Flyfishing: Getting Started; Part I

Posted on May 25, 1998 at 11:59:47:

Fly Fishing: Getting Started Part I
The important stuff and a bit about equipment
Gary D. Scavette Published in May 1998 Northwoods Sporting Journal

Fly fishing has become far more than just another hobby. For many it can be an addiction. People from all walks of life are getting hooked on this ancient form of angling. One must ask “why the growing interest”? Perhaps this question does not have a simple answer. People flyfish for all sorts of reasons. Some simply enjoy the feel of the rod as it loads and unloads carrying feathers and fur so gently to the water. Others use the flyrod as an excuse to seek solitude in some of our planet’s most beautiful places. Some fly anglers marvel in the scientific complexity of the sport while others enjoy it for its simplicity. Still others enter the sport because it affords them an opportunity to fish waters which are not open to other forms of fishing. Oh, and lets not forget, some choose to flyfish because it is a productive means to catch fish.

Should you choose to become a flyflinger there are a few important things to bring with you to the river. These things are more important than your rod so I will mention them first. Later we will discuss equipment.

Bring with you an awareness that people enjoy flyfishing for different reasons . Some enjoy the camaraderie of other anglers and don’t mind sharing a pool with another . While others gauge a good day of fishing by how many people they didn’t see. Try to respect the angler that desires solitude by asking before you plunge into the pool that they are fishing even if you think you are at a respectable distance. You would be surprised at how many friends you make by doing this. You have instantly established credibility with the other angler. They may even share some secrets with you. You will learn more from other anglers on the water than you will by reading this article. It all starts by demonstrating good ethics and respect. The rest is easy.

Patience is a prerequisite to becoming a fly angler. Do not expect to master fly fishing in a week or even a year. Instead, enjoy a lifetime learning this wonderful game by practicing catch and release whenever possible. When you die there will still be much you didn’t learn.

Now how about that rod? Beginners are often intimidated with the vast array of fly fishing products on the market today. Don’t let it scare you off! If at all possible talk to a knowledgeable salesperson at a sporting goods shop or better yet a flyfishing specialty shop. Be prepared to describe the places you will be fishing as well as the species of fish you intend to pursue.

Should you choose to learn by doing rather than asking I will give you a place to start. When considering a fly rod you need to understand that one rod will not do it all for all species of fish. You can, however, own one rod that will do everything that you may wish to do. For example, when I was 13 years old I purchased my first good quality flyrod. It was a 9ft 6 weight. The majority of the fishing that I did with the rod was for trout and landlocked salmon in Maine. It seemed to me that the rod was optimum for the water and the size of flies that I was using. It allowed me to punch a streamer into a stiff breeze or cast a #14 elk hair caddis with some degree of subtlety. As a college student I continued fishing the 6wt over spooky limestone trout in Pennsylvania. I began to feel the limitations of the old 6wt. when fishing really small terrestrial patterns over selective trout. I broke some tippets (the part of the leader that the fly is tied to) and spooked lots of fish. Eventually I purchased a 4 wt.

The rod / line weight that I have been referring to is based on a scale from 0 to 15. Generally speaking, we match the rod to the line weight. A 4 weight flyline is fished on a 4wt rod. As the line weight designation increases so does the mass of the flyline and the spine or stiffness of the rod. That is to say that a 6 weight flyline has more mass than a 4 weight flyline. What effect does this have on flycasting? The greater the flyline’s mass the more capable it is of carrying larger wind resistant flies. As the line’s mass increases so does its momentum. This is analogous to casting a light lure in comparison to a more massive one from a spin casting rod. The more massive lure will combat the wind better than the less massive lure. One thing that you must remember is that in flycasting you are casting the mass of the line because the fly has negligible mass. Theoretically, you might think that the best all around flyrod is one that casts a 15wt. line because it can cast everything from the smallest flies on up to the most wind resistant. This is where theory and practice diverge. In theory you could cast the tiniest of flies with a 15 wt. rod and line combination but there is more to flyfishing than just the cast. In practice you would see that the tiny fly creates little wind drag and subsequently the fly’s velocity is tremendous when it strikes the water. This condition spooks trout. Lets say you got lucky and didn’t spook old grandpa. He comes up and grabs the fly with a forceful strike. Since the tippet used to thread tiny flies has a low break strength it is unlikely that the heavily spined flyrod you use to cast the massive line will provide enough cushion for the fish. One swipe of grandpa’s tail and he has broken your tippet. Choosing the correct weight flyrod and line combination is a balancing act between being able to cast wind resistant flies and having a delicate presentation. Below are some generalizations that I have used successfully in New England. Truth be known I own a flyrod in just about every line weight but find that 95 percent of all of my fishing is done with either a 4, 6, or 9wt. flyrod.

Trout and Landlocked Salmon....... For fishing streamers and flies ..... 5-7 weight
Flies only..... 3-5 weight
School Stripers, Bass, and Atlantic Salmon ...... 8-10 weight
If fishing big water under windy conditions, or for large fish in swift currents lean toward the heavier line weights.

Rod length is another thing to consider. Most of my rods are between 81/2 and 9 feet. I find this a nice compromise between comfort and control. The rod does not feel tip heavy to me like some longer rods do. The 8 1/2 to 9 foot length allows me to mend line and create drag free drifts. It also allows me to aerialize a lot of line when needed. Some feel that short rods in the six to eight foot range are a convenience for fishing small brooks and streams. In practice I have found the longer rod to be an advantage. It seems that smaller brooks require a lot of reaching. I think the longer rod performs better in the small brook situation. I always try to keep as little line on the water as possible.

What about price? What’s the difference between the $25.00 dollar flyrod and the $600 rod? To put it simply, there is a lot of difference. I see the greatest difference when comparing the 25-75 dollar flyrod with the $75 and up flyrod. It is difficult for a tackle company anywhere to produce a great rod utilizing the finest components for $25.00.

The flyrod market is very competitive. Today there are companies that sell quality flyrods with amazing warranties for around $100 . What do you get extra when you buy the $600 dollar rod? There are as many answers to that question as there are fly anglers. My suggestion is to start with a reputable rod manufacturer and spend as much as you feel comfortable spending. After you have learned to cast try out one of those high ticket rods at a local flyshop. You will either appreciate your existing rod more than ever or you will go home with a new rod.

I often wonder if I ever would have started flyfishing 18 years ago if the market was as intimidating to the newcomer as it is today. I hope you find my writing a no nonsense approach to discovering a wonderful activity. After all the equipment is only an excuse for the quality time we spend with friends, water, and trout. Tune in next time when I will discuss reels, flylines, and leaders.


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