Local fly fishing legends of the past & future

Each week we will share an interview with a local fly fisherman that has done many things for the sport.



This week we highlight Cody Fischer. Owner of Tellico Outfitters, a trout catching machine, and one of the greatest guys you will ever meet.



TU640: What was the first fish you remember catching? How old were you?



Cody: I have a photo of me as a little kid in Oshkosh overalls holding a nice largemouth bass on a stringer (this was before my catch and release days). I think I was 5 at the time. I remember my aunt took me down the road from our farm and we fished off the bridge on Panther Creek (pronounced 'Painter Crick'). I believe the hot pattern that day was a nightcrawlers on a bait hook and a red and white bobber, which balanced nicely with my Zebco 33.



TU640: At what age did you start fly fishing? How were introduced?



Cody: I didn't grow up fly fishing. Growing up on a farm in Southern Illinois was as far from a trout stream as you could get, but bass and bluegill were plentiful in the local farm ponds, so I spent most of my time with spin and baitcasting gear. When I turned 21, I took a summer job in the Black Hills in South Dakota and thought it would be a shame if I didn't at least give fly fishing a try in a place where trout are so abundant. So I bought a cheap fly rod and crappy beginner's DVD from Cabela's and proceeded to literally wear the guides off of that rod that summer. It was a hard processes trying to learn on my own before the days of Google and YouTube, but I stuck with it and I knew from that first summer that fly fishing would be something I'd be doing for the rest of my life.



TU640: What is your favorite species of fish to target?



Cody: Genuinely the one that I am fishing for at the moment. It's impossible to pick. They're all fun and they all have lessons to teach. In east TN we have so many options. We can fish for striped bass in the morning, smallmouth bass in the afternoon and native brook trout in the evening. All within an hours drive of one another. My most recent obsession has been saltwater species. Redfish and bonefish are insanely fun. Thankfully we're just an easy day's drive from the salt. I'm glad I don't have to pick just one fish.



TU640: What's your favorite river to fish? What makes it so special?



Cody: In the last 15 years I've fished over 250 trout streams ranging from the remote parts of the West to creeks in urban areas. Downtown Milwaukee to be exact....my biggest steelhead was caught in a city park. Just like fish species, all streams are unique with their own personalities. They all present their own challenges and lessons to learn. I do have a soft spot for small mountain streams. I like light rods and the challenge of making casts in tight situations and being rewarded with a fish when things line up perfectly.



TU640: What is your favorite method of fly fishing and why?



Cody: Euro or Tightline nymphing has become my most used method in recent years. It is by far the most effective way to fish our larger mountain streams and many tailwaters as well. The ability to achieve a drag free drift and the sensitivity that the technique provides in unparalleled. It is the way that I fish over 90% of the time on the Tellico. More visual ways of fishing, such as with a dry fly, are a lot of fun, but having to use your mind's eye to visualize and react to currents and contours on the bottom puts you in a whole other level of focus that in my opinion more deeply connects you to your quarry and the finer details of the water you're fishing.



TU640: Who has been your greatest inspiration in your fly-fishing journey? What motivates you?



Cody: The contributions made to fly fishing in this area by Walter Babb cannot be understated. Walter is a living legend, although he's too humble to agree with that. It's hard to say how many people have learned to fly fish and tie flies thanks to his teaching. I had the honor of fishing with Walter last fall. At 72 years old he's fished the Tellico area since he was a child and it's safe to say he's forgotten more about the Tellico and its tributaries than I'll ever know. His knowledge and longevity in the fly fishing community motivates me to learn everything I can about fly fishing in the Appalachians and do my best to pass that knowledge on to others.



TU640: Tell me about a memorable day that you had on the water with clients.



Cody: The first trip that comes to mind is one from 10 years ago in the Black Hills, when I took a father and son who had never fly fished before on a trip to Rapid Creek. The section of the creek that we fished that morning was catch and release only, known for large, hard to catch wild browns. Within the first 15 minutes of the trip, both of them had landed browns over 22 inches, their first trout ever on fly rods. After that, I had to set them down and explain to them that many anglers go their whole lives hoping to catch a brown over 20 inches, that fly fishing definitely is not that easy and so it was likely all downhill from there. I'm pretty sure the son still has that brown trout set as his Facebook profile picture.



TU640: What the most common mistake you see new fly fishermen making?



Cody: Not being patient with themselves. I used to joke with clients that the only difference between a novice and a professional was that the pros just find more complicated ways to tangle their leaders. A bit of an exaggeration but it proves a point. Fly fishing is something that you never truly perfect, you just continue to build on the knowledge that you gain through educating yourself and through trial and error. As a beginner, you will have fishless days. You will get wind knots. You will lose a half a fly box worth of flies to the trees. You'll think that you've got it all put together, just to have a humbling day on the river that reminds you otherwise. Those things don't change with time. It still happens to the best of us some days. And the day you think you have it figured out is the day you quit growing as an angler. Even with a fisheries degree, 15 years of fly fishing, guiding and owning a shop, I still feel like a novice. There is so much to learn....don't rush it.



TU640: What advice do you have for any level of fly fisherman?



Cody: Same advice that I have for beginners. Don't quit learning.



TU640: Why Tellico? What makes the area so special?



Cody: When I first visited the Tellico area, I was blown away by just how much water there is to fish. We're talking hundreds of miles of mostly wild trout streams within an hours drive or less of Tellico Plains. At least a dozen of those streams have native brook trout. Then you have the stocked sections of Tellico and Citico (although even they have great numbers of wild fish). The differences between the 'wild' and 'stocked streams' as we call them are night and day. While Tellico and Citico can be packed on the weekends and during camping season, even then, they are both fun to fish and are still pretty quiet through the weekdays. In contrast, most of the wild streams see very little pressure at all. There are some streams and sections of others that may only see a handful of people fish them each year. That's a rarity these days, especially in the eastern part of the U.S..I have often fished North, Bald, Sycamore and many other wild streams and not seen another soul all day. In fact, I have yet to run into another angler as I fished any of those streams. On top of that, we have many warmwater opportunities that are still largely unexplored.



TU640: Did you always know that you wanted to be a fly shop owner/guide?



Cody: As a kid I knew that I someday wanted to guide but didn't consider a fly shop until after I actually worked for one.



TU640: What ignited the spark in you to start your own fly shop?



Cody: A few years after I learned to fly fish out west, I had the good fortune to start guiding for Dakota Angler & Outfitter in Rapid City, SD. I still owe the shop's owner, Hans, a debt of gratitude for giving a young kid a chance at living out his dream. That is really where the desire to one day run my own shop and guide service began and through the years I kept that plan in the back of my mind. And when I stumbled across the Tellico area and realized there wasn't a shop in the area, I knew I had found the right place.



TU640: Was your family supportive of your choice to open a fly shop?



Cody: I like to say that my wife Abby was a little too supportive. I remember when the idea hit me, I called her up and said 'I have an idea, hear me out.' I explained how the Tellico area had all of this fantastic fishing and no shop for miles around. I wholeheartedly expected some her to to keep me in check and had an entire rebuttal planned, but she cheerfully said 'Ok!'. I was ready to have that conversation about leaving a good job, what we'd do while the shop was being built, where the money would come from, what we'd do if it didn't work out, but she was on board from the beginning.



TU640: Your shop has been around for just over a year, yet you are highly recommended by a lot of people. Why do you think the community has taken to you so well?



Cody: I genuinely want people to catch fish and be better anglers. So I am always willing to give the best advice that I can give. I think about where I'd fish and how I'd fish given the current conditions and that's what I recommend to my customers. It's never about selling a 'hot fly' or trying to unload a bunch of gear on someone that they don't need. The flies and gear that I recommend are those that I know will work from experience. I try to spend at least a day or two fishing different parts of the Tellico and the smaller streams to stay on top of conditions. If people don't have a better day than they would had they not stopped by the shop or if they don't learn something new that will help them on future outings, then I haven't really done my job.



TU640: Besides the obvious (covid-19) what has been the biggest obstacle in owning a fly shop?



Cody: To be honest, except for the two week voluntary store closure where we took a step back to assess the situation and its impact on Tellico Plains, the number of customers have been incredible this year. We have seen so many new people visiting Tellico. People want to get out and enjoy the outdoors.


What has been challenging this year is keeping the store stocked. With covid-19 lock downs causing supply chain and personnel issues for a lot of companies, we've seen delays in resupplying the shop while at the same time the number of customers has only increased. Being such a new shop, we are also still trying to find out baseline for inventory. It's been over 10 years since Tellico Plains last had a fly shop. We're really starting from scratch when it comes to just how successful a fly shop can be in the area.



TU640: Give me a life lesson you have learned from fly fishing?



Cody: Be thorough and don't overlook the details. I can't tell you how many times over the years I have lost fish due to bad knots that I should have retied, improper tactics for the conditions, rushed casts and heavy footfalls. Slowing down, being observant and not taking shortcuts will result in a much more successful day of fishing. Same lesson applies to life, I can't say that I follow my own advice 100% of the time, but I try my best to pay attention to the details, be thorough in any project that I take on, not take shortcuts and have patience with others as well as myself.



TU640: What advice would you give someone wanting to open a fly shop?



Cody: There are a whole lot of variables to consider when making that decision, but possibly the most important is to know your local water well. The reason fly shops still exist during the age of big box stores and online shopping is the local knowledge that customers receive when they walk through the door. If you don't know your local fishery day in and day out and how to fish it under varying conditions, you won't be able to give advice that sets you apart from the general information that an angler can get on their own through any article or book on the subject. That localized information is what people are looking for. Customer service is also key. Treat people with respect and sincerity and they'll want to come back.



TU640: How supportive are you of the Tellico hatchery and what do you do to help them?



Cody: They have my full support and I know that I have theirs as well. I've been fortunate to have a great relationship with Jon, Travis and Jessica and others who operate the hatchery. We've had great discussions about how we'd like to see the fishery on the Tellico grow and develop and the continued health and conservation of our wild trout populations. We have helped with Project Healing Waters events at the hatchery, the spring river cleanup as well as another cleanup that we put together for the fall. I've been working with TWRA biologist Travis Scott on developing small stream surveys that visiting anglers can use to record their observations and catches on various small streams to help us build our knowledge base on the health and fish composition of our less visited streams. We should have that up and running soon. The Tellico area is very fortunate to have the crew that is currently operating the hatchery and our region.



TU640: How has being a fly-shop owner changed you and what do you see for the future?



Cody: It's always been my goal to work for myself. The fact that I can do that and also be able to focus on my passion is a true blessing. It's hard work, but it's worth it. I've discovered that I really enjoy teaching others. I always took satisfaction in helping others when I was guiding, but now I get to help others get outfitted with the right gear and flies, learn new tactics, problem solve and hopefully at the end of the day make their time on the water more successful. I absolutely love to hear back from customers who have had a great day on the water after stopping by the shop.



TU640: Outside of being a fly shop owner, guide, and personal fishing time what are your other passions?



Cody: I've always been someone with a one track mind. I've had other hobbies in the past but they've never stuck. Fishing is pretty much the only thing that I do outside of spending time with God or family. I talk fishing every day all day long and in 15 years of fly fishing and 36 years of fishing in general I haven't gotten tired of it. There is so much to learn and so little time to learn it in.


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