Contrary to its pretty simple and straightforward name, fly fishing has a reputation of being the more difficult way to fish on the water. While partly true, it’s also blowing things out of proportion for a large part, as this technique has been a fishing staple for almost two millennia.
What is fly fishing?
Simply put, fly fishing is a technique that uses artificial “flies” on special fly rods to catch fish. The goal is to emulate the movement of live insects, in order to fool even the pickiest of fish.
The first recorded instance of using an artificial fly to fish dates back to the 2nd century and the fishermen on the Astraeus River in modern Turkey. Other cultures have also devised their own particular methods of fly fishing, such as the “Tenkara”, a method pioneered in the rivers of Japan.
The most fundamental difference between fly fishing and more conventional techniques is in the casting philosophy itself. Fly fishing is all about using heavy lines to cast lightweight objects - the complete opposite to any other form of angling, which is based on casting weighted objects on a lightweight line. This means it takes longer to learn as it takes more time (along with a bit of finesse) to properly cast a line so that it mimics an insect’s natural movement pattern.
Another distinct feature of flycasting is that you don’t need to fully retrieve the fly in order to recast it. This allows for more variations and quicker repetitive casting, the reason why a lot of anglers believe it’s a more efficient way to cast.
Having been confined to catching smaller freshwater fish in the past, fly fishing has made major strides in the last three decades as it becomes increasingly popular with saltwater anglers as well. From an observer’s point of view, fly fishing is probably the most aesthetically pleasing way to cast, especially when you’re watching someone who really knows how to make it fly.
Fly fishing equipment
Depending on how you look at it, this is where things either get very interesting or unnecessarily complicated. As you know by now, fly fishing requires specialized gear that’s created with that one purpose in mind. A set of fly tackle includes: a fly rod, reel, line, leader, and of course, the flies themselves.
Fly anglers take great care in choosing their gear because a good cast hinges on the delicate balance between the respective weights of the rod and the line. The line needs to be heavy enough in order to bend the rod when you pick up the line from the water, and the rod needs to be heavy enough to flex back and send the line in a forward direction.
Unlike conventional fishing, a fly rod is more important to the casting process than the reel. Because most flies are almost weightless objects, the rod plays a crucial role in conducting the energy needed for a cast. In many cases, this means that the main function of a reel is purely line-storage.
A nylon monofilament leader is an essential part of your gear when fly fishing, because the line itself is too thick to be attached to the fly. Besides witch, a heavy line is sure to scare any fish away, which is why a lighter leader is crucial.
Finally, we reach the subject of flies. A whole book can be (and many have been) written about this, but we’ll try to cover the bare essentials.
Simply put, flies are artificial lures that are so light that they can only be cast properly with a fly fishing setup. These can be either bought or made by the angler themselves in what is known as fly tying. Flies can be bought for under a dollar, but many anglers will take it upon themselves either as a fun hobby or to keep the tradition of tying your own flies alive.
The two types of flies used by anglers worldwide are floating and sinking flies. As their name suggests, floating flies sit on the water surface, and are made so as to imitate a whole variety of fish foods. These include insects, frogs, mice, snakes, and more.
Sinking flies are made to imitate foods like small fish, crustaceans, eels, fish eggs, and others. As such, they will be made out of materials that are either denser than water or absorb it easily. Nymphs are the most popular sinking flies because they work wonders when fishing for Trout.
Since most flies are made to imitate a specific type of food, their size and shape are very important. The fun thing about making flies is that you are only limited by your imagination, so you’re free to experiment until you find one that works for your specific fishing needs.
Where to fly fish?
While fly fishing originated as a freshwater fishing technique, it’s now being used to great success in a variety of saltwater conditions as well. Here you’ll find some places worth checking out if your passion is tied to the fly:
Places like Fort Myers have sprawling flats that are a fly angler’s dream come true. For bonus points, go fishing during Tarpon season and you’ll be in for the fight of your life.
Being located right next to the world’s second largest barrier reef, it’s hard to name a more attractive fly fishing location than Belize. You’ll have abundant opportunities to set your sights for Tarpon, Permit, and Bonefish.
If you find yourself in the land down under, be sure to visit Exmouth, you won’t regret it. It’s one of the places where you’re best suited to land a Sailfish on the fly, should you have such lofty ambitions.
Alaska is definitely the way to go for when you want to isolate yourself from the rest of the world for a couple of days and enjoy some world-class freshwater fishing and lodging. Kvichak River in particular boasts the largest Sockeye run in the entire world, so it might make for a good place to start.