"If it ain't chartreuse, it ain't no use," he said, smiling.
Zibrida deftly whipped out a hemostat and pressed a lead weight around the end of my tippet to pull the fly below the surface. It looked just as advertised, like a minnow wriggling in the current.
I am woman, hear me whirrr: Daryln Hoffstot tries fly fishing near Ohiopyle State Park during a Western Pennsylvania Field Institute's women's clinic.
(Christopher Rolinson For The Washington Post)
We stepped into the steam.
The cool current pressed its gentle grip against my waders, making each step methodical and slow. The bright sky broke the water into slices of deep blue and dark green. Shafer moved downstream and methodically cast toward a ledge of rhododendrons on the far bank. Classmate Evelyn Majoris waded in deeper, casting 20 feet ahead.
Quiet descended. Watching the water move was instantly calming. Standing knee-deep, I kept trying to cast toward some midstream rocks, hoping to coax out the trout beneath, but my line splashed just short of them each time. Maybe just a little more effort, I thought.
The line looped out above the stream but never landed in the water. In true rookie fashion, I'd hooked a branch -- a casting catastrophe. Too late, I remembered Zibrida's advice: "To be independent, you have to tie your own knots." Now I was the classic helpless female. I'd have to break the line, and I didn't know how to reattach my fly.
Zibrida came to the rescue, pulling the line free while laughing about the telltale cluster of flies knotted around the same branch. She joined two ends of filament with a blood knot, threaded it with a Hare's Ear, and handed my rod back. A yell from downstream made us jerk our heads.
"I got him!" shouted Daryln Hoffstot triumphantly. A 20-inch brown trout, strong and sleek, darted through the shallows by her feet. Her line bent. "I got him!"
With one twist, the trout was gone, and Hoffstot's line dangled in the breeze.
"I forgot to give it line," she mourned.
"You caught it," Kotowski insisted consolingly. "You just didn't land it."
Hoffstot's bite, we joked, made the classic fish story: She could exaggerate the trout's size with every retelling. As we packed up in the fading light, we heard a splash. The fish leaped teasingly along the far bank.
"I've got to get him," young Maeve cried, grabbing her rod and hopping on a boulder.
For a long time, we looked into the stream, but we couldn't see the trout. Still, it was very satisfactory.
GETTING THERE: Ohiopyle State Park is 200 miles northwest of Washington in southwestern Pennsylvania. Take I-270 north to Frederick, then I-70 west to Hancock, then Route 40 and I-68 through Cumberland. Take Exit 14 (Keysers Ridge) to Route 40 west to Farmington, Pa. Turn right onto Pa. Route 381 north for eight miles to Ohiopyle.
FISHING THERE: The nonprofit Western Pennsylvania Field Institute (412-255-0564, www.wpfi.org) offers outdoor group activities year-round and plans its next women's fly-fishing clinic ($40 for the day) for spring. For locations of trout streams, contact the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (717-705-7800, www.fish.state.pa.us). Local fishing guides include Mark DeFrank (724-439-5770) and Dale Kotowski and Cyndi Zibrida (724-852-3033).
STAYING THERE: Ohiopyle State Park has campsites, as well as cottages boasting electric heat and outdoor plumbing, through mid-December starting at $27 per weeknight. Info: 412-255-0564, www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/ohiopyle.asp; cottage reservations, 888-727-2757. Clustered along Grant Street in Ohiopyle, behind the river outfitters, is a block of comfy old-fashioned guest houses. Open year-round are the Ferncliff, Mackenzie and Laurel Guest Houses (724-329-8531), with rooms from $37 for a single to $72 for a double, continental breakfast included . For a luxurious alternative, nearby Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa (800-422-2736, www.nemacolin.com) offers fly-fishing packages from $447 per person per night.
EATING THERE: For burgers and beer, try Falls City Restaurant and Pub (112 Garrett St.). The Ohiopyle House Cafe, next to the bike trail, serves bar food below, fancier fare upstairs.
INFO: Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau, 800-333-5661, www.laurelhighlands.org.