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Hanging with the pros

Dave Kielar, in the dark vest, watches as Tim Romano prepares to practice cast for the School of Trout students in Island Park, Idaho, last week.
Photo by Chris Hunt

Dave Kielar felt like he had to pinch himself.

There he sat, surrounded by what amounted to fly fishing glitterati, at a dinner table at TroutHunter in Island Park, Idaho. Earlier in the week, he got to rub elbows with the venerable Craig Mathews, who for years owned and operated Blue Ribbon Flies in nearby West Yellowstone, Mont., and who has likely forgotten more about fly fishing that most will ever know. In addition to spending time with Craig–if you haven’t stopped into BRF in West and just pulled knowledge out of Mathews via simple osmosis, you’re missing out– he got one-on-one time with Hilary Hutcheson, the renowned Montana guide and angler who’s written and been featured in uncounted articles and books.

Earlier that day, John Juracek, the renowned fly-fishing photographer and casting instructor, had worked with him, one on one, to improve his cast and, in so doing, make him a better angler. And this was after he had the opportunity to pick the brain of Tom Rosenbauer, who has manned a desk at Orvis for more than 40 years, and has invested so much time in the craft that he is easily considered to be among the best fly fishing authorities in the world.

Later in the week, he got photography lessons from Tim Romano, who is the co-editor of Angling Trade, and whose work has graced the pages of countless magazines, catalogs, websites and the like. Then, just to add to the experience, he got to listen to Kirk Deeter, editor of TROUT Magazine, editor-at-large at Field & Stream, celebrated author and co-editor of Angling Trade talk about how he might organize his fly box for a day on the water.

This came after he got to spend some time gleaning insight from world-renowned fly fisher and artist Jeff Currier, whose fly fished and crafted some of the best artwork available about the discipline earned from visits to fishy water all over the planet.

And then he got one-on-one, on-the-water lessons from Todd Tanner, the award-winning fly-fishing writer and the founder of Conservation Hawks, the non-profit that works to raise awareness and spur action among sportsmen and women in the climate change arena.

I sat next to Dave, an opthalmologist from Lexington, Ky., on one of the last evenings of the annual School of Trout event, and looked around the room with him.

“If I wanted to learn how to play the guitar,” he mused, “I’d wish for the chance to spend a week with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton,” he said. He then looked at all of the fly-fishing experts gathered together under one roof for School of Trout.

“That’s the equivalent here,” he said. “I’m learning more about fly fishing from fly fishing’s Jimmi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page–the very best.”

Indeed, I noted. Attending School of Trout is a lot like going to basketball camp with the 1992 Olympic basketball team. At every turn, there’s a professional that’s among the best in the world at what they do.

Every fall, Tanner hosts the School of Trout in Island Park, largely as a fundraiser for Conservation Hawks, but also as a way to give anglers the chance to learn from the craft’s all-stars. For about the price of a fully guided lodge trip to Alaska, anglers can instead spend a week on one of the most celebrated rivers in the world–the Henry’s Fork–under the tutelage of some of the best anglers anywhere.

“I told John Juracek that there are a few times in your life that you will cross paths with people who will have a positive effect on you for the rest of your life,” Dave said. “I felt that way about the instructors of this course.”

At that moment Juracek walked by and patted Dave on the shoulder.

“It still kind of blows my mind,” he said.

I nodded, looking around the room.

“Mine, too,” I said.