Fly fishing as a culture tears us from the mundane. I crave the return of my boots to a river bottom like a chain smoker craves that familiar smoke break. Our everyday life is haunted by the tug of a trout and the security of pine painted canyons. Well, haunted doesn’t seem to fit, but when big head shakes constantly invade the downtime between managing a coffee-shop, completing college, and maintaining a ripening relationship, I can’t think of a more appropriate word. I genuinely yearn for the water.
For most of the tightly knit fly fishing community huckin’ flies is simply a hobby. It’s something to do to get exercise, or it’s about the satisfaction of tricking a seasoned brown. But as a kid growing up in the teaming San Francisco Bay Area of California, in the midst of a home immersed in chaos, the river was my sanctuary.
During the school year I lived on the baseball diamond, but as soon as that summer bell rang, my parents were quick to move us into the mountains. In the Sierra Nevadas, I found my green pastures. The Feather River canyon held my still waters. From a sunrise wake-up call to a sunset shepherd staff herding us back into camp, all day my four brothers and I explored the boundaries of nature. At 6 years old, in a slow current only a few yards below the first run I would first feel a rainbow trout pierce its lip, my mom taught me how to swim. That river brought consistency to my otherwise unpredictable and dangerous childhood. That canyon took a sledgehammer to what would have been a concrete constrained upbringing. When I think of peace I still relate it to God’s country in Plumas National Forest.
After my sophomore year at a junior college in the Bay, I said goodbye to baseball in order to be faithful to the calling over my life. It wasn’t long after I decided to devote my free time to the familiar rush of using a hand tied fly to fool finicky fish. Soon, I was fishing with my buddy Phil on the only trophy stream in the Bay every day we had off. Then anywhere from steelhead rivers to golf course pounds, we tossed flies into the water and laughed off the slow hours. I spent probably 100 days on the water that first year. Some days Phil out-fished me, other days I out-fished Phil, but most days the waters or trials showed us just how foreign we were to their territory. That’s the thing about fly fishing though, a third of it is community, a third of it is nature, and a third of it artificial lures with barbless hooks.
So how did I become a guide? Well, a lot of it was hard work and all of it has been blessings via wild connections. In 2015, I moved from my Bay Area home with easy access to water to the congested, dry armpit of the earth – Los Angeles for school and work. Alright, it’s not that bad but it is 5 hours and 350 miles from the nearest trophy trout stream. The first year was exhausting. I left my community, my home waters, and my soon to be fiancé in the Bay and clutched onto my pup, vise, and school books all year. Maybe too often, I made the 5-hour trek home to dig my boots back in. I’m sure you can understand the thought process behind making those drives just to hook up on a trout. It pushed me through that first lonely year in Southern California.
The following year I started my Instagram account @beadheadednympher specifically to purge my addiction and connect with the fly fishing community. A month later Terrence Tinnucci from Deep Creek Outfitters randomly contacted me. Terrence runs his operation in the San Gabriel Mountain Range 45 minutes from my school in LA, wild. We first started talking about the famous Owens River system (famous for its Snow Bow run) Lahontan Cutthroats, and Fall Browns. Terrence is a meat guy, he lives for the dip and strip. He is probably one of a hundred fly fishermen with a complete knowledge of the Sierra Nevadas. I’m talking a lifetime of hours in the Western, Eastern, Southern, and Northern Sierras. The dude cannot sit still without his next trip planned. Quickly, he recognized my obsession with them as well, and like so many serious fly fishing dudes the friendship seemed to be established before any initial interaction.
It’s funny how fly fishing is really its own language, it’s like a molecule in our blood, or religion shared by scruffy dudes who feel caged in by a nine-to-five and stoplights. When we connect, it’s like hearing the accent from your hometown on a different continent. We’re just different, we sort of smell weird and we hunch over because of our predatory mindset. Anyways, Terrence started giving me the guides insight on all the waters I was headed to fish. With his information and my technique, soon I was knocking on the doors of the Sierras biggest fish. Fish stories are great but pictures are better, and Terrence could see I knew what I was doing. In addition to that, I connected with another hunched over hunter at school, Christian Biscotti. He had that familiar eye twitch caused by one too many days off the water when I first met him and so we both caught a buzz the following Friday stripping clousers in the Southern California surf.
Between Phil, Terrence, and Christian my fly mafia was made. The thing about this group is that each of us has a different fly fishing niche. Christian dominates nymphing, Phil is a still-water freak, and Terrence salivates at the sight of a six-inch bug. It’s never truly a competition but when I squeeze myself into one of these guys specific specialty, I’m forced to learn if I want to keep up.
With Phil I’m forced to stuff a backpack with a rain shell, extra socks, freeze dried meals, and a float tube to hike nine miles on a dusty trail destined for a desolate lake. A trip with Terrence is going to feature something like an all-out camping experience with a Yeti featuring IPA’s and a hungover morning banging bugs attached to full sink past undercut banks holding the toothy old brown Walter. Christian and I both prefer little bugs with tungsten beads bouncing on a river bottom. We get a drool going when we see a seam in fast water, or a bucket at the end of cascading currents. In each circumstance, fish are a potential but it’s a matter of meticulous attention to detail and identifying ripe water that leads to numbers and size. Quickly, I built my profile and it became easy for Terrence to invite me into his business. Soon he was sending me clients by overflow and request.
Here’s what you can expect from my writings: tips from a guide, passions from a human, and ridiculous stories from a college student obsessed with angling. More practically, they’ll include a mix of trip stories, fishing techniques, flies, fish species, bodies of water, and the ways I’ve learn to successfully fish them. Like you, I love to talk about this art, so please leave your thoughts or even trash talk after any of these posts and I’ll do my best to respond with something helpful or witty.