by Beau Beasley
Have you ever thought of taking up fly fishing as a new outdoor sport? Many assume that fly fishing is a sport for college professors—folks who wade in tweed jackets, know the Latin names of the fish, and smoke pipes on the river.
Fly angling may be the quiet sport, but it appeals to both sexes, all ages, and folks from every walk of life. So what sets fly angling apart?
First, forget the thought that fly fishing is somehow “better” than spin fishing; you’re starting from a false premise. Rather, fly fishing is to conventional fishing as bowhunting is to hunting with a firearm: not better, just different. Whereas the spin fisherman throws a weighted lure that pulls out his line, the fly angler casts a weighted fly line while his fly just goes along for the ride.
The fly angler’s lure is called a fly—a synthetic pattern, hand-tied to a fish hook, that looks like an insect (a grasshopper or dragonfly, for example), small fish (maybe a minnow), crayfish, sculpin, fish egg, leech, shrimp, crab… The possibilities are almost endless.
If a fish might consider it edible, believe me: a fly tyer has tied it. I’ve seen flies tied to look like baby ducks! Thousands of fly patterns already exist; you can copy one at a fly-tying vise yourself, invent and tie your own pattern, or benefit from someone else’s hard work and just buy ready-made flies. I have fished all over the country (and outside of it), and I always use commercially tied flies. Fly tying simply doesn’t interest me—and that’s okay, because other folks are obsessed with it and eager to sell me their creations. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Yes, it is true that the elusive trout is the fly angler’s gold standard prey. It is also true that you can fly fish, proudly, for just about any species. Your local waterway may offer small and largemouth bass, striper (rockfish), bluegill, carp, crappie, shad, or any number of similar freshwater species. You can also fly fish from watercraft like drift boats and rafts, and bring surprisingly large fish to hand with a fly rod. My home state of Virginia boasts muskie that are often more than 30 inches long and weigh over 25 pounds. Incidentally, these muskie are plenty big enough to pursue those baby duck flies I mentioned earlier.
Some fly anglers are dedicated to saltwater fishing, eagerly pursuing red drum, specked trout, cobia, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, tarpon, and even barracuda—all on the fly. In fact, there are entire saltwater fly fishing tournament trails where anglers pursue very large saltwater species like tarpon, permit and even sailfish, all on the fly. And some brave souls have been known to fly fish for shark! It’s often hard for those with preconceived notions about what fly fishing should be, to believe such massive fish can be captured with a fly rod but it true.
High-anxiety types, take note: Many fly anglers find fly casting uniquely therapeutic. In fact, some nonprofit organizations have capitalized on the therapeutic nature of fly casting—and, for many, fly tying—to support cancer patients (Casting for Recovery; www.castingforrecovery.org) and to rehabilitate wounded veterans (Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing; www.projecthealingwaters.org). Both organizations provide fly fishing outings free of charge and the natural comradery that goes along with fly fishing is indeed healing.
Finally, fly fishing is easy enough that even children can learn how to cast and to tie their own flies. Parents and their children can enjoy fly fishing together when parents remember to patiently focus on skill-building and togetherness and let go of the goal of landing scores of fish. I’ve taken my kids along with me to some of our local waterways, and it’s always a good time. Be sure if you’re fishing with children to bring a few snacks, or some other edible treat to make the day go more smoothly if the fishing action is slow. In today’s world, whatever we can do to get our kids outside and off their computers or cell phones, and connected to the great outdoors is a good thing. Besides, this is a sport your child can pursue and enjoy with you for a lifetime.
Want to take up the quiet sport this spring yourself? Contact your local fly shop to get started. Fly shops are owned and operated by fly fishing fanatics just waiting for you to drop by so that they can share what they love about the sport with you. Fly shops often host instructional classes for newbies at no cost, or sell beginner outfits which sometimes savvy fly shop owners will sell, which come with a free fly casting lesson.
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