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Thoughts on Learning to Fly Fish

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Fly fishing is an obsession and a passion. For me to keep this affliction under control, I constantly must be participating in it. That means I fish a lot. I enjoy the sport and feel it connects me to the fish and its environment. I am constantly moving and gaining a better understanding of a river when wading it. Whether mending a fly line, casting to a rising fish, or standing in a boat targeting a specific fish in saltwater, I find much enjoyment with pieces of fur and feathers made to imitate some form of bait to entice the fish to open its mouth.

The question I hear most often when talking with folks about the sport is, “I want to learn to fly fish, but it looks so complicated.” I enjoy sharing the sport that has brought me much joy and many friendships during a lifetime of sore-mouthing fish with a long stick and try to make learning the sport simple.

Flyfishing is just another form or method of chasing our favorite species, and it just so happens to be mine. Most of the comments I have heard first from newbies deal with casting and how relaxing it appears. In their mind, catching fish is secondary to the flowing motion of the rod.

When asked about the transition into flyfishing, many folks want to immediately grab a flyrod and find an empty field to stand and wave at everyone with a windshield wiper casting approach. But fly fishing is a little more than casting; there’s that extra word fishing in that phrase. When beginning the journey into the sport, there are several things to consider. Remember that flyfishing is a fantastic way to catch fish, just grab some basics first!

Over the years, my approach has been introducing the equipment and becoming somewhat familiar with how it all fits together.

The first item I would recommend to anyone is learn to tie several basic knots. These various knots connect everything. Though most often overlooked with beginners, I would compare it to the lug nuts on a wheel. Without the lug nuts, the wheel would fall off and the car would be useless. If one were to have a fish break their fly off or get it caught on a tree limb or overhanging bush and lose it, then the trip is over if another fly could not be tied back on properly.

A few essential knots would include the clinch/improved clinch, triple surgeons knot, nail knot, and perfection loop. Though I prefer several knots such as the Uni knot and blood knot, these basic ones are easy to master and keep a person fishing. Sitting on the couch with a cocktail, watching Netflix, and tying knots would be the preferred learning method.

Then it comes down to fly rods, and several considerations need to be thought out. For example, how much money does one want to spend, and what fish species does a person want to pursue? There are excellent rods in all the different price points. It boils down to affordability. I never met a fish that could read the label on a fly rod, and besides, most of my fish are more interested in getting unhooked from the steel holding them.

Visit the local fly shop. Besides supporting a small, local business, one can be expressive with the various fly rods and get personal and expert guidance on rod tapers and fly line weights. This level of customer service is invaluable. And the most crucial factor of all, most shops will let a customer cast various rods and learn the different feels such as slow, medium, and fast actions. The critical part of the entire equation is to find the rod that feels right for you. Remember, the main functions of a fly rod are to present the fly, control the fly, hook the fish, and play the fish!

The local fly shop will be able to assist with the purchase of the fly reel also. It goes back to the same questions above regarding fly rods. For freshwater reels, the reel should help balance the fly rod, hold the fly line, provide some level of drag or tension if needed to play fish. Saltwater fly reels are manufactured to withstand bigger fish, better drag systems, and the harshness of a saltwater environment.

The fly line is one of the most important decisions of all. Do not skimp monies on a fly line. A good fly line can make a bad rod cast better, and a bad fly line can make a good fly rod cast poorly. The fly line is the direct link to the leader, the fly, and the fish. In spin casting, the weight of the lure loads the rod versus a fly rod, where the weight of the line is what loads it up, makes it bend, and sends the fly to the appointed destination. With today’s fly line technology, fishermen can fly fish in almost every conceivable weather and water condition.

Then there is the leader and fly. The leader is the invisible connection between the fly line and the fly, whose purpose is to transmit energy from the fly line to deliver the fly. Its’ construction of either knotted or knotless or tapered monofilament nylon or fluorocarbon. More about this subject at another time.

And that brings us back to casting. The local fly shops can also assist and suggest here. There are so many excellent instructional videos. A great wealth of information that is easy to follow and understand can be found at There are also some great YouTube videos by Lefty Kreh, one of the pioneers of saltwater fly fishing and others like Joan Wulf. Practice, practice, and practice, and most importantly, have fun and go fishing!

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