As far as fly fishing goes, Wade Fellin has lived somewhat of a charmed life. Having grown up at a fishing lodge in southwestern Montana–his dad, Craig Fellin, started Big Hole Lodge in 1984, before Wade was even born–he’s been immersed in the sport since toddlerhood. (See the picture below.) But the kid has not just hung out at the ranch. Wade is pursuing a law degree at the University of Montana while serving as a manager and guide at the lodge.
We asked Wade a series of questions about his favorite sport, and here are his replies:
When did you start fly fishing? As a baby, my father and mother would strap my bassinette to their Avon raft with a boat strap and take me when they went fishing. I was three the first time I had a fly rod in my hand though, and three the first time I caught a fish on a fly. My dad had given me a Wal-Mart special spinning rod and left me in a good pool after teaching me how to chuck the spoon. He went upriver, fishing with his fly rod. It didn’t take me long to get bored with my setup, and I wandered upstream after him. “Dad, I don’t like this,” I said.” I want what you have.” He bent and handed me his rod and held it with me as he taught me the cast. We hooked a fish together and I reeled it in. I don’t think either of us has ever smiled so big!
What’s your favorite water? I love the small mountain streams of the West. When I fish alone I like to be alone, and nothing is more refreshing than hooking a feisty cutthroat, high in the creaking pines, with no one around to celebrate with but nature. I can’t name my favorite waters or they would cease to possess the very essence that makes them my favorite, but I guarantee if you go looking, you’ll find yours. And I highly recommend you do.
What’s your favorite fly-rod quarry and why? In Belize this past fall, I walked the flats alone one afternoon, stalking bonefish singles and pairs. We were there the week after Hurricane Richard, and the permit were still taking cover in the deeper water. Our guide would pole along the mangroves in the lagoon each morning looking for the sharp, black tails to no avail. We would hit the flats in the afternoon to play with the bones. The sun was low, and the sailboat-like tails of the bonefish looked like diamonds shimmering on the water’s surface. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a large, dark fin splashing at the edge of the reef about 30 yards away. It was a small shark, probably a yellow fin, but just beyond him in the deeper water appeared two sickle-shaped black dorsal fins. Permit! I dropped to my knees and changed flies, looking up frequently to keep the permit in sight. By the time I was ready, one fish had disappeared, and the other was 60 feet in front of me in two feet of water, heading my way. His dorsal and tail fins were high above the water, tilted at the feeding angle. I stayed on my knees and dropped a cast about five feet in front of him. When he was above the fly, I rolled the line through my fingers slowly, and he wheeled to his right and stopped. I knew he was staring directly at my fly, and I could hear my heart beating in my neck. I cannot remember if I intentionally moved the fly at this point or if I twitched it out of nervousness, but in either case it spooked the permit and he took off into the deep, leaving me nothing but his wake. I stood humbled and with a smile on my face. That was a true sport fish, and I’ll be back for him someday.
What’s your most memorable fly-fishing moment? When I was a freshman in college, I got to tag along to New Zealand with the group my father had put together. It was my spring break, so I could only manage four days of fishing on the South Island at Rotaroa Lodge. It had been a very wet fall for them, and when I arrived in March the rivers were high and blown out. We managed to catch a few fish in the off-color water over the course of the first three days, and I was just happy to be there. On the final day, I grabbed my rod and headed out to the parking lot to meet our guide. The other groups had already left, and the only vehicle in the lot was a helicopter! My father, who had sworn off helicopters after Vietnam, had made an exception for this fishing trip and hired a chopper to takes us to clear waters, high in the mountains.
We landed on a pristine river, tucked below a mountain used in the filming of The Lord of the Rings. Dad, the guide, and I grabbed our gear and ducked as the helicopter took off and left us in the serenity of the New Zealand wilderness. We walked up around the corner to gear up, and the guide immediately spotted a big brown trout about 70 yards upstream. I told my father it was his fish.
I’ll never forget standing on the bank with the guide as my dad quietly stepped into the water, peeled the appropriate amount of line off the rod, and then hung his arms at his sides and waited. He watched the fish work for at least three minutes before making a cast, and when he finally did make the decision to cast he let the slack line drift down river until it was taut, made one forward cast to the left of the fish to check his distance, came back over his right shoulder, and made one cast at the fish. The nymph landed two feet in front of the trout. The guide and I remained silent. Dad slowly raised the rod tip as he pulled firmly down with the line in his left hand and hooked the fish. The guide and I exchanged smiles and didn’t say a word.
What’s your most forgettable fly-fishing moment? While guiding a pair of businessmen on the upper Big Hole, I pointed out a beautiful flat bank and said, “This is a perfect spot for lunch.” My client said, “This is a perfect spot for one-a them pay-to-park trailer sites. I wonder how much they want for this piece of land.”
What do you love most about fly fishing? Fly-fishing is an in-depth conversation with oneself. Few activities lend themselves to self-discovery and fewer still are as accessible as fly fishing. Endurance sports such as running, climbing, and biking test one’s drive and commitment and push a person to become better, but at some point the human body can no longer participate in these activities. Soul-searching is a lifelong activity, and after growing up with a psychoanalyst in the house, I tend to believe it’s a requirement for a fulfilling life. When you are standing knee-deep in a stream, or walking the flats under a Carribean sky, or simply standing on a bank casting into a pond, you are searching for something below the surface. When you are sneaking through bushes and into the water below a trout, your mouth and feet are quiet, and it is during these moments that your mind is the clearest and you can hear yourself the loudest.
What’s your favorite piece of gear and why? I never fish without a Snickers bar and a pocket-knife. You ought to be able to survive in the wild for a few days with those two things.
What’s your next dream destination? I am still young and my list is long! I have fished in the West, the Norheast, Florida, the Yucatan, Belize, and New Zealand. I’d love to hit Chile, Argentina, and Slovenia in the coming years.
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