By Devin Golden
Toward the end of Howard Padgett’s two-hour fly fishing instructional session with Wanda Taylor, he felt a tug on his rod.
And as he pulled the line in Monday morning, he grabbed his first catch of the morning, and the first in his fly fishing career.
“It’s like I caught it,” Taylor said of watching one of her students catch a fish for the first time. “Because I coached him through it. We’re a team, so it’s like we caught it together.”
Taylor, and her husband Gary Taylor, are master caster fly fishing instructors and hold lessons at different spots in Whitfield and Murray counties and the Hiwassee River.
The activity is different than “conventional fishing,” which is what Gary said fly fishers call normal bass fishing. Instead of a weighted bait, it’s a “weightless fly,” Gary said, and the rod “weighs more” than a conventional fishing line.
And the bait imitates “whatever the fish you’re trying to catch are eating,” Wanda said. This could be anything from crab to a minnow or worms. When fishing for trout, the bait is insects.
The first thing Wanda teaches is how to cast. Then, it’s how to fish. For casting, it’s all in the elbows. While conventional fishing uses a lot of wrist action when casting, fly fishing requires the wrist to stay locked and the elbow and forearm to do most of the work.
“Everybody wants to do it with the wrist,” Wanda said. “Sometimes I have to break that down. It’s just the way the equipment is designed to load and unload. With fly fishing, the rod unloads itself and carries the bait, so long as you don’t help it. So the way you don’t help it is to lock your wrist.”
In conventional fishing, it is the hook and bait that is cast and pulls the fishing line along. In fly fishing, it is the opposite. The line is cast and it carries the bait and hook along.
“The energy transfers from the line to the bait,” Gary said. “The cast unrolls. Casting is a sport in and of itself.”
There can be more casting in fly fishing than conventional fishing. Wanda called it “more active involvement.” Another big difference is use of the reel. The only time it is used in fly fishing is when a fish is caught. For recasting, it’s just pulling the line and bait out of the water and sending it back in without doing any reeling in.
“We don’t wind the reel,” Gary said. “We don’t use the reel except to land the fish.”
Wanda, who owns the Hair House beauty salon on Lower Dawnville Road in Dalton, started fly fishing 33 years ago when she and Gary married.
“He never mentioned it when we were dating,” Wanda recalls.
Eventually, it took. She said she did conventional fishing before meeting Gary and fly fishing became part of her passion.
“Fishing in all venues is my passion. It takes you to the most beautiful places in the world,” Wanda said, following with an explanation why she enjoys fly fishing over traditional fishing.
“The cast is like a dance. I enjoy the casting part. Plus, when you hook a fish, you’re in immediate contact. I have my finger on the string, and we’re immediately connected. In the other types of fishing, everything is on a reel. If I caught a fish, I have it on a line and under my finger. I can feel it where it’s going. I’m immediately connected to it.
“For anyone who fishes, the tug is the drug. Just that hook up, you can’t do anything but smile.
Gary, who is a crop adjuster for a farm insurance company, is from Blue Ridge and Wanda is from Dalton. The pair work for Orvis, FlyLogic, Aqua Design, Patagonia and Temple Fork Outfitters, who all pay the couple to test their products. They also have appeared in online fishing shows on YouTube and on the “Fly Fishing” show that appeared on the Outdoor Life Network.
Wanda said the sport’s popularity is growing “every day,” and it is especially increasing among women. One who started taking lessons from Wanda in the last year is Dalton resident Karen Kiker.
“When my only daughter left for college, it was something I got into,” Kiker said. “With Wanda’s help, I’ve been hooked.”
Kiker is planning a fly fishing trip to Montana later this year, and already has visited the Hiwassee River and places in North Carolina for the activity.
“I grew up on a farm and liked to fish,” Kiker said. “My parents had a ranch in Montana and I saw people fly fish. I admired the art. It was something I always wanted to do.
“When you’re on the river, you’re not thinking of anything except mending your line and looking for the fish and what they’re biting. It’s a total escape. And the scenery is always beautiful.”
Wanda became the first female master caster fly fishing instructor. She earned the recognition in 1996 after passing a nearly 400-question verbal and performance exam. Gary earned the same honor in 1998.
“I didn’t know I was the only woman who had taken it, or I wouldn’t have done it,” Wanda said. “The pressure of it. So it was good not knowing that.”
She had to do each type of cast and then show the judges the wrong cast, and correct it.
“That shows you can teach someone who is doing the wrong type of cast and tell them, ‘This is not working for you.’”
Apparently, she’s a pretty good teacher.
Howard Padgett, from Dalton, scheduled the lesson through his son, Chatsworth resident Mike Padgett. Both did the lesson with the Taylors, and both expressed the contrast in fly fishing and conventional fishing.
“If you’ve been fishing with your wrist for so many years, then it’s a big adjustment,” said Mike, who had a wrist band wrapped around his wrist and the rod, forcing his wrist to stay locked with the rod. “Obviously, I have a diaper on her to help me with my accident.”
Said Howard, “I don’t pay any attention when I’m throwing out a normal fishing rod. With this, I can’t bend my wrist.”
Howard is planning a trip with friends to Glacier, Mont., where he will be fly fishing with people who have caught fish in the sport.
“I kept thinking I needed to practice. I have a two-acre lake in front of my house, but I never did practice. So my son (Mike Padgett) set up the lessons. It’s fun. I’m glad he did.”
With just a few minutes left in Monday’s session, Howard hadn’t pulled in his first.
“I hooked three, but I didn’t get either one of them,” he said. “You’re thinking about so much stuff,” he said.