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Photo by Maria Cristina
Photo by Maria Cristina

On the Fly

Mad River Outfitters owner Brian Fleschig can still muster a laugh for those who are surprised to learn he exists.

“People always think the best fly shop is going to be on the [legendary fly fishing destination] Madison River in Montana. Well, one of my best friends owns a fly fishing shop on the Madison River in Montana; he’s open three months a year, he stocks four fly rods because nobody buys fly rods from him, and he cusses us out because everyone buys their fly rods here and then goes to Montana,” said Fleschig. “I’ve never seen a f*cking fish walk in here and buy anything. Fish don’t spend money; people spend money. So you put a fly shop where there are a lot of people with money, with a good economy, and yeah, having good fishing around makes a difference, but there’s no better trout fishing than the Madison River, and we do 20 times the business that he does.”

“You may go to certain fly shops and you’re going to get an elitist attitude – whereas if you come here, we’re carp fishermen.

And while one famous Ohio river not an hour from here indeed does have enormous brown trout (20-inch browns are not uncommon), Ohio is better known for warm-water species: basses (largemouth and smallmouth), pike, and muskellunge (toothy freshwater tiger torpedoes), and even the once-humble carp is making its run as the en vogue freshwater species to take “on the fly.”

Fly fishing differs from the more familiar “spin fishing” in one essential way: with a spinning rig, the lure or bait is weighted enough to use the energy of the rod to toss it to the fish, with it bringing the nearly-weightless line behind it, while in fly fishing, a heavy line is used to take a nearly weightless lure (or “fly”) to within the fish’s striking range, enabling the angler to use materials and techniques that simulate the tiny prey that make up a large part of the animal’s diet. It’s a small difference in equipment but a huge change in technique; for example, the reel on a fly fishing rig is used mainly to store line, and all but the largest fish are stripped in by hand.

And no, it’s not that hard; in fact, unfamiliarity notwithstanding, it’s no harder than spincasting. You just haven’t done it yet.

“I can teach you to fly cast in four minutes,” Fleschig said. “Four minutes.”

And Mad River Outfitters spends a lot of time doing just that, offering a free monthly class for beginners designed to dispel myths perpetuated by movies and television shows that depict fly fishing as something you do to catch trout if you’re a rich dude.

“It should not be an elitist sport. You may go to certain fly shops and you’re going to get an elitist attitude – whereas if you come here, we’re carp fishermen. You know, I’ll throw a spinning rod, a bait-casting rod. I got nothing against killing and eating a fish, for crying out loud,” he said. “Fly fishing elitists are the ones opposed to carp fishing, or using a sub-surface fly, or opposed to using a ‘strike indicator’ – which is nothing more than a bobber!

“A lot of fly fishermen are such elitists that they couldn’t say the word ‘bobber,’ so they had to come up with ‘strike indicator,’” he laughed.

It could be the down-home nature of Fleschig and the guys at the shop that has allowed it to remain in its Bethel Road location for two decades. It could also be that Ohio is home to some of the greatest freshwater sport fishing in the entire world…so long as you can see beyond trout, the traditional quarry of the fly angler.
“After 20 years of being here, the people are finally starting to give us credit for the world-class fishing we have within a two-hour drive. Then, you draw a six-hour radius from Columbus on the map and there’s no place like it on planet Earth, period. You can’t go anywhere on the planet and have an epicenter and find what we have within six hours, period,” said Fleschig. “Bozeman Montana pales in comparison.”

In addition to owning and running an independent fly shop in the Midwest, Fleschig was also a frequent guest on legendary fly angler Flip Pallot’s ESPN show, The Walker’s Cay Chronicles, in one episode guiding Pallot for carp. While Pallot’s show is no longer on ESPN, the world of the Internet has lured Fleschig, who’s made several series of fishing DVDs and written the singular text on the Mad River, to consider new ways to promote his business. Long avoiding Facebook, he confesses that nothing has made a greater contribution to his business, which has turned in all-time high profits and introduced a great many more people to the sport in the last few years than ever before.

But, even with a booming online retail business and over 38,000 Facebook fans, Fleschig thinks the true allure for new fly anglers might be the opportunity to tune out the Internet altogether…at least for a while.
“I think we’re seeing an escape from instant gratification, that the guy goes and he gets away from his cell phone, and he doesn’t care whether he catches a fish, because he’s out there on the river enjoying himself,” he said. “He’s not texting; it’s just him or her casting and it’s an escape, and maybe there’s a need for more of that because of today’s fast world. Twenty-eight people came to last night’s free beginner’s program. Maybe it’s because of that. But it’s nice to see it, and to see all the new faces of people getting into and saying, ‘Yeah, I want more, I want more.’”

Mad River Outfitters is a one-stop repository, with everything from rods and reels to fur and feathers, vices, and clothing. They also have a series of classes, including the free introduction to fly fishing, and offer full outfitting for trips, whether you are looking to catch carp in the Olentangy or bonefish on the flats of Andros Island; for more information, visit www.madriveroutfitters.com and check out the Facebook page.

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