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Getting hooked: Fishing in New Mexico has seen a surge during the COVID-19 pandemic and fly fishing clinics are helping anglers get their line in the water

Fly fishing has been surging recently and sales of New Mexico fishing licenses are up. (Richard Pipes/Journal)

There’s nothing quite like the drawback of the fly rod and a quick wrist flick to send a tied fly snapping eloquently through the air to settle precisely atop a deep pool in a river, bouncing ever so temptingly to the suspicious trout waiting below.

The art of fly fishing has been surging recently and this year offers a perfect diversion in these COVID-angst days.

In the period from April 1 to July 1, fishing licenses have climbed by nearly 7,000 this year compared to last year, according to figures from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Not all of those are for fly fishing, of course, but it still shows how people are flocking to New Mexico’s waters.

“There’s an explosion in people fishing,” said Van Beacham, owner of the Solitary Angler in Taos. “I’ve never seen so many people on the waters in my life.

“But you can’t really do anything, so the hiking trails and fishing streams and lakes are inundated with people right now.”

To help those fishing newbies, Beacham sponsors weekly free fly fishing casting clinics Saturdays at Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort, which go into September. On Aug. 8, the Solitary Angler and Sipapu will conduct a free introduction to fly fishing class that delves deeper into the sport, said Tom Harper, class instructor.

Both classes are “really aimed at people new to the sport,” he said. “We’re anxious to introduce people to the sport of fly fishing. I love teaching people about fly fishing and trying to dispel some of the mysticism about it that seems to concern and scare people surrounding the sport. It’s something anybody can do with minimal instruction.”

Tom Harper leads a fly casting clinic at Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort. (Courtesy Sipapu Ski and Summer Resort)

The moves are fluid and sure, but Harper, 71, who is a certified master instructor, said they’re easy enough to master.

“They’re concerned when they watch somebody cast a fly that they don’t have the coordination or athletic ability to do it,” he said. “That’s simply not true. Anybody can do it. Anybody can learn to do it regardless of their age.”

That’s the idea behind the casting clinic, Harper said.

“We provide the rods and we start off very slowly,” he said. “It’s a step-by-step instruction that they learn to master each step gradually. By the time that clinic is over, I’m hopeful that I’m having them at the point where they can go fish.”

The longer clinic on Aug. 8 gets into more of the nuances of the sport, Harper said.

“We discuss where to find fish, what kinds of flies to use and the methodology behind finding and catching fish,” he said. “So we go into the nuts and bolts of fly fishing. The emphasis is on people who have not fly fished, or who are just beginning in the sport.”

And fly fishing brings rewards unmatched by other types of fishing, Harper claimed.

“Our hope is that we will spark that interest that will cause them to continue with the sport,” he said. “We talk about some of the joys of fly fishing. Catching a fish. It’s my position, once you catch a fish on a fly rod, you never again will want to use any other form to fish.”

One of the aspects of using a fly rod is that not only can it be used in the rivers and lakes of New Mexico, but it can be used anywhere.

“A lot of people associate fly fishing with trout, when the truth is you can go saltwater fishing with a fly rod,” Harper said. “You can catch bass, if you’re from a state like Texas. You can catch any species of fish that you can catch with bait or spin fishing, only from my perspective it’s much more fun and satisfying with a fly rod. And fly fishing can take you all around the world.”

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