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Fly fishermen

Fly fisherman Dave Conroy of the Derby City Fly Fishers poses with his huge smallmouth bass on Green River. Photo: Derby City Fly Fishers

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon on Green River, I parked my canoe along a large gravel bar—a great spot to catch a nice smallmouth bass here where the river narrows, squeezing the water into a Class I rapid. Using ultra-light spinning gear, I cast a Rebel crawdad lure across the narrow shoot to a swirling eddy where a big fish had to be waiting for prey. But cast after cast produced nothing.

Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw an armada of men in kayaks paddling downstream toward me. One after another, about 30 of them passed by the gravel bar where I stood.

If fishing were poetry, fly fishers would be the authors. I watched in awe as they artistically cast their lines in beautiful loops and rolls. Some of the fishermen had greying beards, some were smoking cigars and all of them were dressed as if they belonged in an Orvis ad, sporting wide-brimmed hats and vests adorned with artificial flies. It turns out they were members of a fishing club—Louisville’s Derby City Fly Fishers—on a field trip to Green River. 

One of them stopped at the gravel bar and tossed a line into the eddy where I’d finally given up on catching anything. Within minutes I watched him catch the biggest smallmouth bass I’d ever seen caught on the river, a whopping 6 pounder.

“That is unbelievable,” I shouted to him over the sound of rushing water. With a big smile I congratulated him, although deep down inside, I was green with envy.

Club member Dave Conroy caught the fish with a 6-weight fly rod, a sink tip line and a clouser minnow tied with calf hair. “I’ve never caught a smallmouth any larger, and I have fly fished for 25 years,” he says.

He gently released the behemoth bass so it could give someone else a fishing story for the grandkids. After that I wanted to learn more about the Derby City Fly Fishers and perhaps re-visit the sport of fly-fishing and, as the saying goes, “I know just enough to be dangerous.” 

The club is not just about catching fish, but about giving back as well by offering beginning fly-fishing instruction both on and off the water, fly-casting instruction, rod building classes and about 15 club-sponsored field trips per year. Trip leader Ralph Swallows says the members, 200 strong, “are warm and welcoming and very willing to share their knowledge.” 

After what I saw that day, I’d be smart to join the Derby City Fly Fishers myself. Maybe someday I can have a fishing story for the grandkids. 

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