VAIL — The “fly” pattern will take on a different meaning for NFL All-Pro tight end Tyler Eifert of the Cincinnati Bengals this week. The football star is trading tackle styles at the 2018 GoPro Mountain Games, where he’ll join the team of fly fishermen angling for an opportunity to qualify for the Costa 2 Fly X-Stream finals in an intense casting competition from Vail’s International Bridge on Saturday afternoon.
Maybe not quite “Von Miller” intense, but for a guy whose primary experience with a fly rod is “getting into trouble for messing with my dad’s when I was little,” the spotlight of casting to tiny targets in front of a big crowd could be just a little unnerving.
“I don’t know exactly what I’m doing out there, but I try to win at everything I do. If I can’t win, I’ll find a way to somehow get an advantage,” Eifert said between pre-season drills in Cincy last week. “I grew up in that outdoor lifestyle — hunting and fishing out on the lake. So I think I’ll pick it up pretty easily, but I understand it’s not the easiest thing in the world. I’ll figure it out one way or another.”
In the tradition of pro sports icons Peyton Manning and Todd Helton here in Colorado, Eifert is a sportsman at heart, filling his off-season activity schedule with hunts in South Africa, New Zealand and exotic locales like Florida. His affinity for fishing — and losing his sunglasses in the lake — helped land him a sponsorship with Croakies and a guest spot on OutsideTV while in Vail for the Mountain Games. He’ll also serve as the guest “starter” for bike races in the Kids Adventure Village from 9-9:30 a.m. on Saturday, sharing highlights from the weekend with some 75,000 Instagram followers (@tylereifert).
Who knows where it might lead?
“I’d like to get into the outdoor industry in some form of fashion once I’m done playing football. It’s something I really enjoy doing,” said Eifert, who recently guest-starred in a bow-hunting episode of country music singer Craig Morgan’s “All Access Outdoors” on the Outdoor Channel. “I don’t think you see a lot of athletes — at least not, like, football or basketball guys — get into that industry, but I think it would be fun.”
While Eifert will likely be the lone representative from the pro baller’s world this week, the country’s largest celebration of adventure sports, music and the mountain lifestyle has a long history of attracting personalities with no shortage of celebrity among their peers — including surfing star Shane Dorian and Olympic medalist Missy Franklin just last year. Local skiing celeb Lindsey Vonn also dabbled in the fly fishing event a few years ago.
This year’s cast includes big wave surfer Chuck Patterson, BMX and Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Brian Lopes, former Australian pro rugby player and star of the 2018 “Australian Bachelor” Nick “Honey Badger” Cummins, Paralympic snowboarding medalist and “Dancing with the Stars” competitor Amy Purdy, and, of course, Pickles the Pig (along with his 53.5K Instagram followers).
Although the NFL generally frowns on players taking up pastimes like rock climbing, kayaking or big wave surfing, northern Indiana native Eifert’s choice of off-the-gridiron adventure has always fallen into the more traditional “hook and bullet” category, whether that meant deer hunting with his father, uncles and granddad or fishing in the Great Lakes region as a kid.
While those impressionable experiences left Eifert longing after he committed to playing football full time at Notre Dame, it leaves his family laughing now that he’s come to recognize how much he missed those opportunities to be outdoors.
“I used to be such a terrible sport about it if I wasn’t catching any fish. My whole family makes fun of me because I enjoy it so much now,” Eifert said. “They still joke about the time we had a slow day of deep sea fishing when I was a kid, and I was such a little brat, I went and took a nap in the cabin. So the crew tied a 5-gallon bucket on the end of my line and woke me up telling me I’d hooked a huge fish and had to reel it in. I guess that served me right. You really never know what might bite.”
Likewise, you never know who you might run into at the GoPro Mountain Games. If he happens to be 6-foot-6, 255 lbs. and wearing Bengal tiger stripes, well, hopefully you’re wearing a helmet.
- by Scott Willoughby
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