Casting a Line with Fly-Fishing Guides
I look into my fly box and think about all the elements I should consider in choosing the perfect fly: water temperature, what stage of development the bugs are in, what the fish are eating right now. Then I remember what a guide told me: “90 percent of what a trout eats is brown and fuzzy and about five-eighths of an inch long.” – Allison Moir
Although the exact origin of fly fishing remains a mystery, a Roman named Claudius Aelianus is credited as being the first to use an artificial fly to catch fish near the end of the second century. Throughout history, however, the angler’s formula has remained consistent: Lure a fish with the promise of food.
Obviously, authentic-looking bait increases the odds for catching fish assuming the lure is presented in the right way, at the right time and in the right place. (That’s where rod technique comes in.) Early flies were made from natural components like animal hair and feathers tied to look like local terrestrial and aquatic insects. Now, synthetic materials are quite common. Some baits float; others sink. The goal of every lure is to mimic the fish’s natural food.
Today’s fly-fishing enthusiasts are probably most familiar with history of the sport in Great Britain, where in the 19th century, fly fishing developed a somewhat elitist reputation as the only acceptable way to catch fish in slower rivers. By the 1920s, U.S. anglers were experimenting in-country with a variety of artificial lures, a trend which spurred the development of cheap fiberglass rods and synthetic fly lines for more effective presentation and delivery of their baits.
Fly fishing continued to flourish in the U.S. with sustained growth through its first big peak in the 1950s. Now, after more than a half-century of expansion, technological advances and commercialization, a new generation of anglers is embracing a style of fly fishing reminiscent of its simpler origins, with mindful restraint and conscious respect for minimal impact on the environment.
Meet three of our favorite fly-fishing guides, each of whom has connections to the South and a life-long love of the sport:
Jason “JB” Balogh
Fish the Fly Guide Service
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
After earning engineering degrees from University of the South at Sewanee and Washington University in St. Louis, Jason “JB” Balogh headed to a career path in outdoor adventures in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Founder of Fish the Fly Guide Service, JB admits even after 21 years in the business, fly fishing still takes him away from the world in a good way. In fact, when I first called to schedule this interview, his wife Laurie told me he was off the grid for a week, celebrating his 45th birthday, by fly fishing, hiking and rafting in one of his favorite remote areas.
“We’ve been together 19 years now,” Laurie says, “mostly because of his calming, peaceful spirit. With a first-grade daughter and a 2-year old son, it helps to be married to a man who is thoughtful, patient, and a natural leader.”
Dustin Jones, who functions as an operations director for Fish the Fly, concurs with Laurie’s estimation. “JB truly believes in the power of wilderness to restore the soul, which is why we hold rare permits to guide fly-fishing trips on waters designated as Wild and Scenic near the headwaters of the Snake River, as well as the Green River, Yellowstone National Park, backcountry creeks in the Gros Ventres, and also in the Black Rock Ranger District of the Bridger-Teton National Forest,” he says.
“Most importantly, JB is completely committed to crafting unique experiences tailored to each client. Even our non-fishing scenic trips are customized private affairs. We simply don’t do assembly-line outings.”
Gaston’s White River Resort
Frank Saska left the harsh winter climes of Lake Michigan and northern Indiana for the four-season pleasures of northern Arkansas. A guide with Gaston’s White River Resort for 25 years, Frank developed a love of fly fishing when a friend’s father offered him a summer construction job with great benefits.
“I may not have even gotten paid,” he recalls, “but what I did get was a place to stay, homecooked meals and use of a boat every day. I never went back north.”
Frank’s passion is teaching. As Gaston’s fly-fishing instructor for the past nine years, he encourages every novice to invest in forming good habits.
“Don’t try to figure it out yourself,” he cautions. “Find somebody who is really good to teach you the basics so that you don’t form bad habits you’ll have to unlearn later. At Gaston’s, we’re fortunate to have handicap accessible docks, clean restrooms and rain sheds which makes trout fishing easily available to everyone. What’s more, we have no biting flies or mosquitos. And because the river is stocked regularly, you’re almost guaranteed to catch fish every time.”
For more experienced anglers, Saska says it’s important to communicate with a guide at a local fly shop to find out the best time of year and the best places to fish.
“Most of all, be honest about your skill level,” he advises. “And whatever your level of expertise, don’t keep all your fish. Conservation is our friend.”
Asheville, North Carolina
Andrew Tashie of Asheville Drifters says his grandfather, M. A. Lightman, Jr., virtually baptized him with a love of fishing. “He built a 35-acre lake, just for fishing, on his property in Fisherville, Tenn., just outside Collierville. As soon as I was old enough to get in the boat, I was on the water with him.”
After high school, Tashie traveled to South America for a three-month session of the National Outdoor Leadership School. Upon his return, he enrolled at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado, and completed his degree in Outdoor Leadership and Recreation.
“Four years later, I came back to the South where I could fish all year,” he says. “At first, I got my clients through a guy who had a little fly shop in the back of a gas station. This was right about the time ‘A River Runs Through It’ became a popular movie.”
Soon, Tashie moved to Boone, North Carolina, where he worked as a guide for a local outfitter. “Of course, it helped that Evie, a girl I dated in high school, was doing graduate work at Duke,” he says. Andrew and Evie eventually married and moved to Asheville. They now have a 14-year old son and a 12-year old daughter.
“The best thing about the Asheville area is the abundance of unique rivers within a one-hour drive,” he explains. “When I take clients out, they won’t see a bunch of other guides and other people, either in boats or on the bank. Most people find that exciting!”
When it comes to advice, Tashie recommends finding a mentor who can teach you what they know. “Fly fishing is not a muscle game; it’s a finesse sport. Unfortunately, many ‘experienced’ anglers think they already know it all. I’ve decided you can always learn something new. Try reading ‘Curtis Creek Manifesto: A Fully Illustrated Guide to the Strategy, Finesse, Tactics and Paraphernalia of Fly Fishing’. You’ll see.”