If only we knew now what we knew then!
Fly fishing is not for the faint of heart. It may look cool on TV. It may sound cool when being told a story by a seasoned pro. You may even feel cool for the first couple times that you try fly casting on a stream. However, the learning curve in finally being able to get a grasp on the sport is nothing short of extraordinary. Now that I’m head over feet involved, there are so many tips and tricks that I do now that never even would have dawned on me back when I first started. If you are in the same boat, looking at getting a fly rod, and just getting your feet wet, hopefully, I can spare you some grief.
First off, don’t be too proud to not get fly fishing lessons. All of your fly fishing trips after your first lesson will go a little more smooth from that point on. Fly fishing school is not necessary, but a basic class at local fly shop can do wonders to help break the learning curve. From my experience, I’ve found Orvis gives some of the best fly fishing lessons around. They often have free classes on Saturday’s and the people giving the fly fishing classes are top notch. A lot of local fly shops I encounter are fairly pompous and I try to avoid them. Who knows though, maybe that’s just me.
So, that’s all well and good, but that’s not even one of the lesson’s I’ve learned. So, let’s get into it.
#1. Fly Rods
One of the first fly fishing lessons I learned real quick was to get the best fly rod you can afford, but don’t break your bank trying to get something to keep up with the people at the fly shop, or some fool on social media. As unfortunate as it is, most fly rods in America are made in Asian countries for pennies on the dollar. A lot of the cost of the final rod that the end fly fisherman pays is simply due to the name on the rod.
Today’s technology has closed the gap considerably between $300 and $900 rods. The only difference between most rods is the ego of the person buying it, and the markup each individual company believes they can get away with.
When I first started out, I fell into the mainstream trap of fishing with rods that high dollar fly fishing ads told me I had to have. I quickly learned those were nothing more than overpriced, imported, nothing special rods with a great paint job and an invented back story all created to sell. For me, I prefer to buy American. I would rather own a rod that reflects the true value of the rod and not a gouging, extreme 300 to 500% markup, or more.
The goal in the fishing business is to catch the fisherman, not catch fish. The first time an industry insider told me that, it turned my stomach. Not because I felt taken advantage of, but because I knew it was true. This is the reason why I started Walton Rods. I simply do not subscribe to that philosophy.
#2. Tippet and Leaders
Oh here we go. Don’t even get me started on this crap. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve read articles from top fishing guides from Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, to God knows where, all about the intricacies of tippets and leaders among their other fly fishing lessons. First, let me clarify, yes, in the right waters where fish are highly educated, this makes a big difference. However, for a guy or gal that is just trying to figure out the right casting techniques to launch a bug, who freaking cares?
One word of advice though real quick; you do need to learn some essential knots as you learn to fly fish. Those do make life easier. However, worrying about 2x that, 5x this, tapered that, doesn’t. As simple as this is, go buy a spool of 12 pound Trilene flouro at Walmart. Then, go buy a six pound line of Trilene flouro right next to it. Take four feet of the 12 pound line, use a perfection loop and attach it to the main fly line. Now, use a surgeon’s knot and attach about 4 feet of the six pound line to the 12 pound line. Attach that six pound line to your fly. There, you can now catch most fish that swim in North America.
That being said, as your fly fishing abilities increase, you will want to pay more attention to tippet size and leader size. It makes a difference. However, work on your casting skills. Work on learning fly patterns. Work on learning when to use the best fly at the best time. Worrying about goofy tippet sizes comes with time. The more you go trout fishing, and fly fishing in general, you can really hone your techniques.
#3. Reel Choice
If you spend more than $50 on your first fly reel, I would look at your funny if I saw you doing it. Do you know why? For most fish that swim in the United States, fly reels are nothing more than glorified line holders. This is one of those fly fishing lessons to live by. I can probably count on one hand how many times the disc drag of my expensive fly reel came into play fishing for a trout. By God, that reel looked good though.
If you plan to fish for carp, salmon, steelhead, or saltwater then reel choice matters. For most US species we fly fish for, it doesn’t. A bass will most likely never take you on a long run into your backing, neither will trout. If you go into a fly shop though, the only reels you will see cost hundreds of dollars. Why? We are here to catch fishermen, remember?
Just like with the fly rod, buy a reel you can afford, not one you have to reach for. For something that will only hold line, and reel line up when you are done fishing, you can make up your own mind how much money you want to spend on it. For me, I prefer to buy American. I like my reel to reflect the true value of the reel and not 500% markup as with imported reels. I also prefer metal reels. They just tend to last longer and won’t break if I drop one on a rock.
In the end, fly fishing is full of vanity. Yes. It’s true. Fly fishing companies put premiums on their gear because people will pay it. Fly fishing is also awfully confusing. There are so many little tips and tricks that we get lost in the fact that all we are really doing is fishing. If you can put a fly in the general vicinity of a fish, and the fly looks good, the fish will probably eat it. Let’s not make things more complicated than they need to be.