With thousands of miles of river and a picturesque backdrop, it’s no wonder the sport of fly fishing has become so popular in the Centennial State. But you’ll never understand why so many find zen in the sport until you throw on some waders yourself and spend the afternoon out on the water with Aspen Outfitting Company (AOC). Standing alone in the Roaring Fork, the world around you becomes quiet. You begin to focus on the ripples of the water or the still pockets in hopes that your fly will land you a bite. You are lost in another world, finding peace and relaxation where before there was only the chaos of your everyday world.
Aspen Outfitting, located inside the St. Regis Aspen Resort, has become the gold standard for Aspen outdoor adventuring. Colorado Collective recently sat down with owner Jarrod Hollinger to learn more about his company and the art of the fly. What follows are Jarrod’s own words about his company and what makes it unique.
JH: Aspen Outfitting Company was started in 1969 by my father Jon Hollinger. Fly fishing was a passion of his since he was young. Growing up in Eastern Canada, he was also a bird hunter, hunting ducks and grouse as a young man. When he moved to Aspen, he started the outfitting business and began his lifelong search for exceptional venues for fly fishing and bird hunting. The surrounding area offers world-class fly fishing opportunities. In order to offer a consistently high quality product, Dad began leasing various sections of the Roaring Fork River. We have maintained several of these stretches of river for our guest’s exclusive use for over 30 years.
My dad also realized that there was an opportunity to expand his shooting knowledge to the Aspen market. He became certified as a shooting instructor and began importing and selling fine shotguns and rifles. In the late 70s/early 80s, he brought clay target shooting into the establishment. Clay targets are great for those who don’t like hunting, but still want to learn to shoot.
For me personally, I was born in Aspen and started fly fishing at a very young age. I remember being taken along when my dad would go fishing when I was probably 5 or 6, too small to hold a rod. I would stay on the riverbank and play with driftwood and rocks, building castles and trying to catch dragonflies and snakes. Dad knew it would soon be time to go when my play started to get louder. Eventually I’d be throwing sticks and rocks into the river, scaring all the fish, and he’d have to call it a day.
I fished with Dad all through my adolescence. I was a caddy at the local golf course when I was in high school, and Dad would pick me up at the course after work for a couple of hours on the river before dark. I guided fly fishing for AOC through summers in college, and then started working in the administrative side of the business after college. I worked for equity in the company for a few years. Recently, I bought my father out and am the owner of AOC.
The Zen of Fly Fishing
Fly fishing is a wonderful way to experience the outdoors. It’s very peaceful. The focus required allows people to be present, to live in the moment. They turn off their usual internal dialogue, forget their worries, and focus on the goal of connecting with a beautiful wild trout.
There is a common perception that fly fishing is an art, or a science. It certainly can be, but as a beginner there is no need to make that complicated. The reality is that getting started with fly fishing is pretty straightforward and easy. We want it to be accessible for anyone. We have very experienced, service-oriented guides who make the whole process relatable and easy for beginners. We want them to have success the first time out. We want to take the complication of the process.
Generally, our guest feedback is that they enjoyed learning about fly fishing, that they had a great time catching trout. Most importantly, they loved the experience of just being outside.
The Art of the Fly
Fly tying is an integral part of fly fishing. This is where the art and the science become important. The goal of fly fishing is that we want to present an artificial fly the trout believe is a natural fly. We take fur and feathers, thread and tinsel, and we wrap them on the hook in a way that replicates various tiny aquatic insects. This requires in-depth knowledge of the biology of the river, as well as artistic skill to apply that knowledge. It takes being in the river a lot. It takes a lot of trial and error. I was a total fly geek when I was a kid. I had friends that were the same. We would spend all kinds of time coming up with crazy fly patterns. Sometimes they worked, a lot of times they didn’t. For me, these days, the simpler the better. Fly fishing has the tendency to get complicated more than it needs to be.
The great thing about our river is that it is so healthy and produces so many aggressive wild trout that are very eager to take your fly. This is especially true on our private leases, where the fish see very little pressure. You can use really cool, old-school flies that lots of people would scoff at as simplistic. For us, simple still works. It’s fun to show the guests the different insects and compare those to the patterns that you find in the fly box from traditional flies with two or three components to more modern, complicated flies.
On our guided trips on the Roaring Fork, there are 2 different stages of the insect’s life that we try to replicate: nymph and dry fly. The nymph is the young, immature stage of the insect’s life where it lives under the water. The dry fly is an adult fly in its short, mature breeding life where it exists above the water. My favorite nymph is called a Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear (very old school). My favorite dry fly is a Yellow Humpy or Stimulator. Both are pretty old-school traditional flies. They replicate the species at a certain stage of their life, and they play on the opportunistic nature of a trout. Everyone has their favorites or preferences when it comes to ties, but most important is that you have faith and believe that what you have will work. If you are confident and believe in yourself, your gear, and your flies, the fish will come to you.
The Tie, The River, The Hunt
When it comes to whether or not I love the experience of the river, the tying of the fly, or both—everyone is different. For me, these days I really like being outside and being on the river. I fly fish as much just to get outside, to enjoy the company of a select companion or two, to experience getting away. But it’s immensely enjoyable to tie the fly as well—thoughtful and methodical and very relaxing. I like where the two meet. It’s a lot of fun to catch a fish on a fly that I have tied personally. When you change up a traditional pattern or create something new, it’s super gratifying when you catch a fish.
All that said, Aspen Outfitting has really evolved from specifically a fly fishing and hunting guide service to an outdoor concierge service. We provide all of the activities that Aspen has to offer. For example, in summer we offer fly fishing and clay target shooting, as well as rafting, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. In the winter, we do fly fishing and clay target shooting, as well as upland bird hunting (from September to March), snowshoeing, cross country skiing, and snowmobiling.
So next time you are in Aspen, stop by the St. Regis Aspen Resort and book some time on the water or in the field with AOC. Aspen Outfitting loves being able to introduce people to beautiful surroundings through their activities and to get them the right gear so they can enjoy it.
Aspen Outfitting Company
315 E. Dean Street
Aspen, Colorado 81611