By Erik Barrus
I have had many people shape my fly fishing pursuits. I first learned how to fly fish from my dad. My first rod was a shoddy all-in-one Shakespeare setup from Wal-Mart. I fished that rod for close to five years before I was good enough that I was outfishing my riggin’. That first summer I spent plenty of time on the lawn trying to cast my line and usually ended up with the shankless fly landing about 10 feet in front of me. Not to be defeated I continued in earnest until I started to feel a little more confident.
My dad helped me to hone my skills over the years. Most of the time I would launch my float tube after my dad and follow him from a distance around our favorite lake. He has no idea how many hours I spent just watching him launch line like it was coming out of an M4 Sherman tank. I learned that fly fishing is not just about catching the biggest fish or the most fish but it is about being still. This sounds like the antithesis of fly fishing since you are constantly moving. However, with fly fishing I have learned that I have been able to learn how to be still and be wholly in the moment. There have been times, albeit not many, where I have been skunked on a particular day and I always think back to the hours spent learning how to fly fish. That first summer I laid a big fat goose egg probably a dozen times but I was able to bond and spend time with my dad and those are the things that I chalk up on the leaderboard in permanent marker.
My uncle Tad is another person who has helped me hone my craft. Before the first time I went to Alaska he took me out to a park nearby and taught me all of the intricacies of chucking meat. To that point I had never thrown any sort of streamer or anything that had dumbbell eyes big enough that they could have made an appearance on your grandmother’s Richard Simmons Blast and Tone workout video. Luckily for me the learning curve was pretty steep and I was able to get the finesse down well enough to be able to find some success that first time in Alaska. There is nothing quite like being able to send home 100+ pounds of filets that you caught yourself. I have always appreciated the time that he took to teach me and talk to me about fly fishing even if I have not always verbalized that to him.
When I first started dating my wife I definitely shared with her all about my passions; the foremost being fly fishing. She of course told me about her family and the things that they enjoy. However, she neglected to tell me that her dad had been fly fishing for decades. The main thing that we have in common and she did not even mention it! When I first went to their house to visit the family I saw in their garage a large picture of him in a float tube fly fishing. I was so stoked to see that we had something to talk about during what could have been one of those awkward silent “meet the parents” dinners. Scott was the person who taught me that it is okay to tie on something other than a dry fly or a streamer! I have always been a dry fly guy and he broadened my horizons. I was very fortunate to have been able to put many fishing trips on the books with Scott.
I remember the first time we went fishing together in Utah at L.C. Ranch, a place he had been fishing for the better part of 20 years. Here I saw the competitive side of him that I had no idea existed. He even had a fish counter fastened to his fly vest so as not to forget exactly how many fish he had caught. That first night after fishing all day we got back to the cabin and were talking about the fish we landed and the ones we lost. We talked about the flies that were hot and the eagle we saw snatching fish from the water. When he found out that I caught quite a few more fish than him and the biggest fish of the trip he was not super enthused. That next day he did not ask me one time how many fish I had caught. Instead he would do a little craning of the neck and ask, “what fly did you catch that tiger trout on?” I loved being able to share my experience of dry flies while learning more about fishing wet from him. When it came to fly fishing Scott was the epitome of maniacal. He was a perfect fishing pal because we rarely stopped to eat lunch, we would trek around all of the water to ensure that no hole went unfished, and we always brought headlamps on our trips because we would inevitably fish until dark because Lord knows you gotta chuck those mice at dusk to reel in those aggressive browns. He would often abjure tying on more tippet towards the evening because it would simply take out too much time from having a fly on the water. Cleaning up our fly boxes at night he would find flies that had leader on them that were thicker than a No. 2 pencil.
These memories are especially meaningful because Scott was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma 3 ½ years ago and died about six weeks after the diagnosis. I got a few of his fly boxes after he passed and in them are the remnants of maniacal approach towards fishing and life in general. In one of those fly boxes will forever stay four flies that I found that have leader that is laughably thick. It makes me a little teary but also makes me chuckle at the same time. Scott was all-in with fly fishing, supporting those he cared about, and loving his family. Those are all things that I aspire to do as well as he did.
Most of the beauty I have found in life I can attribute or relate to fly fishing in one way or another. I hope that I can continue to pass on the tradition of fly fishing to those around me. I try not to get too lathered up about it but I cannot wait until I can see my daughter make her first cast into the river. I hope that I can build within my daughter a passion and stewardship for the outdoors. I would love for her to be able to have the same sorts of memories that I had as a young man; developing a connection with nature is something that has helped me feel more complete as a person.