TOWNSEND — Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, especially in early April.
But 30 degree temperatures and a pond edged with hard-packed snow and ice couldn’t deter the plucky souls who turned out at Pearl Hill State Park for Townsend resident Eino Kauppi’s fly fishing seminar.
Kauppi, who has successfully taught the art of fly fishing for over 20 years, told his Saturday morning audience that they didn’t need a lot of expensive equipment to take up the sport. In fact, a newcomer could easily be outfitted for under $100. “Of course, back years ago they simply cut (their rods) out of the woods,” he said. “They used hickory sticks.”
Today’s equipment has come a long way since then. Fly rods are typically made of graphite or fiberglass, or sometimes bamboo, and come in varying lengths, anywhere from 5 to 15 feet, depending on what you’re fishing for.
Kauppi, who taught himself to fly fish after receiving his first rod at the age of 10, offered seminar participants a basic overview of the sport and its equipment, explaining the different types of rods, lines, and flies, before demonstrating various casting techniques.
“This time of year the fish aren’t chasing bugs on the surface, because there are no bugs on the surface,” he said, while tying a bead-head fly onto his line. “So they’re going to be down near the bottom. Eighty to 90 percent of what trout eat are on the bottom.”
Standing on the icy shore, Kauppi looked the classic picture of the fly fisherman. Using arm and rod as a lever, he sent the thin ribbon of line zipping back and forth above him like a flag before finally pitching it into the water. “If you have too light of a line on it, the rod won’t flex,” he said. “And if it doesn’t flex you can’t cast it. If you have too heavy a line on it, it will flex the rod too much and it will be difficult for you to cast.”
He made it look easy. When seminar participants tried it for themselves, they found out it wasn’t.
According to Kauppi, the fly fishing done today is a 19th century English adaptation that was brought to the United States. But you have to go back much further to look for the sport’s true roots. “Fly fishing started in places like Japan in probably the 7th century B.C.,” he said. “And there’s anecdotal evidence of it starting in Macedonia in who-knows-when.”
As for the best place and time to fish, he said it’s “Wherever you are, whenever you can.”
Kauppi leads these free fly fishing seminars as part of a series of ongoing programs offered by the Friends of Willard Brook. “I do this for the parks because they don’t have an interpreter,” he said. “And it helps them and it helps me. It’s good for the economy here to get people in to use the parks. There are people here in Townsend that don’t know the park is here. It’s a nice place with a nice campground and a brand new shower building.”
He also teaches fly fishing at his home on the banks of the Squannacook River. For those new to the sport, he recommends taking a course. “You can learn in one day what you might learn in 10 years of your own effort,” he said. He is offering four classes this spring, including a class specifically for the woman angler on Saturday, May 19. Kauppi is a major advocate of catch and release. “Taking a few home to eat is fine,” he said. “But they’re worth more in the river.” And in his classes, it’s strictly catch and release; the fish are let go to be caught another day.
As would be expected of someone so passionate about his sport, Kauppi ties his own flies. “I have tens of thousands of flies,” he said. “I used to tie for the local sporting goods shops, but a lot of them have gone out of business.”
For Kauppi, fly fishing is about more than simply catching fish. “It’s difficult to explain what you get out of it,” he said. “Everybody gets something different. But it’s exciting. There’s a lot of technique to it. There’s a lot of guesswork.”
So the next time you drive through Townsend Harbor, look to the river that runs through it. You just might see Eino Kauppi on its banks, fly rod in hand.