By Reid O’Connor
Full disclosure: not everyone at the NSLM rides, hunts, plays polo, wingshoots, or fishes. We currently have nine full-time staff members. Of that nine, two are regular riders and sportswomen, and one is a part-time rider, having been much more active in her younger years (which, should be stated, was not too long ago). The remaining six of us enjoy learning about the various sports our mission encompasses and listening to others tell their stories and experiences but are not active participants.
Recently, a few NSLM staff tried some of the sports we “preserve, promote, and share” and with that, we created a series entitled “Never Have I Ever.” We want to tell you about our adventures, what we thought of them, and, most importantly, would we do them again? The inaugural entry below is from our Director of Development, Reid O’Connor. She is one of the two previously mentioned sporting regulars and last month, tried her hand at fly fishing. Take it away, Reid.
A friend of mine recently invited me to stay at her family home in Vermont to see the fall foliage, and naturally I jumped at the chance! After the blur of 2020, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to mark the start of my favorite season. So when the third week of October came around, I packed my bags with flannels, took a COVID-19 test, and made the 7 hour drive to the town of Manchester, Vermont.
Admittedly, after the whirlwind of our Polo Classic and September Board Meeting, I had not done any preparation for the trip or research about the town of Manchester. So as I followed my GPS into town, gaping at the reds, yellows, and oranges or the trees, I unwittingly discovered that I would be staying in the home of the Orvis Flagship Store and the Orvis Fly Fishing School, as well as the American Museum of Fly Fishing (a wonderful place to visit and perhaps the subject of a later blog). In our realm of equestrian, angling, and field sports, becoming an angler was a gap I had yet to fill. It seemed to me the fishing gods had drawn me here for a purpose, and I should not let this opportunity go to waste.
The folks at the flagship store had very enthusiastically given me the contact information for Kyle Leard, Orvis Adventures Instruction Lead at the Orvis Fly Fishing School. I gave him a call and signed my friend and I up for an hour casting lesson for beginners. We met Kyle at the school where he enthusiastically introduced himself and handed us our rods. We then marched across the road to pond of the flagship store, where our lesson would be taking place.
Kyle showed us how to put our rods together and then demonstrated a beautiful and effortless cast. He said the trick was a smooth and quick acceleration, followed by a stop, and then the cast forward – all in one line. Like all good instructors, Kyle had made the cast look easy. I will master this in no time at all, I thought, but discovered quite the contrary. Being a short 5’ 2”, I struggled clumsily with the long rod. I was having trouble putting the different parts of the cast together into one easy motion. After patiently observing my robotic arm-movements, Kyle suggested that maybe I should maybe not try so hard. This was, of course, sage advice. Like in most sports, overthinking is a sure path to disappointment.
Once I began following Kyle’s advice to relax my grip and we were no longer embarrassing ourselves with our initial casts, he decided we could progress. Next, we learned the false cast, apparently a particularly useful tool to change direction or add length to the cast, and to dry out the fly. And then we learned the roll cast – this Kyle said was very helpful if you are in a tree-heavy or bush-heavy area and there is not much room behind you for your back cast.
I had been so preoccupied with my cast in the first part of the lesson that I had failed to notice what was moving beneath the surface of the water. About halfway through, I saw a bright flash of color – a huge rainbow trout! I soon realized the pond was full of massive trout and I thought I might just have a chance to catch one. But when I vocalized my hopes, Kyle told me I would probably have no such luck. The trout in the pond are fed by visitors, and so have rather wisely discovered that they don’t need to work for their supper. They swum by fat and happy, not the slightest bit bothered by my efforts.
Thanks to Kyle’s enthusiasm and good humor, the hour came and went much faster than I had expected. As we neared the end, I mentioned that I was starting to feel the casting in my hand – another sign of trying too hard and holding too tightly, Kyle said. Although I had by no means mastered my casts, I realized that in that past hour I had been so focused on it that I could think of nothing else. Despite the fact my hand was a little sore, and my ego slightly damaged by the fat fish who had deemed me beneath their notice, I left happy. I had that same familiar feeling that I get after a long ride, that feeling which draws sportsmen and women back to fields and streams time and time again, the feeling of inner peace.
So, would I do it again? Absolutely. I told Kyle that my friend and I would be back next summer, this time to take on some real trout…
A final note: As you have gathered, this was my first lesson, and so if I described or remembered anything improperly or incorrectly, I apologize. It is my error and not that of my instructor.
Reid joined the NSLM in November 2017 and currently serves as Director of Development. She oversees the NSLM’s Membership program; annual giving; special events, including the Polo Classic and Open Late summer concert series; and facility rentals for outside groups. She is a graduate of The Madeira School and serves on the Board of The Hill School Alumni Association and as Secretary of the Loudoun County Equine Alliance. In her free time, she is an avid rider and polo player, and enjoys skiing and tennis.