It had been 7 years since my last college course. That’s a long time to be absent from lectures, homework, powerpoints and the like. So admittedly, I was a little nervous about re-entering the collegiate realm. As I walked over to Vail Valley Anglers for the first day of class, my mind starting racing.
Yes, this was an introductory course and I consider myself to be a ‘middle-of-the-road’ fly fisherman. But, I am a predominately self-taught angler. What if my casting tactics were completely wrong? What if my knowledge about reading water was far from accurate? Well, I guess that’s why I signed up. To find out what I was doing right and more importantly, to correct the areas where I was falling short. Also, I was really pumped about learning some entomology.
‘Intro to Fly Fishing’ is a one credit course offered by the Colorado Mountain College at the Edwards campus. But it is sponsored by Vail Valley Anglers and taught by their staff and guides. The class is open to both degree and non-degree seeking students. And the fees vary depending on where you live, the least expensive being ‘in-district’. No matter which cost category you fall into, the learning experience is more than worth the money. And here’s why…
With two evenings in the classroom and two full days on the water, the course caters to visual-based, reading/writing and hands-on types of learners. But, since fly fishing requires physical participation, the days in the field are crucial to understanding the sport. That’s why even classroom time gets a rod in your hand and some fly line between your fingers. Our group, for example, received a casting lesson within hours of starting our first class. Some students had never even touched a fly rod before. But moments later, they were cranking out roll casts and practicing the old ‘pick up and lay down’ technique.
For a beginner level course, the curriculum covered the gamut of fly fishing fundamentals. I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer amount of material we covered in four days. To give you an idea, we discussed fly fishing gear essentials, Colorado fish species, fly tying, casting & mending strategies, reading water, playing & landing fish, rigging & knots, feeding habits, entomology and the list goes on and on. At this point, I would typically give you a daily breakdown of what to expect and what we learned. But the instructors were able to read and assess their students and create the course accordingly. Like water flowing through a river, the schedule and lessons were dynamic.
For the past five years, Bill Perry and Eric Phannenstiel have taught the ‘Intro to Fly Fishing’ course. Between the two of them, they have over 70 years of fly fishing experience. Anyone who has spent that much time on the water knows a thing or two about the sport. But these guys take their passion for fly fishing to the next level. From multi-format guiding and advanced fly-tying to international salt water adventures, Eric and Bill have immersed themselves in the world of angling. And in regards to teaching, their specific areas of expertise, personalities and approach to instructing compliment each other perfectly. You would be hard pressed to find a more qualified duo to impart wisdom upon novice anglers.
Bill’s fly fishing resume is extensive and without a doubt, impressive. In addition to holding the world record for largest Kokanee salmon, he has been awarded 4 Master Angler’s Awards from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Recently, he and his partner won the Trout Unlimited Fall Fly Fishing Classic by landing 92 fish in 5 hours. And when it comes to instructing, Bill has been guiding on local rivers since 1987. You could say he’s given a tip or two in his day.
Eric’s first foray into the world of fly fishing began when he was 10 years old. While hanging out at his regional fish hatchery, some older gents taught him how to tie flies. Not long after that, he was selling his own patterns by the dozens to local anglers. Since his younger years, his enthusiasm for the sport has grown exponentially, often traveling the country or internationally in pursuit of a multitude of fish species. Currently, Eric is the lead guide for Bike & Fish trips and he is one of the premiere authorities for wade fishing.
For the students who don’t already have fly fishing gear, Vail Valley Anglers provides waders, wading boots and fly rods. And after the first day or two of the course, each enrollee is given a goodie bag. What’s included will vary from class to class. But ours, for example, contained a Vail Valley Anglers hat, nippers, floatant, a leader, a dozen flies and other useful tackle. Additionally, each participant receives the course handbook, The Curtis Creek Manifesto. Classifying this indispensable tome as a textbook would be somewhat misleading as it is only some 40 odd pages long. I would say it falls somewhere between comic strip and coloring book with extremely insightful tips on fly fishing as its backbone. If you don’t intend on enrolling in the course, go to Vail Valley Anglers and purchase this amazing ‘how-to guide.’ It might just be the best $10 you’ll ever spend.
Beyond the tangible items included with the class, each student will be given one-on-one instruction and guiding. Eric and Bill do an amazing job of making sure that all questions are answered and each participant understands the basics of fly fishing. Throughout the days on the water, they rotate between all the aspiring anglers, guaranteeing everyone receives hands-on direction. Among other things, Eric and Bill will help with fly selection, provide tips on casting and assist with landing trout. And although no promises were given, everyone in our class landed at least two fish each day. So, I can honestly say that one bonus item included with the course was a trout in the net.
Not Just for Beginners
A few days after completing the course, I went fishing. Now, I won’t go so far as to say that I miraculously transformed from an ok fly fisherman to a competitive level caster and trophy trout hunter. But honestly, what I learned in those four days was a game changer for me. And it was the small things that shed the most light.
In my opinion, the quality of a course is determined by the caliber of the instructors. In the case of ‘Intro to Fly Fishing’, you have two exceptionally experienced, approachable and dedicated teachers. Not only did they make the class fun but they also gave each student the tools necessary for being a self-sufficient angler. And you know what they say about teaching a man to fish…..
If you are new to fly fishing or have a desire to expand your current skill set, I highly suggest enrolling in this class. The fall offering is just around the corner and spots are limited. Go to the Vail Valley CMC website to find out more.
Seth Kulas, Vail Valley Anglers Content Writer, @sticks2snow