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Robert Younghanz reaches into the Tarryall River and flips over rocks while trying to collect bugs last week.

TELLER COUNTY Robert Younghanz, having downed his bottle of Dr Pepper for the morning, is shimmying in a tea-colored stream, feeling out rocks with his feet until he feels the perfect one. He turns it over.

“Oh! Oh! Look at that! Ophiogomphus severus! No way! That is the only moving-water dragonfly we have in the Rocky Mountain West!”

And he takes the little bugger (“half grown,” he observes) and places it in a container for later inspection. And the day goes on with Younghanz’s often crass river talk.

“That’s called a nuptial flight,” he says at one point, waving his net to a cloud of flies. “Which is a very polite way of saying they’re all having sex.”

At another point, he reflects on stoneflies. “I’ve always said they have some of the most interesting penises in the world.”

Over here, something catches his eye. “That’s a pygmy hopper!” Over there, some beetles, “coleoptera!”

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Robert Younghanz holds a half-grown ophiogomphus severus, a water-moving dragonfly, after taking it out of a collection bin on the bank of the Tarryall River last week.

So goes an ordinary day in the far-from-ordinary life of Younghanz, otherwise known as the Bug Guy.

From his local post at Angler’s Covey, the guide has gone on to international acclaim for his unorthodox approach to fly fishing. The industry knows very few who’ve built a platform as he has, heralding the secrets of bugs to be the answer to better fishing.

And the sporting world has taken notice, listening to him at expos everywhere, watching his DVDs, reading his regular ruminations in trade magazines, paying for his one-of-a-kind services on the water.

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Robert Younghanz, otherwise known as the Bug Guy, peers into his net after kicking up sediment and flipping rocks in pursuit of bugs in the Tarryall River last week. The local fishing guide is internationally acclaimed for his unorthodox approach to fly fishing. The entomologist heralds the secrets of bugs as the answer to better fishing.

“He’s a giant in our sport,” says Louis Phillippe. And he’s amazed to say that, considering the 20-something he once took under his wing in Fort Collins.

“Super intelligent,” Phillippe recalls of the younger Younghanz. “A really, really smart hippie with a ponytail. But he was wandering aimlessly through life.”

• • •

Younghanz came to Colorado 26 years ago in what was pretty much like every momentous occasion in his life: odd.

“I moved out here with my ex-girlfriend’s mom, because she wanted to open a coffeehouse,” he says.

His friends prodded him. “Ooohhh, the mom, huh?” But Younghanz swears that wasn’t what was happening. This was simply another instance of his charm and charisma — immediately displayed by a shiny, megawatt smile — taking him onward again.

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Shortly after starting his morning collecting bugs in the Tarryall River, Robert Younghanz picks his net up out of the water and yells, “Oh! Oh! Look at that! Ophiogomphus severus! No way! That is the only moving-water dragonfly we have in the Rocky Mountain West!” His excitement for the bugs that came after didn’t quite match the reaction of his first catch, but the entomologist and fly fishing guide was enthusiastic about each insect he collected.

The coffeehouse didn’t suit him; he opted to paint houses. He also picked up work at a fly shop and a horse stable, which was run by Phillippe’s wife at the time. She could’ve chosen any of the veterinary students from Colorado State University — way more qualified than Younghanz, who’d never worked with horses. She went with Younghanz.

He had crafted an irresistible personality at a young age, perennially voted class clown in California.

“You know what it was?” he says. “It was a dire need to be liked and accepted.”

He has memories of fishing with his father, but those are foggy, blemished by darkness. The old man was “a typical military guy,” Younghanz says. “A real hard ass.” Mom was fun, humorous, “my protector,” he says.

“But she paid for that, too. My dad was just a sad, tragic individual. I think he wanted to be a good father, but he just didn’t know how. And he had some problems, some psychological problems and some other issues, and he was abusive.”

At 17, Younghanz left home. But he held on to one part of his upbringing: his Catholicism. He went to seminary, seeking answers from God.

He was out in less than a year, disillusioned. And then he set out to see the world, hopping the night trains of India, where his interest in world philosophy took root.

He found himself back in California for junior college, where he went around wearing crazy pants and introducing himself: “Robert Younghanz, U.S. Senate.”

But behind the jokes was a deep, contemplative guy, Kevin Maxwell discovered. Maxwell found a similarly troubled soul, someone who could relate to his own fractured youth. They partied hard, drank a lot. But the most memorable times were those of quiet introspection. Back then, Maxwell knew no one his age so well-read.

“It was obvious that he was a magical person,” says Maxwell, now a therapist in Montana whose kids call Younghanz Uncle Bob.

Younghanz went on to study philosophy and Asian studies. He thought maybe he’d be a professor. But then the academic world seemed to turn against him like everything else that had mattered to him.

“He was disillusioned by academia, he was disillusioned by seminary, he was disillusioned by his father,” Maxwell says. “So he made the decision to basically not join society. That’s the thing you have to understand about Robert: He didn’t join life. He didn’t want to join. He wanted a different path.”

• • •

So off he went to Fort Collins with his ex-girlfriend’s mom. The partying didn’t stop there. Far from it. It seemed he settled when he married, but that didn’t last long.

“Fly fishing has destroyed many marriages and many relationships, because it is such a selfish, addictive pursuit,” he says.

Explaining his divorce?

“Well, that really didn’t have anything to do with fishing. She wanted to have kids and, well, I wanted to fish all the time. So maybe I just contradicted myself there.”

He wanted to fish, and he wanted to make a rare living on it. He needed a niche. Entomology would be that.

And there he went again, somehow convincing a leading scientist at CSU to let him go undercover, joining classes, labs and even overseas research trips. Younghanz began his rise as the Bug Guy. Around the same time, he met the woman who would tame him.

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Robert Younghanz squeezes a bug out of its wooden shell after scooping it out of a bin filled with water, bugs and sediment he collected.

Teresa was a divorcee who didn’t mind Younghanz’s obsession. “That was really easy for me, because I was pretty independent,” she says. “I wasn’t looking for somebody to take care of me. I was looking for a partner.”

A partner who would go mountain biking with her — another passion of Younghanz’s. Yes, he’ll have to stop to analyze every creek, river and lake they cross. But Teresa doesn’t mind. Nor does she mind him keeping bugs at the house, as long as they’re in the garage.

He worships her, calls her “a saint.” Makes her laugh. Makes time for her like he never did with other women he’s known. Yes, with Teresa, it seems Younghanz is making amends for his past. He wants to be the man his father never was.

Younghanz has a favorite quote by Aristotle: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

“I still believe that. It’s self-reflection and betterment. There’s things we can’t change about ourselves, but I think what’s so important as human beings is to constantly evolve and say, ‘Yeah, that’s who I am, but that’s probably not a real good part of me. I’m gonna work on at least trying to better myself.’”

• • •

The Bug Guy has been good to Robert Younghanz, friends say.

He’s still cracking jokes, but “I’ve seen him become more serious,” Phillippe says. “He has a direction in life.”

The brand isn’t the only thing Younghanz has going for him. He also heads a guide school, training all sorts of people: soldiers back from the Middle East, women whom he sees as instrumental for “taking away the macho guy stuff” in the industry, wise old-timers, youngsters who remind him of himself.

“That’s my favorite thing I do, even more than the bugs,” he says. “Because you’re giving people a path.”

Seth is a features writer at The Gazette, covering the outdoors and the people and places that make Colorado colorful.

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