All About Fly Fishing

All about fly fishing, including the necessary clothing and gear, use and selection of fly rods, reels, line, leader and tippet, casting, catching and releasing the fish.

The best fly fishing equipment and technique in the world won't do any good if you don't go where the fish are. Do your homework first and check likely streams, lakes or rivers for the species of fish you're after. You can find local fishing reports in the newspaper or on the Internet.

Dress for the occasion. The single most important piece of gear (other than the fly rod and fly) is a pair of polarized sunglasses. They range in price from just a few dollars to several hundred dollars. You get what you pay for, so spend as much as your budget will allow. Polarized glasses will allow you to see fish and other objects underwater that you couldn't see otherwise. This is critical for placing the fly in the right location to interest fish.

Because you'll be spending a lot of time in the water, you need light-weight waterproof waders. They come in many different styles and sizes. Choose waders that feel comfortable, as you'll be spending lots of time in them. Again, the price ranges from reasonable to extremely expensive, so consider it an investment.

For footwear, wading boots are ideal as they're designed for comfort under water. Good soles are important, as you'll be stepping on slippery rocks and over gravel. Improper footwear can cost you a sprained ankle or worse. Another potential hazard are gum boots. Silt and sand flowing through the river can fill the boots and force you underwater, especially in a strong current.

Rod length and weight, reel size and line strength depends on the size and species of desired fish, and the location's geography. For example, if you're fishing for king salmon in deep water, you'll need heavier, stronger equipment than if you're fishing for brookies in a stream. Likewise, use a thinner line with less visibility when working in clear water with fish more likely to spook when presented with something obviously unnatural.

Your local fly fishing store can help you with the proper selection of rods, reels and line. Again, cost is a factor to consider, but if you're going to be doing a lot of fishing, it makes sense to get quality equipment that will last a long time. As you replace existing gear with newer and better items, keep the originals that still work. They're good for backup. Having an old reel is better than no reel if you drop the good one over the side of the boat.

The primary difference between fly fishing versus spin casting is that with the latter, the tackle's weight provides the line's forward momentum. In fly casting, the line creates its own momentum. That's why with fly fishing line weight is so important. Lighter is better with smaller fish and shorter distances. Use heavier weights for those big game fish running far from the boat.

The other difference with fly fishing is the use of leaders. Because flies tend to be very small, the average fly line would be much too thick to fit inside the eyelet. Swivels aren't used because they would alter the natural appearance of a fly. Instead, a leader is tied to the main line. The leader starts thick, like the main line, then tapers off to a thinner width where even thinner line, called tippet, is tied. The tippet is then tied to the fly. Typically, the combined length of leader and tippet is anywhere from seven to twelve feet. Done correctly, the fly appears to be invisibly connected to the main fly line. The art of fly fishing is in imitating as perfectly as possible the look and action of a real fly. Everything is done to that end, including the tying of the artificial fly itself.

Volumes have been written on the selection of flies. One thing that everyone agrees on is that the fly must imitate what the fish would find in their natural habitat. This takes into account the life cycle of flies, time of year, water temperature and a long list of other factors. Keep it simple when starting out. Look around you. What do you see? Small mosquitoes, big bumblebees, ants skidding across the water's surface? Now look in your fly box and try to find the best match. Imitate your prey's action, too. Remember, it's the total presentation that makes the difference. If a fish shows interest, but ultimately rejects your offering, analyze the situation and figure out what you're doing wrong. Is your shadow projecting over the fly, spooking the fish? Is the tippet bunched up around the fly? Is a piece of weed fouling the hook or fly?

Casting is best when practiced. Find an empty parking lot, a baseball field, your backyard. Tie a brightly colored piece of yarn to the tip of your line for visual reference. Hold the rod as if you're shaking hands with it. Strip about ten feet off the reel, holding two feet of line in your free hand. Lift the rod (keeping the handshake grip) and move the rod to the same position that you'd hold a hammer prior to driving a nail into the wall. This should be roughly the same height as your ear. This motion will lift the line off the surface and carry it behind you. Pause until the line stops carrying itself backward, then "drive the nail into the wall" with a forward motion of the rod. This will loop the line as the tip moves from behind to in front of you. Drop the rod tip to lay the fly onto the water.

Check with your local fly fishing store to see if they offer casting classes. It's helpful to get a professional's advice and feedback when learning how to fly cast or to eliminate bad habits picked up over the years. Fly casting can be frustrating, and many an angler has given up the sport because of it. Keep yourself in the game by getting help if you need it.

When planning to release a fish, don't handle it anymore than necessary. Keep it in the water as much as possible, facing upstream so that water flows through its gills, helping the fish to breathe. Remove the fly with a pair of forceps. Using barbless hooks makes this process easier and less destructive to the fish. Hold the fish lightly by the tail, working it forward and backward into the current. This will revive the fish. When it's ready to go, it'll dart out of your hand.

Then you're ready for the next one.

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