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Why Fly Fishing?
by Ed Zaun

“Man, that looks like a lot of work for one cast….”
“How many times have you hooked yourself?”
“Look at how thin that rod is, what if you hook a big one?”
“Is it very hard to cast like that?”
“What about the wind? Or on a pier?”
“You have a lot of flies…  Are they expensive?”
“How can you fish at night?”

hose are a sampling of the questions and comments you’ll get when you walk down to the water with a fly rod in your hand. Some people will just shake their heads, figuring you’re eccentric or an escapee from a lunatic asylum. That’s because, even though fly fishing in saltwater goes back about 150 years, and was quite popular in some parts of the country right after World War II, it hasn’t enjoyed a large following until recently.

The next time you’re out on your favorite stretch of beach, during one of those rare moments when the fish aren’t fighting each other to get at your hook, take a look at the gear you’re using and compare it to the other fishermen out there with you. The vast majority will be using spinning gear, with several rods rigged out for bait and in the water or plugs, ready to grab and cast. Now you asked the question about fly fishing, so ask yourself, why spinning gear? Conventional reels (bait-casters to you freshwater folks who got lost and wandered in here by mistake) have much more power during the fight and the world’s record distance cast was made with a conventional reel.

The problem is, a conventional reel is harder to learn than spinning equipment. If you don’t thumb the spool just right you either shorten your cast considerably, or wind up with a bird’s nest you have to cut out with the knife. Trust me, I know. People, in most cases will use the easiest way rather than the best tool for the job. That’s the Public Relations problem fly fishing has to overcome. It looks hard and it does require a completely new set of skills, not only for the cast, but also on the retrieve and fight as well, yet in many situations is simply the best tool for the job. Now, I’m not talking about fly tackle making a better fight or fisherman (although it does) and I’m not talking about sneering at spinning gear. I usually carry an 8’ spinning rod and a small selection of lures with me, mostly for prospecting purposes. When I get a hit, fish or boil, the spinning rod goes away and the fly rod comes out.

I prefer the fly rod, it is my weapon of choice in almost every situation I find myself, and I’ve caught fish with the long rod when spin fishermen right next to me weren’t even getting hits! It is very rare for spin fishermen to land bass near me when I at least didn’t already have a fish on, if not in the hand. Bluefish are a little different, and I have been outfished both in numbers and tonnage, but we’re talking about ol’ Mr. Linesides here. The message is clear: if you’re a serious Striper Swiper, then you owe it to yourself to try flyrodding. If you don’t, you’re missing out on fish, fun and bragging rights.

Let’s take a look at why fly fishing is fundamentally different and you’ll begin to see…

With conventional or spinning gear, the weight of the lure or bait pulls the line from the spool, in other words the lure is the cause and the length of the cast is the effect. That, incidentally is why a conventional reel will cast farther. Once you get the spool rotating, it throws the line out rather than dragging it past the rim on a spinning rod, which creates friction and shortens the cast. Also the line comes off a spinning reel in coils and drags on the stripping guide on the rod creating more friction, with a conventional reel if comes of the spool more or less straight, meaning less friction.

With a fly rod, you’re technically not casting the fly; it doesn’t have the mass required to do the job. You’re casting the fly line, which makes the leader and fly follow, because they have to. The leader straightening out and the fly landing on the water are the effect of the cast, not the cause.

Because the flies are so lightweight, they can be manipulated in a much more life-like manner than any chunk of plastic, metal, or wood ever dreamed of under the vast majority of conditions where you’ll find stripers lurking. Don’t think so? One of the habits of successful flyrodders is that they are very observant. They have to be, especially when they are looking to devise the killer fly pattern the next time they’re at the bench. With that in mind, watch the behavior of baitfish in the water. They dart around irregularly, effected by the miniature eddies and currents, turning into the flow and side slipping to take advantage of the water movement. During all of this, unless they know there are predators in the area, they hold on station, not moving very far. That’s why they are effected by tide and winds, they don’t have the muscle to fight it for long. Flies react the same way, with the same small body movements. They can be fished to drift with the current of a tidal river or wave wash and the flow will sweep your offering around structure to the striper holding in the lee, an easy meal… until the check comes. Plugs and metal lures plow through the water with rhythmic action, usually very pronounced, and imitate panic stricken or wounded baitfish, and as I’m sure you’ve noticed, sometimes the bass see through the deception. The baitfish doesn’t always scream through the water at mach 2, and the predators aren’t always looking for them to. Plainly put, you just can’t always imitate the behaviors of baitfish with a plug or spoon as you can with a fly. I’ve found that in most cases it’s the presentation of the fly which causes the strike, not the pattern itself, but we’ll get into that at a later date.

There is a certain grace and style to fly casting, sweeping the rod back and forth in a basic cast as you shoot line through the guides and scan for the best spot to place your fly. False casting serves several purposes, one of which is to gauge how far out the fly is. Using this aspect of fly casting you can drop your fly very accurately indeed, for those times when the bass aren’t interested in chasing down food, but would rather have sort of a Meals-on-Wheels catering service. The small mass of the fly makes less of a splash for those times when the fish are spooky and with practice you can make the fly line kiss the water with hardly a ripple, just ask any competent trout fisherman. Subtly is the by-word for fly-casting, or in the words of the late Joe Brooks, a pioneer of modern day salty fly fishing, “We’re selling the sizzle, not the steak.” At this point some of you will be asking “What about those times when you need to make noise to get the striper’s attention?” Not to worry, that’s why we have poppers, sliders and such. Some fly tiers have even been known to add rattles to their patterns.

Once you complete your cast, you’ll have much more control over your line and therefore the fly than you do with a plug. Ever try making a Bomber change direction and swim away from you? You can do it with most saltwater flies, at least out to medium casting ranges. You know how effective changing direction with a plug can be when you swing the rod from one side to the other during a retrieve, so imagine what a 180? turn will do. You can always retrieve in straight-away, like a plug but when you’re fishing a running current you have the option of using a technique called a “Dead Drift”. What you do is cast slightly upstream and across the current, this casting pattern is called, oddly enough “Up and Across” as opposed to “Down and Across”, which has it’s uses too. Any way, when you go up and across, the line and fly will be pulled back toward you, moving laterally. The current is usually swifter in the middle than it is near the shores and a belly will appear in your line. This is bad. It creates slack, will interfere with your next cast and remove your ability to detect a strike or set the hook. Simply flip your rod hand over quickly, throwing a loop upstream to compensate and you’re back in business. The fly will sink slowly and when the line pulls taut near the end of the drift, will begin to rise again, just like Nature’s Own so often do as they near shore. The fly has traced a line across the current, acting like a natural, but a loner that has been separated from the school. Mmmmm, Mmmmm, Good!

In the surf and on a jetty, the principle remains the same, but is slightly modified. I’m not trying to beat a dead horse here, but flies are swept by the wash just like baitfish are. They founder in waves and crash onto the rocks, and schlurp! FISH ON!!!!!

Now I won’t lead you on, this fishing heaven does require practice to learn. There is no substitute for time with the rod. You’ll need to learn how the line reacts and what the best methods are for you. Everyone I know uses different motions, but there are great books out there to give you the basics. Unfortunately, it is an axiom of fly fishing that the worst time to practice casting and retrieving is when you’re fishing. Concentrate on one thing at a time, and when you’re first starting out, leave the spinning gear home. It can be a crutch, and you’ll grab it instead of learning to cast in tougher conditions.

I have a tendency to immerse myself in my hobbies. Well, a psychiatrist might call it a pathological trend toward obsession, but it doesn’t make me a bad person does it? Anyway, one of the aspects of fly fishing I find most rewarding is how deeply you can get in to it. I’m not talking about money here, but involvement. You are part of the striper’s habitat, not just an invader. You become more aware of what is going on around you, because your motions don’t become mechanical; cast-reel-cast-reel-cast-reel. This is the same as the difference between rifle and bow hunting for deer. The bow hunter becomes more in tune with the surroundings because he has to be. It makes for a more enjoyable time on the water and is more rewarding when you’re efforts pay off. Remember your first striper? Your first one on the fly rod will be just as big an event, and your first keeper… Don’t even think about it yet…

Okay, now that you know why you should pick up the fly rod, and how little it can cost, next we’ll talk about tying your own flies. Catching fish on things you made involves you even more and gives you an even bigger sense of accomplishment. This just keeps getting better and better…End

Copyright © 1999 - 2013 Ed Zaun, All Rights Reserved

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