Soon after Tim Snyder built a log cabin in Point Mountain near Elkins, West Virginia, he met Bill Harkness, an avid fly fisherman. Harkness and his wife had a cabin close by, and one day he persuaded Snyder to join him on a fly fishing expedition.
“I was hooked,” said Snyder, a Mount Morris resident who’s been fly fishing ever since then, adding up to more than 30 years of the sport.
While the angler said you can get a book to teach you how to fly fish, going out with an accomplished angler is a better idea.
“He’s been there, done that and can teach you what he knows,” he said.
For more than three decades, Snyder and Harkness have fished together, met other anglers along the way and improved at their sport.
Claiming to have never eaten a brook trout in his entire life, he and Harness are strictly catch and release. The way he looks at it, fly fishing is like the classical chess game. Brook trout, he said, are cagey, wily and shy and, at times, he’s crawled on the ground to sneak up on a fish.
“You always have to keep a low profile,” he said. “It’s a mental game, like chess, and I always leave the pieces on the board so others can play, which explains why I’m strictly catch and release.”
Snyder said he always walks upstream as far as he can, sometimes more than two miles, and then fish his way back down to his truck. This requires him to stay in shape. Often he likes to break up his day by fishing in small streams for “brookies” in the morning, then heading for browns and rainbows in a river during the afternoon.
“It pays to have some knowledge of entomology [the study of insects],” he said. “Generally flies and bugs can be grouped in four classifications - mayflies, stone flies, caddis flies and Dobson flies [commonly called hellgrammites in the larval stage].”
These are the major food source for trout. Just after they’re stocked in the streams, they may go for power bait and meal worms, but eventually they’ll go back to their natural diet.
Over the years, Snyder and his fishing buddies have come up with a calendar that identifies the time when certain flies show up. Often, when he goes out to fish, he’ll sit on the bank of a stream for a half hour or more and watch what kind of flies he can spot. He’ll also look for certain bird activity, a sign that the mayflies have left the water and taken flight.
When he goes out to fish, he’ll take along close to 200 different flies he carries in little containers that fit inside his vest.
“You can always spot a novice because they carry only eight to 10 flies,” he said jokingly.
Never once has he used a sinker and bobber. Even when he goes to local ponds and lakes, he’ll use his fly rod to catch bass and bluegills.
“You can catch most anything with a fly rod,” he said.
With all his fishing experience, he’s yet to set a record. To him, fish size doesn’t really matter, although his largest brown trout measured 28 inches and his biggest brook came in at 15 inches.
Once in a while, he’ll take people out, supply the rod and reel and teach them the art he’s come to master. Now at age 62, he’s retired after working in coal mines for 37 years, including the Emerald Mine in Waynesburg. For the past five years, he’s worked part of the year for Trout Unlimited restoring streams, creating pools where trout can spawn and planting trees at the headwaters to keep the streams shaded and cool.
“I work six months out of the year, from May through the first of November,” said Snyder, a decades-long member of the Mount Morris Sportsmen’s Club. “The other six months of the year I hunt, fish and travel. I find it fun just to get out there, embrace nature and enjoy what it has to offer,” he said.