Casting with colleagues: If you don’t bleed, you’re ahead of the game

When you work in a building that sits on a stream, (which, in turn, empties into a mighty river just a few hundred yards away), it’s easy for your thoughts to start revolving around fishing.

atalie Feulner of the BDN fly fishes Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor under the watchful eye of her husband, Brian Feulner. Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

Natalie Feulner of the BDN fly fishes Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor under the watchful eye of her husband, Brian Feulner. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

That’s my excuse, anyway.

And ever since the Bangor Daily News moved downtown, and I mentioned to a colleague that it would, most likely, be entirely possible for someone to cast a fly from the roof of One Merchants Plaza into the nearby Kenduskeag Stream, I’ve had flies on my brain.

Luckily, my boss, Sarah Walker Caron, is intrigued by fly fishing — though she’d never fished at all until I dragged her onto the ocean last summer. And luckily, she’s a big fan of the movie “A River Runs Through It,” (or, at the very least, a fan of Brad Pitt standing on a rock in the middle of that river, waving his fly rod around and looking all Brad Pitt-y).

Editor’s note: Can you blame me? Fly fishing looks so graceful and beautiful in that movie. And Brad. Pitt.

And that, as far as I can figure, is why two of my BDN colleagues wound up on the Kenduskeag on Friday, May 29, for an introductory fly fishing lesson conducted by … um … me.

John Holyoke of the BDN coaches his boss, Sarah Walker Caron, on a fly-fishing trip to the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor. Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN

John Holyoke of the BDN coaches his boss, Sarah Walker Caron, on a fly-fishing trip to the Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor. Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN

“I can teach you to fly cast,” I might have said, forgetting how last year’s “I can find you a moose!” guarantee turned out.

As it turns out, I could teach them to fly cast … a little … as long as they didn’t plan on catching fish.

Editor’s note: Don’t blame John for that one. Fish hate me. We learned that in the ocean last year.

On a (brief) serious matter: If you’re really interested in learning to fly fish, I suggest you contact the Penobscot Fly Fishers ( or your local Trout Unlimited chapter. There are plenty of avid anglers in those groups, and many would love to lend a hand, or direct you to an upcoming class.

If you’re not so serious, read on, and try to glean any unintentional wisdom that you can from our adventure.

As far as my own fly-fishing credentials, I’ll just say this: I learned from some of the best, whether they’ll admit to that crime or not. Heck, I even read a Lefty Kreh book. And I’ve fished with Maine’s newest “legendary guide” Dan Legere a dozen times. Add in all the fishing buddies who’ve taught me valuable lessons over the years, and I’ve got just enough knowledge to be dangerous.

Not that I told my new students — the aforementioned Sarah and features writer Natalie Feulner — that.

It was a beautiful spring day, the air was warm and the wind wasn’t blowing. If you’re a fly-caster, you’ll realize how important that last factor can be.

So we headed to the stream, found a nice patch of grass, and the lesson began.

“This is a fly,” I might have said, reaching into my pocket for a multi-tool I used to snip off the actual hook. “And this is the fly we’ll practice with.”

Hooks, my many mentors have taught me, are great for fishing. They also are downright dangerous when a beginning fly-fisher begins to learn the art of casting.

And when it comes to fly fishing, I live by a simple creed: Don’t bleed. Don’t drown. Don’t break any bones. After that, everything else (like actually catching a fish) is a bonus.

For an hour or so, we worked our way through the basics.

“This is a fly rod. Unlike other fishing you may have done, in this case, the lure is virtually weightless, and the line does the work,” I said. “Keep your wrist stiff. Lift the rod briskly, stopping it just as suddenly. And, a la Lefty Kreh, as shared by another buddy, ‘Keep your elbow on the shelf.’”

My students were eager to learn, and made great progress. Natalie showed some early aptitude, likely because she has spent hours watching her husband, Brian, flog the sacred waters. (Brian, for the record, is a semi-proud graduate of the Holyoke School of Fly Casting, with a double-major in blood management and drowning avoidance).

And Sarah? Well, she did just fine, and she taught me a few new lessons of her own. Like, “How to tie a wind knot on a windless day,” and “How to make a graceful entrance into an unfamiliar stream without fully submerging yourself.”

Editor’s note: John fails to mention that during our first foray into the water, I was afraid I’d hook Brian and Natalie, since they were to my right. That held back my casts a lot.

Determined to get to a mid-stream rock outcropping — just like Brad Pitt did in that classic fly-fishing film — Sarah’s first step into the water was perfect.

It’s never the first step that gets you, of course.

It’s the last.

Editor’s note: I really was trying to step in the water — I just had no idea how deep it was there, thank you very much.

She emerged from the stream a bit soggier than she started, but she stayed upright … more or less. For a first-day student of the Holyoke School of Fly Casting, that was pretty impressive in its own right.

The fact that her cellphone stayed dry, and that she finished the day without bleeding? That was a true bonus.

Eventually, we might even get around to catching a fish or two.

Editor’s note: Fish hate me. But we’ll try again anyway. I am the proud owner of a fishing license now, after all.

That, however, is another lesson for another day.

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.