The rhythmic cast and strip of the line. Lining up the perfect drop of the fly to subtly drift the river surface. The rush of water past heavy boots as you slowly push against the swift current, constantly evaluating in the flashing light and dark of the uneven streambed. Releasing a slippery rainbow-hued trout back to the river with a gentle nudge. The sparkle of the rising sun flickering on the water–and if you’re really lucky–the soft whir of a new insect hatch, drawing more trout to the surface to feed. A couple of hours spent on the water centers the soul and revives the spirit like nothing else. But getting to this point usually isn’t a straight line of skills development from newbie to accomplished angler. And like a lot of things in life, the more you practice a craft, the more you realize what you don’t know. Enter, the mentors. Fortunately for those of us who fish Utah’s high country, they are as generous with their time and passion as they are talented. 

“People call it a ‘sport,’” says Utah guide Mike Freyvogel, aka Mikey Fries, “But it’s more like an art.” And in the tight-knit fly-fishing community of Utah, Freyvogel’s approach to not only getting people on the river but also mentoring life-long lovers of the craft is legend. With a cheerful wave or a subtle chin nod, Freyvogel is an always-smiling regular on the riverbank, at the trailhead, or wherever he’s bartending on Main Street that evening. Even more attention goes to his trusty canine sidekick, Dora, his constant river companion for the past nine years. An angler his whole life, Freyvogel’s actively guided for over a dozen years in Utah and he estimates that he’s taught at least a thousand clients

“It’s not a bullwhip,” says Freyvogel of how some people first approach casting line. “It’s more like ballet than football. It’s a game of finesse.” He’s talking about avoiding anything in the cast that doesn’t look natural, or that will scare fish. In a well-presented cast, the fly will lightly skim the water, just like an insect, or when using hefty streamers, mimic a downed rodent. As the winter days thaw into spring on the Lower Provo River near Sundance, we’re challenged with evaluating the new bugs that are hatching, and how the river volume changes dramatically with the thaw

“You have to do about 1,000 things correctly to catch a fish,” Freyvogel says. “But it only takes doing one thing wrong to scare one off the fly.” “It’s puzzle solving,” says Freyvogel of his approach to figuring out what will snag a trout on any given day. “The best guides will not just put you on fish but will actively teach you how to read the river.” Says Freyvogel, “Food, oxygen, shelter. That’s what fish need to live. You figure out where they’re going for those things and you’ll always catch fish.”

But to take it to the next level, Freyvo – gel says I need to dive deeper. “You can just go fishing and have a great day,” he says of casting line with the commercially produced flies I usually pick up at the shop. “But when you catch a fish using a fly that you not only tied yourself, but created” as a unique-toyou pattern, “that’s when it comes full circle,” he says with a grin. “You’ve tricked the fish. It’s an aha moment.”