by Adam Gruenewald
What started as a raffle prize win has turned into a passion for Lee Starr of NYA.
Starr, a 49-year-old high school special education teacher at Orono, who won a handmade bamboo flyfishing pole from Trout Unlimited 18 years ago, has since developed an intense passion for the outdoor activity.
For a year and a half, the rod sat dormant, but Starr then decided to act on it, taking Wednesday night flycasting courses at Bentley’s in Eden Prairie.
Apart from regular fishing, flyfishing involves the use of an artificial fly to catch a fish, with the fisher casting the fly using a variety of different techniques.
“I learned how to cast and I would go home and cast in my sleep,” she said. “I did not sleep well, because it was so exciting to me… I was semi-awake casting in my mind.”
One of three daughters of Dale and Katy of Grand Rapids, who have since passed, Starr did have extensive outdoor experience due to her dad’s influence. Starr and her sisters Sheri and Denise would hunt in the fall and bobber fish in the summer and the winter.
“We grew up in the outdoors,” she said, admitting her dad probably wanted a son. “We were given shotguns for our 14th birthdays.”
With the outdoor activity passion revitalized with winning the flyfishing rod, Starr started taking courses from her St. Paul mentor Bob Nasby.
“I had the outdoor bug in me and it just really flipped a switch when I started flyfishing,” she said.
She then expanded her knowledge in reading the water, identifying different types of bugs and studying other key facets from guides at the Big Horn River in Montana, a top notch accessible trout stream that remains her favorite place to flyfish. The river has become an annual destination for her and her husband Kevin, a former co-worker who sought her out after seeing an article done on her in the Star Tribune and they were later married on March 15, 2008.
Able to put herself on the water and retain her vivid memories of flyfishing, the passion Starr has for the sport comes through easily.
“It’s so different,” she said, comparing flyfishing to the traditional fishing experience of watching the bobber. “You are constantly watching to make sure you have a good drift. You are looking for fish rising. In my mind, I just felt like my brain was more active. When you flyfish, you are constantly engaged, you’re focused, you’re watching your indicator.”
While Starr shared the familiar experience of seeing others across the river catching more fish than her, she has had some substantial successes that rewarded her for her training.
“You can hire a guide but at some point, you have to do it on your own,” she said. “When you finally do catch your fish, it’s so rewarding and almost brings tears to your eyes because you put so much time into casting, standing there and time just goes by because you get so engrossed with what you’re doing.”
Her initial successes were in southeastern Minnesota on the Root River, bass fishing on the Mississippi River and Christmas Lake and even fishing in the Black Hills, although her favorite trips are now her annual one or two extended June or July trips packed with 8 hours of fishing at Fort Smith, Montana.
“Anybody can go out and fish muskies and northerns and little fish, but I just don’t,” she said, adding the Big Horn River in Montana is ideal for her. “It’s just really great views because you get to see the water roll in. Why would I want to go anywhere else? The closest town is 40 miles away so you bring your own food and the gas grill is there, the cans are there and everything you need is there. It’s just so nice.”
The thrill of catching a fish has shifted to loving the outdoor experience as well, as she was initially a strictly river fisher but now also enjoys being the navigator and fish spotter for her husband Kevin on their boat.
“I’ve caught so many fish,” she said. “I enjoy rowing and I’m really good at reading water and seeing where fish lie. It’s so rewarding to put him in a spot where I know there is fish and when he hooks up, it works out really well.”
In addition to savoring the time outdoors with her husband and taking turns fishing with him, her passion for flyfishing has also spread to her teaching interest in a variety of ways as she has taught flyfishing courses in southeastern Minnesota and also conducted flycasting demonstrations at the Minneapolis Sports Show.
Now with annual Montana trips in the works, she is also looking ahead to her upcoming 50th birthday in June. Lee wants to fly over the Big Horn River in Montana.
“I want to get a different perspective from the air as opposed to on the river,” she said.
Starr, who has taught at Orono for the past 17 years and previously taught at Central from 1991 to 1998, has also incorporated flyfishing into discussions with her students.
“That is my passion,” said Starr. “Once you find your passion, you want to live, eat and breathe it. The message I try to send to them is find your passion. Don’t be doing e-cigs and vaping in the bathroom, that won’t get you anywhere.”
The same goes for people have interest in flyfishing, she said, as she encourages those with a passion to enroll in flyfishing courses in the area and seek out guides and teachers, such as her mentor Bob Nasby.
“It’s something you can’t just read about it, you have to watch people do it,” she said, adding there are cheap starting flyfishing packages at area outdoor stores as well as flyfishing shows in the metro area. “You have to be passionate about it.”
Follow Adam Gruenewald on Twitter @adamgruenewald.