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Fly Right: How to Hook the Big One
One benefit of fishing for trout and salmon is the often-quoted fact that “trout don’t live in ugly places.” It’s true, trout and salmon exist in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. A peaceful day on the stream is difficult to surpass; it is often a choice between fishing and taking photographs. Standing thigh deep in rushing, cold water with a good cigar, fly rod in hand, and watching animals and scenery along the stream is as close to heaven on earth as a person can get. Some of my fondest outdoor memories have occurred on rivers and streams.
Fly fishing is one of the most rewarding and intriguing sports imaginable. Sure, casting requires good coordination and patience, but the investment of time pays great dividends in enjoyment. There is something almost spiritual about the whole experience-perhaps it is the artistry of casting, or the beautiful environments involved, but it resounds deep within the soul of the participant.
For the uninitiated or fly-curious, the sport entails casting a fly-basically a hook tied to resemble an insect using fur, feather, tinsel, or other materials-in the most realistic way possible, thus making the fish think that it is a live insect. Sight-casting to a nice fish is very intense; when the fish strikes and I set the hook, an electric jolt runs up the line and I feel the exultation that is unique to the sport. All my cares in the world disappear, and I am in a special place, not only physically, but in my mind.
As a fly tyer, I have learned a great deal about insects and what particular characteristics of a fly will trigger strikes from fish. I encourage fly fishermen to learn to tie flies as they advance in skill level. It will give them a more complete perspective on the sport.
Norman McLean’s book A River Runs Through It immortalizes the sport of fly fishing and weaves a tale of young boys learning to cast. The father’s advice of moving the rod from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock is good advice, but that is only part of the story. The mechanics of casting involve learning the timing required in order to allow the line to completely extend on the forward and back casts.
Beginning casters may need to watch the back cast when learning. They should start by shaking the leader and a few feet of fly line onto the water in front of them. The rod is moved backward briskly and the line and leader will follow the tip of the rod. As the caster watches, the line will begin to straighten out behind them. The forward cast should not begin until the line is relatively straight. If it begins too soon, the leader will snap like a whip and the fly may be snapped off due to centrifugal force. If the forward cast is too late, the leader/line will drop, snagging the ground, or momentum will be lost.
The correct technique delivers a tight loop during the cast. Keeping a tight loop when casting is usually desirable for several reasons: a tight loop is less affected by the wind, while allowing the caster to be more accurate. An open loop is affected by the wind, and is therefore less accurate.
When the proper rhythm is maintained, release more line on each rod movement until it will reach the desired target area. Proper casting is not only attained through the power generated by the arm, but also by the energy stored in the rod as it bends, or “loads.” As time progresses, the caster will begin to feel the loading of the rod and will not have to look back as he casts, but can instead concentrate on the target area. Proper timing enables easier casting by leveraging the power of the rod: as the weight of the extended line loads the rod, it transfers energy into the line and leader, much as an archer’s bow stores and transfers energy to an arrow.
As you learn more about fly fishing, you will develop necessary skills such as “reading the water.” The knowledge of where to find fish and how to catch them is learned by experience, but you can speed up the process by reading instructional material by reliable fly fishermen, or by fishing with a mentor.
Trout will find “holding water” near the current that may bring insects near them, but they will take refuge behind a rock, a dip in the bottom contour or any feature that slows the current. They do this to conserve energy.
Learn to spot productive “seams” where swift currents meet slower water, and eddies that are likely places to find fish holding. The current may rush by a curvature or indention in the bank and create an eddy that curves back upstream. This circular movement catches dead or dying insects that are drifting on the surface of the water. Trout will be sipping them daintily from the surface. It is not unusual to be surprised by casting to a dimple in an eddy that appears to be caused by a diminutive trout, only to hook a nice fish. They learn to expend a minimum of energy in the pursuit of vulnerable prey.
Lastly, don’t overlook the use of fly rods for warm water species. We have found that fishing from a kayak with a fly rod is a great way to catch bass and bream. Fishing secluded ponds that require us to pack in our kayaks and gear is a blast with “popping bugs.” The best bet is to use medium-sized bugs. These will attract large bream, and bass will also respond to them. Of course, if you are going for lunker bass only, you can opt for larger bugs or streamers.
Sidebar # 1
Excellent fly fishing equipment is available in a wide range of prices today. One of my fishing friends said, “When the quality of my equipment begins to affect the success of my fishing, I will invest in more expensive equipment.” I have to differ with his opinion.
You should invest in the best equipment that you can afford or are willing to purchase. Superior equipment will add to your enjoyment by making casting easier; it will hold up to wear better and will also have a better warranty.
The number one item to consider is the rod. A poor rod will make learning to cast much harder and less enjoyable. A good choice is a medium to fast action graphite rod. Purists may choose bamboo, but it is expensive and the action is usually much slower. Slow action is okay for light dry fly fishing; but a faster action will handle a much wider range of fly weights.
A five weight rod is a good weight for all-around fishing. It will handle trout, panfish and even bass. If you will be going after salmon or stripers, you might need to step up to an 8 to 10 weight rod. Rods lighter than 5 weight require more finesse and skill, and excel for smaller trout such as native brook trout in eastern streams.
Reels are available in regular and wide arbor models. The wide arbor has a wider spool and large diameter spindle. This causes less “line memory,” especially on cold days. Purchase a reel with adjustable drag. That way, when a fish runs, you can remove your hand from the reel handle and just let the drag wear the fish down. When it tires, you can begin to take in line with the reel.
Lines are designated by the same numbering systems as the rods. Select a line of the same weight class as your rod. If you are fishing short distances on small streams, using a line one weight heavier than your rod might be advantageous. This will load the rod quicker and make casting easier.
Other necessary equipment includes waders, fly boxes, a fly vest, an assortment of flies and a net. A good fly shop will assist you in selecting the necessary items.
Regardless of where you choose to fish, you will find that fly fishing offers a great opportunity for relaxed fishing as opposed to some of the faster-paced techniques in use today. It also leads you to some of the most scenic places on earth. The fresh scent of evergreens, the gurgle of the rapids, the intimate glimpses of wildlife, the view of the sun setting over the water with a range of mountains in the background and the opportunity to catch some fish-it just doesn’t get any better.