Archive for Monday, May 15, 2006

Fly fishing in Kansas on rise

Trout not only target; carp, crappie, wipers also fair game for true believers

May 15, 2006


Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Kansas, solidly in the Bible Belt, is becoming a hotbed for fly fishing, whose practitioners talk about their sport like it's a religion.

But converts, er, anglers seem to be flocking to join the ranks.

Want proof?

Take a look at the Lawrence-based Free State Fly Fishers, a club recently recognized as being the fastest-growing chapter in the country.

"And we could have grown a lot faster, but we decided to get some good footing under us first," club president Jeff Frye said. "It's not like I was turning people down, but there's a danger in getting too big, too quick. I didn't publicize it at all."

Of course, growth is relative.

The Free State Fly Fishers started in September, when Frye, treasurer Tim Yager and secretary R. Steve Dick signed the charter agreement over a beer.

"We looked at the form, and I said, 'One of us has to be president. Who's going to be president,'" Frye recalled. "I looked up and saw two fingers pointing back at me."

The club since has grown nearly 20-fold.

Members gather for monthly meetings, the club has its own Web site (, organizes fishing outings and, in general, promotes fly fishing in northeast Kansas.

In some ways, it's a battle against the stereotype.

You know, the one that portrays a fly fisherman as a rich, middle-aged guy wading waist-deep in some Colorado stream in search, invariably, of a trout.

Yager's Flies finds its niche

How does Yager's Flies do it? How does the company - an Internet and mail-order fly-fishing supplier with a small retail shop in Lawrence - stay in business without a decent trout stream in sight? "We get asked that a lot," said Tim Yager, who co-owns the business with his wife, Kim. "We go into fly shops. If you ask them, they say they sell mostly flies. They're not selling high-end rods. They might sell entry-level rods if somebody breaks theirs. We have our niche. You don't have to have a blue-ribbon trout stream to do good business." And business at Yager's is good. The company started nine years ago in the Yagers' Wichita home. Today it's a $500,000 business. "We still have people come in and ask if we have bait, if we have worms," Tim Yager said. "There are enough people around town to handle that." The bulk of Yager's business comes from mail order, via Web site ( or phone. The brick and mortar store, at 2311 Wakarusa Drive, is open two nights a week - Tuesday and Thursday, 6-9 p.m. - and most of the day Saturday. "We never got a loan," Tim Yager said. "It's just grown and grown.'

"I hear that a lot: 'Where do you fly fish in Kansas?'" says Yager, who with wife Deb co-owns Yager's Flies, a nationally known fly-fishing retailer that does the bulk of its business online and over the phone, but that also maintains a brick-and-mortar store in Lawrence. "You can fly fish anywhere there's water and fish. It's fly fishing, not trout fishing."

Fly fishermen haul in wipers from the Clinton Lake dam, bass and catfish, from farm ponds, crappie from Lone Star Lake, gar and carp from the Wakarusa River.

In other words, if it swims and eats, it can be enticed to bite on a fly.

"I can't go out after work and go trout fishing," Frye said. "You fish what you've got around here. The fact is, you can fish for anything with a fly rod. The perception is that it's a trout sport, but we fly fish for everything."

And the rest of the stereotype?

"Yeah, most people aren't thinking about blue jeans and rubber mud boots," Frye said with a laugh, "but that's what it is sometimes."

Whatever the garb and whatever the target, true believers speak of fly fishing more like it's a way of life than a past-time.

At its essence, perhaps, the difference between fly fishing and, say, bait fishing or spinning is that fly fishing is more of an end unto itself, while other methods are means toward the end of catching fish.

Fly fishers go out to fish; other anglers go out to catch fish.

Frye is a born-again fly fisherman.

"It's more fun," he said. "I used to be one of those guys who'd buy a license every year, go out, not catch anything and repeat the process," said Frye, who borrowed a fly rod from a friend for a trip to Colorado and returned a new man.

"I was hooked," he said. "There's a connection there, a connection to the fish with a fly rod."

As far as Yager is concerned, that's preaching to the choir.

"I love to dry-fly fish," Yager said. "I love to see that fly sitting on top of the water. I love to see the fish take the fly. What lures me into it? It's beautiful flies, light tackle. It's a challenge to lay a fly on the water and imitate an insect. They have all of these natural insects to eat, and when they take yours, that's the ultimate.

"I don't care if I only catch one fish a day. It's about outsmarting that one fish. It's a religion. It's soothing for the soul."


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