Fly fishing and trout represent a near-perfect marriage in the world of angling. April 1 is the traditional opening day for inland trout enthusiasts across the Empire State. Fly fishing is an art form of sorts that represents the ideal dance partner with the riveting rainbow, the boisterous brown and the beautiful brook trout that inhabit New York’s cool, clear waters.
From the birthplace of American fly fishing in the historic Catskills to the amazing Adirondacks, we are blessed with some outstanding trout fishing in our state. While those not-too-distant places usually capture the headlines (and dreams) of fly casters, Western New York waters represent the unsung heroes in a state teeming with trout.
From the tools of the trade – the signature rod and the reel – to the fly that is hand-tied (and secured to a heavy line) to mimic trout food, this popular pastime is experiencing a bit of a resurgence the last few years. It comes at a good time, too, as fishing license sales have dropped off a bit on a state level when you look at the big picture of all angling activities combined. A big part of the reason for that success comes from the excellent outreach programs put out through the Lake Erie Chapter of Fly Fishers International, the WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the local Orvis Shop in Williamsville, to name a few of the catalysts for the increase.
For Andrew Nisbet of Clarence, fly fishing was something that intrigued him as a kid growing up in Williamsville. “We went on a family road trip through the Catskill Mountains when I was 10 years old,” he recounted. “It was 1994 and I saw fishermen waving unusually long fishing rods back and forth as we travelled along Route 17. I asked my dad what kind of fishing it was, and he said, ‘fly fishing.’ He didn’t know much about it but just the words ‘fly fishing’ sent my imagination racing and I was fixated on it from that day on.”
Nisbet was introduced to the outdoors by his dad, Uncle Lee and grandfather, who were all avid conventional gear fishermen. Young Drew was a ravenous little angler, fishing every moment he could on family vacations in Canada, in neighborhood ponds and along Ellicott Creek. It was on a day he was riding his bike to fish in Ellicott Creek, stopping in at Ed Young’s Hardware plaza to buy some candy, when he saw two men with the long fishing rods in the parking lot adjacent to Reed’s Orvis store.
“It took a couple of days to work up the courage and go in,” Nisbet said. “I was fascinated by the flies, feathers and equipment. I begged my parents to get me a fly rod but at my young age combined with the cost and their lack of knowledge of fly fishing in general were all good reasons for them not to. However, they did get me a fly tying kit for Christmas and I began tying my own flies with the help of books from the library and employees at Reed’s who would give me discarded feathers and materials.”
It was the summer between 6th and 7th grades at a local convenience store when young Drew saw a prize giveaway for a travel fly rod, reel and line combo that was being offered by Winston cigarette company. “I enlisted the help of two friends as well as the employees at the store to collect discarded cigarette boxes,” said Nisbet. “It took me nearly all summer to collect enough boxes. Then I had to convince a friend’s mom to send in for it for me.”
“When the package finally arrived, I spent nearly every day the rest of the summer trying to figure out this fly fishing thing. I would occasionally catch panfish, northern pike and stocked trout in Ellicott Creek. When I received my driver’s license at age 16 my fishing horizons expanded, often lying to my parents where I was taking the car.”
“I explored the steelhead streams of the Southern Tier along Lake Erie’s shoreline. I eventually went away to college just 20 minutes from the West Branch of the Delaware River – the same river I first saw men fly fishing in the Catskills. I think I spent more time on the water than in class. After college I moved back to Buffalo and got a job at Reed’s Orvis store, which later become Buffalo Outfitters.”
That’s a big part of fly fishing, the journey. It was a sport that hooked him. Today, Nisbet is the Fishing Manager at the Orvis Shop in Williamsville, doing everything he can to help pass on the passion he still feels every time he’s on the water or even just talking about it.
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in a younger demographic, from the middle school age to the late 20s and early 30s. While it’s beneficial to start fly fishing at an early age, many of our customers have spent a lifetime spin fishing and they are looking to try something different. It’s not as difficult as it might look, and we can provide the ways and means to make that happen.”
Many long-time anglers are looking to learn a new skill and experience the outdoors in a way they haven’t done so before. To educate the masses, the Orvis Shop will be offering free Fly Fishing 101 classes every Saturday morning in April from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. “Our motto is ‘fun, easy and accessible’ when it comes to these classes," Nisbet said "We encourage people to bring their own equipment and we’ll get you going so that you are ready for the season. "
Preregister for a class by calling 276-7200 or go on the website at www.orvis.com/buffalo.
Once you’ve passed the first step, Fly Fishing 201 is the natural progression – a two-hour on-the-water class to hopefully catch your first fish on a fly rod at Clarence Town Park. This is followed up with a Fly Fishing 301 session that will take you to the banks of upper Cattaraugus Creek near Arcade. These are all free with expert instruction. Again, you must be preregistered.
Because it’s opening day on Sunday, rest assured it’s not like deer hunting where your chances improve considerably to be out there for the kick-off. Some of the better fishing can be later in the month and beyond, when there isn’t as much fishing pressure. Be sure to check out Scattershot this week to read about J. Michael Kelly’s new book “Trout Streams of WNY,” and the list of stocking locations for Region 9 so far. A stocking hotline number is also available for the Randolph hatchery at 358-2050. This is a new number. Get on out there and catch the “reel” thing.