By Maddie Devine
On a picture-perfect Sunday morning, while most of the University was still fast asleep, I found myself paddling in a kayak in the middle of the Rivanna River with a fly fishing rod in hand.
So what exactly was I doing? I was participating in UVA’s Outdoor Recreation kayak fishing class of course!
When I first heard that Outdoor Recreation was offering this class, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to partake. I have always loved the outdoors but had never really found the time to get out and explore while at college. Although I had experience kayaking, I had never tried fly fishing and was eager to see what it was all about.
A few weeks before the trip, when I told my family and friends that I was going to learn how to fly fish, I must admit—I got a few laughs. I don’t think anyone could envision me holding a fishing rod, let alone actually catching a fish—but I was determined to prove them wrong.
On Sunday morning, I walked to the Outdoor Recreation Center on Emmett St. and met my guide, Mark, and the rest of the group for the trip. We packed the van with fly fishing rods, life vests, kayak paddles, and an emergency kit. Then, we tied six kayaks onto the rack behind our vehicle. We were ready to depart!
When we first arrived at the Rivanna River, I immediately walked down to the riverbank and looked around. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Under bright sunshine, blue skies, and 80-degree temperatures, I knew I had made the right decision and couldn’t wait to start my adventure!
At the river, we met up with Brian, another guide with Outdoor Recreation and an avid fly fisherman. For the first part of the class, Mark spent time explaining the different types of kayaks to us. He talked about how some kayaks are used more recreationally while others are made with specific purposes, such as fishing. After a brief introduction, we got to test out each of the kayaks on the water. Mark taught us several different paddling strokes and techniques. Since I had some experience kayaking, I was pretty comfortable on the water. However, the class had people of all skill levels and the instructors were very helpful in giving one-on-one attention to all those who needed it. In no time our whole class was able to comfortably kayak around the riverbanks.
For the first part of the class, Mark spent time explaining the different types of kayaks to us and we then tested each of the kayaks on the water. Once we’d all gained proficiency in kayaking, we paddled back to shore to learn the basics of fly fishing.
We spent some time on land learning how to cast before we got back into the kayaks. Let me just say, casting was a deceptively hard task for me to master. My first couple of attempts involved me viciously whipping around the rod while still trying to look like I knew what I was doing. It was abundantly clear that I did not. Mark soon came over and gave me some helpful tips. He explained that in fly fishing, it is important to be gentle and not to move your whole arm when casting. You simply try to arc the fishing line behind you into a back cast and gently move the line forward to touch the surface of the water. This is much easier said than done. After practicing for a while on land I was ready to head out to the river.
At first I found it a bit challenging to simultaneously kayak and fish, but I soon got the hang of it. My first few casts on the water went well but I had no luck catching any fish. I tried kayaking over to several different locations on the riverbank to see if I would have better luck.
After a while, I decided I should try a new fly (because it surely couldn’t have been me). Brian paddled over and helped me securely tie on another fly on my line. This proved to be my lucky fly because on my first cast I felt a small tug on the rod. I was shocked and squealed with delight. I moved the rod slightly upwards to set the hook (yes, this is fly fishing terminology) and began to reel in the line. And then I saw it in the water. There was a fish on the hook. I HAD CAUGHT A FISH. While it was only a four-inch sunfish, I couldn’t stop smiling!
I will candidly admit that immediately following this monumental catch I sent a picture to my parents, brother, and all of my friends who had dared question my angling abilities.
When the day came to a close, we all paddled back to shore and packed up the kayaks and fishing equipment. Everyone excitedly talked about all their newly acquired kayaking and fly-fishing skills and I, of course, regaled in telling how I had skillfully landed my “monster” fish. Like all fishermen, my fish continues to grow in each retelling.
Overall, this was such a fun experience that I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in either kayaking, fishing, or just experiencing a new adventure on the water.
Maddie Devine is a first-year pre-Commerce student from Boston, MA. She writes for IM-Rec Sports and is also involved in Madison House and the University Programs Council on Grounds.