Even after 45 years of fly fishing, Paul Anderson will tell you he is still learning. Anderson, a well-known fly casting instructor and avid outdoorsman, is the proud owner and sole employee of Flyfishing Strategies Fly Shop, a business that has managed to thrive alongside the ever-changing cycles of salmon and steelhead that swim in the nearby Columbia River.
“The big attraction to fly fishing for me, besides my love of fishing, is the combination of fishing and hunting the sport incorporates,” Anderson said. “You’re always active. If you’re not busy casting, you’re busy looking around for fish, and if you know what to look for, the fish will tell you what bugs they’re eating.”
“Just because they’re eating an October caddis flies, you could throw a pupal stage insect out there and the fish might still ignore your fly. I look at where the fish are feeding—are they getting food right below the surface, or on the surface? If it’s below, a dry fly won’t work,” Anderson said.
It’s details like this that makes a fly fisherman more aware of the surroundings, a quality that Anderson says will help anyone who takes the time to learn the sport.
Anderson’s shop is outfitted to help anglers who want to purchase, or tie, their own flies—he carries over 5,000 items that can be assembled into a realistic looking lure.
“There’s a lot of information out there that will help somebody decide what fly to use, he said. In fact, there’s hatch guides for the local rivers. If it’s a normal year, and you go on the first of April, the guide will tell you what flies are important, the size, the color, and even their order of importance,” Anderson said.
He says this year is off a bit due to the late, cold winter, and everything may be set back a month, noting that a lot of hatch timing depends on water temperature.
“If you’re fishing for giant trout in two feet of gin-clear spring water, details are important,” Anderson explained. “Bugs have to blend in with their environment or they’re just going to get wiped out. It’s camouflaged, and the fish don’t have the ability to see it unless something disturbs it, like current or rain. Well, that bug has to get out of the water to hatch, and fly away, so that’s when they’re vulnerable, and that’s why hatches are important—it makes food available to the trout.”
“The closer the hatching fly gets to the surface, the more chance it’s gonna fly away,” Anderson said.
“If you get in there and learn by observation, then the fish will show you what you have to do to catch them.
Raised in central Washington, Anderson started fly fishing in the fall of 1975.
“I had jobs early on that allowed a lot of time off, and for the first 25 years I fished 100 days or more a year, which is a lot,” Anderson said.
Even though Flyfishing Strategies is approaching six years in business, Anderson said he’s still amazed that his shop has been able to diversify and adapt to serve anglers in the Gorge and beyond.
“It’s funny, because I never planned on having a shop. I originally came to The Dalles for a school fundraising career, but that lasted only a year and a half. Then I had an opportunity to work at a fly shop in Ellensburg for three months,” Anderson said.
“My wife, Peg, finally said I had to get a job closer to home, so we worked it out and opened this shop.”
Now, Anderson’s well-organized shop makes it easy to browse thousands of materials. The art of fly tying involves using the natural hair and feathers from bear, raccoon, sheep, rabbits, squirrel, chickens, pheasant, partridge, elk and more. Each item is available in dozens of varieties—like hot pink dyed rabbit fur.
For instance, he carries the marabou feather, which is a kind of turkey feather, in 60 different colors. “There’s prime marabou that would be used for articulated steelhead flies, and blood quill marabou which is a general use feather, and then there are some just for wooly bugger tails,” Anderson said.”
“I have all different kinds of hooks, metal beads, lead eyes and glass beads, and I know where everything is. All of the hair is in one place, all of my chenilles are on the other side, all my feathers are organized, as well as salt water synthetics, even the dubbing, which is loose fibers you twist onto thread and make yarn. Once you’ve been in here a few times, finding things is pretty easy.”
Anderson said that one issue with commercially-tied flies is you can’t their durability, and they are prone to hook failures.
“When a company makes thousands of these things they may decide to use a cheaper hook, and if you hook a really large trout, you’re probably going to have a hook failure. Another problem is they need to be weighted correctly. A lot of flies don’t have lead under them, and I always put lead under a fly,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that he gets requests to make special order custom flies, and sometimes he’ll have to watch a YouTube video several times to get the technique down.
“I have a handful of people that let me tie their flies for them. For one customer I had to watch a tutorial video eight times, it was a little involved and using things I’m not used to dealing with. But I liked the fly so much that I’ll probably make some for my bin over there, because you can’t find this one commercially yet, it’s a new design,” Anderson said.
Synthetic materials are used in a lot of flies, and Anderson is always researching new materials to add to his inventory.
“The synthetic market is exploding and I’ve got to read and study and know what’s out there, because somebody will come up with a really hot fly that uses a new synthetic and then everybody will call me asking if I have the new stuff,” Anderson said.
“I always encourage anyone who wants to get into fly fishing to give fly tying a look, because it’s really cool to catch a fish on a fly, but it’s super cool to catch one on a fly that you made, and it’s the ultimate cool if you tie a fly and you invent the pattern,” Anderson said.
Anderson added that Flyfishing Strategies conducts a free seminar on a particular fly tying theme the first Saturday of each month. “I have a whole section of flies tied by one of the best small mouthed bass fisherman in the Portland area, Shaun West. He’s amazing, and he does fly-tying demos here several times a year.”
“This time of year trout fishing in lakes is starting to open up, we’ll probably do lake trout patterns. Sometimes we have eight or ten people, and it’s really great when I get the kids in here. It’s really relaxed because the instructor will stop and answer any questions about the process. Fly tying is easy. Once you’ve learned how to attach the thread and the other materials, which you can do in one lesson, you’ll be able to tie just about anything out there,” Anderson said.
Anderson says that recent downward trends in numbers of returning salmon and other species in the Columbia River, as well as water quality issues in nearby rivers, such as the Deschutes, has resulted in changes to his business plans, which now include guided trips to Alaska, as well as focusing on other species available in the Gorge, like carp and smallmouth bass.
Anderson believes that the key to increasing future salmon runs is to control predation.
“Scientists want to talk about global warming and the temperatures of the oceans and all that, but if you have predators that are just eating them all on the way out to the ocean and eating them all on the way back, it doesn’t matter,” Anderson said.
Citing data from NOAA, he says that over 12 billion pounds of salmon are consumed by seals and sea lions per month off the coast from British Columbia to southern California. And although the effects of dams are always going to be in the equation, Anderson says that human activity such as dredging has enabled even more predators to reduce the fish runs.
“White Pelicans and Caspian Terns didn’t used to nest at the mouth of the Columbia in the millions, but we’ve built sand islands from dredging the Columbia, which is perfect nesting habitat. We’ve created this,” Anderson said.
“The Deschutes River was a world-famous, amazing fly fishing river, with copious amounts of wild trout and steelhead, but now, due to water quality issues, you hardly see anyone come out from Portland. Some still do, but when I first opened five years ago I saw a huge difference of the number of people coming through here,” Anderson said.
Noting that he had people calling him from all over the United States on a daily basis, asking for local fishing reports, Anderson said today fly shops are needing to diversify. He says that a lot of people, especially retirees, still want to get out and experience a fishing adventure, and a fly shop is a business that can arrange and outfit a trip elsewhere.
“We can schedule trips in July and September. This Alaska trip gives a really interesting dynamic to your fishing experience. We fish in crystal clear water, it’s all sight fishing and you’re literally fishing in tidewater, so pushes of salmon are coming up out of the saltwater, and they push wakes of water coming through, it’s really exciting,” Anderson said.
To help promote fly fishing in the Gorge, Anderson said that he will be scheduling seminars on carp and smallmouth bass, which he says are popular with folks who are moving to the Gorge from the Midwest and east coast.
“We are embracing other species, because that’s what we’re forced into, and smallmouth is a really big deal right now, and they’re thrilled to have a world-class smallmouth bass fishing opportunities in the Gorge,” Anderson said.
“We’re going to get into some seminars, because carp are amazing on a fly. They are hard to stop once they get going. There are probably more rods that have been broken on carp than any other fish in this area,” Anderson said. “Locally at the boat basin, or any shoreline around here, the carp come out of the deeper water and feed on the bugs and clams that are in the sand. With the proper presentation, you often get them to eat your fly.”
He said people underestimate what’s going to happen when you try to catch a 15-20 pound carp on a five pound trout outfit.
Anderson says his passion for education in fly fishing will help keep people interested in the sport, which he says is increasingly being taken up by women.
“There’s a lot of things going on with the cast that can’t be seen with the naked eye. People think you have to use your arms to throw the line, but the rod throws the line,” Anderson said.
Whether you’re a novice or expert, Anderson’s experience in fly fishing can help all customers choose the right gear, noting that being the only employee in the store carries a big responsibility to his business.
“When it comes to fly fishing gear, obviously budget has to be a consideration, but where they’re going to fish, what they’re going to fish for, that will steer me towards what I’m going to recommend. And I have to be careful, because my reputation is at stake depending on what I send them away with,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that he personally uses a lot of the gear he sells, and so far, he’s had great response in the performance.
“I have to carry companies that stand behind their products, and everything that leaves this store has my name on it, in one way or another. I’ve had people stop at my shop on their way back to Colorado, and when they got home they order thing because I gave them good information while they were here,” Anderson said.
Today, Anderson likes to spend his time fishing the calm, flat and relatively secluded lake waters on an unique fishing paddle board called an Outlaw Fuzion DST.
“I really like to fish still water, where I can enjoy some seclusion. You’re not bound by the fish being in one location and not fighting current. Lakes are becoming more popular and a lot of other fly shops don’t specialize in that style,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he’s happy that the local people have embraced his business and are enthusiastic about having a fly shop in The Dalles.
“I love it when people come in and talk about their great fishing experiences that they’ve had.
“My business has grown and I’m good with that. It’s my happy place,” he said.