There’s a saying in Hawaii that goes something like this: The soil is so fertile, anything you drop onto the ground will grow. The same principal can be applied to the gold-medal fishing in the Roaring Fork Valley. Just throw your line in, and there’s a good chance you’ll reel in a fish.
Not so fast, says longtime trout-fishing guide and fly-tying expert, John P. Newbury.
“The number-one thing that frustrates me as a guide is the expectation of instant gratification,” he says.
While good fishing guides can get you close to where fish congregate, the sport of fly fishing takes a lot of time and energy to master.
Originally from the Front Range, Newbury moved to Oregon at the age of 17, where he spent three decades earning a living with freelance design careers in photography and web coding. He even cut hair for a stint before going back to college and getting into fishery science. Citing perpetual gloomy weather and a feeling that Portland was shrinking around him as its popularity grew, Newbury and his wife decided to move their family back to the sunshine of Colorado five years ago. Residing right next to the Roaring Fork River in Glenwood Springs, he now has the joy of being a full-time fishing guide.
Newbury has been offering guided fishing tours since he was 14 and is pouring a lifetime of experience into his soon-to-be-published book on fly tying.
His new book explores the art and science of designing and tying fly patterns used within the framework of tactical, aka Euro-nymphing methods. Euro-nymphing refers to the burgeoning practice of adapting European fly-fishing methods and equipment to meet the needs of American anglers. His book should be seen as a companion to new Euro-nymphing books being written. Newbury is currently shopping his manuscript around to a wish list of publishers and feels confident it will see print soon.
Euro-nymphing has helped the sport re-grow a following. The simpler techniques and more frugal style of angling is making fly fishing more accessible to a wider group of people.
Newbury often cites the movie “A River Runs Through It” as ruining the image of fly fishing.
“Fly fishing is not that Brad Pitt stuff; that’s for Hollywood,” he says. “The writers and the directors created a false image of what fly fishing was all about.”
Although “A River Runs Through It” provided a healthy economic shot in the arm for the sport when the movie first came out, the fallout in fly fishing came quickly as Hollywood rapidly moved on to the next fad. The fly-fishing industry saw a large spike in anglers only to see a return to pre-movie gear sales a few years later. Even today, Newbury has guests who want to know why we aren’t fishing like “ Brad Pitt” did in “ that” movie.
The fourth-annual Iron Fly competition was held at The Tipsy Trout, formerly the Riverside Grill, on Saturday, Feb. 3, in Basalt. The Roaring Fork Weekly Journal was there and got Newbury to reflect on the sport he is passionate about and the river ecology in the Roaring Fork Valley.
RFWJ: What does the “P” in JP stand for?
Newbury: Paul. I’m John and Paul. That’s half of The Beatles.
RFWJ: What originally attracted you to fly fishing?
Newbury: Fly fishing offered me an escape in my youth to get away from home and explore the nearby waterways. It also piqued my intellectual curiosity on how the natural world works.
RFWJ: What advice would you give to your younger self or a kid looking to get into the sport of fly fishing?
Newbury: Go to the library, get some books, learn entomology and fish biology. Learn your bugs. Learn your fish and everything will fall into place.
RFWJ: You have the credential of scientist listed in your bio. What field of study are you in?
Newbury: I got a degree in fisheries science and another one in environmental science with a focus on fisheries biology.
RFWJ: Last summer there was a moratorium on trout fishing because of the low water flows. This year, the RFV is back on pace again with great snowfall. How will this affect the 2019 summer season for fishing?
Newbury: Climate change is going to cause more severe weather trends such as last year’s heat and drought, which caused a moratorium on fishing. There are a lot of stakeholders in the valley that rely on the river year around, not just anglers. Last year was a bust for a lot of outdoor industries here in the valley. Not only will we see the very structure of our river ecosystems change with climate change, but we will start to see increasing economic impacts if things continue with the current status quo.
That said, we’re going to see a fabulous season coming up. The samples of fish that I’ve seen, and other biologist and fishers, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Conservancy, we’ve noticed that the Roaring Fork fared really well because of the moratorium. There are a lot of very healthy fish swimming in the river. I’m not sure how well the spawning or the survival rate was, but I anticipate a really good season. We should see a really healthy Green Drake hatch. I think everyone is excited. I’m already tying flies in anticipation of high run-off water.
RFWJ: According to your website, the demand for your hand-tied flies is overwhelming. Is this caused by a boom in the fly-fishing industry right now or is it your renown for excellent hand-tied flies?
Newbury: It’s all a timing issue and my flies. I started using Euro-nymphing techniques back in the mid-’90s. I would buy boxes of flies from Europe and have them shipped over. I have been practicing European techniques since then. So, as the materials finally became available to tie European flies, I started using them to design flies to match the insects that I’m used to fishing. I got some of these materials before other people did, so I was ahead of the game, by offering European flies with American styles.
RFWJ: How do you recommend coping with the intimidation and fear of more complex fishing?
Newbury: What’s really interesting about Euro-nymphing is that it is a new technique over here in the United States. It is also easier than anything else that people are doing right now domestically. The gear is more specialized, but the technique is easier. I can get people to catch their first fish while Euro-nymphing usually within 15 minutes of arriving to the river or pool of water holding fish. Whereas, when I was teaching the traditional Western status-quo techniques, that would take over an hour or more to teach people how to cast that cumbersome lug of equipment.
RFWJ: Is fly fishing a male-dominated sport?
Newbury: Right now, there is “50/50” movement, where they want 50 percent of the gender of fly fishers to be women by the year 2050. It is a gender-neutral sport. I have just as many women as male guests when I take them out fishing. My daughter loves to fish too!
RFWJ: What is your opinion on fishing licenses? Are they good, or should people be able to just go out and fish freely?
Newbury: Fishing licenses pay for the hatcheries that put the fish into the rivers for the anglers to catch. Licenses pay for that and ecology education. The money does protect our resources, so that our kids have fish to catch if global warming doesn’t kill everything off by then.