For Mitch Melichar, the head guide at Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, fly-fishing is more than just a job.
Within the first five minutes of meeting the man, it was clear that it’s more a way of life, a passion. The goateed 54-year-old looks like someone you’d expect to step out of the pages of a fishing magazine. When he’s not guiding trips or working in the shop, fly-fishing is his way to get out in nature and relax.
“It’s about getting outside. It’s the sound of the water, the quiet time,” he said.
Throwing on a pair of waders and getting knee deep in the Colorado River seems like second nature for him. Watching Melichar out in the river, with his 9-year-old lab-mix, George, sitting quietly on shore until he hears a sound worth investigating, it’s a scene fit for a Colorado postcard.
For me, it would prove to be a decidedly less natural experience. A few hours earlier, at 7:30 a.m., sitting in the guide shop sipping my coffee, staring at a long display case full of what must have been more than a thousand kinds of neatly tied artificial flies and insect replicas, relaxed was not the first thought that came to mind. Mildly intimidated was more like it.
The evening before, one of the store’s other guides, Matt Weiler, had told me all about caddis flies, stone flies, may flies, midges, brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout. It was enough to make a first-time fly-fisherman’s head spin. And that was before Weiler started demonstrating casting technique.
I’ve probably kayaked by a few hundred fly-fishers but never thought much of the elaborate science involved. Location scouting, properly weighting a line, weather conditions, river flow, the list goes on.
Sitting there, that morning in the shop, wearing waders that I’d improperly tucked into my boots, I watched the activity around me with the curiosity of a fishing outsider.
A bachelor party was renting gear; guides methodically selected flies from the large display.
Everyone else seemed to know what they were doing. What world was I stepping into?
I took comfort in something Weiler had told me the evening before. When asked what a typical beginner’s biggest trouble is, he said they get overwhelmed looking at flies.
“There’s thousands upon thousands of fly names,” he said.
He spoke of the various styles for different types of flies and other insects, and the subdivisions for each stage from larva to adult.
But he also said, “I have a few flies that I could catch fish 365 days a year with.”
As I sat in the shop that morning, I could no longer imagine just grabbing a fly-rod and giving it a try. I was happy to be in the company of professionals.
After a taking in the scene, I met up with Melichar, who said he was ready.
We headed out to his GMC Yukon, which, from the inside, reminded me a little of an oversized tackle box. Melichar’s selection of rods were conveniently stowed in a rack hanging from the ceiling. The trunk opened to reveal his fishing equipment closet. George, his faithful companion, hopped in the back seat, followed by my dog, Ike, and we headed to the Ute Pass and the Upper Colorado River.
Originally, I’d thought we would do something close to town or that I’d tag along with a group, but Melichar had selected a decidedly more authentic Colorado fishing experience.
On the way there he told me of his time here in Colorado, and how fly-fishing found him when he moved out to Summit County in the mid-1980s. Guiding part time at first, he witnessed a boom in the industry shortly after “A River Runs Through It” hit movie theaters, followed by a lull with the tough economy.
“It’s coming back,” he said.
He mentioned how much he, and other avid fishers, enjoy spring and fall fishing. The crowds die down and fish enter heavy feeding phases.
I learned how weather and river flow could effect fishing.
By then I was starting to “get it” — the appeal, the complexities. I was more at ease, or so I thought.
The day before, Weiler had described fishing as a puzzle. And for him that was the appeal, the challenge. It started to make sense.
“Every day is different,” he’d said.
Listening to Melichar’s stories, I caught a glimpse of a fishing culture I would only scratch the surface of in our session.
I thought I was ready, but actually fishing was decidedly more difficult.
Melichar showed me the basics. I had my moments. Whether they were true bites or merely catching hooks on the river bottom, I may never know.
I blanked on the day, catching no fish, but it was clearly not the river’s fault. When Melichar took the rod in hand, it wasn’t long before he’d reeled in four or five.
Still, with just that glimpse, the appeal and fly-fishing’s inherent challenges were clear. It’s an art, without question.
And while I came home without a tall tale to tell, just being out was experience enough.