Orvis Expert Teaches Fly Fishing to Newcomers
By Jake Thielen | July 10, 2011
Golf has long been a popular sport for many people looking to take advantage of Michigan’s warm summer weather, but according to Rich Merlino, another sport is emerging.
“Fly fishing seems to be becoming the new golf,” Merlino said. “I had three guys who needed a private lesson for fly fishing because they have a business trip out to Montana. I’m hearing more and more guys say they’re coming off of the golf course and into the streams.”
Merlino, who has 33 years of fishing experience, is the fishing manager of Royal Oak’s Orvis sporting goods store, located on Woodward just north of 12 Mile.
Royal Oak’s Orvis location is one of many across the country that has been offering free Fly Fishing 101 classes designed to teach people about fly fishing and to help grow the sport.
“A lot of people have questions about the sport and wonder what it’s all about,” Merlino said. “The nice thing about fly fishing, rather than throwing out some bait and waiting for something to happen, you actually make something happen.”
On Saturday morning, a group of 12 participants showed up to take part in one of the remaining Fly Fishing 101 classes of the summer. The class met in Royal Oak’s Upton Park, where Merlino and his staff gave instructions on how to cast a line properly.
“This is a great way for the folks to actually take a look at it and realize how easy casting is,” Merlino said. “That seems to be the most difficult hurdle for people to understand. They think that it’s difficult, but we show them in an hour that we can get them casting.”
For some of the participants, the class offered a fun family activity. Jad Habayeb of Rochester Hills and his young son Jaden were two of the prospective fly fishermen in attendance.
“My son is all into fishing, so I’m trying to get him to get a little more excited to keep him doing outside things,” Habayeb said. He said he had already signed up for the more advanced Fly Fishing 201 class and hoped to learn more about fishing himself.
Michelle Paul-Gierak of Shelby Township and Suzanne Vivian of Clinton Township were there to cross an item off a bucket list the two of them had made.
“It was education and entertainment for us,” Vivian said.
Paul-Gierak said they stumbled upon an ad for the class in a local newspaper.
“There was a little blurb that said ‘learn how to fly fish,’ and since it was on our list we said ‘let’s do it,’ ” Paul-Gierak said.
Paul Viscomi of Macomb said he had experience spin-casting and lure fishing, but he wanted to give fly fishing a try.
“(I signed up for) adventure, because it was something different to do and to expand my horizons in Michigan a little bit more,” Viscomi said. “I learned that (Michigan) is wide open and we have a lot of opportunities to get out in the streams that we have and catch various types of fish.”
Michigan has more than 3,000 miles of shoreline, 11,000 inland lakes and 36,000 miles of rivers, streams and creeks available for use, Merlino said during the lesson.
“In Michigan, if you don’t fish, you’re missing a great opportunity,” Merlino said. “There’s so many species here to fish for, and you can fish throughout the year.”
After the casting lesson was completed, the students returned to the Orvis store to learn how to set up their fishing rod and tie the artificial flies to the line. Upon completion of the lesson, participants received free one-year memberships to Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers, as well as in-store coupons.
Merlino said the response to the classes was strong and all of the available classes filled up quickly.
“In the first two weeks, we completely filled up all the classes, so what we did was start adding more instructors and a couple of extra classes,” Merlino said. “Obviously, they’re going to do it again next year, because they’ve had so much success. Orvis had a goal of introducing 10,000 people to the sport and they’ve succeeded with that so far.”
For Merlino, the biggest satisfaction from the class came from being able to teach fly fishing to other people.
“I don’t know how many people we see that say ‘Grandpa gave me an old fly rod and I don’t know what to do with it,’ ” Merlino said. “They’ll come here with that fly rod and we actually show them how to use it. It’s great; you get to see this big smile on their face.”
More information on fly fishing and the Royal Oak Orvis store can be found at www.orvis.com/detroit.