The students at Holy Name School in Sheridan had an elective course this spring quarter — fly fishing 101. The students learned how to cast in the first three meetings of the class and on the fourth day, they had a final exam — a fishing trip on the Bighorn River.
The final exam was scheduled for last Thursday, but high winds caused a postponement until Friday. It was a fortuitous decision because the wind died down and the sun warmed up the countryside so that the day was close to idyllic.
The first task at hand when the students arrived was to rig up fly rods with the appropriate leaders, strike indicators and flies. Each student also had to put on waders, sunglasses, hat and sunscreen. The class of 12 then followed their instructors: Paul Dubas, Joey Puettman, Pete Vinebergs and me.
The students learned a bit about the aquatic invertebrates that inhabit the Bighorn by seining a riffle. The seine contained mayfly nymphs, red midge larvae, aquatic worms, scuds and sowbugs. The instructors showed the students some flies that imitated these bugs.
The students were assigned an instructor and they eagerly set out to find a fishing spot on the Bighorn River. Fortunately, there were few other anglers about on Friday so the students soon had a decent fishing spot and set out to learn the intricacies of nymph fishing.
I had two young anglers, Alex and Brandon, who were eager to catch a fish. I found a nice shelf on an island at Three Mile Access that looked very promising. The water flowed over a gravel bar that extended out about 30 feet into the river. The water below the shelf was about 3½ feet deep. The run below the shelf was at least 40 yards long so there was plenty of room for Alex and Brandon to fish without tangling one another’s lines.
Casting a strike indicator, a split shot and two nymphs is a tough assignment for two young fellows, but somehow they managed to cast 20 feet or more, mend and get a drag-free float. Both the boys were a tad antsy and wanted to catch a fish on the first or second cast, but after 10 casts and no fish, they were a bit disenchanted. I reminded them that fishing isn’t like a video game where you get immediate rewards, it takes patience and persistence.
Of course, it only took that lecture and then the fishing turned on. Brandon was the first to hook up, and after a little coaching about how to fight a fish, he managed to swing the trout out of the current and into my net. His first fish on a fly was a 14¼-inch brown trout.
Brandon was all smiles and wanted me to take a photo of him holding the trout; after all, it was the largest trout he had ever caught. I managed to snap a couple of photos of Brandon and Alex with the first fish of the day, and then they immediately went back to fishing. Alex soon connected with a fish about the same size as Brandon’s.
In the course of the next two hours, the boys managed to land 11 trout between them with Brandon landing a big 19-inch rainbow and Alex taking an 18½-inch rainbow for big fish honors of the morning.
The boys were ecstatic about fly fishing and rejoiced when they landed a fish and congratulated one another over the catch. To say that they were happy was a classic statement of the obvious.
As we walked back to the parking area for lunch, we encountered other students. It became immediately obvious that the others were having an excellent day and that they were catching trout. The joy that the students emanated was infectious and it easily spread to the instructors and chaperones.
Everyone ate heartily of the chili and cornbread lunch replete with sliced fruit and lots of cookies.
The students only waited for a few minutes after lunch to start pestering to go fishing again. After a sketchy cleanup of the grounds, they were back to fishing.
The afternoon sped by quickly with lots more fish being landed. I know that Alex and Brandon counted 22 fish between them (11 apiece) with two more 18½-inch rainbows landed. From all the reports I gathered, my guys might have caught the most but other teams were close behind and no one was skunked.
Since many of the students were new to fly fishing and all the gear, most were fascinated by waders. They seemed to wonder how they could stay dry and be waist deep in water. There were those who experimented a bit and found out that they could get wet if they really tried; in fact, about a half dozen managed to wade too deeply in a slow chunk of water and fill their waders. (They weren’t in danger, but it made us adults remember all the crazy stunts we pulled when we were young.)
The students never stopped laughing and enjoying the day and reveled in the moment all the way back to Sheridan. As head instructor, Paul Dubas, said, “They all deserve A’s for the course.”