Port Ludlow Fly Fishers club belies secretive angler traditions

Jane Stebbins Special to the Leader
Posted 11/20/19

Max Painter said her fly-fishing skills were nothing to write home about until she stumbled across the Port Ludlow Fly Fishers Club about seven years ago.

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Port Ludlow Fly Fishers club belies secretive angler traditions

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Max Painter said her fly-fishing skills were nothing to write home about until she stumbled across the Port Ludlow Fly Fishers Club about seven years ago.

She inadvertently got involved after teaching a mind-body class at Teal Lake and stopped in where a group was tying flies. She’d tried fly-casting in Alaska, Utah and Montana in the past, but it wasn’t until she met club members that she became, well, hooked.

The club, established in 1995 and dedicated to the art of fly fishing and conservation, currently has 22 members. Their work is primarily done at Teal Lake and Park, a handicapped-accessible public fly fishing park south of Port Ludlow.

Dave McDearmid, another longtime member, has been casting little flies into water for almost six decades.

“I’ve always fished, since I was 5 years old,” he said. “I like to be outdoors, to be active. And I like the challenge. I guess (I like best) the anticipation that I’m actually going to catch something.”

He denied knowing everything about fishing, despite those years of experience.

“I don’t profess to be an expert,” he said. “I enjoy just being out there. That’s why we call it fishing, not catching. The social aspect of it is fun. Even though we don’t fly-fish shoulder to shoulder — there’s etiquette about that — nonetheless, there’s a social aspect to it that’s enjoyable.”

He most enjoys the challenge of figuring out how to make it all work.

Casting about

McDearmid likes fishing on moving water — the kind of water to which the area has the fewest bragging rights, he said.

“When water’s moving, you cast a fly and the stream’s going to sweep it downstream,” he said. “It’s going to pass places where trout are hanging out. It’s more dynamic. With a lake, unless the fish are rising, you are just kind of casting to an area; the fishing is much slower.”

Painter is partial to rivers, as well.

“They’re all different,” she said. “Lake fishing is fun because it’s serenity without the struggle. But each is an avenue to get out with nature.”

As an environmental education degree-holder from the University of Washington, Painter is clear that bonding with nature is her primary goal.

“It’s serene, quiet,” she said. “My favorite part is being out with nature. I’m a nature lover; it’s all about walking with nature. I receive far more than I ever will seek. The ability to see beauty never grows old.”

Saltwater fishing is challenging in that there is always a tide pushing one way or the other, and sometimes that can bring seaweed in its current, virtually ruining the odds of catching anything, McDearmid said.

“On shore, most of the time fish are going to be on the ingoing or outgoing tide,” Painter said. “You want to find out when the fish are going to be looking for groceries.

“On any shore, you might have a walking stick to ensure you don’t go too far or get in a sinkhole, make sure you’re not in the current or lose your footing,” she continued. “If your waders fill with water, that could be toast for you.”

There are moments of excitement, too.

“An interesting thing about saltwater: occasionally you can see the bait fish getting active on the surface,” McDearmid said. “If they’re scurrying under the surface, I generally believe there’s something underneath trying to get them. Or if there are birds diving. Whether you can reach that with a cast or not is another question.”

Therein lies some of the challenge — along with the critical “matching the hatch.”

Fly fishermen are notorious for noting what kinds of insects are flying around on any given trip, and try to match their hand-tied flies to that bug to attract the fish.

“Having the right fly and presenting it correctly,” McDearmid said of the challenge. “Knowing what to put out there and being able to put it out there properly. In lake fishing or from the beach, (the challenge lies in) retrieving that properly, as well.”

Knowing what might be swimming by is key.

“With lake fishing, the fish are in the lake,” he said. “If there are fish in the river, you’ll find trout. Salmon may be passing by or not. And some people swear one tide is better than the other. In 58 years of flyfishing, I couldn’t tell you which is better.”

The club doesn’t use boats, and operates almost exclusively on a catch-and-release basis.

With almost 60 years of fishing behind him, McDearmid said he “almost hooked into” the biggest fish of his life, on Sandy Shores Lake, just this past May.

“It was not expected,” he said with a laugh. “Little trout were just boiling all over, like they were dancing with each other all over the surface of the lake. We were fishing little Griffith’s gnats and pulling in these tiny little trout.

“All of a sudden, a hole developed under my fly and disappeared, and that wasn’t a tiny trout.”

The state sometimes leaves behind the brood fish it supplies the lakes — and that was one of them. All 2 feet, 5 pounds of it.

“I had him on for literally like 10 seconds,” McDearmid said. “I’ve never seen a fish do this. He jumped out of the water — straight, perpendicular, like a missile from a submarine — until he was entirely out of the water, like he was saying, ‘Haha! See how big I am!’ And he went straight back down tail first.

“At that point I’d lost him,” he concluded. “It’s part of fishing; you don’t catch them all. A day filled with bringing a bunch of (little trout) to your net is a wonderful day, though. You don’t have to catch world records to have fun fishing.”

Ensuring the future

The Port Ludlow Fisher’s Club also works with the state Fish and Wildlife Department to stock inland lakes with trout each year, including almost 500 fish in Teal Lake.

“It’s all about conservation,” Painter said. “We want to see people active in the world of conservation as well as sport, encourage children to get involved with parents who show responsible stewardship of the world and leave it for generations to come. We have to all try to protect our planet, it’s the one thing we have in common. It’s the right thing to do.”

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