Fly Fishing with LL Bean
In spring, many a young man’s fancy turns to fly fishing. The same could be said of many young women I know. Who better to ask about the appeal of flying fishing than LL Bean fishing expert Mac McKeever (above). McKeever works for Bean's department of Public Affairs and used to head up the marketing, advertising and public relations activities for L.L.Bean's Outdoor Discovery Schools.
An avid outdoorsman, Mac spends as much time as he can hunting and especially fishing in Maine, Florida and the Caribbean. He currently serves on the Boards of the Coastal Conservation Association of Maine, the Maine Tourism Association and the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Portland. He is also a United States Coast Guard licensed captain. He lives in Portland, Maine with his wife Jill and their dog Tim. We spoke before the season began, when he had time to talk.
So Mac, what are your favorite fishing waters?
That's a tough one, there are so many! I would probably have to say that my favorite fishing waters would have to be the flats of Homosassa, Florida. I am infatuated with tarpon. And the water there has this emerald, crystalline quality so the sight-fishing is spectacular.
Very few things in life compare to the sight of a school of 100lb plus tarpon sliding along just under the surface, as you drop your fly in just the right spot and watch one of the fish lurch ahead, open that big bucket of a mouth and take in this little piece of feathers on a hook. It's beyond description, really with the spectacular leaps and the awesome surge of power during the first few runs. Someone once said there's tarpon and then there's everything else. It's very true. I highly recommend that every angler put catching a giant tarpon on their life's to-do list.
My other favorite place to fish is Casco Bay here in Maine. The striped bass fishing is very dynamic. You can catch them in rivers, off ledges, the beach, around points, jetties, cliffs, rock piles and my favorite, sight-fishing them on the flats.
How long has LL Bean been offering fly casting lessons?
Fishing has always been an important part of L.L.Bean's history and culture. It's at the heart of our heritage and represents one of the very cornerstones of our business. The L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools began in 1979, so we're celebrating our 30th Anniversary this year.
Was there a time when it was done more informally?
Prior to 1979, it would not be uncommon for our store staff to conduct "impromptu" casting lessons outside the store when a customer wanted to test out a fly rod or was looking for a few pointers. We would give customers free casting lessons, as well as offer casting lessons intermittently during the year.
One thing I'm always amazed at working here at L.L.Bean is how passionate our employees are about the outdoors and how eager they are to share this passion with customers. The people that work here truly live the outdoor lifestyle. L.L. Bean was the quintessential guide, always willing to share information and help people enjoy the outdoors more. That spirit is as strong today as it was in L.L.'s time.
What's your own fishing background?
Fishing and the outdoors were a big part of my upbringing and I have been fishing for as long as I can remember. My dad is an avid angler and he gave me my first fly rod when I was seven which started an incredible love affair and fascination with fly-fishing that I'm very grateful for.
Fishing and the outdoors has had a major impact on my life. You see things in the outdoor world that you simply will not see anywhere else and I feel lucky to have witnessed some incredible things in the outdoors.
I'm one of these guys who has a big pile of fishing rods and reels and all kinds of tackle and fishing gear, in addition to a fishing skiff. I read about fishing, I watch lots of fishing shows, I tie flies, I learn and practice new knots…it's an obsession really. Not only was I lucky to have grown up with parents that fostered a love of the outdoors, but Maine has outstanding fishing for a wide variety of species. The fishery is very dynamic…we have ponds, lakes, rivers streams and the ocean, so growing up and into my adult years, I've wandered all over Maine in search of big fish! And I've also been very lucky to have gone on some incredible fishing trips throughout the United States and the Caribbean.
How much can you learn in one of your Fly Fishing Essentials courses?
We offer Fly-Fishing Essentials I through IV in addition to private courses, Spey-Casting lessons and guided fishing trips so we really cover the entire instructional and experiential spectrum.
But the Essentials are specifically designed to give participants the ability to select the content that's most conducive for them, from a half-day basic casting lesson, up to a more advanced curriculum like distance casting or saltwater fly fishing.
One of the great pieces of feedback we constantly receive is how easy our instructors make it to really get into the sport quickly and efficiently while having a great time doing it. Our instructors are some of the best in the world. Not only are they technically proficient, but they are also very charismatic, can tell a good story and exude this incredible passion for teaching people to fly fish. They're extremely adept at discovering the best way to teach to a particular person. People learn in different ways and our instructors do a marvelous job of understanding what the best way to teach is for any one participant. Plus they make participants feel very much at ease, very comfortable, while at the same time, demystifying what many perceive to be a technically difficult activity.
The two-day courses promise "an education that would take years to learn on your own." Can you elaborate?
This is our most comprehensive fishing course and really it's like a two-day immersion into all things fly fishing. Our instructors have years and years and years of experience teaching and fishing, so it's really a crash course in fishing. They're condensing all those years of experience into a cleverly designed two-day format, so folks in a very short amount of time are reaping the benefits of the combined years of experience from our instructors.
It's not just about learning to cast…it's about learning to fish, how to read the water, what flies to use, how to play and land a fish and much more. People are just amazed at how far they come in only two days. It's incredible to see the transformation from the beginning of day one, to the end of day two. I think a lot of people surprise themselves. Our main goal for this course is to give participants the confidence, know-how and ability to get out on the water alone and realize success. And it makes me smile when I think about all of the people we have turned into anglers and how we've inspired what for many, will be a life-long passion.
Why do you have separate women's fishing classes?
Throughout history, fly-fishing has seemingly been an activity enjoyed by more men than women. But women represent an important segment of the fishing world, so we thought this would be a great way to get more women involved in fly fishing and provide a venue that would meet the demand and the interest in more women taking to the water.
Much like there are women's-specific areas in a fitness facility, we wanted to develop courses and create an atmosphere that would give women a welcoming, comfortable opportunity to learn fly-fishing. All of the courses are taught by female instructors and they have proven to be very popular. In addition, we offer women's kayaking and wingshooting courses and we a
lso design and sell a wide-variety of outdoor clothing specifically for women, such as fishing vests, waders, hunting apparel and much more.
I'm intrigued that one of your guided trips in Maine is for smallmouth bass fishing from a raft while floating the Androscoggin River. I guess people always expect trout or salmon to be the fish or choice, so bass comes as something of a surprise.
I do believe that many people associate Maine with trout and salmon. And while Maine does have an exceptional cold-water fishery, the smallmouth bass fishing here in Maine is truly world-class. And some of our guided customers are relatively new to fly fishing and one of the most important aspects to getting people into fishing is for them to realize success on the water.
Bass are quite aggressive and the Androscoggin River is chock full of fish, so our clients usually enjoy fast-paced, action packed fishing with consistentcy. And the surrounding area is just beautiful too with plenty of opportunities for viewing all kinds of wildlife. I have a lot of fishing friends all over the country and many of them are always talking about coming to Maine for the smallmouth, so for those folks who are experienced anglers, they understand that very few fish in freshwater can match the sport that smallmouth bass provide. They do everything hardcore anglers anglers enjoy…they jump, fight hard, have voracious appetites and are plentiful in Maine, so regardless of your level of interest or skill, this trip really offers something for everyone.
Tell me about the Walk On Adventures concept at your stores, which is a $15 taste of the sport.
We wanted to make it as easy as possible for people to engage in core L.L.Bean activities by removing the most prominent barriers for participation, those being price, time commitment, accessibility of the equipment, having a venue and having the instruction.
Walk-On Adventures virtually eliminate those barriers. They are only $15 which is a great deal. They are only one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half hours, so it's not a large time commitment either. We provide all of the transportation to and from the venue, all of the necessary gear, as well as the instruction.
We offer Walk-On Adventures in fly casting, kayaking, sporting clays, archery, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Folks can sign up right at our stores when these activities are offered the day of the activity. A shuttle comes and picks you right up at the store, drives you to the activity venue nearby where you are greeted by our guides and instructors. After some brief instruction and getting geared up, participants then engage in the activity. After, the shuttle comes and takes you right back to the store. This concept has literally introduced tens of thousands of people to the outdoors. And seeing the smiles of the people when they get off that shuttle is pretty incredible.
What waters do you dream of fishing?
The Seychelle Islands off the east coast of Africa for bonefish, milkfish and giant trevally. I also dream about bonefishing in Tahiti, as well as perhaps peacock bass fishing in the Amazon. I also want to try sight-fishing for big carp…I hear that's a real gas!
Where are you fishing next?
I plan to take a few trips to Florida this May, one to Homosassa and either the Everglades or the Keys for more tarpon. After that, here in Maine the striped bass will be showing up in earnest by early June and I'll be taking to the flats, poling my skiff after stripers. Not a lot of folks know this, but we have some phenomenal sight-fishing for striped bass in air-clear water, over these gorgeous white sand flats. I call it our own little piece of the Bahamas here in Maine. I'll probably also do a little brook trout fishing in April and some early season smallmouth fishing in May. I can't wait…it's been a long winter!
For more information, contact LL Bean.