OUTDOOR NOTEBOOK: An introduction to a new chapter of life

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – The cool morning air was a direct contradiction to the muggy, 70-degree temperature as I stepped out of my house onto our walkway. As I carried my waders to my vehicle, I was already dreaming of being the cold mountain streams of Greenbrier County with my friend and Greenbrier guide Charlie Mooney. 

Many hours later I was finally parking at the famous resort and packing Mooney’s truck with my gear. 

“You have taller socks?” Mooney asked, looking at the causal, multi-hour drive-friendly clothes and Nikes with ankle socks I was sporting. 

“Yep, I have to switch over to them,” I replied. 

 “OK, good,” he said laughing. 

Funny enough, I completely forgot to put on my wading socks – a slip of the mind I’m still dealing with days later as I write this, rubber burns covering the lower quarter of my legs. 

But this isn’t the story of two guys casting line, but rather an experience I didn’t think I’d have for a while – or ever for that matter. Since I could cast a spinning rod, that’s been my go-to. Growing up near North Bend Lake and the Hughes River, I’ve never considered another way. Give me a variety of tackle and I can rig something up that will usually work.

I thought when I began chasing trout on smaller streams I could easily make some of the smaller lures like my many Panther Martins work, but I hit a brick wall and I hit it hard. There were a few moments in deeper water that I landed a rainbow and I once got a brown trout in Deckers Creek, but that was it: four fish in two years. 

Yet, even when I won the chance to learn how to cast a fly rod with Mooney, I was hesitant. Although I’m 26, I still have a hard time accepting change sometimes. But, I got past my fear of embarrassing myself and made the plan to link up with him at the resort for a casting clinic followed by a few hours on Howards Creek – the stream that runs through the resort’s golf course. 

Though it took me time to learn to not cast with my wrist and how to wait to let the rod build up power before casting, I feel as if I picked things up rather fast. We only spend 30 minutes on the casting clinic before gearing up for the water. 

There, I put my basic knowledge to the test, flubbing the first few casts before finally getting things straight. Three good casts later, and I see my strike indicator drop below the surface. I raise the rod fast and immediately feel tension. 

“Fish on!” I yell over to Mooney.

“Oh, wait, no,” I pause, “It’s a rock.” 

I couldn’t help but laugh, and before he could crack a joke, a rainbow slammed his fly. After fighting with it for a minute, it tires out and he nets it – a hog of fish. After taking the obligatory pictures, I get my nymph back in the water. Two casts later, I’m fighting a rainbow of my own. 

As I fought the fish I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. Only hours before, I was still second-guessing myself and wondering if I’d even enjoy this. Sure enough, I was wrong. I enjoyed the casting instruction, Mooney made it easy for me to do and understand, but hooking and fighting that fish was one of the best experiences I’ve had on the water. It may sound cliche, but I was as hooked as that fish was. 

We pulled the fish in, got it in the net, and celebrated. It, too, was a beast; the biggest trout I’ve ever caught. And, because it wouldn’t be a true fishing trip for me without a blunder, the fish escaped from my grip as I was pulling it up for a picture. Still, I managed to get another one online – it escaped, too, spitting my fly after turning on me. Regardless of my shortcomings, it was a trip to remember. 

Driving home that night, I was already planning on what rod and reel I would get and where I’d go for my first solo outing. The guys at McFly Outdoors handled my inexperience and many questions well when I stopped in to get set up, and only hope one day I can pass down to someone else what they and Mooney taught me. 

TWEET @andrewspellman_