TORRINGTON — Growing up on a farm, there was always plenty of work to be done, but Gary Korell’s father always made time for fishing.
“My brothers and I can blame our fishing habits on our father,” said Korell, who fly fishes year round and spends his evenings tying flies.
Each year, their dad would take them up to the Wind River near Dubois. But, it wasn’t until Korell’s lifelong friend, Charles “Chuck” Curry, suggested they try fly fishing that Korell found his true passion.
“We spent a lot of nights on the phone tying flies and talking about what might work best,” Korell recalled.
White sprouts of hair clung to his balding, weathered scalp as he pointed to a picture of a 24-inch-long trout he caught a couple miles up the Platte River from Torrington. His tan hands spoke to years spent in the sun chasing the next big catch.
“I really like the idea of catch-and-release fishing,” the 61-year-old said explaining his initial draw to fly fishing.
With bait, the fish tend to swallow the hook, which makes releasing them near impossible, he said.
“I strictly target trout,” he added. “They’re not a real durable fish.”
Korell first fly fished around 1969, but it was another decade before he delved into the sport. He found the challenge of reading the water, learning to cast and hunting the right fishing holes to be nearly addictive.
“I love the art of casting,” he offered. “And, trust me, after spending years learning it, it is an art form.”
Korell spoke with reverence about the necessity to release fish and expressed a desire to see the Wyoming Game and Fish Department label more areas release only.
“We could practically fish some of those holes out,” Korell noted about his favorite nearby streams, “if we didn’t release.”
According to the American Fly Fishing Trade Association, fly fishing is growing in popularity across the United States, and the Rocky Mountain region is leading the way with 31.5 percent of fly fishing supplies sales by small-to-medium retail stores.
Overall, AFFTA estimates the fly fishing business in the U.S. is worth about $815 million and growing.
But, all those extra anglers don’t excite Korell much.
“Wyoming is a great state for fly fishing,” he said. “I like our low population. I’m not much on crowd fishing.”
However, that doesn’t mean he likes to fish alone. Some of his best experiences have been introducing others to the sport.
“My youngest daughter catching fish is one of the biggest highlights of my life,” he declared.
Not long ago, he was fishing with a few buddies when they came upon a high schooler knee-deep in the river fly fishing alone. Korell said they spent some time teaching him a few tricks they acquired throughout the decades, and when it came to part ways, Korell gave the young man a box of his hand-tied flies.
Korell said he gives many of his flies away. He’s been tying them since the beginning, and though he’s created thousands, he’s not ready to give it up.
“I still enjoy spending my winter nights tying flies,” he said.
Each winter, he ties around 600-800 flies. But, he doesn’t tie traditional patterns. Instead, he spends hours studying the season’s insects and tries to replicate what he observes. Also, his flies are minuscule, and the hooks are bent down to minimize damage to the catch.
“Ninety percent of a trout’s diet is very small insects,” he explained. “The idea is to make the fly look as natural as possible.”
The downside to tying his own patterns is when other anglers tell him what traditional patterns the fish are biting at.
“If he says ‘they’re biting brown mayflies,’” Korell shrugged, “I’m out of luck unless they bite at one of my patterns as well.”
Korell can usually be found up a stream, clad in waders, hunting a seam for the biggest rainbow.
“I’m not big on lakes,” he admitted. “But occasionally, we will fish them.”
He caught his trophy fish at Lake Hattie, a 14-pound trout.
Nor is he big on drift boats.
“I prefer wade fishing,” he said. “Drift fishing is beneficial for some, but I prefer standing on the bank.”
If he’s not tying a new fly, hiking up a stream or photographing midges, he might be found teaching someone else how to at Eastern Wyoming College through the community education program. In December, he will teach a class on casting, and in the spring, he will teach fly tying.
“The real hero is my wife,” he said. “She puts up with all of my fishing, fly tying and spreading my gear all over the living-room floor.”
Korell fishes year round, but he prefers the fall, winter and early spring when there is less competition for the waterways.
“About the only thing that gets in the way of my fly fishing,” he said chuckling, “is bull elk hunting in September.”
Indeed, his garage is lined with elk racks, and he is hoping to bring home his 60th this season, which he said might be his last.
Korell didn’t let age slow him down, but he did pick up a few things along the way.
“I don’t need to catch a lot of fish nowadays,” he said. “I’m just looking to target the big ones.”
With a year left before he would like to retire from the City of Torrington Streets and Sanitation Department, he said he looks forward to spending more time getting his feet wet.
“I’m hoping to get to know every fish in the state,” he said smiling.
By Ike Fredregill