or two from the soft rod tip made it easy picking for trout looking up. The movement imitated insect activity occurring constantly during heavy hatches like those of the annual caddis emergence cycles.
So, here we have a famous mountain climber and an early 20th century grandpa who both discovered that, for more than 500 years, anglers were successful using long bamboo poles to bring fish home for dinner.
The technique and equipment were, and are, simple in design, very inexpensive and extremely deadly in the hands of anglers who take the time to learn the feeding habits of trout and other species of fish.
With a simple flick of the wrist, beginner or young anglers can cast 20 or more feet of floating line while mending to get good presentation.
Tie a 7-foot leader to the end of your fly line. Attach a soft strike indicator several feet from the junction of the attached leader, and add wet flies or soft hackle imitations (sometimes weighted) above your flies, and you are in business to catch fish..
Do we need $800 fly rods to teach our youth how to catch fish? The answer is no.
We need to teach the skills of presentation first. The ancient method of using long poles called Tenkara does that.
Then, when they learn how to catch fish, get the kids a good job on a paper route, teach them how save their pennies and let them buy an overpriced fly rod. They will learn that pretty and expensive doesn't make you a better fisherman.