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How Jeff Currier Started Fly Fishing…and Why He’ll Never Stop

Private: Jeff Currier — Mar 05, 2019

Jeff Currier knows he’s getting older. Guess how much it bothers him?

It doesn’t. Not that much, anyway.

For Jeff, getting older means more free time: a rarity right now due to his packed schedule. He’s a decorated fly fisherman, traveling  the world to fish and speak to audiences about his angling escapades. It’s a busy, beautiful life.

Don’t get Jeff wrong. He loves to fly fish. He’s dedicated his entire life to the sport. But he does have other passions he wants to pursue, like painting beautiful portraits of the exotic fish he’s caught.

You need time to paint. Heck, you need to sit still to paint. And Jeff isn’t staying in one place for too long these days.

“I don’t have much time to do my art right now,” he said. “I’m mainly speaking, fishing, and traveling. I look forward to getting old. It’s going to be great.”

When the day comes that his schedule softens and he has more than mere pockets of time to paint, Jeff will still fly fish. He will always fly fish. It’s a part of who he is: a crucial thread that has woven its way throughout his life since he was a little boy.

Read on to learn about Jeff Currier’s introduction to fly fishing and how he became one of the best anglers in the world.

Jeff Currier Young Fishing

How did you get into fly fishing?
I got into fly fishing when I was 7-years-old because my dad fly fished and one of my grandfathers fly fished. My grandfather had an outdoor store before I was born, and when he closed it down, a lot of the fly fishing tackle in the store ended up in the basement. When the parents were working with a 9-year-old running through the woods, I kept grabbing stuff, and it was all fly fishing gear.

Do you remember the first time you went fishing?
My dad took me fishing when I was 4 or 5. I remember when I was 6-years-old, we went to the Posh River in Massachusetts and went trout fishing. It was opening day, but when we were in our canoe, my dad stuck a nightcrawler on my spin rod. He was fly fishing, and he was catching a lot of fish. I wasn’t doing anything, and I remember being so pissed off. I made up my mind at a very young age that I wanted to be like Dad and fly fish. It was the first time I ever got pissed.

Dad didn’t have a lot of time, but he got me a fly rod that very next Christmas. I remember being stoked and my parents were afraid I would break the rod and knock over lamps. I got pretty proficient with it that spring and never put it down.

I definitely watched my dad fly fish and I remember him teaching me certain things. He’d take the rod out of my hand and show me, but for the most part, I’d go out there and learn by trial and error. I started fishing with more worms on the end than flies and eventually progressed from there. By the time I was 12, I was pretty good with a fly rod.

Did you always want to be a professional fly fisherman?
Fly fishing was definitely a hobby at first. At that time, growing up in the 70s, there was no such thing as a fly fishing career. I was going to become an office boy. Lucky for me, I didn’t do good in school. I say lucky for me because I really screwed off a lot and it was hard to get into college and get a real career. I became a naturalist.

I went to the easiest college that would accept me and studied outdoor education in northern Wisconsin. I was able to fish my way through college. I made a deal with my dad. My deal was if I did graduate college, I could go screw off [after I graduated], and he agreed to not be disappointed in me.

I moved out from west Massachusetts and New Hampshire and went to college in northern Wisconsin. The next morning right after I graduated, I slept in my car and went straight to Wyoming and got a fly fishing job. I had so much fun at that fly shop that I stayed there for 23 years. It was called the Jack Dennis Fly Shop. It was truly one of the best fly fishing stores for many years. I was the manager and had a great time. It was epic. It was unbelievable. No parents. No school. Fish. I made sure I paid my rent and could get gas in my car. It was a good challenge because I think my dad was just watching and staying with my deal and wondering how long I could hold out. I lived like such a bum. But then I became the store manager and things started falling into place.

What would you say to people who want to make a career out of fly fishing like you have?
I was always asked, especially by younger kids, ‘How do I do what you are doing?’ Fish hard and stay smart. There’s really not a formula for it.

How did you transition from working in fly fishing to making a living as a fly fisherman?
I quit my job in 2009. In the recession of 2008, they decided to screw over their managers, cut my salary, shortened my vacation. I remember coming home and telling my wife how pissed off I was. I had planned when I turned 50 to try to do art full time. At that time, I was 44 in 2008. My wife is like, ‘You know what? Walk in there and tell them to go f*** themselves.’ So I thought in my mind, ‘A year from now, I’m going to do that.’ I worked my butt off, saved my money, hardly traveled, and in 2009, I walked in the store one day and was like, ‘I’m outta here.’ I gave a two months notice. That was my turning point. Then the phone started ringing. I thought I was going to be a lonely artist sitting all by myself painting fish. But the companies calling me were saying, ‘What are you going to do? Would you be interested in being one of my ambassadors?’ In six months, I had sponsors and millions of projects.

I was always asked, especially by younger kids, ‘How do I do what you are doing?’ Fish hard and stay smart. There’s really not a formula for it.

Do you regret not taking an office job?
God, no. All of my college buddies that I’m still friends with always say, ‘What the hell did we do wrong?’ They’re all doing business now.

Did you grow to love fly fishing, or did you love it immediately?
I loved fly fishing right away. I loved the mystery of just catching fish. When you drop that fly out there, especially in deep water, you don’t know what’s going to come out. Down in French Polynesia, I was targeting a certain species of fish. I didn’t know if I was going to find him or not. I did find him. That feeling? I can’t stop. It’s a drug.

From your experiences, do you think all fish the same?
One of the places I fish the most is 45 minutes to an hour from my house, and it’s all rainbow trout. Some are harder to catch than others. Some fish are smarter than others, just like people. When you hook some fish, some fight harder than others. Some are stronger than one another, or they have better defense to get away. The real personality comes into play when you try to fool that fish. Some have a certain liking to different flies. They have different foods that are their favorite. The next fish loves the caddisfly, but the next fish wants the mayflies. I definitely see personalities in fish, especially in bass. If you watch a few bass working together, you can see who’s the boss and who’s the wimp.

Jeff Currier River Fishing

Do you have certain superstitions or habits that you follow when you go fly fishing?
I do have superstitions. I don’t know why it is, but if I’m fishing for a long time, I get my fish on the last day and in the last hour. I don’t know how the hell that works. It’s kind of fun. A lot of people have mental breakdowns if they don’t get a fish on the second day of a six-day trip, but in my head I think, ‘This is cool, I’m building steam.’ I got my Napoleon wrasse last week on the second to last day. Still wasn’t worried the whole time.

I have a lot of superstitions when I ice fish. If I have a coyote cross the road on my way to go ice fishing, I turn and come home. When the coyotes are hunting out for food and are out on the highway, I turn around. I have the records of it. Whenever I didn’t see coyotes but I saw lots of deer and elk, then my fishing was good.

What is the hardest part of being a fly fishermen?
Finding new and exciting things. Maybe that’s not for your average fly fisherman, but for me, I would say on average, I fish 150 days a year and that’s after 45-almost-50 years of fly fishing. It does get challenging to go out and be challenged and be stimulated. I would say where I have that problem is my trout fishing here locally in Wyoming and Montana. You could blindfold me and I could walk up and down my favorite rivers and I wouldn’t trip. I’d know where to stop and catch a fish. I always have to make it harder, fun and interesting, whether it’s a new place I’ve never been that’s off the hook or a new fish to catch. Fishing is a game we play. It’s not fun to win all the time unless you’re playing for money, and I’m not.

After catching hundreds of fish species, are there still fish that evade you?
There’s definite fish I need to catch. I’d love to catch a milk fish. I have not caught a milk fish. They like warm water, like the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. They have tormented me a bit. I’ve hooked a few; I’ve been surrounded by them. But it’s time. Next year, I will be going full-on and getting the milk fish.

Most new things you’ve done, you have to get good at. You do it because you have to. In fly fishing, it’s easy to get tangled 12 times and say this stuff sucks, but you’ve gotta jump that hurdle. It’s part of the game. The reward is so high.

What is the best part about being a fly fisherman?
For me, it’s the people I meet. I have too many friends if that’s possible, and it’s all because of fishing. Fishing is just a fun thing to do. Every time you share it with someone, you become friends. I just came back from French Polynesia, and I’ve got four new friends out of it. As much as I travel, I meet new, great people. Fishing is great, but making new friends is even better. I sleep on floors everywhere.

What would you want new fly fishermen to know?
I would look you in the eye and ask, ‘Why are you getting into fly fishing?’ You’re kind of screwed already if you want to catch big fish. That’s not what it’s about. First and foremost, it’s about getting outdoors. Then, it’s about meeting new people and friends. If you’re getting into it to have a good time in the outdoors, as far as skill goes, you’re not going to be good right away. It’s going to be frustrating, just like any single new thing that you’ve done in your life. Most new things you’ve done, you have to get good at. You do it because you have to. In fly fishing, it’s easy to get tangled 12 times and say this stuff sucks, but you’ve gotta jump that hurdle. It’s part of the game. The reward is so high.

Me? I have problems with computers. I wasn’t taught computers in school. It’s always been a struggle. Every single day. I have my first smart phone and it’s kicking my ass. I learned to text this year. It’s going to be slow, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to handle it.

What is harder: catching the fish or painting the fish?
Painting the fish was harder. Now it’s not, but in the start, it really was. I get really embarrassed when someone brings in an old piece of art of mine from 20 years ago and I’m like, “Oh God, this painting is in your house?” What’s fascinating is when I started my art career and I had to hold trout every day, I’d paint trout and now I think, “Christ, that doesn’t even look like a trout.” It’s fun to watch the transition. Big paintings take me about 30 hours. Small paintings I can do in like 5 hours, like a 9×12. I love that I can listen to music or watch baseball and absorb other things while I do artwork. I don’t miss any Cubs games when they’re on.

How did you become such a Cubs fan?
I was born and raised a Red Sox fan. It was bred into me. But when I moved to Wisconsin, there was no ESPN or cable TV or all that shit, so Red Sox games were ripped from me. But my new friends were all from the Chicago area, and we had a tiny TV where they’d watch the Cubs games. The Cubs made the playoffs and that got me hooked. Never looked back.

What is something Mother Nature has taught you?
Be smart, and I don’t mean mathematician smart. I’m talkin’ keep your game up. Pay attention to things. Where I go and where I travel and fish can be very dangerous when you’re out in the boat in the ocean and a storm can kick up, or you’re walking into an animal trap in the jungle. So it’s taught me to keep my senses at the absolute best all the time, which has really helped me in life. So maybe I’m not good at math. But for damn sure, if I’m going to do something that involves math, I better pay attention.

About Private: Jeff Currier

Jeff Currier knows he’s getting older. Guess how much it bothers him? It doesn’t. Not that much, anyway. For Jeff,... read more

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