As you would have observed; both of the On the Trail lads have taken to the exquisite and laborious art of fly fishing. I am not sure who was inspired first to pick up the long wand; I dare say myself; and I am not sure who actually picked up the long wand first; I dare say Joe, yep, defiantly Joe (I also believe he caught the first fish on fly). The question resides though, why did we decide to take up fly fishing? In part it can be answered simply by wanting to become a better and more complete angler… to utilise and master all methods of fishing so that they may be adapted to whichever environment we may find ourselves and/or the species we are seeking.
Indeed, that is part of the reason why we decided to spend our money, and time and money on fly fishing; did I mention money? The other reasons being that it’s fun, it’s challenging and it can be rewarding. The feeling is hard to describe when you rocket out a clean cast, land it gently on the water and watch your fly (that you tied yourself) be engulfed by a monstrous fish; then proceed to fight that monstrous fish in hand to hand combat.
One of the applications I most enjoy about fly fishing is the ability to relaunch a fly into the strike zone after a fish has had a missed attempt. This is perfect for when you are surface fishing for bass, cod and other native species. As surface fishing is my favourite style of fishing hands down, this aspect is very appealing to me, and very practical in these situations. However, the majority of fly fishing actually occurs subsurface, despite a common belief of it being exclusively to the surface. So you are not limited to a particular zone whilst fly fishing.
There is a stigma that follows fly fishing of predominately being for old white men, and sure, you would have most definitely beheld Tom Barnaby from Midsomer Murders fly fishing the babbling brooks and still waters of England. Recently, there has been a resurgence in fly fishing with the ‘new breed’, ‘flat cap wearing’, ’Go Pro using’ ‘hipster’ generation. Yet, this is not a complete negative; breathing new life into this form of angling will have a flow on effect that will see the availability of gear, knowledge, and peoples’ general attitude towards old white men of fly fishing disappear.
In this next section I am going to attempt to explain some of the basic concepts and equipment needed in fly fishing. Now by no means am I an expert in the discipline, I have only been fly fishing for just over 12 months. But like most things, when I have this strong interest in something, I attempt to learn everything I can about; and thus in the past 12 months I have compiled a small depository of learning regarding fly fishing and its’ paraphernalia. My intention is to impart some of my knowledge of fly fishing and to demystify any preconceived notions of this artful angling method.
What is fly fishing? Well simply it is a delivery system. A delivery system that seeks to deliver a fly (an artificial lure that has no nutritional value that can represent a food source); as a means catch a fish.
The first and foremost concept to realise and understand about fly fishing is: You are casting the line, not the fly. For those who are accustomed to lure and bait fishing, this may seem a little foreign. Sure when I first started fly fishing this was a strange concept, as I was familiar with using the weighted lure or sinker to load* the rod before lobbing out a cast. In fly fishing however, the heaviest part of the fishing rig is the fly line itself. The fly line is therefore what is used to load the rod. At this point we could go off on a wild tangent explaining concepts of overlining and underlining rods and the effects and uses; however, we will cover this at a later stage.
*Loading a rod means having rod bend, or putting the rod under strain.
The equipment you have in fly fishing is fairly straight forward. From what you’d imagine there is a rod. In fly fishing there are many different styles and types of rods. The fly rod that is most commonly used in Australia is the single handed fly rod. There are some two hand rods getting about, though generally these types of rods find themselves on the River Spey in Scotland or in British Columbia, Canada, for salmon. Single handed fly rods are typically 9ft long, however they come in a range of sizes from short 6ft to long 11ft rods and well beyond. I use a 7ft 11inch rod when I am targeting bass out of the kayak. The shorter rod is good for making quick, short, accurate casts, and makes it manageable to control from a kayak. The 9ft rod is a good all round length that allows for a balance between casting distance and control.
One of the more confusing parts of fly fishing is how rods are ranked or measured. The unit that is used to rank or measure a fly rod is called weight (wt. or #). It signifies what weight of line is designed to be best used on a particular rod. I have compiled a table below that seeks to explain fly rod weight and put into context of the fishery and target species. As fly fishing is not an exact science, this table is for reference only as it is more than possible to target particular species or fisheries with an array of different weight rods depending on conditions, fly and a scope of other variables.
|<1-2||Skinny water, small streams||Trout|
|3-4||Streams, creeks, Rivers||Trout|
|5-6||Rivers, Estuary||Trout, Bream, Flathead, Bass, Carp|
|7-8||Flats, Rivers, Estuary||Bass, Flathead, Kahawai, Bonefish|
|9-10||Estuary, Surf, Flats, River||Barra, Kingfish, Murray Cod|
|11-12||Blue water||GT, Tuna|
|13>+||Deep blue||Billfish, Russian Submarines|
The reel for fly fishing is typically for holding the line, as many species encountered are seldom fought on the reel itself. One part I love about fly fishing is being directly connected to a fish through the line: it feels like a real combat between angler and fish. There are however many species of fish out there that will run, and when they run there is no way to hold on, requiring you to resort to the reel. In this case you will need a decent drag, and lots of backing.
The backing is what is connected to the reel, and depending on what you are targeting will determine what type of backing you choose to use and how much you will have on the reel. Generally backing is either braided line or GSP (Gel Spun Polyethylene) like Power Pro. The other alternative is Dacron. The difference between GSP and Dacron is diameter. Whereas the GSP is thin, meaning you can stack more line on the reel, there is a downside. GSP in nature is thin and strong, and when there is a fish rocketing off with your backing there is a greater chance of cutting yourself if you decide to touch the backing. It makes GSP a lot more difficult to manage, however not impossible. The Dacron is thicker, making it easier to manage with the hands, but with the downside of less backing being able to fit on the reel. So on a trout reel for example you will only need a small amount of Dacron as you will seldom see it. When you step up to the big saltwater outfits chasing tuna or billfish, it will be best to have GSP as you can fit a lot more backing on the reel, as the tuna are more likely to make longer runs than a trout would.
The information available regarding fly lines is vast: in this article I choose to only give a brief overview of fly lines so not to overburden the reader. The fly line is the most important part of the entire rig, and I have seen people who can fish with just the fly line, no rod or reel required, and still throw better loops than myself. There are many different types of fly lines, and each one has a particular purpose and fishery. The two main types you will see are Double Taper (DT) and Weight Forward (WF). This refers to how the fly line is made, and the taper it has. The delicacy of delivery is determined by the amount of weight at the front or head of the line. Double Taper lines have less weight at the front of the line, but has the weight distributed along a big belly. This allows for a delicate delivery of a fly onto the water. Weight Forward lines as you would imagine have more weight at the head of the line. This allows for the rod to load quicker and cast more line. Weight forward is also the easier line to learn with because of the ease of rod loading. Typically, DT lines are designed for light deliveries to easily spooked fish, like trout on crystal clear still waters or streams. Weight forward is definitely more prevailing in the market, due to ease of use and ability to cast further with them.
Fly lines are also varied in their actual ability, as you can purchase full floating fly lines, sinking fly lines, intermediate or slow sinking fly lines, sink tip floating body fly lines; the list goes on. Each line has a purpose and is designed to get your fly to the depth the species you are chasing in your fishery is at. In a later article I will explain in more depth fly lines and where and how they can be used.
The leader is the section of the rig that transfers the power from the fly line to the fly. Leaders are typically tapered down so that they can unroll like the fly line and gently land a fly down. As in conventional fishing, fly line leaders are made out of fluorocarbon, nylon or mono and again, like conventional fishing, the target species and fishery will determine what type of leader composition you will choose to use. You can purchase chemically tapered leaders that make it easier to get out and fishing.
Sometimes you may not require a tapered leader. For example if you are fishing tight in the snags, you don’t want the leader to unroll gracefully and land gently. Rather you just need to deliver a big bulky thing into a tight spot and create as much attention as possible (like when fishing for Murray cod).
Connected to the leader is the tippet. The tippet is the section that is connected to the leader and the fly. This is the disposable part of the leader, and will generally be shortened due to fly changes. If you buy a pre-tied or chemically tapered leader, you can choose to add a short section on the end (tippet) to prolong your leaders’ life.
This is the business end of the rig. The fly could arguably be the most important part of the entire outfit. Flies can be imitations of insects, baitfish or odd annoying looking things that will irritate a fish into attacking. You are not limited to what you tie, as flies are limited to ones’ own imagination.
I hope this has allowed for some interesting reading, especially if you were previously unaware of fly fishing and what it entailed. Like most art forms there is so much to convey on the topic and no correct way to do it. Personally if you are seeking to become involved in fly fishing, it is always best to spend some money on a casting lesson with an accredited instructor so as to not pick up any bad habits. Fly fishing can be fun and to master it requires many hours of work. Once bitten by the fly fishing bug it is hard to go back to conventional fishing.