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Idaho Fly Fishing Still Attracting Enthusiasts


The works of 20th century American novelist Ernest Hemingway were often influenced by his love of nature and adventure. Whether in Spain, Cuba, or the United States, Hemingway usually made his home wherever there was good hunting or fishing nearby. Hemingway spent his final years in the scenic town of Ketchum, Idaho. Located in the valley of the Central Idaho Rocky Mountains, Ketchum, Idaho is [still] known today for its historic, small-town feel and spectacular streams and rivers, ideal for the sport of fly-fishing. And although Ketchum's most famous resident has been gone for more than forty years, the area is [still] a draw for the most avid fishing enthusiasts throughout the United States and around the world. Robin Rupli was in Ketchum recently and decided to find out what makes fly fishing so appealing -- and took a lesson to find out.

"I'm going on a back cast, forward cast, and presentation. . . back cast, forward cast, and presentation. . . ." Dressed in rubber pants up to his waist called "waders," Idaho fishing guide Jim Varin explains the art of casting, as he throws his line into the bubbling waters of Silver Creek. ". . . In the river, there are four different spots you want to fish to. The first is directly upstream. . .," he says.

Looking a little like he's cracking a whip, Jim's casting of his line has to be exact, to fool a trout into thinking there's a fly hovering just above the water.

Wading in the stream with Mr. Varin, I come across a woman standing waist-deep in water looking out through binoculars. She tells me her name is Valerie Matzger, Mayor of Piedmont, California.

Rupli: "Well, I must say, I've never interviewed anybody standing in the water. . . . . What are you doing here, Valerie?"
Matzger: "I'm on vacation with my husband. And he's having the best time, fishing. We came down from Montana where he fished the Bitteroot [river] and now he's trying Silver Creek, so this is a very challenging creek, extremely challenging."
Rupli: "How so?"
Matzger: "It's very still water, so you have to present the fly just perfectly for the fish to accept it. You don't get any break with ripples or rocks."
Rupli:"You're standing here and it looks like you're in a kind of inner tube, with binoculars in your hand. What are you doing here?"
Matzger: "I'm basically just here to look at this beautiful place. It's incredibly beautiful. My interest is actually in plants and birds. That's my main interest. So there's lots of bird life around the creek it's quite a show."
Rupli: "Do you have any temptation to fly fish?"
Matzger:"I have fly fished in the past, but I find myself getting drawn off by the activity going on around me more than paying attention to my fly. And if you don't pay attention to your fly, you're not going to catch a darn thing!"

But as I find out, catching the fish is almost incidental to the sport of fly-fishing. It is a highly captivating and intricate skill the art of tying the perfect artificial fly of tiny feathers and yarn onto a fishing line, and then blending the decoy with real-life flies that drift across the water and attract the feeding fish. Fly fishing has as much to do with the study of entomology, ecosystems and water dynamics, as it does trying to figure out how a fish is going to behave. Many people spend years studying insects and perfecting the craft of creating the perfect decoy. Fishing guide, Jim Varin:

Varin: "Some people just have a sense of looking at it as an artist. . . they try to copy what they see in the water."
Rupli: "So there's no way you could use a real fly?"
Varin: "No. It wouldn't last. Maybe for one cast. The reason they started using flies in the old days, fly fishing is really old. It goes back in the days when they were trying to catch food and they put a grasshopper on a hook and threw it out and it was probably only good for one fish. So then you put feathers on the hook that looks like a grasshopper and it lasts all day. So that's the reason, around the 1930's it became a sport.
Rupli: So, it's not about finding something for dinner anymore.
Varin: "No, very few fly fisherman take the fish home."

Mostly, fly fishing enthusiasts will tell you that it is a relaxing, spiritual sport and an opportunity to truly feel at one with nature. Fisherman Nick Cox, a Ketchum resident and former fishing guide, has just finished a day fishing in the streams of Silver Creek. He tries to explain fly-fishing's mystique.

Cox: "If you are serious about it or enthralled, then you spend a whole lot of time with your mind fully focused on exactly what you're doing and nothing else. And it's a kind of 'zen' thing -- everything else is out of your mind except exactly what you're doing. And then after a while you learn to see things that the average person wouldn't see. People think it's about catching fish. And they're always eager to catch fish and when they come away, they feel good. But I think it's because of the total absorption more than it is anything else. You spend maybe a few minutes a day hooked up to a fish. I mean let's face it, it's not a frequent thing. I think it's the total involvement and total immersion in the natural setting and the activity."
Rupli: "A lot of people associate Ernest Hemingway with this area. Does that resonate here among the locals?"
Cox:"I don't think so. Nobody's particularly impressed by that. It's nice he was here and he fished and hunted and did those things. That was a completely different era. And I don't think people who fish here, locals or anybody else, ever gives it a thought."

As for this fly-fishing novice, it is clear there's a lot more to learn. But whether or not you learn how to tie the perfect fly or cast the perfect line, or even catch a fish, a day of standing in a stream in the mountains of Idaho is truly one of the most relaxing, most 'zen' experiences around.

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