UMass Fly Fishing Club brings the sport to the next generation

By Colby Sears

(Courtesy of Christopher Roller)
(Courtesy of Christopher Roller)

Christopher Roller was first introduced to fly fishing while on a trip to northern Maine when he was just seven years old, and was immediately hooked.

As the president and founder of the University of Massachusetts Fly Fishing Club, the junior natural resources conservation major is looking to bring both the sport and environmental awareness to campus and the Pioneer Valley.

“The main goal of the club (when it was founded in 2013) was to connect with other fly fishermen on campus and in the region,” Roller said. “But the overarching goal, and one of my personal goals, is to introduce fly fishing to the next generation and to get people to understand the value of conservation.”

Fly fishing, according to Roller, differs greatly from the sport of regular fishing. In both fresh and salt water, fly fishermen cast out weightless, hand-tied “flies” to catch fish.

These “flies” resemble fish organisms when casting in salt water and invertebrates when in fresh water. The sport also requires different rods and lines than those used in regular fishing.

“I like fly fishing a lot more than regular fishing because you kind of have to become a part of the ecosystem,” Roller said. “You have to judge the river, see where the water is flowing, predict where the fish will be, understand their behavior, and then try to trick them into believing your fly is an actual organism.”

Roller said members usually catch trout, bass, perch and pike, as opposed to the striped bass and bluefish they usually hook in saltwater. Typically, members fish in groups of two or three on the Swift River, Deerfield River and Millers River.

The sport is also very season-specific. Considering many insects are hatching this time of year, Roller said the club, which currently consists of about 30 members, replicates different bug life phases as they develop to trick and lure in fish.

According to Roller, the club receives support and rod donations from the UMass Department of Environmental Conservation, particularly Professor Andy Danylchuk, who helped Roller found the club.

Danylchuk is a Patagonia Fly Fishing Ambassador, representing just one of the many companies who also support the club.

“They see that we’re the next generation and they kind of need to get their foot in the door with us. … There’s been a lot of good support from companies willing to help us out,” Roller said of the club’s supporters.

Though the club does not have an official sponsor, some of these groups currently include Patagonia, Cortland Line and fly distributor Umpqua.

In a successful attempt to connect with the local fly fishing community, the club screened the Fly Fishing Film Tour last year in the Student Union with nearly 60 people in attendance.

Roller said it was “a really good opportunity to meet other fishermen on campus and in the area.”

The club was the first collegiate group to host the event, which showcased fly fishing films and demonstrations.

Though Roller has yet to find any other collegiate fly-fishing groups in the area, the UMass club has attended multiple Travel Unlimited meetings in the offseason to meet and connect with fellow anglers.

Roller will be attending the Cheeky Fly Fishing tournament in Cape Cod this summer with other members, and hopes to hold a casting clinic for potential fishermen in the fall. With donations from fly-fishing faculty members, this event will teach beginners how to cast with flies and properly handle fly fishing equipment.

Colby Sears can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colbysears.