There is no more graceful and healthful accomplishment for a lady than fly-fishing, and there is no reason why a lady should not, in every respect, rival a gentleman in the gentle art.”
~ William Cowper Prime
Having never been fly fishing before, I was fortunate to have my first experience at the famous Greenbrier Resort, one of the most historic and desirable destinations in the East. Howard’s Creek flows through the 11,000-acre resort, and the display of October leaves at their peak in the West Virginia mountains was breathtaking!
My very thoughtful husband, Trippett, chose Greenbrier Resort for this memorable getaway, not just because of their famous spa and fine dining, but for their outdoor programs, more specifically fly fishing. His strong desire was for me to fall in love with the sport since I am a self-professed, extremely obsessed hunter and not so much an angler. Fishing, for me, has always come second to hunting.
Trippett, a true outdoorsman, had some experience as a young man fly fishing in ponds in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina, with his father, so he was not entirely new at it. “Fly fishing is something we can do for years to come, unlike some of the more challenging hunting,” he often told me. Thoughtful as always, he took care of all the plans for this new adventure.
To make our experience even more exciting, we had private lessons with one of the best guides in the business, Nathaniel Archambault, better known as Archy. A West Virginia resident since 2010, Archy has been a professional fly-fishing and river guide (known for tackling Class V whitewater) in the state for more than a decade and has been featured in Outdoor Life and Field & Stream.
We started on the streambank, fly rods in our hands, listening eagerly as Archy explained and demonstrated everything, from using proper technique and moves, such as “cleaning up our lines,” to casting a fly line without creating a splash. Archy effortlessly threw his line, hitting his mark every time, and his encouragement made us feel pretty confident about fly fishing.
After Archy’s expert instruction, it looked easy enough, and with hip boots on, we began our trek upstream to test our newfound skills. The entire time we were with Archy, he shared his wisdom and experience in all things fly fishing, such as working your way upstream so as not to spook the fish, and helpful tips about how to reading the stream to locate likely spots where the fish might be holding.
The temperature hovered in the low 50s, a pleasant change for me after the long, hot South Carolina summer. Mid-afternoon under a cloudy sky was also an excellent time of the day to fish for hungry trout, so our anticipation was high for catching some!
Navigating the slippery rocks took a lot of focus, and before long, I was all tangled up in line and felt as if I had forgotten everything I had learned. Hues of green, brown, and yellow shimmered in the moving water, and I felt myself moving closer to the shallow pools hoping to attract a fish. Archy never lost patience with me, but I swear he had to tell me at least fifty times to drop the rod tip. When fly fishing, it’s best to keep the rod tip low—or even in the water—to keep a tight line between the rod and fly so you’ll feel it when you get a bite.
After considerable fumbling on my part, a spectacular rainbow trout took my fly just as it hit the water. As I reeled the fish in, I could hardly contain all my excitement, especially since this trout gave me a good fight. Archy expertly netted the fish and carefully kept it submerged in the cool water. As I readied myself for what I thought would be a photo op, I felt the punishing sensation of frigid water running down my left leg. I’d gone in over my hip boot!
“Yikes!” I yelled out. “This water is cold!” As I turned around, I noticed the fish was no longer in the net, and confused, I said, “Hey, Archy! Where’s my fish”? Little did I know I was about to get a lesson I would never forget, and Archy did not hold back in the least.
“When fishing, it is best to have a dedicated photographer if you want photos of your fish. Let me explain a few things to you,” he continued.
Twenty seconds out of the water decreases the fish’s chance of survival by 60 percent. Dry hands or gloved hands can damage the slime coating, which protects the fish, so removing the slime puts the fish at severe risk of disease. Landing nets with soft rubber mesh are also imperative to protect released fish.
“Keep the fish in the net, and don’t handle them if possible,” Archy told me. Always ensure your hands are wet if you must hold the fish.”
Hardly pausing for a breath, he continued: “I always use a barbless hook to avoid injuring the fish when removing the hook. Finally, help the fish regain strength and hold it upright when releasing. They may go into a trance if they roll over, and will not recover.”
My jaw dropped, and my mouth was so wide that I could have caught a fly. It was undeniable that Archy, a true conservationist, was passionate about the welfare of these beautiful fish.
With a big smile, Archy said, “Now go ahead and catch another fish, and we will get a proper photo.” Unbelievably, I did just that and caught a total of three spectacular rainbow trout! I was certainly feeling the love with this early success.
Meanwhile, Trippett was throwing perfect casts, but he was not catching a thing. Perplexed, he was a bit frustrated seeing me reel in several beauties. Could it have been his bright orange jacket? Archy said it certainly was possible, although many differing opinions on the topic exist. Casting a shadow could spook the fish, and the bright color may have had some effect as well.
The afternoon seemed to fly by, like the many ugly casts I made under the watchful eye of our fantastic guide. As the sun dropped, my leg was getting pretty cold from my little misstep earlier, so we knew it was time to call it a day. We carefully made our way to the edge of Howard’s Creek to walk back to the truck but stopped for a minute to take in the sheer beauty of the falling red and golden leaves as they dropped to the crystal clear rushing water and drifted down to the pool below. The sound of water rushing over rocks and the lengthening shadows from the overhanging trees filled me with a sense of gratitude for witnessing nature at its best.
Of course, I was thrilled to experience fly fishing in a mountain creek, but Archy reminded me that I could use the same techniques at home in the salt water of Murrells Inlet to catch redfish and spotted seatrout, especially since we live right on the water.
I have a lot more to learn about fly fishing, and my heart tells me there will probably be many more tangled lines in my future.