Classic Story and Photos: How Fly Fishing Changed My Life

Written by: Josh Diller

Fly fishing has led Josh Diller far away from the self-destructive path he was on.
Photo by John Bundy

[Editor’s Note: I knew Josh Diller via Facebook for a couple years before he told me the inspirational story of how he came to be living the fly-fisher’s life in Colorado. I asked him to share it here because I think it says a lot about him, as a young man, and about the transformative power of fly fishing and a life outdoors. Since this story was first published a couple years ago, Josh Diller has become a guide at Trout’s Fly Fishing, and Orvis-endorsed outfitter in Denver. Check out his great Instagram account.]

I grew up on a farm in the rolling hills of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and I enjoyed fishing, hunting, and roaming the fields when I was younger. As I got older, however, I fell into the party scene—going out in the city, drinking a lot, and selling drugs. I was living life in the fast lane, you could say.

Josh’s early adulthood was given over the the part scene and club lifestyle in Pennsylvania.
Photos courtesy Josh Diller

In Pennsylvania, trout season begins with “Opening Day,” and I decided in the spring of 2013—on my down time from going out to the clubs and selling drugs—that I would pick up a fishing rod, go out with the crowds, and try to catch a couple fish. One thing led to another, and I really started to enjoy this fishing thing and being outside again. I have always been driven to take the next step and to try to better what I’ve already done. So, after slaying the fish day in and day out on a spinning rod, I decided I would try to do it with a fly rod.

The fishing bug started on Opening Day 2013, with a spinning rod in hand.

Growing up, I never got the opportunity to try fly fishing. In Lancaster, fly fishing wasn’t really much of a thing, and everyone used spin-casters to dunk bait. The closest thing I had to a fly shop was an Orvis outlet store. They mostly carry clothing and such, one corner in the store is dedicated to fly fishing. On June 21, 2013, I met Derek Eberly (a former Trout Bum of the Week) in that little corner. At the time, I had a pool-stick of a rod that I found in our basement, from when we were kids. It had probably been picked up from a yard sale and never touched since. Derrick gave me some casting instructions behind the outlet mall, sold me a leader, tippet, and a few bass flies, and I was on my way to try and figure out this whole fly fishing thing.

Josh poses with a largemouth from a local pond.

That first night, I went to a local golf-course pond to work on my casting and try to catch a largemouth bass. I didn’t hook into anything, but in the days to come, I picked up the casting motion more and more. I started fishing for smallmouths on local rivers, and within a few months of fly fishing, I decided I wanted to move to where I could really learn how to fish for big, wild trout. Colorado was in my sights, so I packed my bags and hit the road.

Soon, he started chasing smallmouths and trout.

I ended up in Summit County. Turns out this place is a Mecca for fly fishing! There’s so much water to fish within a short drive, with an abundance of fly shops and information at your fingertips, not to mention the nicest people you will ever meet. At first, I couldn’t catch a trout to save my life. I actually gave up after getting skunked my first few weeks in Colorado. I spent some time riding my bike and snowboarding that winter, living the Colorado lifestyle.

Smallmouths were his “gateway drug” to life a chasing trout. Notice the equipment upgrade.

The next summer, I was taking the bus home when I struck up a conversation with this fishy lookin fella named Keegan Axtel, who had flies stuck in his hat. I was telling him I had been trying to learn to fly fish but couldn’t figure it out. We exchanged numbers and I went on my way. In the next few days, I got a call from Keegan, who asked if I wanted to join him and his buddies on a float down the Colorado River to catch some trout. I jumped at the opportunity! That day, we ended up floating Pumphouse to Rancho (10 miles) twice in one day!

That first season in Colorado, getting skunked was the norm.

Keegan showed me the basics of a hopper-dropper set up, as well as the keys to streamer fishing. Till this point I had never thrown a nymph rig or more than one fly. I can remember thinking, “Man, these guys are on to something or this is just cheating.” We caught so many fish and it was really thrilling. Thinking back, it was on that day that I was truly “hooked” or “caught the bug.”

Using his newfound knowledge, Josh started to have more success.

That fall I scored a job as a hunting guide in Livingston, Montana. I spent three months exploring the foothills of the Crazy Mountains and the nearby rivers, learning and experiencing new things each time I got the opportunity to fish. I returned to Colorado and made friends with a fly-fishing guide, Nick McDonald, who worked the Colorado Angler in Silverthorne. The kid knew it all: from fishing spots, to just the right flies, to what the fish were going to eat that day. I spent that winter fishing all over Colorado with Nick, taking in every piece of advice that I could watching him like a hawk!

Autumn in Montana, with a beautiful cutthroat.

It was around that time, when I was finally getting a real grip on this fly fishing thing, that I decided to start Daily Rise Productions. I was having such a blast—because of all the places fly fishing was taking me, the people I was meeting, the breathtaking scenery I was exploring, the gold metal rivers I was fishing, and the wildlife I was experiencing—that I had to share the experience with others. My goal is to inspire others to go out and enjoy the outdoors and the opportunities that are right out your back door.

I am where I am today because of the people I have met along the way, and that consistent drive to better myself. I now live in a house with two other trout bums in Summit County, where I can fish multiple rivers year round. Most of our evenings are spent at the vise, tying flies for the next day, and we are living life adventure to adventure. I feel like, thanks to fly fishing, I’ve come a long way!

8 thoughts on “Classic Story and Photos: How Fly Fishing Changed My Life”

  1. Awesome my friend! Now time for the student to become a teacher and pass it on. Tight Lines…

  2. I have to say, our stories dont stray too far apart in many ways. Glad to see this passion we share has proven itself as a U-turn potentialy saving multiple lives. May the fish gods be well to you Josh.

  3. I’ve known Josh for a long time and am extremely glad he has found his sweet spot in life. Many blessings Josh and keep going, there’s lot’s more.

  4. Josh-
    Your story is a testament to the power of fly fishing and its mentors in guiding us all to a “true north.” Pass it on wherever you can in life, to both young people struggling to find the way and those older who think they have it all figured out, but don’t know what they don’t know. – Dave

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