As you look around, the scenery is unbelievable. Before you is the aqua-blue lake, clear to the bottom, fed by glacier water. The lake is rimmed by towering snow-capped mountains, and the smell of pine trees permeates the air as only high-mountain forests can. You hear the raspy “caw” of a raven off in the distance. You sharply raise your fly-rod to the 2 o’clock position, pausing briefly to allow the fly-line to stretch out behind. Then by thrusting the rod forward to the 10 o’clock position, you pause to let the line stretch out in front. You repeat the process several more times, 2 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 10 o’clock. … Then on the last forward cast you let the line gently drift down to the water, placing your fly on the water surface as if it were a live bug. You glance around at the lake and mountain scenery, and you can hardly believe it. Here you are, a fly-fisherman, in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, fishing with your best friend at a remote mountain lake, and you have totally forgotten that you are a quadriplegic.
I’m a C5-6 quad who loved fly-fishing back in my first life. Figuring out how to return to some of my favorite pre-accident activities was a real priority after my release from the hospital. I needed to feel that life was going to be somewhat normal once again. It was a huge morale-booster to even cast a fly-line on the lawn in the backyard. At that point in my life any achievement felt huge.
Fly fishing as a quadriplegic may seem difficult, but it is easier than you think. The only adaptation to the rod itself is to extend the rod a few inches back from the reel. I actually found a fly-rod with a “fighting butt,” an extension that slips on the bottom of the rod. To hold the rod I use a “Strong Arm” cuff available online for $32.95. The reel that I use is a spring-loaded fly reel. With this inexpensive outfit I’ve landed trout in excess of 5 pounds.
Trout like to eat small fish, bugs and other insects, and fly-fishermen try to imitate these food sources with “flies.” Often other fly-fishermen will even supply you with a few flies that will work in your area. I am lucky to have my friend Dale Baden nearby, a fantastic fly-tier who keeps me well-stocked with great flies.
Casting a fly-rod from a wheelchair takes surprisingly little strength. I have no tricep muscles and am not very strong (contrary to what I tell people), and find that by using a slightly side-armed cast, I can get the fly out plenty far enough to catch fish in a lot of bodies of water. It is good, and even fun, to practice casting on the front lawn at home to “work the bugs out” before adding Murphy Fodder — namely trees, bushes, pets, etc., that like to become entangled in your line.
Your fly flutters gently to the surface of the lake, creating hardly a ripple. You let it sit still for a couple of seconds and then twitch it a little to make it look alive. Suddenly a large white mouth rockets up from the bottom of the lake, and your fly disappears in an explosion of water. You instinctively raise the rod quickly to sink the hook before the trout can let go, and you are greeted by the scream of the reel as line is peeled out. The trout does its signature aerial ballet as it jumps and dances across the surface of the lake. Using a gentle pumping action, you slowly raise the rod as the fish tires, and pull the trigger to wind in excess line as you drop the rod. The fish makes a few more runs before tiring. Your fishing partner reaches down with his forceps and flips the barbless fly out of the trout’s lip, setting it free. What a day!
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you hold the rod?
I use a fishing cuff found online at strong-armfishingproducts.com.
Where do you fly-fish?
I fly-fish anywhere that has fish rising and that is relatively wheelchair accessible. There are many places to fish for trout — from small stocked ponds to remote mountain lakes. Montana has made a huge effort to include people with disabilities in outdoor activities. While camping near Libby, a tour around the area revealed that nearly every lake had wheelchair-accessible fishing docks, and a cast of the fly surprisingly showed that these lakes were full of eager trout.
Can you fly-fish for other species besides trout?
I fly-fish mostly for trout because they are available in my area and it is a great way to catch them. A lot of other fish species will take flies, such as salmon, northern pike, bass, perch, goldeye and many others.
How do you reel in?
I use a spring-loaded fly-reel. As line is pulled out of this reel, a spring is tightened. Then when I want to retrieve the line, I simply hit a trigger and the spring winds in the line — I use my other hand for this since my fingers don’t work. I have found these reels on eBay for as little as $15.
What kind of line do you use?
Fly-fishing requires a heavy fly-line that is needed to carry the fly out, and a clear monofilm leader for the last 6 to 9 feet so that those wary trout don’t suspect anything.
What kind of lures do you use?
I use flies — small hooks wound with thread, feathers, ribbon etc. “Dry-flies” are floating flies, and “Wet-flies” are sinking flies. There are also floating and sinking fly-lines, depending on the depth of the fish. No bait is normally used. It is actually quite an art to tie flies, and for beginners it is usually best to befriend a local fly-fisherman for advice on fly selection and suitable fishing locations.
Outdoor Tracks is a new quarterly column by Kary Wright, a freelance writer who loves family, fishing, camping, flying, and just about anything outdoors. Check out his blog at www.stilloutdoors.blogspot.ca