I’m a big believer in trying new experiences. Until recently, it had been years since I fished with a fly rod. But when my friend Winston Moore extended a generous invitation to compete in the Idaho2Fly Derby, I jumped at the opportunity.
The derby is one of the Treasure Valley’s premier fishing events. All proceeds fund Idaho2Fly’s mission to support Idaho men with cancer through fly-fishing retreats, education and fellowship. The event is held at Three Rivers Ranch, a 100-acre private lake near Eagle Island State Park. Some of the best fly anglers in town attend, so I looked at it as a golden opportunity to meet great people, glean some fishing tips and support a worthy cause.
But first, I wanted to avoid looking like a rookie. I picked up a starter fly outfit and some bassy-looking patterns and hit the backyard to practice my casting skills. It wasn’t pretty, but after a couple sessions I felt like I could at least get my fly in the ballpark.
The derby arrived on a bluebird day — 80 degrees and sunny with just a whisper of a breeze. After registration, I chatted up property owner Ron Sali, who told me stories of 31-inch rainbow trout and state record-sized bass. I couldn’t wait to start fishing.
Even on such immaculate water, I had modest expectations. I figured if I could get the casting down and land a few fish, I’d be happy. My game plan was simple: I’d make up for my lack of fly-fishing expertise by leaning on my knack for sight-fishing bass. I tied on a green woolly bugger and kicked along the shoreline in search of my quarry.
It didn’t take long to spot some fish. I made a choppy cast and started jigging my fly through the water.
Strip, strip, WHAM! Missed him. I re-casted to the same spot. Strip, strip, WHAM! I watched a bass take the fly, and this time it stayed on.
Landing fish on a fly rod, from a float tube and without a net took a little practice. But after a few friendly pointers from the volunteer judges, I started to get the hang of it. Time after time, I watched the woolly bugger disappear, vacuum sucked by a hungry bass.
By lunchtime, I had 23 fish on my scorecard and my competitive side kicked in. Might I actually be in the running? Only the afternoon session would tell.
After a lunch hour swapping stories with Winston and other local legends, I went back to my honey hole — a lonely corner of the lake where sunken logs and weed beds have created a largemouth haven. I broke off my woolly bugger, so I went to a Clouser Minnow of a similar color.
Cast. Strip, strip, strip WHAM! Measure, record, release, repeat. I could have stayed out there all day, but two hours flew by in the blink of an eye.
In total, I carded 42 fish, including six bass of more than 18 inches. Still, I was shocked to hear my name at the awards ceremony. My effort was good enough for third place! I received an awesome hand-made plaque, along with hearty congratulations from some of the best anglers around.
More importantly, my reintroduction to fly fishing left me with a newfound appreciation for the sport and those who cherish it — especially the caring people of Idaho2Fly, who use fishing as a vehicle for delivering happiness where it is needed most.