Along the shady banks of the Guadalupe River between Canyon Lake dam and New Braunfels, Texas anglers spend much of the summer casting a long line in search of trout. For those who don’t spend their summers knee-deep in cool river waters, fly fishing may bring to mind visions of a young Brad Pitt in the 1992 film “A River Runs Through It.” Deeply contemplative and requiring extreme patience and skill, fly fishing lends itself well to unplugging from life’s stresses and focusing on the beauty of nature.
“Nature is the reason to go to these places. We’re not always out there to catch a lot of fish. It’s not the performance. It’s enjoying the scenery and wilderness around us,” says Kevin Stubbs, owner of Expedition Outfitters, a fly fishing guide company.
His company, and others across the state, offer fly fishing classes and expeditions as corporate teambuilding packages. Stubbs says there are many reasons to take the team out fly fishing, not the least of which is making everyone slow down and increase their focus. “It takes a lot of thought—it takes your mind off other things,” Stubbs says. “There might be distractions, but if you don’t pay attention, you won’t see what’s going on.”
Another main benefit of fly fishing? Stubbs says it levels the playing field among anglers, which brings down people’s barriers. “Bosses and subordinates are on the same level. I think people are able to see that, and soon everyone’s bonding,” he says.
He also says the sport of fly fishing requires an openness and Zen-like attention in nature that sometimes challenges people’s preconceived notions. “Women tend to learn (the techniques) faster, because sometimes guys have this wall up, where they may think they already know how to do everything. Women seem to have more of an open mind and are more receptive to learning,” Stubbs says.
There are no prerequisites to fly fishing, he says, just an openness to have fun and learn the different lures and casting techniques.
GET READY TO CAST
While the Guadalupe River isn’t the only spot for fly fishing in Texas, it is ranked as one of America’s top 100 trout streams by nonprofit group Trout Unlimited. The Guadalupe River Chapter of TU is the largest in the country, and helps keep Texas rivers stocked with trout each year. It also spearheads conservation efforts to assist trout survival during droughts.
Hunting lodges and resorts along the river, like Joshua Creek Ranch and the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa, have added fly fishing to their list of group activities, and they have experienced fly fishing guides on staff to plan and facilitate outings.
This is good for anglers, because the most recent National Survey on Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found U.S. anglers spent more than $41.8 billion on their hobby in 2011, and more than $455 million was on fishing expeditions.
“We fish year-round with native fish,” says Kevin Welborn, director of marketing, sales and guest services at Joshua Creek Ranch.
The ranch is an award-winning hunting lodge known for abundant wildlife and outdoor activities. It’s also a corporate retreat venue situated near Boerne, and it offers customized fly fishing activities as team building exercises for executive retreats. “All of our instructors can do basic instruction or a full guidance excursion,” Welborn says.
Joshua Creek Ranch stocks its creek with rainbow trout each November. Catfish and trout are plentiful in Texas, but Welborn says the addition of rainbow trout adds something special for their fly fishing guests. He says rainbow trout is not typically found in this part of the country.
Beyond the fishing and hunting, the ranch recently completed a state-of-the-art meeting venue to host large or intimate meetings. The Branch Haus Lodge and Conference Facility is a 2,400-square-foot venue with a view overlooking Hill Country. Up to 200 guests can be accommodated in the indoor and outdoor meeting space, and the lodge itself accommodates at least 60 overnight guests.
“We can set the room up a variety of ways, and we have all the amenities needed,” Welborn says.
For company retreats, Welborn says the activities team puts together a variety of experiences, including fly fishing, and they often stage two or three different areas with shooting clays or kayaking to give participants different options in the summer; in the fall and winter there’s world-class wing shooting. “Most of the time people want to split up the activities— we customize every retreat,” he says.
Joshua Creek, like other resorts, can provide all the equipment needed for a day of fly fishing, along with guides who will teach an introductory class on land or take the team out to the creek. “Guests don’t need to bring anything. We have everything here for rental,” Welborn says.
Texas resorts located along other lakes and rivers will generally have at least one fishing guide to coordinate fishing excursions and tournaments, but not all of them have a fly fishing guide on staff.
Tanner Morgan, wildlife recreation and equine manager at Rough Creek Lodge and Resort about 90 minutes from Fort Worth, says conventional fishing is more popular in their area, but there is some freshwater fly fishing to be had. “There are some places around here that offer fly fishing classes. We can always make it happen with some planning,” Morgan says.
Rough Creek Lodge and Resort is accustomed to hosting large corporate meetings and executive retreats with wildlife activities. The 11,000-acre lodge and resort has four customizable meeting rooms that seat up to 85 or 100 people, depending on the room, according to senior conference sales manager Katy Paschal. “One of the things that makes us different is once you book an event, you have only one point of contact the entire time—from the space to the food to the activities,” Paschal says.
Fly fishing requires advance notice to line up enough guides and equipment, according to Morgan. Like other resorts, he says groups typically choose multiple activities, from fishing to zip lining to rock climbing, cooking lessons or a run through the lodge’s National Sporting Clays Association course.
“The ideal reservation at Joshua Creek would include a little of everything—we’re able to provide it all in one itinerary,” Welborn says.
CATCH AND RELEASE
Luckily for planners and resorts, there are fishing expedition companies around the state that will provide fly fishing guides and equipment for retreats even when there isn’t a fly angler on staff.
“We meet at all kinds of places—wherever they’re having their meetings,” Stubbs says. “A lot of times we can do things right on the resort premises.” Stubbs says he also gets requests from destination travel companies that create all-inone packages for groups that want to include fly fishing as part of an overall retreat.
“All our trips are catch and release,” he says. “It’s not a consumptive activity. The catch and release ethic is part of fly fishing—you meet your adversary on the field and let them live to fight another day. It’s a very ‘green’ activity.”
Beginner groups on their first team-building session probably won’t be catching many fish, but it’s worthwhile to ask whether there will be any harvesting (keeping the fish) or if the activity is catch and release.
Texas has limits on the size and number of fish harvested, depending on the type of fish and the location of the harvest. If there’s actual fishing and not just instructional exercises, the group will need fishing licenses. Many resorts and guides are authorized to issue a license or they’ll help individuals in the group purchase them. Some things to note: Freshwater and saltwater licenses are sold separately, and Lake Texoma requires a different license entirely. Be sure to ask the resort or guide if all licensing is provided and included in the cost.
Also find out what type of instruction and facilitation is involved in the session. A group of beginners may need some basic instruction, while seasoned anglers may need casting tips and coaching on the water.
Stubbs says two people generally pair up with a guide to go through the instruction and coaching. “We can host 10 or 15 people at once, typically,” Stubbs says. “The biggest limiting factor with fly fishing is we have five guides, and each might take two guests. That’s kind of the upper limit, but we have brought in more guides to accommodate larger groups.”
Another option is land-based instruction. Stubbs says one guide can work with five or six people on land to teach basic fly fishing instruction, and can facilitate a team-building afternoon, whether or not they make it out to the water. There won’t be any fish to catch, but team members can work together and learn the basics of lures and casting for future excursions.
That’s not to say there isn’t friendly competition in fly fishing. At Rough Creek Lodge, fishing competitions are a popular team-building activity for corporate visitors. They frequently host fishing contests that bring together teams for a little competition, prizes and bragging rights. Rough Creek guide Shelby Womack helps organize the fishing competitions and other team-building activities.
“Fly fishing is not as popular here [as conventional fishing], but it’s a lot of the same principals. One of the main differences is the bait. Fly fishing bait is very lightweight and has to sit on top of the water,” Womack says.
CADDIS, MIDGES AND MAYFLIES
It may be obvious, but the “fly” in fly fishing refers to, yes, actual flies— or rather, the colorful flying insects that fish like to eat. Fly fishing “flies” aren’t the real deal, though. They’re artificially manufactured lures that are placed on hooks. The most popular flies, according to fly fishing manufacturer Redington, are caddis, midges and mayflies.
Fly fishing lures mimic insects at various stages of their development. Some float on the water, some are weighted and sunk lower to imitate larvae. All are used in the hopes of enticing a fish to strike. Once a fish is caught, the hook is removed and safe handling techniques are used to send the fish swimming back out in the water.
“We start out by explaining the mechanics of fly fishing and the entomology—the insects and flies we use—because the most important aspect is the insects,” Stubbs says.
The mechanics are also important. There are several different methods of casting off, from beginning to advanced, and each is used to simulate a live insect landing on the water.
Stubbs and Morgan say basic instruction typically lasts a couple of hours, and is customized to meet the needs of the group. Teams may work together on mechanical techniques or entomology learning activities, or they may go out on the water and start fishing.
Fly fishing can be done by wading into the water or from a boat. Along some rivers, the group may raft out several miles to find a good fishing spot.
“At Joshua Creek, guests can wade the creek or move out on the bank, or we have three dams on the property,” Welborn says.
“A big part of our trips are the white water rafting in combination with the fly fishing,” Stubbs says. “The rafting is a big part of the attraction, and we provide everything. They just bring their personal items like water shoes, polarized sunglasses and light colored clothing.”
BAG IT UP
Being out on the water, or up on the shore, swinging that rod and line far and wide can work up a Texassized appetite.
While people may need to bring their own personal items—don’t forget the sunblock and hat—most guides and resorts will include meals and snacks as part of the activity.
Expedition Outfitters, for example, provides beverages and snacks on all its excursions. Resorts and lodges may send boxed lunches or snacks and have food prepared back at the lodge.
If the fly fishing is part of a larger event, find out if extra snacks and drinks will be included as part of the package. Hungry and thirsty team members will probably not work well together, even if they’re thighdeep in a cool river. “We have true five-star cuisine prepared on-site,” Welborn says. “We work with groups to customize some menus and (serving) locations, but typically we’re lodge-style, three meals a day where the chef chooses the menu.”
Whether the team is going to an overnight conference or a day-long retreat, if it’s near the water, chances are a fly fishing expedition can be arranged. There’s nothing like standing in a river Brad Pitt-style to get people unplugged and interacting with their fellow team members.
Terms to Know Before Casting Off
Whether the group will be casting on land, wading into a river or headed out on a boat, here are some top terms to know, according to fly fishing gear manufacturer Redington.
ARBOR: the center of the reel, where the backing and line are attached
BACKING: a length of thick braided line that reinforces the strength and connection of the line to the arbor
BARB: a sharp protrusion facing opposite the hook; “going barbless” means using a hook with no barb, which makes it easier to remove the hook and release the fish safely
CAST: the motion of throwing a line; there are several types used for different purposes
COVERING (OR DELIVERY): casting a fly to a fish, or into an area where fish may be swimming
DROPPER: using two flies—one on the surface and one below water
DRY FLY: a fly that floats on the water to simulate an adult insect FLY: an artificial lure that mimics insects at different stages of their development
FORCEPS (OR HEMOSTATS): medical devices that remove flies from a hooked fish
LINE WEIGHT: the weight of the first 30 feet of line, which is used to select the fly rod
POLARIZED SUNGLASSES: ionized lenses that block glare so anglers can see fish in the water
PRESENTATION: the act of landing the lure so it imitates an insect and the fish are more likely to strike