Fly Fishing in Berks County, PA
by Cindy Ross
Middle age seemed like a good time to be trying something totally new, like fly-fishing. I was one of the millions who saw the film, “A River Runs Through It” and came away with the feeling, “I’d like to try that,” but got busy raising kids and put my desire on hold until I felt it was time to do something for myself. I had a few other lessons but because my teachers did a lot for me, like tying my knots, I was still left feeling like I couldn’t fish without a babysitter. I decided to schedule my own private lesson with an instructor from a local shop, Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters (TCO).
The shop boasts room after room of fly fishing goodies. I wander around the welcoming main room with its 25-foot ceiling and skylights and marvel at the close to two hundred rods and over 2,000 tiny compartments with individual flies. It is the adjoining room of fly tying materials, however, that really draws me in because its 7,000 different colorful materials remind me of a craft shop.
The first part of the lesson is a cruise around the shop with my instructor to learn about gear and what I need to get started. I am happy to hear that he can get me on the water with an entry-level outfit for around $150. After I become familiar with the gear, I am escorted to the classroom.
Tony, the store owner, and my teacher, shows me how to tie beginner knots with heavy, bright red line that is so easy to see and manipulate. He reminds me of a dedicated kindergarten teacher guiding the hands of his students into making a rabbit-eared bow on their shoe. “Make me do everything myself, Tony. I want to go out on that river and know what I’m doing.”
I learn how to tie the tippet to the line, the leader to the tippet and the fly to the leader, pretty elementary information but necessary before you can even think about catching fish. In a short amount of time, Tony’s easy manner and incredible patience, makes me feel that this is something I could really do on my own and enjoy. I take a break and listen as he tells how left college while studying clinical psychology to start his fly fishing shop at the tender age of twenty. He shares what he loves about the sport and what makes it so fascinating and suitable for a lifetime of enjoyment. “Fly fishing is more of an art than other types of fishing. You have to figure out what is hatching, what insects live on that particular stream. Live bait is never used in fly-fishing but all types of bugs and insects made from feathers and wool and thread and beads.”
I love to be outdoors, particularly around water. I love the idea of being in the stream with the water moving all around your sides and walking up it as you fish…the kinds of things we loved to do as kids. I love to think and analyze, which is very important in this sport because you must learn to think like a fish. For instance, where it would be hiding in this particular stretch of water, how it would be situated in order to get the best meal and how it would react when it sees your fly land in front of its nose. I am also attracted to the beautiful casting motion that is necessary to deliver and present the fly in a believable manner. I like to be moving, to be active and this type of fishing satisfies that desire as opposed to sitting on the bank, staring at a bobber for hours. With a friendly and generous teacher like Tony and an armful of gear, I’m well on my way.
The second part of my lesson includes an on-stream fishing experience. This part of the class is along the Tulpehocken Creek. “You want to first take a few minutes and watch the water, see if there are insects rising or hatching, causing the fish to dimple the surface for a meal. When you fly fish, you want to imitate what the fish are eating on this particular day.” Tony spots only one caddis fly emerge and so he goes to a submerged rock and lifts it out of the water to show me the underside. “Only check rocks that you’re sure are covered with water year-round, even in dry spells, for some stages of an insects’ life dictates that it must be submerged for 365 days. He fingers a tiny pebble covered object off the bottom and flicks the stones away until a caddis larva is revealed. The insect excretes a sticky substance that makes these tiny pebbles adhere to it. Then Tony takes his box of “patterns” and matches the insect to the artificial lure. The tied flies are more exaggerated in color etc, but they have to attract fish and hold up under the water.
After I select a pattern and tie it on myself, Tony examines the river and points out places that a fish could possibly hide, waiting for a meal being carried on the current. I find it fascinating to learn to read water, as Tony teaches me to identify where the water slows and deepens, where it runs as riffles over rocks, where it forms eddies behind boulders.
Tony physically takes my arm and demonstrates how the casting motion should feel and in no time at all, I am whipping that line around like a natural. A fly fishing rod is very long and flexible and is built to transfer energy to the PVC rubberized hollow line. Fly fishing line is specially designed to float and fly through the air because it is a thin, long, tubular line rubberized with glass bubbles inside. It moves so incredibly graceful that I find myself enjoying just this simple beautiful motion, never even mind the fish catching part. Tony shows me how to “mend” the line or flip it upstream so the fly goes down first.
“All the rest is learning how to ‘present’ the fly, how to perfect your aim and deliver your pattern exactly the way a real fly would land.” I am fishing with dry flies that float on top of the water. “Wet” patterns simulate water creatures that live under the water, along with streamers that you move a certain way through the water etc…a whole new world of concepts, materials, and techniques awaits me.
But this afternoon, the wind is blowing refreshingly, the flowing water sounds like music and my mind is empty of every day cares and worries as I cast my fly line through the air. I know there is a lot left to learn, but after only one day on the river, I have found a new love.
Tony’s store, Tulpehocken Creek Outfitters is located 2 miles west of Reading on Rt. 422, Penn Ave. Call, e-mail or visit their website for a complete listing of store hours, their calendar of dates for classes and trips, and their prices. 877-TCOFLYS