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Fly Fishing
Up a Creek with Danny Wickline

By John Lilly
Photographs by Tyler Evert

Danny Wickline, a retired teacher from Union, has been fly fishing for 35 years. Photograph by Tyler Evert.

Fish fear him. Well, maybe they don’t, but perhaps they should. This fellow can fool a fish five ways till Friday. On the other hand, few men in Monroe County know as much, or care as much, about the trout and other denizens of the sparkling fresh water in this soft-spoken paradise as does Danny Wickline. A native of Union, he’s lived a stone’s throw from these streams his entire life. Retired after 30 years of teaching in Monroe County schools – history, health, P.E. – he now spends his free time plying the backcountry waterways, or tying flies in preparation for his next opportunity to tempt a fish.

 “My dad was a farmer,” Danny says. “He worked for the Walnut Grove farms for over 50 years.” His mother is a retired dietitian. Though his dad did not fish, Danny came by his angling honestly.

 “I sort of leaned toward fishing pretty early,” he recalls. His great-uncle Roy Mann, a native of Greenville, Monroe County, was an accomplished fly fisherman who inspired young Danny to try his hand at this ancient and genteel sport.

 “I would run into him on the creek,” Danny says. “I’d fish along Anthony Creek some, and I’d sit down and just watch him fish. Fly fishing is what he did best. I run into him one day and he said, ‘When you gonna really start fishing?’ I’d been using spinners and night crawlers and salmon eggs and that type of thing, and ultra-light gear. My father had an old fly rod – it was broken – and I patched that thing up and started fly fishing. That was 35 years ago.”

Watching and imitating his great-uncle, Danny soon got the hang of wading into the stream, unleashing 30 or 40 feet of undulating line, and gently dropping his handmade fly on the water’s surface. Roy Mann also helped Danny get started tying flies – an essential skill for any serious fly fisherman.

 “He got me started with a few materials, gave me a pointer here and there,” Danny recalls. “Of course, I read as much as I could, picked people’s brains for info on how to tie and what have you.” Soon Danny was as hooked as a 10-pound brookie with a No. 6 fly in his lip.

“Fly fishing to me is something special,” Danny confesses. “I like to fish dry, to let it lay out there on the water, and have it float downstream at the same pace as a natural insect would, and see a trout come up and take that fly. That’s the special part.” Danny also notes the beauty and symmetry of a well-cast line as it curls through the air, the swift whisper it makes as it whips back and forth, and the satisfaction the fisherman feels as it silently lays out on the water.

 “That’s what attracted me to it,” Danny says, “watching my great-uncle do it. And the man caught fish when other people weren’t.”

The key to catching fish year round is knowing what natural food the fish are choosing at that time and location and offering them a lure that mimics that food source. Danny has become an expert on that subject.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.