Q: When getting into fly fishing or dealing with the frequent issues
that come up related to the fishing and the equipment, there’s really a right way to do it
and a wrong way?
A: Wow, lets get the biggie out of the way first. I’d answer that about 20%yes and 80% no. One thing you need to understand is that so much of what the sport entails is subjective, that is what I give you is an opinion. That opinion might be based upon fact or another opinion. So sift what you hear. My approach to teaching is this: “Students, what I am showing you and going to show you is a way to effectively learn and fish with a flyrod. Understand this is not ‘the way’, but ‘a way’. ‘A way’ that has enabled me to successfully catch fish and guide others in doing so for over 20 years.
You will no doubt hear lots of advice, opinions, and so forth. Some of it will be good, some of it no so good. You’ll find that two experts who are at the top of their game may disagree wildly on the same topic- – what does this tell you? Not that one is right and the other wrong, just that there may be more than one approach and find one that is best for you or works best for you.
Q: Is fly fishing difficult or difficult to learn?
A: I would like to begin by stressing the fact that flyfishing is not difficult. What I did not say is that you can pick up a rod and be instantly proficient. Nothing worthwhile works that way, and fly fishing is no different. If you want to be good you have to practice. Unfortunately, the “its hard” myth seems to be the main reason why people are reluctant to give it a try. With the appropriate equipment and proper instruction, you should be able to cast the line reasonably well within a few hours. Besides the goal is to have fun, and maybe catch fish too. But cut yourself some slack.
Q: If I have already learned to fish with spin casting tackle or baitcasting tackle
does that knowledge carry over to fly fishing?
A: Yes, absolutely. Not only do folks who have spin fished have a heads up, but they often understand things those who have never fished don’t. In fact, folks who have fished for many years may find they already “know” the fishing part. The only task is learning to use different tackle. And the truth is, most folks would gain from learning about spin fishing, particularly when it comes to fishing subsurface where you can’t see your fly. There are times that fly fishing isn’t the most effective method. There are times that fly fishing isn’t the most effective method. Say Again? I think I made the point..lol.
Q: Spin Fishing is bad right…., I mean isn’t it bad for the fish and don’t spin
fishermen negatively impact our sport?
A: The first thing is let me go ahead and tell the truth rather than be politically correct. First of all as a fisherman of almost 37 years let me go ahead and say NO to all the above. First, fishing irresponsibly with any type of tackle is bad news. Spin guys get a bad rap, and yes some deserve it, but not all are that way. Spin guys also get a bad rap for coming right up on top of you where you are fishing and having bad fishing etiquette…..but guess what? As a guide I see far more fly fishermen with bad etiquette than spin guys per se. In fact, the spin guys are the most gracious if you come upon them. I have seen fly fishermen abuse fish, handle them poorly, keep fish at a place where maybe they shouldn’t have, etc. Don’t forget that there are a lot of spin fishermen out there who are responsible, care about the fish just like you and I, and yes they practice catch and release and play by the rules. Plus, we have no more right to the water or the fish than they do. And, if the place allows for the keeping of fish, they are not wrong for doing so. But again, taking a limit of fish is bad if you do it just because you can. Legal doesn’t always mean something is right or a good idea….just use common sense. And if you kill a fish, by all means use it and don’t let it go to waste.
Q: Its wrong to kill a trout or take one to eat, right?
A: First let me say this, it depends on a couple of things. First, it depends upon where you are, namely is the stream supported by Hatchery Stockings or is it a wild fishery? If it is Hatchery supported and it is during the keep season then there’s nothing unlawful or wrong with it if you are going to eat the fish that you take, and as long as the number you take are within the legal limit for that water. A lot of fishermen get upset when they see folks taking fish from a stream that is hatchery supported, but these fish if left alone are not going to reproduce in the stream. In NC, trout that are stocked are triploid (sterile) and can’t reproduce. So if folks are upset that the taking of stocked fish is preventing any sort of establishment of a “wild” population of fish, its wasted emotion because with sterile trout that’s not going to happen. But if you don’t intend to eat them, releasing them is the best thing. Second, it depends, if its a wild stream, if you want fish to catch or fish to eat. A small stream in our mountains normally wont grow huge fish so taking a limit of fish, if done regularly, will harm the stream. If enough people do this, you can hang it up. Like I mentioned before, if you decide you want fish to eat, you’ll enjoy that for a short spell and then you can hang up catching numbers of fish from that stream. I have seen this over and over in my fishing career. In my opinion, there isn’t a small Wild trout stream in our area SE USA that can support the regular taking of a limit of fish. Again, the issue isn’t whether eating a trout is right or wrong, but rather what is best for the resource? Choices have consequences and it is up for each of us individually to decide.
Q: Fly Fishing is just for trout, right?
A: NO. Another misconception is that flyfishing is just for trout. This is simply not true. You can flyfish for bluegill, bass, pike, tarpon, stripers, or anything else that has fins. Even cats. Yes, occasionally I have fashioned a
rabbit fur strip fly without a hook in it, tied it to a leader, and went outside to harrass our 3 cats with it. It is murderously effective. They love it and now immediately come running to play when they see me bringing a rod outside. But then it also gives our neighbors something to talk about. We are probably the only folks in the Piedmont whose cats have a fishing rod of their own.
Q: In order to cast you need a heavy weight on the end of the line, don’t you?
A: NO. When spin-fishing, you cast a lure attached to a very thin line with a spinning rod. The lure has weight and this loads the rod to propel it towards your target. The fishing line is just along for the ride. When flyfishing, you cast a flyline attached to a leader and fly with a flyrod. The fly is almost weightless. The leader it is attached to, which is usually around 9 feet long, is very similar to standard spinning line. This is attached to a flyline, which is usually about 90 feet long. The flyline is made of a flexible plastic and is much larger in diameter than spinning line and much heavier. This attaches to the flyrod, which is usually between 7 and 10 feet. When flycasting, the flyline provides the weight to load the rod and propel itself towards the target, with the leader and fly just along for the ride. It is very important to understand that you are casting the line, not the fly. The line and the rod have to be matched to each other in order to work properly. In spinfishing there is a large tolerance between what works and what doesn’t. You could put 10 pound test on an ultralight and 6 pound test on a saltwater rod and they would both work. Flyrods and flylines have to be matched carefully. In conclusion, a fly rod needs no weight on the end of the line/leader to cast and in fact casts best with no weight at all.
Q: Fly Fishing is done with flies that mainly float isn’t it?
A: NO. it’s time to choose what sizes and types of flies you will be using. There are two main categories of flies: flies that rest on the water (surface), and flies that go below the surface (sub-surface). The most common types of above surface flies are dry flies and poppers. Dry flies are imitations of the adult stage of small insects, and usually suspend themselves in the surface film with the use of a feather collar or hackle. These flies are practically weightless, and are not too wind resistant. Poppers can imitate anything from a frog to an injured baitfish, and are usually made of balsa, cork, foam, or spun deer hair. These flies have much more weight and wind resistance to them, therefore they require much stronger tackle to cast them efficiently. There are three main types of sub-surface flies: nymphs, wet flies, and streamers. Nymphs and wet flies are very similar, they both represent insects in their aquatic life stage. This stage comes before the adult stage (dry fly). While nymphs and wet flies may imitate slightly different things, the main difference is wet flies have wings and nymphs do not. These flies weigh a little more than a dry fly, and weight is often added to them in order for them to achieve the proper depth. This additional weight makes them a little harder to cast, but the good news is that there is almost no wind resistance. The final group is the streamer. A streamer is usually tied to imitate a baitfish. They are tied on longer hooks and have long sloping wings to form the body of the fish. They are usually a little heavier than the nymphs, and the wind resistance can vary depending on the particular fly.
Q: As the number of the hook size goes up the fly is larger isn’t it?
A: NO. I just want to brush up a little on hook sizes. The size of the hook refers to the gap between the point and the shank. The length of the shank is referred to as 1XL for one extra long, or 2XL for two extra long and so forth. Assuming that the hook we are discussing is of regular length, and the hook is between size 2 and 28: the higher the number the smaller the hook, the lower the number the larger the hook, and hook sizes are represented by an even number. After size two, we use both odd and even numbers, and after size one we add a slash and a zero after the hook size like 1/0 or 2/0, and the higher the number the larger the hook. So the hooks run in size from smallest to largest like this: 28, 26, 24, etc…, 8, 4, 2, 1/0, 2/0, 3/0, etc… For general trout fishing you will probably use sizes 6 through 20 the most. For panfish, sizes 10 through 16 are most common, however these are usually a little heavier and more wind resistant than trout flies. For bass you will use sizes 2/0 through 8 and these flies are even heavier and more wind resistant than most.
Q: As far as Fly lines, there are so many sizes and types. How do I make sense of it all?
A: Flylines are classified by weight, taper, and density(if they float or sink). Flylines are categorized by weight into a number system, which runs from number 1, which is the lightest, to number 15, which is the heaviest. The lighter lines are more delicate in their presentation and they cast small flies well. The heavier lines are less delicate in presentation, but provide the power to cast large, wind-resistant, and heavy flies. Flylines in the 4 to 10 range are the most common. Most trout fishing situations call for a line between 4 and 6. For bass, line weights between 7 and 9 should be ideal. Panfish rods fall between the trout and bass rod. For saltwater anglers, you will probably want to be in the 8 to 10 range. A flyline is usually around 90 feet in length. On a weight forward line, there is 60 feet of thin diameter running line, and a thirty foot section known as the head. The head consists of the front taper, belly, and rear taper. The combination of different tapers and different diameters of belly can greatly affect the line’s casting characteristics. A weight forward line has a moderate front and rear taper, whereas a bass bug/saltwater line has a much more severe taper. The more severe taper transfers more energy into the tip of the line, which enables it to turn over the heavier and more wind resistant flies associated with this type of fishing. The double taper line has a more subtle taper to allow for a very delicate presentation. This line does not have the weight concentrated in the head like the previous two types. Instead, the weight is spread along the whole length of line. Consequently, it does not cast as far as a weight forward line. There are some advantages though, the biggest being that the line is identical on both ends. This allows you to simply flip the line around when you wear out one end. In essence, this doubles the lines useful life. A shooting taper is simply the front 30 feet of a weight forward line. This allows the angler to add their own running line, which is usually monofilament. The extremely thin running line allows for extremely long distance casting. These lines are difficult to use, and should not be considered until you are a very proficient caster. The final type is a level line. This line is the same diameter from beginning to end. The only reason this line still exists is because of it’s low cost. It is very inexpensive to manufacture, and therefore to purchase. It casts poorly, and should not be considered at all. Many beginner combos come with this type of line, and I feel this is the worst thing a manufacturer can do. Do yourself a favor and stay away. If you buy a combo that has this line, then plan on purchasing an additional line. You will learn much faster if you use a weight forward line. When purchasing a flyline, you will need to know how to read the flyline abbreviations printed on the box. There is an abbreviation that lists the taper, the weight, and the density. The tapers are abbreviated as follows: weight forward-WF, bass bug/saltwater-BBT or SWT, double taper-DT, shooting taper-ST, and level-L. The weight is simply the line weight 1-15, and the density is abbreviated as: floating-f, sinking-s, sink tip-st or f/s. Therefore, a weight forward line that is a 5 weight and floats would be WF5F. Manufacturer’s abbreviations may vary a little, but generally they are easy to figure out.
Q: Isn’t Fly Line Color Important?
Well, yes and no. Its important to be able to see the line and see it on the water. I prefer a line that is visible but subdued in color (white, light green, tan, olive are fine, orange is probably not the best choice). One thing is for sure, and something that no one talks about is that a trout can see line moving regardless of its color, and they react to a shadow. All lines cast a shadow regardless of their color. Throw the line over a fish or land it on top of the fish and chances are that fish is gone.
Q: What are leaders and tippet material?
A: Now let’s discuss leaders. A leader is attached between the fly and the flyline. It is made of monofilament, and is tapered from front to back. The wide end is known as the butt, and this is what gets attached to the flyline. The middle of the leader is called the mid-section. The narrow end is known as the tippet, and this is what attaches to the fly. The leader keeps the large flyline away from the fish, and it also softens the flies approach to the water. Leaders are classified by an X system, which designates the tippet diameter for that particular leader. Every leader’s X-Rating is the same. Brand A’s 3X and Brand B’s 3X are both .008″, however the pound test does vary among manufacturers. I would like to point out that there are leaders larger in diameter than the 0X listed. After 0X the leaders are then classified by there pound rating. Here is achart of the different X-Ratings and their corresponding properties.
Q: I hear a lot about fluorocarbon, what is all the rave about it and is it worth the price?
First of all, lets look at what it is. By contrast, we normally use monofilament. Monofilament, which is normally nylon and is what most tippet and leader materials are made of, is one strand- – – that is why it is called “mono’ filament. Mono means one or single stranded. Cut it half of the way through and its lost 50% of its strength. It is also visible because it reflects light. Fluorocarbon is “polyvinylethylfluoromide”, that is the “material” it is. Again, look at the first part of the word “poly”. That means that the material is a multistranded material. If you cut it half way through it still retains more strength than if it were single stranded. Also, it reflects very little light in comparison to monofilament. But it is very expensive. Take regular material at 3.95 a spool for 30meters and fluorocarbon at 30m is $9.95 to $13.95 depending upon the manufacturer. What I normally recommend is to use it only for tippet material, because of its strength and visibility characteristics that’s where the benefit of it is anyway. Also, I use it in situations where the visibility and strength issues are a play—nymph fishing, low water conditions, bright sunlight, spooky fish- – -basically any subsurface application in really clear water or anytime the fish get really tough to catch. Finally, fluorocarbon material is more suited to subsurface applications because it will sink some dry flies, especially really small dry flies.
Q: What do I need to know about fly rods?
A: Flyrods come in all lengths, weights, and materials. Older rods were made of bamboo, and many are expensive collector’s items today. Some rods are made of fiberglass, and these are usually of poor quality. They may say graphite on them, but the percentage used is minimal. You can spot one of these rods right away. If you look at the diameter of the blank right above the grip, it is very large compared to the same weight rod in a more expensive true graphite model. The most common material is graphite and this is the only one you should concern yourself with for now. It is much lighter than fiberglass, and also casts much better. More or less, you get what you pay for when it comes to flyrods. If you see a flyrod for thirty dollars, and it says graphite, you can bet it’s really fiberglass. I’m not saying you have to spend a fortune either. True graphite rods start around fifty dollars and this should be your minimum. The weight of a flyrod is the manufacturers suggestion as to which weight line it will cast the best. Therefore, a 5 weight rod should use a 5 weight line. Rods usually have a marking on the blank, just above the grip. It will tell you the length, weight, and sometimes the physical weight of the rod, the number of pieces it comes in, and the material it is made out of. It should look something like this: 8’6″ 5, or 865. Both of these designate an eight and a half foot rod which should cast a five weight line. It may also look like this G906, which is a nine foot rod for six weight line, and the G stands for graphite. There are many different actions or bending properties for flyrods, but you don’t have to worry yourself with that for now. The other consideration is length. A long rod generates more line speed, and it’s length helps to keep your line from hitting the water or ground on your backcast. A shorter rod is better suited to tight fishing conditions. Say you are fishing a narrow stream lined with bushes and trees. The shorter rod will be much easier to handle, and in a situation like that you will not have to make too many long casts anyway.
Q: What is backing?
A: Backing attaches between the flyline and the reel. It simply adds length to your 90 feet of line without adding bulk and excessive cost. It is simply there to allow a fish to make a long run while playing him. If you were to make a sixty foot cast to a northern pike, you would definitely need more than thirty feet of extra line to play the fish. It is made out of braided dacron and is similar in diameter to regular monofilament. It usually comes in 20 or 30 pound test. Twenty pound is most common for freshwater, and thirty pound is most common for saltwater. The amount of backing you choose depends upon the fighting characteristics of the fish. For a fish that does not make long runs, 50 yards should be fine. 100 yards is the most common amount of backing used. For fish that are known to make very long runs, you may choose to have 200 yards or more. One other reason to use backing on your reel is to increase the diameter of the spool where the flyline is wound. This helps prevent tangles, which can be caused by the line being wound into very small circles. The increased diameter also helps you retrieve more line with every revolution of the reel.
Q: What do I need to know about a fly reel?
A: There are only a few different types of reels. The most common being the single action, which is pictured here on the left. With this type of reel, the handle is attached directly to the spool. There are no gears to change the ratio. These reels usually have a spring and pawl, or a disc drag. The spring and pawl is a simple and inexpensive drag, and is satisfactory for most smaller species such as trout and panfish. The disc drag is smoother and more precise. This is the preferred drag system for bass and saltwater anglers, where you must control a very powerful fish. Many reels have what is called an exposed rim. This is a very important feature to have. It allows the angler to apply drag directly to the spinning spool with the palm of their hand. You should insist on this feature when purchasing a reel. There are also reels that have gears to multiply your input, and there are reels that incorporate an anti-reverse handle. These are nice things to have in certain situations, but they are specialized in their application range. The last type of reel is an automatic reel. This reel has a large spring inside to allow you to retrieve all of your line with just a push of a button. These reels are not very common. They are heavy and do not store enough line. Your first reel should be a single action. When shopping for a reel, you will want to see what the capacity for the particular reel is. For example, reel X might hold a weight forward 5 weight line and 120 yards of backing, or a weight forward 6 weight and 80 yards of backing. Therefore, you should choose a reel that holds the line and amount of backing you chose earlier.
Q: Isn’t it possible to do all my fishing from fresh to saltwater with just one outfit?
A: NO. flyrods are specialized, and one outfit can not do it all. Therefore, you should choose an outfit that lies on the middle ground for the species you plan to pursue. You can purchase the specialized outfits later. If I were to choose a rod for trout and maybe some panfish, it would be an 8’0″ or 8’6″ five weight, with a WF5F line, 9 foot leaders between 4X and 6X, and between 50 and 100 yards of backing. For bass I would choose a 9’0″ 8 weight rod with a WF8F bass bug taper line, 0X or 1X leaders of 7.5 feet, and between 50 and 100 yards of backing. Saltwater rods can vary greatly, but it should be at least 9 feet and at least an 8 weight for general applications.
Q: A decent rod and reel combo costs a fortune, doesn’t it?
A: NO. Don’t be intimidated by all of these variables. Your local fly shop will be glad to help you set up a well balanced outfit. You should know what the basic variables are so you can convey what you want the outfit to do, and you can understand what the salesperson is telling you. A decent outfit should cost you between $100 and $200. For the most part, if you are doing trout and bass and no saltwater spend more on a good rod and line, the reel is essentially a line holder. If you are going into saltwater a reel with a decent drag and a backing capacity (150yds minimum) is what you need. If you can afford to spend more than this, by all means do so. Remember, you get what you pay for and a quality outfit is something you will get years of use and enjoyment out of.
Q: How do I put together a selection of flies for fishing here in the mountains? Here’a a video clip that will explain more….
Q: What do I need to think about when it comes to WADERS and BOOTS?
A: Lets tackle the wader question first. First of all, there are three choices to make, the type of wader, the material they are made of, and whether or not they are boot foot (boot attached to them) or stocking foot (have a neoprene “sock like” foot). The first choice is the type of wader. The three most common types of waders are: hip waders which cover the foot and leg up to the upper thigh(i.e., and sometimes referred to as “hip boots” or “hippers”); Waist hi waders (like a pair of pants and have a belt built in), and chest waders (these cover the feet, legs, waist, midsection, and usually stop just under the armpits and can often be “rolled down” converted to waist highs using the suspenders as a belt). The second choice is the material the wader is made of: Waders are commonly made of neoprene (like a wetsuit), nylon, coated nylon, rubber, and breathable materials (GoreTex, No Sweat, Horcotex, etc., all work on the same principle – breathability). Except for very cold conditions the preferred material is breathable material because it is a good all season material if you layer under it properly- – -and it is cool in summer as well. The last choice to be made is whether boot foot or stocking foot. Because of where we live and the opportunities for wet wading I recommend everything to be stocking foot except for maybe hip waders which are very convenient if they are boot foot. BOOTS also need to have a surface on them that is a non slip material like felt or aqua stealth. The jury is still out on felt soles and rumor has it that the wader industry is coming out with an alternative due to the problem of transporting invasive species via the felt soles on our wading shoes. But there does need to be some sort of surface on the bottom for traction.
What’s Up with Waist High Waders? Find out here .
Sizing your Wading Boots
About 17 years in the fly shop business before starting my own business taught me a lot about sizing boots and waders. As far as waders, when you take them out of the box or try them on in a fly shop the first thing you are going to say to yourself is “wow, these are way too high or long”. Don’t let that fool you, its an optical illusion. They will always seem that way until you put them on. As far as boots, here’s a general rule I have found is very helpful in sizing wading shoes. Generally, unless you have an extra wide foot the following will work nicely. For the most part, wader boots are now sized with waders and neoprene socks in mind. So, if you wear a size 9 and you plan to do both cold and warm weather fishing you might want to think about going up a size, in this case a size 10. If you do only spring, summer, and fall fishing get your normal shoe size. If you have an extra wide foot or you wear a half size, I always recommend going up to the next size. Personally I have both a wide foot and a half size, am a 10 1/2 to 11 in street shoes and always
get a size 12 wading shoe. Yes, they are a little “roomy” for summer wet wading, but I wear a neoprene “Wader Saver” sock (available from Orvis, Simms, and Chota all great companies) and a regular sock which makes it just like wearing a wader foot.
Safety and Comfort
Felt or some sole that has something on it for traction is a must. If you are inexperienced, unsteady, have a bad back or knees you might find a collapsible wading staff or stick helpful. Particularly if you fish streams that are difficult to wade or if you are wading a great deal of time above your knees. If you have a bad back or suffer from lower back pain or strain, a support belt is helpful. You can find these at SIMMS or you can purchase the same item at HOME DEPOT or LOWES. Its basically a back support belt with suspenders. It makes a HUGE difference by the end of the day.