I like to believe that most of us who have had that experience can remember it. Whether it was at a young age when you watched someone close to fly fishing, or later on in life when you experienced it for yourself and your inner skeptic swam off like a freshly released fish.
I remember my conversion very clearly, and oddly enough, I had been fly fishing for a number of years before it. However, it came to that point where I knew that I knew fly fishing was the only way forward for me.
It was during my first trip to the Okavango River in Botswana. Catching Tigerfish on the fly was something I had dreamt about and finally was going to do. I was so determined to catch a tiger on the fly because a number of people had told me how impossible it was, and how miserable it was to have your palm burned while palming your fly reel on a running fish.
The first day I fished the Okavango I went out for just the a few hours. I had driven about 400 km that day, so just had the afternoon to fish. I thought I should feel these fish on the spinning rod before I try for them on the fly. You know, get an idea of what I was up for. So I rigged only my spinning rod and went out on the river with a local guide.
This was my first time on the Okavango and it was an awesome experience to drive along these channels walled in with 10 foot tall papyrus and reeds and pass by islands covered in palm trees with African Fish Eagles calling from them. It was paradise and I hadn't even wet a line yet.
My guide brought me to a hole, anchored and I started fishing. It wasn't long before I had caught my first tigers and lost a number of them as well. I was blown away by how strong they were. Every fish I hooked I imagined was at least double if not triple the size it was by the time I got it to the boat.
8 hours later, I was exhausted and skunked! I knew catching a tigerfish on the fly was going to be a challenge, but really? Nothing all day? But I wasn't going to give up. Especially since Smally wouldn't let me touch my spinning rod. With a number of years experience guiding for tigers he had seen first hand how much more exciting it was to catch tigers on the fly and promised me it would happen the next day.
I slept better that night. I think mostly just because I was so exhausted and a little defeated. But I by the time I woke up that next morning my determination was back. Smally took me to the same area we had fished the previous day, where again I felt the hard hits of tigers, but never hooked up. It was then Smally was convinced the fish in that area were just too small and thus wouldn't stick to the 2/0 hook of my fly. But he had a trick up his sleeve.
Smally took me down a secondary channel past some of the most beautiful scenery I had ever seen. Islands, flood plains, and birds of every shape and colour all over the place. Eventually the secondary channel re-joined the main channel and it wasn't long after that Smally put me onto a small Catfish run. It didn't look like much at all, but after watching it for only a couple minutes we began to see bait fish being smashed on the surface by monsters with bright orange fins. Now was my chance!
I got up on the bow and dropped my fly a foot from the papyrus and started stripping like heck. Two strips and the line went tighter than tight and audibly cut through the water toward the main current as the tiger on the end of my line jumped in the middle of the river. I was on!
I think my body released every last drop of adrenaline into my veins as I realized I had a tiger on the fly! It's power was awesome and it's acrobatics unbelievable. I got the fish to the boat where Smally landed it and it was all smiles and high-fives. After a quick photo we released the 6lb tiger and I got back in the game. The very next cast I hooked up again! And that was it - "This is the only way to catch fish!"
I sincerely believe that God designed Tigerfish specifically for fly fishing. To feel their power, experience their agility, and awe at their acrobatics while hooked up with them, line in your hand, is an experience like no other. Since that moment I've had this experience over and over with many different species.
Whether carp, bass, salmon, steelhead, tigerfish, etc. there is something about fly fishing that seems to connect you to the fish that you experience them in a way that is more true to their design...
This is the only way to catch a fish.