We’re Hooked on Lake George Fly Fishing
By Melanie Houck
My husband Roger and I received two beautiful fly rods as wedding presents. I have touched mine once and experienced only deep frustration. But today I am finally going to face the mysterious giant known as fly casting. I’m a bit nervous but I’m also determined. I tell myself: I will make contact with the water rather than my feet; I will not lose anyone’s hat; and I will catch – wait, let’s be realistic. Is four hours really enough time for me to learn to catch a fish with a fly rod? But I will at least try!
Roger and I arrive at Bolton Landing’s town dock where we meet John Tarrant, owner and guide of Mickey Finn Fly Fishing guide services. Introductions are made, and Tarrant gets right down to basics – the flies. Flies are so colorful, imitating all kinds of bugs, they are small works of art themselves. He has an amazing collection and eagerly explains the purpose of some of his favorites. I find it hard not to get excited about nymphs as he explains why trout love to go after a fly representing one of their favorite foods. Then he pulls out his all-time favorite. “What works on Lake George is the Mickey Finn. I’ve fished it for years – it resembles nothing in nature, so it’s strictly an attractor.” Just like people, fish like colorful things too.
Now for the basics of the fly cast. I groan inwardly and outwardly. My experience up to this point was mostly tangled messes, and the line all bunching right at my feet with occasional water contact. Next to Roger’s experience, I feel pretty silly. But I figure this guy has dealt with my ‘kind’ before.
As an instructor at the Orvis fly fishing school in Vermont, Tarrant is a skilled casting teacher. His directions on timing and where and when to stop your rod during forward and backward casting are simple and direct. While my casting improves a smidgeon within twenty minutes of demo on the beach, I am already feeling more confident that things might improve once on water.
We climb aboard Tarrant’s beautiful twenty-foot-long Action Craft Flats Boat, complete with joist stick controlled trolling motors, a draft of only 11 inches, and enough fishing gear to stock a sporting goods store. The 200 horse power motor lays silent for only a few more minutes as he gives the safety speech and we nibble on good biscotti and sip coffee he’s provided.
And then we’re off! Tarrant knows the southern end of Lake George, like a turtle knows its shell. He sets up upon a rocky shoal that rises up to about 20 feet, with 80 or more drop offs on either side. I gaze down in awe. The water, even at 20 feet deep, is crystal clear! We could see sunfish, minnows and all sizes of bass. Now to actually get one of them!
It’s time for the real thing. Sometimes putting too much thought into an activity can make it harder. Tarrant emphasizes that “the only way to really learn is to do it. I mean, just start flailing away…” And flail away I did. I stand upon the rear casting deck with the whole lake at my back, no obstacles for tangles in sight. This is the ideal spot to perfect the graceful fly cast. With this kind of unhurried atmosphere and good instruction, each cast seems to get a little farther out.
After a particularly far cast out (mind you, I am actually getting my line out beyond the boat!), I feel a heavy tug on my line. With a fly rod, you feel so much more than with a spinning rod. I squeal ‘I got one!’ The fish bursts out of the water, fighting hard, and suddenly wriggles free of my hook. It was a good sized smallmouth – almost within my grasp! Tarrant is as disappointed as I am, but tells me to get right back out there.
I am rewarded within minutes, as my line pulls and moves off to the side. I shriek and remember to pull in my line by hand and triumphantly bring in my first catch; a rock bass.
“Way to go!” He hands me my catch and insists I get a picture. I don’t argue, for this is a monumental event.
Mikey Finn Fly Fishing's John Tarrant shows technique. Photo by Clea G. Hall
“Amazing! It felt huge. I can’t even imagine a large fish on that thing!” I stare in awe at the fish, trying hard to imagine a five pound bass. I’m beginning to realize what I’ve been missing.
“Do you think smallmouth fight harder than other bass?” I ask, still remembering that close call of a few minutes ago, and trying desperately to cast that way again hoping the fish was still hungry.
“Oh, they dance” Tarrant replies. And as I continue to false cast my line before letting it go, I feel like the word ‘dance’ fits fly fishing in multiple ways. The movement of the rod and line is graceful, as it arcs above, behind, above, and to the front of my head in a smooth, rolling motion. And like dance, it’s all about timing and lots of practice, of course.
Meanwhile Roger’s rod bends and he pulls in a nice smallmouth. “The Mickey Finn strikes again!” Tarrant proudly proclaims. The name of his charter services and boat fits quite well.
I manage to catch another rock bass and am happy, even as Roger out-fishes me. The atmosphere is relaxing, as the sun warms our backs, the light wind cools our faces and the soothing sound of the fly line rolls through the air. We ask Tarrant if the economy is impacting his guide service. For him it’s actually picked up. I could see how it’s hard to be worried about the next paycheck or the stock market when you have forty feet of weight forward fly line, about to settle a tiny fly directly on top of a hungry fish. Nothing can compare.
Before we know it our time is up. As we head back,Tarrant shares some thoughts on fly fishing that really hit home for me. “There’s a mystique about it – I take a lot of people out and they are just really nervous at first. They are very reluctant to start casting because they are afraid they will do it wrong. The message is that it’s not that hard.”
He laughs and continues, “On a four hour trip, I mean, look at your cast from the beach this morning to now. You were getting some distance. If people realized it wasn’t that hard, they would get into fly fishing.” I smile as Roger nudges me. This morning I was one of those people scared about fly fishing. Now I can’t wait to try it on my own. I now have goals beyond just getting my line into the water. I want to experience the feel of a 5 lb. bass or good sized trout. I want to get my cast out there as far as Roger can.
We dock and Tarrant shakes our hands. “So get those wedding presents out of the tube and onto the lake!” He laughs and we join in. I tell him I most certainly will and we thank him for an amazing day.
Tarrant also guides on the Schroon River. In the fall he is a guide for several weeks up in Alaska, fly fishing for salmon. For further information, some great pictures, and contact info, check his website out at www.mickeyfinnflyfishing.com or call at (518)423-6074 and book your trip today! John’s enthusiasm and love for fly fishing is ‘catching’ and you will most certainly be ‘hooked!’ I know I am!