Five years ago, Matt Rose was like most kids on summer vacation.
"I would drive my grandmother crazy when I went to Virginia during the summer," the 17-year-old Largo resident said. "She lived in this small town, and there was really nothing for me to do."
Then one day at a church picnic, his Grandma Mimi noticed some fly rods sticking out of the back of an old pickup truck.
"She loves to talk to everybody," Rose said. "So she went up to this guy and asked if he would take me fishing."
Rose, who at age 12 was already an avid saltwater angler, spent a lot of time in the Wytheville, Va., library.
"I had been fishing the local rivers with spinning tackle, but I really wanted to learn how to fly-fish," he said. "So I started reading everything I could about it."
It was a real stroke of luck that Richard Formato, a fly-fishing columnist for the Roanoke Times, just happened to go to the same church as his grandmother.
"Matt Rose is as good a soul as he is a fly-fisherman," Formato said. "I don't think he realizes the talents he has."
Besides knowing every river, lake and stream in southwestern Virginia, Formato was also a competitive fly angler. An ardent conservationist and catch-and-release fisherman, he took the young Rose under his wing.
"He taught me everything I know," Rose said.
The world stage
By 2007, Rose had refined his fly-casting skills. Fishing for largemouth bass during the fall, winter and spring, then rainbow, brown and native brook trout during the summer months, Rose could cast a tiny dry fly through the air 90 feet and have it drop on a rock the size of a shoe box.
"People started telling me that they thought I was good enough to try out for the U.S. national team," he said. "I thought they were crazy. I never thought I would make it."
But with the help of his mentor and the backing of friends and family, Rose went to the tryouts and made the U.S. team.
A few months later, he was at the 6th annual FIPS-Mouche Youth World Championships in State College, Pa., competing against 55 anglers from around the world. He finished 27th in his first year of competition, and his team was seventh.
Onward to Portugal
Ten months later, Rose was back in State College, trying out for the national team again. He and six other young fishermen from Connecticut, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and California earned the right to represent the United States at one of the world's classic fly-fishing destinations — Portugal.
"I had never been out of the country before," said Rose, who just started his senior year at the Veritas Prep Academy in Largo. "It was really wild."
The catch-and-release competition is organized by FIPS-Mouche, the world sanctioning body for competitive fly-fishing. Anglers were given the opportunity to fish five sessions, three hours each, on different rivers and stretches of water. Scoring was based on the number and size of fish caught.
"The fish were small, usually 8 to 18 inches," said Rose, who finished 12th individually to help the U.S. to a fourth-place finish overall. "But they were some of the strongest fighting fish that I have ever fought."
The best part of the trip though was getting to meet fellow fly fishermen from France, Ireland, South Africa, Spain, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
"I really learned a lot," he said. "I had no idea there were even trout in Africa."
Still likes taste of salt
Rose's father, Michael, an enthusiastic flats fisherman, has encouraged his son to try his fly-fishing skills in saltwater.
"I have been doing more and more of it," the younger Rose said. "I love bass. I love trout. But I really love saltwater fishing, too."
Rose will travel to another international competition in Colorado next month.
"I have thought about going to college somewhere where there is good trout fishing, but right now I think I will stay close to home," he said.
He just landed a sponsorship deal with a local outfitter, the Bill Jackson Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park, where he will help during free fly-casting clinics.
And next summer, he will be back in Virginia, fishing with Formato. "I still drive my grandmother crazy," he said. "But now it is because all I want to do is go fishing."