Roger Phillips: Casting away with the captain

Boise junior high teacher Pete Erickson moonlights as a fly fishing guru

rphillips@idahostatesman.comMarch 27, 2014 

Pete Erickson.JPG

Pete Erickson of Boise puts a rod he designed to the test on the Boise River. They are available at Idaho Angler, Anglers and Cabela's in Boise, and at the Faded Fly in Nampa.

ROGER PHILLIPS — rphillips@idahostatesman.com

I don't think it is coincidence that Pete Erickson holds a fly rod like it's a conductor's baton. It may be subconscious on his part, but he wields it like he's leading fish to his fly the way an orchestra conductor leads a bass section.

I recently fished with Erickson on the Boise River. I'm a fly fishing geek who's eternally curious about all aspects of the fly fishing world, even those beyond actually fishing.

Erickson knows fly fishing intricately and in fine detail.

His day job is teaching English to ninth-graders at East Junior High School in Boise, but his fly fishing resume may be deeper and broader than his teaching resume.

He's been a professional guide for 21 years in Idaho, Wyoming and Alaska. He competed with Team Fly Fishing U.S.A. for a decade and competed abroad numerous times.

He now serves on the leadership committee for the team, and he's helping guide the next generation of competitive fly anglers.

Erickson's latest gig in the fly fishing world is a rod designer for Echo fly rods.

Erickson's Shadow II fly rods were recently released by the company, and we were on the river giving them a try.

If you consider a 9-foot, 5-weight the standard for trout fishing, Erickson's new rods may seem radical.

The 3-weight and 4-weight rods are over 10 feet long and designed to drift a nymph European style (with a short line) or cast a dry fly to trout sipping bugs off the surface.

They're also customizable by adding a sections to the rod or adding weights to the butt to change the rod's balance point.

Erickson said he wanted a versatile rod that is fun to fish. He also wanted a rod he could use for nymph fishing, but not have to carry another rod for dry fly fishing.

His Shadow II rods are both a throwback and a leap forward.

They cast like the traditional, slow-action rods that you can feel the rod gradually load on the backcast, and then launch the line forward in a graceful loop. They buck the trend of many modern, fast-action rods often described as "cannons."

European-style nymphing is a style of fishing that's been long used over there, but it's fairly recently been introduced in the U.S. More fly anglers are now treating nymph fishing as a skill unto itself rather than a way to kill time while waiting for insects to hatch and fish to feed on the surface, and they're looking for rods well suited to that use.

Erickson designed a rod to suit both American and European styles of fishing, and watching him fish one, you almost feel sorry for the trout.

"There should be one right there," he said, and within minutes he's leading a 16-inch rainbow into the net, quickly unhooking it and dropping his flies back in the water for another drift.

It's ruthless efficiency, and it's a thing of beauty.

Erickson can work a piece of water and pick off fish like birds on a wire. And all the while, he'll explain what it's like to design a fly rod.

There are quantifiable things, like line weight and flex, but he had to translate numbers into that elusive "feel" where science and art blend.

"It's tons of trial and error," Erickson said. "It's a laborious process that can be expensive."

In the back of Erickson's mind, he also knew he had to design a rod that pleased Echo's owner – world champion fly caster Tim Rajeff.

"I had to make sure it's a rod he would want to use to dry fly fish," Erickson said. "I have to say I was stressed sometimes."

It's a fun rod to fish and it casts well. It gave me the reach of a long rod for nymphing, but didn't feel foreign to cast a dry fly. Also important, a 12-inch trout gave the 10-foot rod a lively battle, which is always critical for me. It defeats the purpose to have a rod that overwhelms the fish it's likely to catch.

Will it revolutionize the some-times stodgy world of fly fishing? Tough to say. Fly anglers will ultimately decide whether they want to deviate from their comfort zones and spend money on Erickson's and Echo's new fly rods.

But there's no question that in capable hands, it's a rod that can catch fish. It's also designed by a local guy who intimately understands local waters and got to build a rod that he wanted to use to catch trout there.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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