MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 21st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: fly fishing.
Syndicated columnist Doug Larson once said that if people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles. Or in the case of some fisherman, fly rods. The National Boating and Fishing Foundation reported that nearly 38 million Americans went freshwater fishing in 2016. And just over 6 million fly-fished on our nation’s streams and rivers.
REICHARD: Fly fishing has fewer enthusiasts because it typically takes place in a river and is more difficult to master. But a man in Utah has taught more than 10-thousand people to fly fish, and he’s trying to grow the sport. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has his story.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: It’s a cold Saturday morning in November. The sun has yet to rise over the mountains, and the surface of the Weber River looks like a sheet of black glass. Cars on the nearby interstate whiz by.
NAVIDOMSKIS: It’ll get better as the sun comes up. Fishing gets better as it gets warmer. More bugs.
That’s Mike Navidomskis. He’s an outdoor enthusiast who cycles, backpacks, camps, and skiis. But what he really loves is fly fishing. He’s spent nearly three decades teaching a fly fishing night class for anyone who wants to learn: retirees, college students, parents, and kids.
NAVIDOMSKIS: I’ve taught somewhere between 400 and 700 students a year for 27 years.
Today, after five weeks in the classroom, a dozen students will put what they’ve learned to the test on the river.
NAVIDOMSKIS: You wanna head out? Student: Sure! You guys ready?
Equipped with walkie talkies, Navidomskis and his volunteer instructors fan out up and down the riverbanks. Navidomskis checks in to make sure everyone has started fishing.
NAVIDOMSKIS: Have you guys started fishing down there yet? [Beeping] Man replies: Yeah I just got my guy on a fish. Navidomskis: Dan Dan Fly Fish Man?
Navidomskis positions himself on a steep bank overlooking the river. From here, he can coach his students and tell his instructors how to best help them.
NAVIDOMSKIS: Hey, Taige, teach him how to use his left hand to cast. He isn’t using it!
Like all fishing, fly fishing is about enticing the fish to bite. The deception begins by casting upstream and letting the fly line float downstream.
[SOUND OF HISSING]
The fly line hisses as its cast through the air.
[SOUND OF HISSING]
Fish swim upstream with their mouths open. That’s so they can eat the bugs in the river’s current. For fly fishers the challenge is selecting the right fly as bait.
NAVIDOMSKIS: So what you are trying to do is make sure you have the bug that’s actually coming down, so yours looks exactly like the food.
But the types of flies in the river can change depending on the weather, water depth and time of day.
NAVIDOMSKIS: Early on we’ll fish Sowbugs. And then as the sun comes up the water is so low that there’s not a lot of activity. Like the stoneflies probably won’t even hatch today, so we’re going to throw midges at them.
Another part of the deception? Weighting the fly line with split-shot or small pellets. The weight determines whether or not the fly will look natural floating in the water.
NAVIDOMSKIS: It’s gotta be adequate weight to get it to the bottom, but it can’t be enough weight that it causes the fly to look atypical. Anything that causes your fly to look atypical renders it fishless.
Many of the students who attend this class are already experienced anglers, but fly fishing is much different.
NAVIDOMSKIS: It’s like dry-fly fishing with a blindfold on.
Navidsomskis says the best way to learn is to get out on the river. Here students are fishing in a deep pool just downstream from some small rapids.
They eagerly cast their lines into a hover of brown trout visible just beneath the surface.
STUDENTS: They are right there. They are everywhere!
Navidomskis’ gentle encouragement from the river banks helps these novice fly fishers jump right in.
NAVIDOMSKIS: Set that with your wrist! Pull a little more line out! Now just your wrist when you set it!
Setting is the quick flick of the rod that lodges the hook in the fish’s mouth. Navidomskis says many students wait to set a fish until their colorful striker moves on the water’s surface, which means a fish is biting. But Navidomskis says when the striker moves, it’s too late.
NAVIDOMSKIS: What you’re looking for is what the strike indicator looks like right before it moves. (laughs) And that’s where the gut feeling comes in there.
After several casts and many unsuccessful sets, one student successfully hooks his first fish.
[Sound of fish being pulled in] Students: Yeah, you got him in the mouth! Ooo Ooo!
As he pulls it in, Navidomskis yells at him to lift his arm.
NAVIDOMSKIS: Smell that armpit! There you go! Now you can reel him!
[Sound of reel]
The student’s patience pays off when he’s holding a brown trout in his hands.
NAVIDOMSKIS: Yeah we’ll get your photo!
An instructor snaps a picture, and the student releases it back into the water.
NAVIDOMSKIS: How many have we caught? Now that was 17.
After just three hours on the river, the rookie group catches 50 fish. Navidomskis says he wants to show these new fly fishers that they don’t have to be intimidated learning a new way of fishing. All they need is a rod, a little moving water, and some know how and that’s what he can give. He wants people to experience the same joy he when he’s on the river.
NAVIDOMSKIS: If you spend your weekends on the river you’re refreshed. You go back to work refreshed. And it’s really fun because people, when they are successful, it just resonates.
After 30 years on the river, Navidomskis says what will keep him fishing isn’t the fish. It’s what’s above the surface.
NAVIDOMSKIS: How are you guys? Good, how you doing? Good catch me up. Good seeing you buddy!
NAVIDOMSKIS: I learned very quickly that that’s the reason for this class is the community the people are so wonderful. You know I’m not rich but I’m a rich man because I have so many friends.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Morgan, Utah.