DENVER — More than half the time Juan Ramirez fishes the Arkansas River, he could be in shorts, no waders. "Hopper Juan," as his nickname goes, ties on the dry fly pattern he designed, trailed by a dropper intended to fool fish under the surface.
One rod, one reel, a couple of dozen flies, and the cellphone stays in the glove box. He can carry nippers, forceps, weights, a few spools of tippet and — voila! — Ramirez is geared up for a full day on the water. This fly-fishing thing really is that simple, you know?
"I wouldn't say it's a complicated sport," says Ramirez, a Colorado Springs resident who guides on the Arkansas River for Royal Gorge Anglers (royalgorgeanglers.com) and the South Platte for Angler's Covey (anglerscovey.com).
We overcomplicate pretty much everything — even fishing. Hey, I'm guilty. My waist pack is filled with enough flies to support two lifetimes of fishing trips. It's what we do, and we do it well.
That's one reason I dig the message behind the inaugural Fly Fishing Rendezvous, a showcase of Front Range-based fly-fishing companies, fly-fishers and fly-tiers that will be held April 11-12 at the Lakewood Holiday Inn. Peter Stitcher, an aquatics biologist who operates Ascent Fly Fishing (ascentflyfishing.com) in the Denver area, has organized an event that aims to dispel two myths about fly-fishing.
"We're trying to take away the stigma that fly-fishing is a scientific, complicated sport for the elitists, and it costs a lot of money," Stitcher says. "It's not, and it doesn't."
Full disclosure: I'm a sucker for almost anything that promotes Colorado-based business and fly-fishing as a whole. Fly Fishing Rendezvous has both. Of the 25 brands represented at the event, 24 are based along the Front Range.
There's Native Nets from Evergreen (nativenets.com). There's Elkhorn Outdoors, based in Loveland (elkhornflyrodandreel.com). (The lovely people at Elkhorn recently fixed my 15-year-old, 5-weight rod for the extravagant price of $35; good luck replacing a Titleist driver for the same). There's Slayfest Fly Fishing, 5280 Angler, Tarryall Outfitters — all Colorado-based companies — and a bunch of others.
The slogan for Fly Fishing Rendezvous is as simple as fly-fishing can be: No tweed allowed.
"I think we overcomplicate it. Or maybe the fly-fishing industry in the past has overcomplicated it to sell more gear," Stitcher says. "But I think with the ability to just observe a few more things on the water, with a handful of patterns, a beginning angler can get on the water and catch fish. This event, with the speakers we have, can help people get that knowledge of the basics."
There's not a more innovative fly-fishing community than the one found here in Colorado. That includes fly-tiers such as Ramirez, whose foam-body "Hopper Juan" was born on the Arkansas. Ramirez is one of 27 speakers and vendors scheduled to participate at Fly Fishing Rendezvous. We agreed that a fishing license remains the best value in outdoor recreation. At $26, an annual fishing license is cheaper than a single greens fee at the local muni.
"What I tell people who are interested is that it's not really that hard to get started," Ramirez says. "Take some classes, take a guided trip, rent a rod and reel. You don't have to buy anything right away. You'll know by the end of the day if it's for you."
Now here's the divisive dilemma: Why write about fly-fishing if that's only going to put more people on the water and crowd our favorite rivers?
"Once you get on the water, you come to love trout and their habitat. What you love, you protect," Stitcher says.
The Arkansas, for example, once was a Buena Vista trash receptacle. Then we got educated, and now the Arkansas is a 100-mile slice of recreational heaven.
"Colorado and the Front Range is a hot bed for fly-fishing innovation," Stitcher says. "There's a ton of small start-up brands — building new nets, new tools, offering new gear — located here in Colorado. We're trying to provide a venue to allow them to share their ideas. Most important, we want to get people out on the water. Once they see how special fly- fishing is in Colorado, they want to share and protect it."