Most of us don’t think of the Mid-Atlantic as a fly fishing Mecca. But the sport has been quietly catching on in the region, and folks in the know say there are some super spots right here in Loudoun. As the spring weather finally warms up, this may be the season to try your hand at casting a line.
In Loudoun, fly fishing’s dynamic duo are Jimmy Aliff and Scott Allen, the store manager and fishing manger, respectively, at the Orvis outdoor store in Leesburg. And while there aren’t any trout streams in our backyard, both of these longtime fishermen agree there’s plenty of great water to work with right in our area.
“It’s different than what people might think. Most people have that image of the old man standing in the river fishing for trout—the typical ‘A River Runs Through It’ image,” Allen said. “And a lot of fly fishing is that way, but we believe in fishing what’s in your area, working with what’s here.”
And Aliff says Northern Virginia fly fishing enthusiasts are probably more spoiled than they realize in terms of opportunities.
“We have so much water that we can take advantage of—the Potomac River, the nation’s river right in our backyard, the Shenandoah River, Goose Creek, all of the ponds and lakes around here. In an hour or so you can be on famed trout streams in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia and then we’ve got the Chesapeake Bay. So, we’ve got the complete run of almost anything you want to do,” he said.
The pair are on a mission to get folks into the sport, and the first step is Orvis’ program of free introductory fly fishing classes. With the help of a group of committed volunteer enthusiasts, the store offers regular Fly Fishing 101 classes where newbies can learn the basics about rods, reels, lines and flies, along with fish habitat and the process of fly fishing, followed by a little casting practice in the store’s parking lot.
“It’s designed to demystify,” Allen said. “A lot of people think fly fishing is very complicated. … We try to break that down and show that it’s really not.”
For folks who catch the fishing bug, Allen and Aliff offer another free Fly Fishing 201 class where instructors take participants to an area pond for a little casting practice—with the possibility of catching a fish. Students can move on to a fee-based guided half-day outing to a stocked stream with the Orvis guys, and after that the possibilities are endless—including guided trips with the company’s partner organizations around the region and around the world—or just finding a good spot and going out on your own.
Both Allen and Aliff are friendly, enthusiastic instructors who clearly love the sport. Aliff is a Charlotte, NC, native who has worked for Orvis for a decade, starting as a sales associate and moving up to fishing manager at the company’s Tyson’s Corner store before being brought on to run the Leesburg store when it opened in 2013. Allen is retired from a career in the Air Force and government contracting and got involved with the company as a volunteer instructor in Leesburg before officially joining the team after his retirement from government work.
“It’s been a great experience,” Allen said. “One of the things we enjoy the most is sharing our passion about the sport.”
And in both cases, their love of the sport shines through. Allen is a leader in the Northern Virginia chapter of the conservation nonprofit Trout Unlimited, and Aliff is a volunteer guide with the Project Healing Waters nonprofit, which helps wounded veterans learn to fly fish as a form of rehabilitation.
Both men got into traditional reel fishing as kids and then moved on to fly fishing, drawn in like many fly fishing enthusiasts, by the active nature of the sport, which relies on the weight of the line and the movement of the fisher to attract fish, and the sense of communing with nature.
“You have to be aware of your surroundings when you’re fly fishing. … It’s one of the things that most fly fishers enjoy is that you get to know your surroundings. It’s that kind of connection,” Allen said.
Allen and Aliff say there’s a growing sense of community on the local fly fishing scene, and they’re tapping into that community with a new series of monthly Tie One On gatherings at Old Ox Brewery, where experts in fly tying help newbies get the hang of it.
“We wanted to get to know our customers better so we wanted to see them outside the store,” Aliff said. “We get together and have fun. It’s completely a social event. We have people come that have never tied a fly before and we teach them how to do that, and we have people who used to tie in tournaments and competitions.”
And their partners at Old Ox Brewery are pretty enthusiastic about it, too.
“This fits the Old Ox mission of building community. We like to partner with local businesses when we can. If we can provide space for people to get together and learn a new skill or just make new friends, we are happy to do so,” said Old Ox Brewery co-owner Mary Ann Burns.
For the Orvis guys, these social events are just one more way to reach a growing pool of potential fly fishers and help build community.
“It’s definitely growing. We’re seeing a lot more youth get involved in fly fishing, a lot more women getting involved in fly fishing which is great,” Aliff said. “We’ve got a huge diversity in fly fishing and it’s definitely one of those things that’s kind of trending up.”
The next Tie One On fly tying meet up is 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, May 1 at Old Ox Brewery, 44652 Guilford Drive Suite 114 in Ashburn. Learn more about Orvis’ fly fishing classes at orvis.com/leesburg. Learn more about Project Healing Waters at projecthealingwaters.org and about Northern Virginia chapter of Trout Unlimited at nvatu.org.