In local fly-fishing shops you’ll find summer camps for kids and guided trips solely for women
By Shannon Burgert
If you’re having a rough day, Bridget Robinson has a recommendation: Go fishing. “It gives you time to mellow out,” she explains. Bridget, 8, has been fishing with her father since she was 4. (To date, she estimates that she’s caught around 15 fish.)
For her recent science fair project, Bridget decided to test something practical: What color do fish bite on most, green, orange or pink? She chose a simple fly to test, the San Juan Worm. Two of her teachers as well as employees at Rocky Mountain Anglers helped her test out the flies. The winner? Pink.
While the face of the sport of fly fishing is still predominantly male, many women and younger people are getting hooked, says Steve McLaughlin, owner of Front Range Anglers. “There’s a group of anglers, the older generation, that have been around for the past 30-plus years,” he says. “They may be slowing down a bit, fishing only in the summertime when it’s a bit warmer, a bit safer.” But every year more young people are picking up a rod, and McLaughlin notes that part of that influx is coming from the university. With each incoming class the numbers rise, he says.
More families are trying out the sport as well, says Alex Thoele, 30, who guides for Sasquatch Fly-Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Thoele says, “It used to be the idea that Dad would go fly-fishing, while Mom and the kids would go shopping or go do something else. Now it’s often, ‘Let’s get the whole family out there and try it.’” That changing demographic is reflected in local angling shops too, where you’ll find summer camps for kids and guided trips solely for women.
Because it’s not just “old guys” out there fishing, there are also more women guiding in recent years, Thoele says. Guiding for Sasquatch is what first brought Katie Burgert, 22, to Colorado. “It was a dream come true, and I still feel that way,” she says, adding that the best part is seeing someone catch their first fish.
The Lure of Fly-fishing
There are 35 species of both warm- and cold-water fish in Colorado, but wild trout are the big draw. And on the Front Range, fly-fishing is much more popular than bait fishing. “Fly-fishing challenges your patience, more than anything,” says Thoele, “but there are only a few things I can sit still doing, and fly-fishing has always been one of them.”
It’s a game of pursuit, Burgert says. “You have to sneak up on them. I’ve seen people crawl up to the side of the lake so as not to scare the fish. If you can get one to think that your little fly is actually a bug, you just feel giddy.”
Tying your own flies can save money (and Bridget points out it’s good hand exercise), but for many it also adds to the challenge. Burgert says, “A lot of people have their secret flies that they’ve perfected over the years, and they’ve found the perfect color combination or just enough flashiness here or just enough feathers there to get it to work.”
In just the last five years, tenkara has caught on in the U.S. It’s the Japanese sport of fly-fishing, McLaughlin explains, and Boulder Creek is the perfect place for it. Tenkara has evolved from a traditional cane pole to a fiberglass rod, with a line but no reel. “Some people find the simplicity of it very intriguing,” says McLaughlin. “It’s a real way to commune with the river you’re fishing with.”
Fishing the Front Range
Thoele says there’s a movement toward fishing locally, and Colorado has 6,000 miles of streams and more than 2,000 lakes and reservoirs to choose from. Thoele used to drive far to seek out bigger fish, but, he says, “That’s not why I fish anymore, to get big fish.” (On the Sasquatch site, Thoele’s bio notes that he “believes that all fish should have a chance of getting photographed, not just the big ones.”)
A couple of nearby favorites for local anglers are Boulder Creek and the St. Vrain River. Thoele says he’ll even fish the Platte River in Denver for carp. “It’s gross to a lot of people, but it’s still fun,” he says. There are also plenty of ponds around. When Bridget fishes with her dad, they often just walk over to Warembourg Pond, near their home in Louisville.
Though more people are fishing locally, Thoele says he’s noticed that people are becoming less inclined to hike to a fishing spot, preferring to drive instead. But Burgert notes that a good hike hooks you the best fish. The more time you invest in getting away from the roads, she says, the less wary fish are of people.
Of course, fishing in Colorado gives you lots of options, including what Thoele and his wife, Liz, call “the ol’ ski ’n’ fish”—taking some runs at Eldora in the morning and casting on Clear Creek in the afternoon.
So if you’re considering giving fishing a try, you’re in the right place. Not only are there plenty of waters to fish, but there’s quite a fishing community. You can find fishing Meetups online, and there’s a nonprofit organization, Boulder Flycasters, committed to conservation and restoration of fisheries. Umpqua Feather Merchants, the largest maker of flies in the world, is even based in Louisville (including a warehouse stocked with 500,000 sets of flies).
A basic startup kit, with rod, reel and line, can cost as little as $100. In the summer in Boulder, Thoele says, you don’t even need waders. “All you need is a good rod,” he says, and then he amends that: “You don’t even need a good rod. You just need a rod.”
Bridget Robinson, 8, at RMNP and with her fish-centric science fair project. “Fishing gives you time to mellow out,” she says.