What follows is a review of the AFI Fly Fishing 101 course in Washington State Summer 2023:
The goal of this workshop was to provide our Military community with hands on information for getting into fly fishing, taught at the “101” level. Matt Dahl, an Army Vet and guide from Emerald Water Anglers in Seattle spearheaded one hell of an event. He recruited another guide from his shop as well as Will Schwab, a local fly guide and another Army Vet from a rival shop; to round out a top shelf cast of mentors.
Matt came prepared and organized with plenty of gear for all attendees to use as well as donations from Trxstle to hand out to those in attendance. This was a 7-hour seminar that started with a “show & tell” circle of all the basics needed for someone to get into the sport. Literally everything a newcomer could possibly ask was covered, ensuring everyone got their hands on each piece of equipment for familiarization.
Emphasis was placed on utilizing local resources and keeping within a reasonable budget, without getting taken advantage of. Several examples were provided to show the difference in gear and what was really needed for the beginner to novice. From there, we broke into a casting demonstration, that seamlessly led into the mentors giving an in-depth casting class with hands on critique and pointers.
In a very short time, all attendees were proficient enough to put the skills to work on the Cedar River nearby. Achieving that milestone, we broke for a simple hot dog & potato chip lunch, before moving on to the more sexy stuff. Bellies full, and folks hydrated, we hit the river and focused on what to look for with bug entomology, identification of trout preferred habitat, trout behavior, how to approach fishing spots, legal access rules, and water safety. Then the attendees with rods in hand put all the elements of instruction received throughout the day to work, under the tutelage of Matt and started fishing.
The heat of the day was upon us, and it wasn’t going to be easy for this merry band of strangers to the sport to coax a fish to the hook, but it did happen! Not once, but twice. Our only female attendee (and fellow Navy Vet) hooked two rainbow, to which she claimed that they were the first she has ever caught with a fly rod. Chalk that up for a win!
Overall, this was a fantastic event, with some great mentors. Feedback from the guides was that being prior military themselves made teaching our group all that much easier. They stated that we were far better students than their paying customers. I could only surmise that we all shared the common thread of our service. They also expressed interest in wanting to do more of this type of event with the AFI as well as a “102” level class for previous attendees to further build on their skills. In addition, our mentors felt a huge sense of gratitude for doing this and were every bit as thankful for the event as the attendees were. It’s humbling to see our guides emulate the quality of placing service before self, and I’m thankful for guys like that.
The biggest takeaway is that being in the military, it is often overlooked that we are very adaptive students. I truly don’t think anyone outside of our circle can truly grasp this concept. Hence why I think the R3 concept thrives within the AFI. Years of military training just make our community more well suited for this type of instruction than the average Joe off the street. It highlighted above all things; our Military is a group of “professional learners” always up for the challenge.
Now even I, the skeptic who trash talked fly fishermen for years, am currently looking to buy my first fly rod! Well done, Matt!