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Bending over the bank of the Little Truckee River, Nick Burruel shifted the muck with his fingers, watching closely for anything that moved. The goal was to spot midges — small flies that breed in the shallow water — so that we would have a better idea of what the nearby trout might snack on.
This wasn’t exactly what I had planned to do at the Resort at Squaw Creek on the northwest side of Lake Tahoe. It had been a rather snowless January, though, and the ski slopes looked icy at best. Burruel, an experienced local fly fisherman, piqued my interest in his favorite pastime during a conversation at the resort’s rental shop.
Most resort guests try their hand at the sport with local outfitter Matt Heron Fly Fishing, but I headed out with Burruel. En route to the river, he caught me up on Little Truckee facts, including that the river is a particularly nutrient-rich body of water and full of only wild trout — and that often means the fish are larger and smarter.
After squatting by the water for a minute or so, Burruel saw something that I didn’t and pulled a small case from his bag. Inside was a kaleidoscope of feathered and shiny “flies” — fishing hooks disguised as dashing suitors. Once the hook of his choice was on the end of his line, our casting lesson began.
I looked nothing like the oh-so-elegant Brad Pitt in “A River Runs Through It.” Burruel had it down though, his right wrist gently flicking his rod forward and backward while his left hand controlled the line until the fly was far enough out to land and float downriver.
If any of this performance translated into my own, Burruel gets the credit. Even when I felt like I was helplessly flailing about, he would point out my improvements and provide advice. I grew more confident each time I cast, but catching a fish became secondary. Standing calf-deep in the water and listening to the sound of the rod whish through the air above me seemed far more edifying than reeling in a trout against its will.
We walked away fishless, clearly outsmarted by the resident trout. But I was content. Like so many good stories, our morning was more about the journey than the destination.