Hey pal, could you help a guy with a few pointers??

Part III from January & February Editions

By H. Eddie Fields

I watched as my new teacher selected a brand-new braided leader from his pack and attached it to the end of my fly line. He placed a lot of value on braided leader as he explained that it works best in tailwaters because of less drag and better presentation for dry flies. I didn’t realize it then, but the braided leader he gave me was four or five bucks even forty years ago. I still always fish braided leaders today and I am convinced I catch more fish because of it.

He continued explaining why five, six, or even seven weight tippet (depending on conditions) are the best choices for tailwater fishing. He tied about a four foot section of tippet to the braided leader, and then tied on a size 18 pheasant tail nymph, as he asked if it looked like anything I had seen. Of course, I immediately recognized it as an exact match of the nymphs we saw earlier on the bottom of the rocks.

We stepped out into the water as he schooled me on reading the water around ripples and runs and pointed where to make my first cast. On the third cast – BAM – I hooked and caught my first fish on a fly rod! Over the next few minutes, I caught two more nice browns, and on that day, a fly-fisherman was born!

I was ecstatic and from that moment I was literally “hooked” for life. My new friend patted me on the back and seemed almost as happy as I was. I thanked him repeatedly, apologizing for taking up his day, but he seemed genuinely glad that he could help. A few minutes later we parted, as he went back up the path and we waived at each other, both hoping we would meet again someday on the river. Though we never did, over the years I made a promise to myself that if I ever became good enough at fly fishing, I would look for opportunities to pass it forward to anyone who wanted to learn to fly fish.

All these years later fly fishing continues to be an important part of my life. I never forgot the lessons that I learned about fly fishing in 45 minutes from a man I had never met. He taught me more in those few minutes than I learned from all the weeks and months of studying and trying on my own. I set my sights to build on that foundation and continued to learn all I could about fly fishing.

Forty-two years later, I am still learning, but what a journey it has been! I studied until I learned all I could about hatches and life cycles. I taught myself how to tie flies, (thank goodness for the internet and YouTube) and I experienced the pleasure of catching trout on a fly that I had tied myself. Over the years, I have even built my own fly rods and built and gifted several to my good friends. I have also been blessed to have developed lifelong friendships with several fly-fishing buddies.

As I began to look forward to retirement, and my dream of building my retirement home on the river, I searched for property for almost eight years, keeping my eye on 12 acres on the Watauga River that finally came up for sale. Although it was way too expensive, I still didn’t hesitate, and we were able to purchase the property in 2015.

In order to offset some of the cost of the property, my wife and I decided to build two cabins with a private entrance to the property along the river, and we opened Rocky Shoals Cabins on the Watauga in 2016. The cabins have been a great success and we have been blessed to have hosted people from all over the country. We especially cater to people who fly fish and we have met some fantastic folks from all over – and since we all share the same love of fly fishing, many of them have become much more than just guests to us – we count them as friends. I have tried to keep my promise and always give my guests any help or tips about fly fishing any time they ask.

All of that also evolved into another natural business for us. Realizing there were no fly shops in our town of Elizabethton, I recently partnered with a friend and opened Rocky Bend Fly Shop in downtown Elizabethton. Our main focus is for the beginner fly fisherman, and we want to offer low-cost beginner gear, so anyone can experience the sport of fly fishing. In addition, next spring, we plan to begin offering fly fishing lesson on our property in the stretch of the river from the barn to below my cabins.

Since I retired, teaching and helping others is my focus these days. I have been blessed to experience the pleasure of giving several of my cabin guests their first fly fishing lesson and being there when they caught that first fish on a fly rod. I count it a very special honor and a thrill. Of course, at the end of those days, I often think back, and I have come to fully understand how a fellow standing in the Watauga River felt forty two years ago when he patted a stranger on the back and said, “way to go man, good job!” And it all started with the humble, simple question, “Hey pal, could you help a guy with a few pointers?”

H. Eddie Fields is a fly shop owner, author and life-long fisherman.