How my fly-fishing journey began
Growing up, I was not an avid angler. I vaguely remember a few instances of bobber fishing at lakes in South Jersey for bass and pan fish. I also remember the first time I witnessed a rainbow trout being caught while at a Memorial Day picnic during my youth. But my fishing interest only began in earnest after college. My father retired to a place on the Jersey Shore and I spent many mornings during June and September surf fishing for stripers with him.
My first fly fishing experience (in the mid-90s) was quite the adventure. I joined my wife's family for a vacation ('holiday' in her parlance) in Pitlochry, Scotland. I arranged to join a fishing guide (called a ghillie over there) in the local fly shop. I was perched on a stool at the front of the store with a cup of coffee waiting for the ghillie, when in walked a customer with a vaguely familiar face - it dawned on me that it was Timothy Dalton, the 007 actor. When he walked out of the store I turned to the owner and said "was that Bond, James Bond?", and he just replied "idiot" (pronounced eejit in Scotland). I suppose the shop owner took it as a personal affront that Dalton walked out without buying anything.
My guide arrived and we spent four hours on a boat in a lake ('loch' over there) and I caught two trout, but not before hooking the back of my ear with the fly - probably on the second or third cast. My wife's family was expecting a haul of fish (I think that was my fault in building expectations) and had planned dinner around my catch - but we were 12 and two fish does not constitute dinner for that number of diners.
Most of my fly-fishing experiences immediately after that were on those same holidays with my wife’s family, and usually fishing with my brother-in-law on waters in the UK. My favorite waters were around the area where my brother-in-law had grown up – within the Lake District Region north of Manchester and south of Edinburgh. Luckily, he owned a cottage within a protected national park area (Kentmere Village) that was an easy drive to numerous lakes stocked with trout. In fact, only a half mile from his house was a fabulous water, Kentmere Tarn, which is a spectacular place to fish.
The family holiday destinations expanded beyond the boundaries of the UK, and we found interesting trout water in more exotic locations. I recall a South African expatriate in Tuscany who guided us on a stream near Arezzo for brown trout and grayling – I caught my first and only of the latter species during that trip. There was also very challenging spring creek fishing in Galicia and small stream fishing for wild brown trout in the Ardèche in the South of France.
One of the more epic adventures in the early days of fly fishing was to the north of Ireland to fish for trout and salmon. On one of our excursions we practiced ‘dapping’, which is a method of top-water fishing with live and artificial insects – usually mayflies. But in our case, and because it was August, we used daddy long legs to attract the salmon while on a rowboat in an Irish Lough (lake). Our guide would thread live bugs onto a hook and cast out, ‘dapping’ the insect on the top of the water as if they were dancing on it. We would then cast artificials onto the surface and wiggle the flies in a similar manner to get the attention of the fish. It was great fun!
Unbelievably, I ran into the obscure 007 actor again a few months after the first encounter – it was at the dedication of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial in Washington, DC. I had just attended the ceremony and met my wife for lunch in the cafeteria of the National Gallery of Art, when in walked Dalton with a companion and proceeded to stand (or 'queue') at the end of the cafeteria line. I grabbed my copy of the program from the dedication and walked right over and said hello and asked Dalton for an autograph. He agreed and I replied "Thanks, can you write shaken, not stirred?" He stared at me and in the bold voice of a Shakespearean actor said, "I WILL NOT!" I said, "okay, to Gregg will be fine".