Check out my review of Orvis Fly Fishing school in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. You’ll find out what I learned, and get my tips for having the best experience possible.
So you want to learn to fly fish? Me too. At 44 years old, I’ve decided it’s time to take up an old, white man hobby! I kid, I kid. That has been the stigma for so long . . . but the truth is, fly fishing is changing. Actually I wouldn’t say that it’s changing, but it’s expanding. There are more people than ever before giving angling a shot, and I’m one of those people.
When you reach your mid-40s, you realize you don’t really have the right to call people “old” anymore, and that some of those things you thought were reserved for your elders are now appealing to you. Things like shopping in drugstores, being obsessed with the weather, and eating dinner at 5pm. I could go on.
I’ve actually never let age (or gender, etc.) stop me from doing anything. I’ve been a crafter my whole life, which has more stigmas than fishing when it comes to stereotypical mental images. None of that matters, to be honest. Everything is for everyone when it comes down to it, so here I am.
Why Fly Fishing?
Before I talk about the school, I should give you a short background on why I chose fly fishing. If you’re interested in fly fishing school, you’re probably at the beginning of your journey too – so you might relate to some or all of these reasons.
First, I’m a big “outdoor enthusiast.” But what does that even mean? I started camping as soon as I got my driver’s license. I’ve gone hundreds of times in my life, on terrain ranging from sand to glaciers. I’ve done two week backpacking trips. And I’ve skipped college exams and other important life events to do these things. Note I never said I was the best decision maker!
I really do love being outside, and I think it’s very obvious that fly fishing provides that kind of opportunity. If I can be on a river with mountains in the background for hours at a time . . . I accept. One thousand times over, I’m completely in.
Next on the list – my neverending orthopedic issues. So many of you are probably thinking, welcome to the club, right? I’ve done a lot of cycling and hiking and running over the course of my life, but that’s not even what took me out.
It was a little something I like to call the “Great IKEA Incident of 2012.”
Long story short, I was in the Swedish furniture warehouse when I got hit in the back of the right foot with a cart loaded down with boxes, and I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. I think I might have even cried.
I ended up wearing a boot for 18 months, and finally had surgery in 2015 where I had my bursa removed, bone cut off, and tendon repair done at the back of my ankle. My running career came to an end in a matter of minutes. And I’m still dealing with effects from that accident.
Outdoor activities like fly fishing that don’t require me to do anything rigorous with my right leg are perfect. Sure, you can hike in, and you still have to be somewhat nimble and strong to catch a fish and handle a boat – but that I can manage.
Finally, I need a finesse sport. Something that isn’t all about “grip it and rip it,” which has always been my personal philosophy for just about anything. I’ll be honest about a lot of sports and games. If they require too much fussing, I’m typically out. Tennis = no thanks. Billiards = hate. Golf = murder.
Yes, every sport has an element of finesse and an element of “smash.” But some sports are less forgiving, and those are the sports I’ve always done and enjoyed.
I want to learn something that requires patience and skill and more patience, like fly fishing. I want to challenge myself, and honestly, prove that I can do it. AND I don’t want to be Amy McSmasherson all the time anymore. Which leads me to Orvis fly fishing school.
Why Fly Fishing School?
Sure, you can always learn from the fly fishermen and women around you. Nothing wrong with that, and I plan to do that too. BUT – there’s that thing about those old timers. You know the thing.
They are wise, yes. They are helpful, yes. But as a crafting old timer I can speak to this 100% – us OTs are sometimes stuck in our ways. We cut corners and skip steps and make allowances and adjustments because over the years we’ve earned the right to do so.
And I want to earn that right too. I want to start from scratch and learn what works for me.
I’m starting my fly fishing journey with classes, and will also be fly fishing with people I know and hiring guides to bring it all together. My start was Orvis fly fishing school this past June in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and I’m going to write about that here.
Orvis Fly Fishing School
I took a two-day (9 – 4:30) course through Northwest Outfitters, which is a fly shop in Coeur d’Alene. Most classes I’ve found are arranged this way, whether Orvis or otherwise. You’ll find a class locally (or somewhat locally), and it will be led through a fly shop. Just so you know, the Orvis distinction means they are Orvis certified, and you can find those courses here.
Just because a fly fishing course isn’t Orvis endorsed doesn’t mean it’s not good, by any means. There just happens to be an Orvis endorsement that some courses get:
“Our Orvis-Endorsed Partners represent the best fly-fishing and wingshooting lodges, outfitters, and guides in the most exceptional destinations throughout the world. These operations are vetted and selected by experts who bring their vast expertise in fly fishing, wingshooting, and travel to choosing the finest experiences worldwide. Not only do we choose partners who are best-in-class, but we are proud to work only with partners who share Orvis’s values: authenticity, passion, personal connections, and inviting environments, and a commitment to fun. In addition, it is vitally important that our Orvis-Endorsed Partners not only conduct themselves with the health of the natural environment top of mind but also serve as leaders for conservation.”–Orvis website
What the Orvis designation does give you is a nice structure to the course, and confidence in the above values and methods. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I signed up, so this gave me comfort.
Now let’s get into the nitty gritty.
There are one and two-day options for Orvis fly fishing school, and I selected the two day. I drove over five hours to the class, so I wanted two days of learning for the effort. And with my memory? I needed two days. Trust me on this.
Both days include some element of classroom learning. I received the schedule via email several days before I went. You won’t go out on the river straightaway, which for me was fine. It probably depends on your learning style. I personally like to do a little book learnin’ first and have a demo, then do it myself. This is what a sample day looks like:
- 9:00am – classroom presentation on lines, rods, and reels
- 10:45am – the Orvis method of casting
- Noon – lunch
- 12:45pm – the Orvis method of casting part two
- 1:15pm – casting demonstration
- 1:30pm – casting practice
- 3:30pm – back to the classroom, entomology presentation
- 5pm – day ends
You will be tired after both days. Or maybe you are a superhero and you won’t be, but plan to be tired if you’re like me.
Start at the Shop
I recommend arriving the night before if you don’t live in town so that you are well rested for learning. I stayed at the very cool Resort City Inn. The school was held at the very close Coeur d’Alene Resort. It was a lovely resort, but very expensive for a room. I’m not Kanye West, and I’m on a budget.
That’s my first piece of advice: search the area for hotels or Air BnBs or even campsites to cut down the overall cost of your trip. If you take the two day class and you’re coming from out of town, you’ll have to stay two nights. And that can get expensive.
We started our day at the Northwest Outfitters fly fishing shop, getting to know each other and checking out everything a fly fishing shop has to offer. You’ll also get fitted for gear. Yep, if you don’t have anything – that’s okay – the shop provides it. That includes boots, rods, reels, and waders if you need them.
Once we met at the shop, we headed over to the resort and set up in a classroom. In true Amy Anderson style, I bummed a ride from the fly shop to the resort so I didn’t have to pay for parking. My head is not just a hat rack, my friends (most of the time).
What You’ll Learn
You’re going to learn a lot over your two days at Orvis fly fishing school. You will go fishing, but not be fishing the whole time. You may not catch any fish. I repeat, you might not catch anything at all except your pant leg with your fly.
Keep this in mind though, if it bothers you that you might not catch a fish: you’re setting the foundation for a lifetime of being on a river. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a few hours of classroom learning in exchange for knowledge that will help you down the road. It’s worth it!
You’ll start the day with a basic introduction to fly fishing, in the classroom. My favorite memory from day one was the stages of fly fishing:
- Catch a Fish
- Then Catch a Lot of Fish
- Catch a Big Fish
- Then Catch a Lot of Big Fish
- Help People Learn to Fly Fish
Perfectly simple and accurate, right? I thought so too. Makes complete sense to me.
After that we quickly went right into the tools that make up fly fishing: lines, rods, and reels. Learning about them. Passing some around to see what we’re dealing with. And then some watching of Orvis fly fishing videos to show us the proper method of casting. And discussed catch and release.
Before lunch (provided by the class) we were out on the lawn of the resort, practicing casting. We started with forward casting, which is the perfect place to start. This requires practice, practice, and more practice. So – expect to continue your casting after you leave. For hours. Before you ever hit water!
There are instructors walking around help you the entire time you’re practicing, giving you tips and tricks and allowing you to ask questions. If you’re lucky enough to take your fly fishing course at a resort like I did, you’ll get to see a lot of bachelorette parties already three sheets to the wind by 2pm. Lots of good people watching while you’re casting!
The second half of the day (post-lunch) we went to Coeur d’Alene lake and practiced casting the whole time. Roll casting was also introduced, which is an interesting method that I liked after the morning forward casting.
By the end of day one, I decided I was fully in on this whole fly fishing gig. So once we went back to the fly fishing shop, I bought a Douglas rod and an Orvis Battenkill reel. I did this for two reasons. One, so that I could practice with my own rod on the second day. Two, so that I could support the fly fishing shop that I already loved.
After all the action and sun, you can imagine I went back and face planted in the hotel bed. Ready for day two!
The second day I was a little bit nervous. You know those times when you wake up and think, “what am I doing?” yet there is also a tinge of excitement? That’s how I felt. I also get anxiety about waking up on time for things, so luckily I was up and ready to roll without any hiccups.
Classroom instruction for day two consisted of learning all about bugs, lines, and flies. We learned to tie knots, which I promptly forgot (so I’ve ordered a book). Same with all the fly info. It gone (also ordered a book). But I do know this about myself, and perhaps it’s true for you as well.
I don’t get frustrated if I forget what I’ve just learned, because it’s still there, just hiding. And when I get the fly fishing books, and I study and I practice, the fact that I’ve heard (and read) about the topic so many times is quite helpful. Remember, this is all just an introduction! There’s a lot to learn.
We practiced casting again, then ate lunch in the classroom.
The entire second half of the day is spent on the river! Did I just pique your interest? Probably so. Yes, we drove to an area of the Spokane River and casted our butts off. And it felt right . . . . it felt like we were ready to go fly fishing in the wild. It felt very real.
No one caught anything, though I waded out to a part of the river that seemed like it would be fruitful. I felt so obsessed with casting the right way that I didn’t care one bit that I didn’t catch a fish. In fact – I didn’t even have a net most of the time.
Just like day one, instructors were available the entire time to provide tips, tricks, adjustments, more line if you break yours, etc. They also have nets if the universe smiles on you and a fish ends up on your line. But that isn’t the most important thing, in my opinion. Get your cast down, and then worry about catching later. Get the foundation down and remember – there’s plenty of time for catching!
Once you’re done with the course, Orvis fly fishing school gives you a little graduation pin. You’re official!
My Final Thoughts
It’s probably obvious from the rod and reel purchase that I had a great time on the trip and honestly – was surprised at how much I enjoyed fly fishing straight out of the gate. For me, the classroom instruction combined with the field learning made it more enjoyable. So yes, I would recommend attending Orvis fly fishing school (or whatever is local to you) if you’re a beginning fly fisher.
It’s a great investment into your fly fishing future, especially because you’re allowed to ask endless questions. No worries about annoying your friends and family because they explained 1,000 times what nymphing was and you didn’t pay attention . . .
Northwest Outfitters played a huge part in making the course a success. The guys there, like most fly fishing shops I’ve been to, have an interest in furthering the sport. They were helpful, never judged, and never made me feel like I sucked.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Class
In the words of the great band Talk Talk – life’s what you make it. So is this class. If you want to have a good time, a lot of that is going to depend on you. Here are some things I would keep
- Go with an open mind. Learning when you’re old like me takes an open mind. Embrace the fact that you’re not going to be Tom Rosenbauer (famous fly fisher) straight outta the gate. And that’s okay. If you suck at first, join the club, and embrace it.
- Be nice to your fly shop. They are small businesses and heart of the fly fishing community. I’m not telling you what to buy or when to buy it, but if you can support them and you intend to purchase anyway, go ahead and do it.
- Don’t worry about equipment. They have everything for you. You can even switch with your neighbors and try different stuff if you want.
- Bring snacks and water. You might get hungry or thirsty on the river or lake, so be ready for that. You should also check on lunch options if you have dietary restrictions. If you have severe dietary restrictions, I’d bring your own lunch.
- Bring a hat, sunscreen, and polarized sunglasses. The instructions say this, but who reads instructions? I got a sunburn the first day. I don’t read weather reports either (hangs head).
- Be ready to practice. This is just two days. Have proper expectations of a base level fly fishing foundation and that you’re going to have to put in the effort to get really good.
And now if you’re ready to fly fish . . . let’s do this together!
Have you ever been to Orvis fly fishing school? What did you think? Do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments!