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Jim Rogers: Fly casting & brushes with greatness, far and near

Jim Rogers begins a fly casting lesson at Bennett Spring State Park in Lebanon, Mo.
Credit: Dale Bowman

LEBANON, Mo.–Jim Rogers calmly strung a fly rod as he started a lesson on casting even as a thunderstorm rolled nearer at Bennett Spring State Park. Maybe he figured the evergreens were tall enough to attract lightning better than our fly rods.

“Fly fishing instructors are kind of like their own breed,’’ he said.

Rogers is one of those anomalies in the outdoors I’ve wanted to meet. He is a rare Master Casting instructor, yet he is a concessionaire at and holds his Jim Rogers Fly School at Bennett Spring, one of the most egalitarian spots in the outdoors.

This spring I had a group lesson and chat with Rogers at the Missouri Outdoor Communicators’ “Cast & Blast” centered around Bennett Spring, one of Missouri’s four trout parks, and the Lebanon area.

Teaching began immediately when he doubled the line before pulling it through the guides. That way it would not all go flying back out if loosed.

Practical comes naturally.

“I have been running the park for 42 years, fly fishing since I was 12; now I’m 71,’’ he said.

With that kind of life experience, there’s isn’t a whole lot of b.s.

He frankly suggests that fish-gut lures (ones that mimic fish guts) work best at the trout park for obvious reasons.

As to the key order on flies, he went 1) presentation, 2) size, 3) shape and 4) color. For presentations, there are two primary: dead-drift or attraction (reaction).

Teaching began with a center.

“Everything else in life has a pivot point,’’ he said. “That is naturally there in fly fishing’’

He makes one with the hand high with a thumb by chin and elbow by the side.

The casting begins by pulling a bunch of line out. Back cast to 1:00, straighten the line out to about eye level (if you do it before the line straightens, the fly snaps off), then up to 10:00.

“I love that sound [of the snapping fly],’’ he deadpanned. “I put my kids through college on that.’’

Key is to actually look at the line on the backcast to see it straighten.

“If the line doesn’t straighten, I don’t care how hard you hit it, it wouldn’t [cast right],’’ he said.

I would love to say I upped my casting skills to a thing of beauty. Sorry when it comes to fly fishing, I swirl in that mass of egalitarianism with the others.

“Fly fishermen are the worst about nitpicking you to death,’’ Rogers admits.

Jim Rogers talks fly fishing history in his office at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Mo.<br>Credit: Dale Bowman
Jim Rogers talks fly fishing history in his office at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Mo.
Credit: Dale Bowman

The storm chased us into his cluttered office (fly fishing memorabilia, photos, odds and ends), As he stowed stuff, Rogers dropped tale snippets of Johnny Morris (Bass Pro founder), Lefty Kreh (fly fishing god), singer Mel Tillis and Jason Borger (fly fishing).

In fly fishing, I could drop Robert Tomes, Joseph Meyer and Matt Mullady. In general fishing I wondered if Jerry Krause trumps Morris or Tillis.

It was a brush with greatness. Rogers was.

For Jim Rogers Fly School, click here.