Monday, July 22nd, 2024

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Monday, July 22nd, 2024

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Fly fishing need not be intimidating; here’s where to start

The first rule in becoming a fly-angler for life? Understand that you’ll never stop learning. The last rule? Concentrate and be focused on the task at hand if you want to be successful. (Stock photo)

A couple of weeks ago, I exchanged emails with a fellow fly angler. He lamented about how his work life had conspired against him: He hadn’t been getting enough time on the water in recent years, and his skill level and overall knowledge of the sport was, in his words, “lagging far behind.”

“It’s disappointing,” he wrote.

He was new to stream trout fishing, he said. He started during the pandemic when he purchased a small fortune in equipment – fly rod, reel, waders, boots, leaders, flies, etc. – but he hadn’t been able to put his investment to use. His lack of on-the-water experience (and overall self-doubt, if I’m being his psychoanalyst) was sabotaging his desire to keep learning.

“I feel naked out there,” he said, in a moment of candor about a recent outing in southeastern Minnesota. “I just don’t know enough. I don’t even know where to start.

I wish I had learned a few things before I got into this.”

Never stop being a student

If you’re new to this pastime – and especially if you spent most of your life fishing conventionally – learning to fly-fish can be daunting. And extremely frustrating. It is, in a lot of ways, a completely different fishing language, not to mention skill-set. That’s why I’m sympathetic to his plight.

Still, fly fishing isn’t inaccessible high art. The basics – especially casting – are easy and fun to learn. But as you get deeper into fly fishing, you realize you’re never done being a student. Which still intrigues me today and is something you need to embrace if you’re sincere in wanting to learn.

In retrospect, I concede there are plenty of things I wish I had known before I started. In fact, I impersonated a fly fisher for three years, flailing away in a state of fish-less ignorance. It wasn’t pretty. And it wasn’t until I had a stream-side intervention by a Good Samaritan that my fortunes changed and lit a fire under me.


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The golden rules

If you’re new or relatively new to fly fishing, here are some things I wish I had known before I started to fish. Perhaps they’ll help you get started and avoid some pain and agony. As I told my email friend, there’s no learning curve you can’t conquer.

Dave Anderson is the owner and operator of On The Fly Guide Service. Anderson has been guiding anglers on the trout streams of southeastern Minnesota since 1998. Pictured here is Anderson with one of his successful clients. (Photo courtesy of Dave Anderson)

Ask for help. If you’re lost, ask now. Don’t be too proud, as I was. I attempted to learn to fly fish before how-to videos (to say nothing of gobs of helpful online content) became ubiquitous learning tools in the fly-fishing universe.

While undoubtedly helpful, learning from an actual person – a teacher, a sage, a mentor, a Zen master – is preferable.

In general, fly shops are hubs of information and human interaction. I have yet to meet a shop owner or worker who isn’t willing to help. Joining a fly-fishing organization is also a wise idea.

Fly fishers are, in general, incredibly generous with their time and willingness to help those in need.

Attend a fly-fishing school. If you’re intent on learning, go all in. It is an investment – in time and money. But you’ll be shocked by how much you will learn, and how quickly. Your confidence will spike, and your desire to fish will, too.

I once spent 10 days fishing a tailwater section of the Missouri River near Craig, Mont. I remember wondering why I hadn’t done it sooner.

Immersion learning – assuming you have thoughtful teachers, which I did – works. I learned to wade big water. I learned to fish before, during, and after prodigious mayfly and caddis hatches. I learned how to read water, and how to cast to rising insect-eating browns and rainbows.

I became proficient at tying knots and even my own leaders. The experience was a game-changing revelation.

Fly selection: Don’t go overboard. You don’t need to be an entomologist to fish for stream trout (or any other species), and you don’t need hundreds of flies (in individual boxes) tucked away in your fly vest.

I got sucked into the numbers game, and all it did was confuse me. Keep it simple.

There are three types of flies: dry flies (which ride on top of the water), nymphs (which are fished below the water’s surface), and streamers (which are essentially baitfish that can be fished like jigs). Purchase a few in different sizes in each category and go fishing.

In the Midwest, dry flies such as Parachute Adams and black Caddis will catch fish on most streams. Ditto for nymphs such as the Pheasant Tail and Prince Nymph, as well as streamers, including the Woolly Bugger and Clouser Minnow.

When in doubt, visit your local fly shop and ask for some guidance.

The author says don’t limit yourself to just trout when it comes to the species you target while fly fishing. Bass like this one can provide plenty of fun. (Stock photo)

Fish for everything. I started fly fishing during the “A River Runs Throughout It” craze. I read the book before the movie came out in the early 1990s, and I was obsessed with the romance of it all. For me, it was all about stream trout fishing. I wish I knew then what I know now: that fishing for everything makes you a far better fly fisher.

Muskies and pike. Bass and bluegills. Carp and freshwater drum. Limiting myself to trout actually stunted my growth as an angler. It limited my time on the water and stopped me from learning the ways and means of my new equipment. Fish for everything.

Proper drift and mending line. When you’re fishing streams or rivers, your fly must float naturally and the same speed as the moving water. Without a proper, drag-free drift, you won’t catch fish, because they won’t eat your fly. The key is manipulating your line to get a natural drift.

Mending line is a technique to adjust the position of your line on the water’s surface after the cast. This is done to prevent drag, which makes a fly move unnaturally.

To mend the line, lift and flip your line upstream or downstream, depending on the current, to achieve a post-cast natural drift. If that’s confusing, watch this demonstration video below.

Learn the roll cast. The uplands of Midwestern streams, especially in summer, transform into jungles. If you’re fishing a small stream, the back-cast portion of a traditional forward cast won’t work; there’s just too much growth surrounding the stream, and your fly will eventually get caught. Which is incredibly frustrating.

So learn the roll cast, which allows you to make a forward cast without the aerial back cast. Fly rod in hand, hold your hand high, parallel to your ear. Look at where you want to cast. Push the rod forward and snap your wrist, allowing the line to unfurl, while keeping your rod high.

Orvis has a great demo on that you can watch below. Like all casting, perfecting the roll cast takes practice and dedication. Keep in mind, the more casts you learn, the more on-stream fish-catching opportunities you’ll have.

Concentration. I know, I know: Fishing is supposed to be a leisurely activity. Indeed, there’s nothing wrong with bobber fishing for panfish with your feet up in a boat, an adult beverage in close proximity. Such fishing is a great way to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

But fly fishing is different. It’s casting-intensive. It’s wading-intensive. It’s all about reading water and understanding what fish are eating. It’s about fish sight-fishing, sometimes in stealth mode. Catching fish consistently requires concentration, the more intense the better.

One of my mentors called me out for my lack of concentration one night while fishing a stream in western Wisconsin. He was right. I’ve never forgotten his advice, and you shouldn’t either.

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