September 28, 2010
If trout are eating aquatic insects, your best gear to catch them with is fly tackle. That's just one of the many reasons you need to pick up a fly rod right now.
June presents the perfect opportunity to take up fly-fishing.
You don't have to break the bank to get started in fly-fishing. A combo reel, rod and line won't set you back any farther than a new baitcaster. Photo by John R. Ganter.
Sure, anytime is a fine time to fly-fish. But for the first-timer, or those who have given the sport a quick try, found it too demanding and sacked the idea, there is no better time to set aside your spinning gear and your bait-casting rods. It's time to allow fly-fishing to broaden your angling enjoyment. And you'll catch more fish.
I can envision some of you thinking, Why do I need this? I'm doing all right without fly-fishing in my life.
Maybe that's true. But before you turn to another article, bear with me a bit. Why should you consider fly-fishing? To answer this, let's look first at why we fish at all.
It's seldom about putting food on the table; we could drive to the fish market cheaper than driving to the lake or stream.
Competition, whether among fishing friends or simply between the fish and ourselves, provides real appeal.
Companionship, excitement, getting out and away, all enter into the equation. No single answer fully describes fishing's attraction.
So, why am I encouraging you to fly-fish? My answer is threefold:
1) In many instances, fly-fishing can be more effective than spin- or bait-casting.
2) Fly-fishing increases your pleasure by pushing you to expand your fishing knowledge and abilities.
3) When you get the hang of it, it's just plain fun. Fly-casting is a very enjoyable mode of catching trout, bass or any other game fish.
Bait-fishing and spin-casting both have their times of success, like when trout are eagerly chasing minnows, for example. However, when trout turn to ingesting insects for energy, as they do so often, nothing compares with fly-fishing.
Certainly there is nothing inherently wrong with other means of fishing. Worm is not necessarily considered a four-letter word. Take your fun where you find it. Fishing with flies provides just another experience -- a vastly more exciting, artful and humane way of tricking trout.
Yet, it's not difficult or demanding to begin enjoying the sport. It's quite easy, really. Just don't sweat it. Allow it to be the casual, enjoyable and effective sport that it is.
Picture a thoroughly pleasant preoccupation done in gorgeous surroundings in a graceful and thoughtful manner. And it is neither expensive to get started nor complicated to pursue.
Yes, you can spend a lifetime learning all of the many facets of the sport, but that dedication is not necessary to enjoy fly-fishing. You've probably seen fly rods and reels advertised at prohibitive prices. But the reality is that the equipment necessary to start catching fish by fly-fishing is no more expensive than other forms of fishing.
This article will show you all you need to know, and all you need to spend, to get out there and start catching fish with a fly. Let's start by looking at some of the differences between bait- or spin-casting, and casting a fly.
THE CAST: PUSH ME/PULL YOU
This is where some first-timers get started on the wrong foot and give up.
There is a great deal of misconception about fly-casting. In other forms of casting, the lure or weight is propelled through the air with a strong throw. This weight then pulls the line from the reel. This is a familiar move, much like throwing a baseball. Distance is increased by using more arm strength and by snapping the wrist.
Fly-casting is a totally different matter.
Typical flies have virtually no weight and are unable to pull line. The fly line, however, is heavy and once propelled will carry (or push) the fly out to where the fish are. Because you can't hand-throw the line, you must use the strength and flexibility of the fly rod to propel the line. This is accomplished by bending, or loading, the rod in one direction and then allowing the rod to unbend with force.
Fly-fishing isn't difficult. This fine loop came from a young girl who just started fly-fishing the day this photo was taken. Photo by John R. Gantner.
You move the hand and arm behind you, and stop the movement abruptly. This causes the rod tip to continue traveling to the rear while the rod grip stays stationary in the caster's hand. Repeat the move-and-stop motion out in front of you. As the caster stops the motion, the rod tip unbends, or unloads, forward, shooting the line out and dragging the fly to the target.
You get extra distance by timing -- using a more abrupt speed-up-and-stop -- rather than sheer strength. You'll actually lose distance by trying to power the fly farther. You'll also lose distance with excessive wrist movement.
If this seems complex or confusing in the written word, it's not in practice.
With a little time with a casting instructor or competent fly-fishing friend, you'll understand the basics of the cast. Practice a bit on the lawn, and you're ready to fish.
Many great DVDs are available to show you the proper cast. Most fly shops will offer casting help, and most fly-fishers are happy to take the time to work with a beginner on the basics of the cast.
I've helped many neophytes with their casting both on the stream and on the lawn of campgrounds wherever I travel.
Moreover, you don't need to be a great caster to enjoy fly-fishing.
You'll very seldom have to make long casts. Most fish are caught with casts of 20 to 40 feet, a feat you can master with a little practice.
You can learn the 20-foot cast the first day. Then limit your fishing to smaller streams or fish lakes from a boat. Adjust your position relative to the target to allow short casts to the
Don't be tempted to try longer casts until you are fully comfortable with short casts. The newbie will invariably try to muscle, or power, the longer cast with arm or wrist rather than with timing and a good speed-up-and-stop casting motion. That leads to frustration. Take it slow.
THE TARGET: LOCATING FISH
June is when many of our streams clear and insects hatch. With it come great fly-fishing opportunities. Once you have down the basic casting stroke, you need to find fish.
It is said that 10 percent of the anglers catch 90 percent of the fish. That's not surprising when one considers that perhaps 90 percent of the feeding fish hold in 10 percent of the water, whether it is streams or lakes. How to eliminate the 90 percent unproductive water is the means to becoming a good fly-angler.
To do this you need to mentally break the water into vertical sections -- top to bottom -- and horizontal sections -- bank to bank.
Let's start with the water column top to bottom. Where are the fish feeding? Look at the water. Now, take a real good, long look at the water. Are there blips, circles or splashes on the surface indicating fish feeding near the top? If there are, try a dry fly, one that is designed to stay afloat and imitate the winged adult insect.
If not, can you see the flashes and side-streaks of fish taking food in the weeds? If so, or if you find no signs of feeding fish, start on the bottom with a weighted bottom-bouncing nymph fly.
Now let's inspect the river, bank to bank. If we can't actually target surface feeding fish, which is our prime endeavor, then we will fish where we know fish tend to stay when feeding.
Look for transitions -- mixing waters, bubble lines or seams where two currents come together. The faster water is moving a lot of collected feed, while the slow water gives the fish a place to hold that doesn't require much energy to maintain.
The combination of holding in calm water right next to faster flows allows the fish to expend the least amount of energy but still be in a position to collect protein. Hedges, edges and ledges: Fish the grass lines, seams and dropoffs that provide feeding lanes for trout.
Banks of streams are often good holding lies for fish, especially if they contain shade, overhangs or bank-side structure. Banks provide fish with protection from their enemies and provide food in the form of terrestrial insects: grasshoppers, beetles, ants and others.
Trout get keyed in on these terrestrial tidbits, especially later in the summer. Cast parallel to the shoreline so that your entire retrieve is in the edge zone. If you feel a "bump," a hesitation or a tug, set the hook!
Even if you are sure it was just a rock, strike. Flyfishermen miss many fish bites because the fish will suck in a fly, mouth it and spit it out all in a second or two.
If you eliminate all of the depth that the fish are not using to feed, and all of the water that does not provide an easy soft-water hold near a bug-packed feeding lane, you can concentrate your efforts to that 10 percent of the stream where you are likely to catch fish.
DECEIVING THE FISH: IMITATE TRUE BUGGYNESS
It's difficult for some people to wrap their minds around the idea that a trout will sometimes ignore something good to eat, like worms or salmon eggs, and instead take a hook covered with fur, feathers or foam.
The key to getting the trout to take the artificial food is that the fake fly must imitate the food source that the fish is currently feeding on. That's why trout anglers are always trying to "match the hatch." If they can't, they know they probably won't catch fish that day.
Trout know how aquatic insects behave. Most of these insects aren't able to do much, if any, swimming. Instead, they float, tumble or rest in a dead-drift, that is, they are solely moved by the water currents and use no propulsion of their own. Any insect imitation appears more life-like, more real, if allowed to dead-drift with the current.
This means that the angler needs to keep his line and leader from pulling or dragging the fly through the water.
To present the fly dead-drifted to the trout, you could move to a casting position where your fly can float naturally to the fish. If the current starts pulling the fly line through the water, then the fly will also be pulled in an unnatural way. That's like sounding an alarm to nearby trout.
When you bait-fish, you throw the bait out to sit on the bottom or dangle from a bobber. But in fly-fishing, you have to allow the fly to move in a realistic way along with the flow.
It's not easy to get the hang of. But the reward is worth it.
THE BITE AND BEYOND
You've studied the water and determined generally where the likely converging feeding lanes are. You've put your fly upstream and have dead-drifted it through the lane. You see a flash in the water, and you see your line has changed directions. Lo and behold, a trout has taken your fly!
A bait-caster would wait and let the fish swallow the bait. A plug- or lure-fisherman would start reeling because their fish typically hook themselves with their strike.
But in fly-fishing, you need to set the hook, immediately.
Trout take flies the way you may taste hors d'oeuvres of indeterminate composition: with tentative restraint and a readiness for instant rejection. Trout will expel the fly if it feels unfamiliar.
A quick tightening of the line to press the hook into the lip of the trout will start the action. Hold the fly line between the first guide and the reel and pull it as you lift your rod tip high.
What a great feeling when you feel your line tight to the trout! His head shakes. He might lunge or cartwheel to shed himself of the fly. The play of the fish on a long flexible fly rod compounds the thrill of the fight. Unlike the shorter, stiffer rods, fly rods telegraph every motion, every tug and pull, directly into your hand, providing a touch or feel singularly achieved by the fly-rodder.
Bait is often taken deep in the throat. Lures with treble hooks often require a surgeon's skill to disengage the trout. But flies are most often attached to the outer extremities of the fishes' mouths. Should your intent be to release the fish unharmed, fly-fishing is the best means of doing so with a high success rate of survival.
TACKLE AND GEAR: LESS IS MORE
You need only five pieces of tackle to fly-fish: rod, reel, line, leader and flies. Things like polarized sunglasses, a fly box, nippers, split shot and dry-fly floatant are not necessary, but they will make t
he sport safer and more fun.
Select a graphite rod 8 or 9 feet long, and designated as a 4-, 5- or 6-weight, which corresponds to the weight of line you will use.
Start with an inexpensive reel. (For the beginner, it's merely a line-carrier.)
Select a floating fly-line to match the weight classification of your rod. Start with a 7- to 9-foot-long tapered leader. Make it 5X strength, which is the equivalent of about 4-pound-test.
Regarding which flies to buy, pick up a dozen basics. They are two size 10 grasshoppers dry flies, two size 16 Adams dry flies, two size 14 Elk Hair Caddis dry flies, two size 16 Bead-Head Pheasant Tail nymphs and two size 8 Stonefly nymphs.
Some other gear you'll want to pick up in the future include waders, wading boots, a fly vest and more flies.
Start as a minimalist, with little equipment and inexpensive tackle. Don't let the fly-fishing mystique trap you. This isn't brain surgery. You don't need medical-precision instruments, at least not at the start.
The basics will provide you the ammunition you need to stalk the wily trout. Keep it simple, keep it uncomplicated, and you'll keep it fun.