Marty Howard mostly taught himself the art of fly fishing. But he doesn't recommend that anyone else learn that way.
"That's the hard, tough way to learn to fly fish," he says now. "You have to unlearn too many mistakes if you try to learn entirely by yourself."
Howard, who rans the Spinner Fall Flyshop with other family members, had a fairly typical evolution into fly fishing. "I started fishing with my grandfather when I was so young I can't even remember the beginnings." His grandfather had a small trolling boat and fished with a fly rod using bait, flies and spinners.
"As I got older, I became very interested in tying flies. I tied wooly worms and wooly buggers for lake fishing. That's what got me interested."
He also watched guides fly fish on the Snake River in the Jackson area and he eventually became a "purist" fly fisherman who promotes catch and release. "It was a fairly typical progression away from bait fishing to fly fishing."
Teaching himself to fly fish took several years of river experience, Howard said. Much better ways exist to learn the sport in a much shorter time. "I wasted a lot of time trying to learn myself."
He recommends that beginners take a fly fishing class, many of which are offered. All the specialty tackle shops offer classes, along with community education programs, the Stonefly Society and other organizations. Most are inexpensive and will help a novice avoid bad habits.
A new, effective way to learn the sport is through video tapes, Howard said. Numerous videos on all aspects of fly fishing and fly tying are now available, he said, and can be purchased or checked out.
Howard said he thinks as much can be learned from a video tape as from group instruction because the tapes can be reversed and repeated as often as is necessary.
Another effective way is to take some guided trips with expert fly fishermen. "You can't beat personal instruction right on the stream," Howard said, "We've taken quite a few brand new fishermen on the Green. Within a half hour they were catching fish."
Dozens of excellent books on fly fishing also exist, Howard said, although they might be difficult to learn from without someone to point out mistakes and improper techniques. For the more experienced fly fisherman, books can open whole new vistas and areas of learning.
It is natural that as a beginner learns about fly fishing, he or she will become more interested in conservation and things like catch and release. "It is so much fun to fly fish and catch a nice trout that it's a shame to kill it so no one else can enjoy the experience," Howard said.
He said he doesn't disapprove of people taking home a limit of fish from a "put and take" lake, but it upsets him when wild fish are taken out of a river that has good natural reproduction. "With more catch and release streams, we could have 30 to 40 fish days in some sections."