Trout Unlimited and D-Loop Outfitters come together to get kids fly fishing

 Ella Bannwart, 11, practices roll casting under the watchful eye of Trout Unlimited’s Pine River Area Chapter president Tim Birtles. The chapter collaborated with D-Loop Outfitters of Wellston to put on a fly fishing clinic for children. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

Ella Bannwart, 11, practices roll casting under the watchful eye of Trout Unlimited’s Pine River Area Chapter president Tim Birtles. The chapter collaborated with D-Loop Outfitters of Wellston to put on a fly fishing clinic for children. (Kyle Kotecki/News Advocate)

WELLSTON — The Pine River Area Chapter of Trout Unlimited collaborated with D-Loop Outfitters of Wellston to host their annual daylong youth fly fishing clinic Saturday in an effort to teach children not only how to fly fish, but also the importance of cold-water conservation.

“I think everything went well,” said Dave Barkham of D-Loop Outfitters. “Everybody worked together well. A lot of planning went into this, with how to set it up and keep the kids active and make it fun for the kids. I think every year it gets a little bit better and I think there are a lot of kids that are walking away with knowledge of the outdoors that they never had.”

The clinic has been taking place for over 10 years. It is said to be open for children between the ages of 10 to 16 but exceptions are made if someone younger is interested in learning the sport. The chapter never wants to deny a would-be fly angler an opportunity to get started.

“The only thing more rare than a 25-inch brown trout is a 15-year-old trying to catch it,” said Chuck Dumanois, who chairs the chapter’s education committee. “And we’re trying to change that.”

Things started at 9 a.m. with Barkham giving a brief talk on fly fishing equipment. Rods, reels, lines and leaders were discussed and made available for examination. Barkham then discussed the insects trout eat so the kids could see what they were trying to mimic with their flies.

Fly rods were handed out and PRATU’s Terry Tatarchuk gave a fly casting tutorial. The students were taught fly casting fundamentals and before long were making their first feeble attempts to pop, stop and pause their way to a successful cast.

I stifled my laughter as I watched the fledgling students flail their fly rods early on in the learning process. I shielded my smug smirk with my wrist as I held up a camera to photograph their efforts from my high horse. Oh sure, I’d never held a fly rod in my life, but I’ve been fishing with traditional tackle for decades and Tatarchuk had made it look so easy. How hard could it be?

Then Dumanois put a fly rod in my hand.

I popped. I stopped. I paused. I eliminated slack. I moved my rod tip in a straight line. I did everything Tatarchuk had said to do, only quite poorly. Most of the children looked like grizzled fly fishing veterans by comparison.

Dumanois gave me some one-on-one instruction. I started to improve but when it quickly became apparent teaching this intrepid reporter proper technique was more than could be asked of one man he called Tatarchuk over to help out.

Tatarchuk found a flaw in my backcasting: My timing was off. He told me to say “Kyle is the best” before accelerating my rod tip forward to force myself to wait long enough. It certainly had a nice ring to it. I gave it a shot.

Kyle is the best. Kyle is the best. I repeated it in my head over and over with every attempt, even though it was far from true in regard to my fly casting abilities. It did help, however, and I started to get the hang of things.

At 11 a.m. everyone headed back inside and Tatarchuk discussed Trout Unlimited’s mission and informed the students they were all receiving a free one-year junior membership.

“(The founders of Trout Unlimited) decided the best way preserve fishing was to improve where the fish are living,” Tatarchuk said. “… They decided to improve politics — so they wouldn’t just hook and take — and improve habitat, and our group carries on that legacy on improving habitat.”

He told the children what his chapter has done to make a difference.

“(The Pine River chapter of Trout Unlimited) went up and down the whole Pine River — in canoes, or waders or little float boats — and we measured every foot of that river,” Tatarchuk said. “We stopped every 60 yards and took measurements.

“We measured all that and and we turned in all of that data,” he continued. “… And that just helped form a plan — a prescription — now that we had a diagnosis. We need to put more wood in the river, and some more vegetation.”

Tatarchuk went on to discuss safety in regard to fly fishing, what can be done to prevent the spread of invasive species and taught everyone how to read a river to know where to find trout.

After a lunch break there was a raffle where two fly rods and a guided fishing trip with D-Loop Outfitters were given out. Barkman again took center stage to teach three knots commonly used in fly fishing and then everyone went back outside to learn roll casting.

To close out the day, each student was allowed to select a fly, tie it on, and use their newfound knowledge to attempt to catch bluegill from the pond at D-Loop Outfitters.

Some looked relaxed — almost nonchalant — in their efforts. Some cast with such ferocity one couldn’t be blamed for thinking they were giving the little pond 50 lashes to extract retribution. But, everyone was having fun.

No fish were caught that day, but you wouldn’t know it looking at the grinning faces of all the students.

And the adults had fun, too.

“We are a bunch of guys in our 60s and 70s, and it’s fun,” Dumanois said. “It’s truly fun. I leave here charged. Believe me, if it wasn’t fun I couldn’t get old farts like (PRATU’s Denny Douglas) and me to do this kind of stuff.”

Leave a Reply