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Getting Hooked on Fly Fishing

Lebanon, Mo. — Ted Hoerr was using a micro lure to entice big fish.

Pausing his nonstop casts with his fly rod, he swung the speck of a fly into the palm of his hand and admired his work.

“I tie all my own flies now,” Hoerr said as he fished in the Missouri trout opener at Bennett Spring State Park. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve bought one.

“This is a little micro jig that I made out of snow-goose down. It’s different, but the trout love it.”

Moments later, Hoerr proved his point. He used his fly rod to whip the tiny offering and bright-red strike indicator to a pool of water under the arch of a bridge. When the current started to slowly carry the fly downstream, a trout came up and caused the indicator to barely bounce.

Hoerr set the hook and watched as a rainbow trout splashed to the surface, struggling to get free.

“These trout hardly ever will pull the strike indicator completely under,” Hoerr said as he landed the fish, then eased it back into the water. “There will be just a little tick. If you don’t set the hook right away, they’re gone.”

Hoerr again gave a demonstration on the ensuing cast when he turned away briefly as the fly began to drift downstream. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the red indicator bounce. He set the hook, but it was too late.

“That fish was just waiting for me to turn my head,” Hoerr joked.

For Hoerr, such subtleties are what make fly fishing so much fun. He spends the winter months tying his own flies — everything from olive-colored micro jigs to midges to cracklebacks — then he travels to Bennett Spring State Park to use them.

One Friday, he proved that his homemade baits are capable of enticing the stocked trout. He caught fish after fish as he worked his flies through a zone where others were hardly getting a bite.

“Fly fishing is about the only type of fishing I do anymore,” said Hoerr, who lives in Taylor, Mo. “Flies are so natural.

“A lot of times, the fish will stop hitting the bigger lures cast by the spin fishermen, but we’ll still be catching them on fly rods.

“I’ve had days when I’ll catch 60, 70 trout and release every one of them..”

Hoerr, 50, followed tradition when it came time to select the fly rod he would use.

“This is the fly rod my dad gave me for my 16th birthday,” Hoerr said. “I use it every opening day.

“It’s a sentimental thing.”

Hoerr isn’t alone in his love of fly fishing. Many others are hooked on using the smallest bait in the stream to catch the biggest fish.

Up and down the stream at the trout opener, fishermen waded into the water and used fly rods to whip their flies to roaming trout that could be seen in the clear water.

Dave Hoenes of Palmyra, Mo., was one of them. He cast a peach-colored glow ball to catch numerous trout. He released all of them, then used his fly rod to rhythmically cast for more.

“Using a fly rod is just so much more challenging,” he said. “You’re giving the fish a fighting chance.

“The biggest trout I’ve ever caught weighed 7 pounds and it fought like crazy. It took me 45 minutes to land that fish.”

Bennett Spring has earned a reputation for its fly fishing. The trout that are stocked daily through the season meet a wide range of needs - from the beginners who just want to catch fish and use generic flies to the experts who strive to match the hatch.

George Sharron Franks, who lives near the trout park, is one of those fly fishers who is passionate about her recreation. The license plates on her vehicle provide a clue. They read, “Dry Fly 5.”

That’s right, dry fly. She relishes the moments when the insects pull off a hatch and flounder in the surface. That’s when she can go to her favorite dry flies such as cracklebacks, and watch the trout rise to hit her offerings.

“I usually look for an outflow of a pool, then look for activity on top,” said Franks, 79. “For me, that’s the ultimate.

“That’s why I like fly fishing so much. I love the method, the challenge.

“It’s such a delicate way of fishing.”