Sunday, November 14, 2010

Basic Fly Fishing Series , Article One : Rod, Reel and Line

Today I'm featuring an article by trout fishing enthusiast Jeff " Owl " Jones. Owl specializes in fly fishing for trout in the southern reaches of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is a great deal of good trout fishing information on his website and also on his blog. Jeff has been kind enough to do a series of articles for us here on Something's Fishy that cover some of the basic equipment and techniques you'll need to get started catching trout with a fly rod. Enjoy!

Basic Fly Fishing Series , Article One : Rod, Reel and Line

An old, fat goat trout bum once said (ahem) "Fly fishing isn't complicated. Figuring out fly fishing is what's complicated." And just why do people fly fish vs. spin fishing or even cane pole fishing? What's the reason? Why the funny vests and long, thin rods? Well, I don't have time to cover all of that for you here, but I can break down fly fishing into it's most basic parts which should give you an idea as to whether or not you want to pursue this thing further.  If this article sounds complicated and not worth the effort, you should probably take up gardening or golf instead of fly fishing. And now, we begin... 

Why do people "fly fish?" Well, in the most basic of terms you fly fish because the fish eat aquatic flies or as some in the sophisticated world of grown ups call them " Aquatic Insects" For our purposes here, we'll just call them flies. Trout eat flies. Bluegills and bass will eat a fly too. And while tarpon and bone fish don't eat aquatic insects, some ingenious person started tying "flies" that imitate baitfish and crabs and there ya go. Almost every conceivable type of fish can be caught on a "fly." Flies are what the fish eat, so flies are what fishermen try to feed them, with a sharp pointy thing attached. (Examples Here) To that end, it's not much different from baiting a treble hook with chicken liver and tossing it out for a catfish. Ah, but there is where fly fishing's complication first rears it's ugly head. You can't toss a "fly" to anything with conventional gear. Sure, you can use a "'casting bubble" to throw a fly to fish with a spinning rod and reel, but even then after the fly lands on the water you have no control of it - and trust me you do not want to leave the success or failure of your day's fishing to the river currents.  You want control. Thus, the " fly rod ". Usually a 7 foot to 12 foot rod built for casting a somewhat heavy(compared to mono) line and controlling that line once it's on the water. In fly fishing you're actually not casting the fly to the fish, no matter what I said earlier - you're casting the line. The fly just happens to follow along wherever the fly line leads it. Usually into some low hanging tree limbs or the back of your neck if it's windy.

The fat, thick, colored fly line can be wiggled and giggled in a number of ways in order to facilitate different casts, and once on the water can be thrown around (called "mending") to control the drift of the fly. Of course, you can't just tie a delicate inch long fly made of feathers and floss right to the end of a big, bulky, bright yellow line - so you need a leader and tippet. The leader tapers to a point and the "tippet" is a small diameter mono-filament that can be replaced as you change flies during the course of the day. This way, you're not eating into your leader, which costs about twice as much (or in some cases more) than your tippet material. You can even use mono-filament designed for ultra-light freshwater spinfishing in a pinch. 
There is a reel in fly fishing and you can buy extremely nice ones that have $200 bells and $300 whistles, but for the most part unless you're fishing saltwater or for really large bass, the reel does one thing. Quite simply, the reel holds the line until it's ready to be cast. It also doubles as a tool to play a big fish, as most reels today have quite effective drag systems. For small panfish and trout though, you can almost always play the fish with your hand holding the line, letting the rod do most of the work. 

There are other necessary and not-so-necessary tools and gadgets that the fly angler needs and although some are designed more to catch the fisherman than the fish the list of useful gadgets is about 1/4 mile long. Forceps, scissors, thermometers, zingers, nets, split-shot, indicators, get the idea. If you want to jump ahead of your fellow Something's Fishy reader you can check out the articles on gear and other things at the website. For now though, you've learned that a fly rod is long and thin because that's what's necessary to cast that heavy fly line and control it on the water - and that a reel is mostly just for holding the line until you need it. Next time, we'll get into where the trout might be in a river, how not to get around in a trout stream, and why in the world anyone would want to waste their time chasing 8 inch fish. 


  1. Nice article. The words 'trout bum' remind me of my favorite John Gierach quote:

    "There are only two kinds of fly fisherman... the ones you're with and assholes." Gierach may have been quoting AK Best. Not sure.

  2. Bob , trout fishing can definitely get serious. I've seen fights almost break out when people are standing shoulder to shoulder on opening day. It's one of the main reasons I got out of trout fishing regularly.

    Most fishermen are bums of some sort. I know I'd rather be bumming around the beach or pier.

    Check back with us every once in a while , I hope Jeff is going to continue to be a contributor here on Something's Fishy. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. JM, that's not trout fishing - that's what we call "combat fishing."

    Anytime you want to do some real trout fishing over wild fish where you've got the stream all to yourself, meet me in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and I'll set you straight! ;) LOL

    Thanks for the compliments, guys. Josh is doing a great job over on my site too, telling my readers about surf and pier fishing! I think there are alot of fisherman out there who don't really care what they are fishing for, as long as they are fishin!

  4. Owl , I actually used to fish for native brookies a little bit up in WV. Beautiful little guys , but tricky to catch. I might have to take you up on the Great Smokey Mountain trip one of these days.

    I am certainly a fisherman who doesn't care what I catch. If I get the urge to go , I'll catch Bluegills if nothing else is cooperating.


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