When I was just a kid, I often fly fished with my grandfather. I fly fished because my grandfather did and I liked spending time with him. So really, fly fishing was simply an activity that bonded us together in the beauty of nature.
I didn’t think that fly fishing was cool or in fashion or hip. For the most part, it was really a rather rudimentary way to catch trout in the small clear streams of the Sierra Nevada, in California. I loved fishing, all sorts of fishing: bait, lures, trolling and yes…fly fishing. As a child, and even today, fly fishing was and still is to me just another form of angling.
It wasn’t until many years later that I stumbled into one simple truth about fly fishing. Unlike all other forms of stick, line and hook angling, fly fishing has a secret advantage…at least when fishing the right waters. You see, when using fly fishing gear correctly, an angler can land his or her lure on the water with a subtle presentation.
This truth and proof thereof came years later when I took my spinning rod, lures and bait along for a fishing trip to a small trout stream in the Sierra Nevada that my grandfather and I used to fly fish. Sneaking along a slower stretch of the steam, I spotted a trout holding in clear water. I cast my lure using my spinning rod and proceeded to scare off my trout…and many others along with it.
Had I landed a fly with a subtle presentation, I might have had a chance. Without a fly rod packed, I continued to use my spinning rod in the clear, calm waters of my cherished trout stream. It was only in the deeper pools and faster troughs that I could salvage a trout or two with my spinning gear. I sure wished I’d packed my fly rod.
Now, whenever I fish gin-clear trout streams, I leave my spinning tackle at home and carry my trusted fly fishing gear, knowing that an accurate fly cast with a subtle presentation is the real secret!
If you’ve ever struggled to properly catch and release a trout while fly fishing, you’re not alone. It’s tougher than one might think. Your average lively, wild trout is spirited, slimy and full of vigor. Try finding the secret handle on a wild nine inch trout. It’s hard to do. Sliding that critter onto some sun-warmed rocks or squeezing it like a tube of toothpaste to gain control might slow your trout down enough to remove your fly and toss it back into a stream…but chances are, that trout is done for. And…it’s your fault.
Simple math here is that less is more. Less of your dry, hot hands touching your wild fishing buddy is a good thing. Less time out of the water for your wild, par-marked friend is also a good thing. And for sure…less contact with hard, hot rocks will better prepare your trout for a responsible return to its happy, little stream. What’s the best way to do this?
Get yourself the right landing net. Your granddaddy had one, but it helped him catch and keep more trout. Your landing net is different. It will aid you in properly returning your trout back to the water. Maybe you’ll catch it again. If not, you’ve done your best to pass along a great experience to yet another angler. This is catch and release fishing. It’s nothing new, but doing it right sure is.
Everyone loves a good trout fly fishing photo, but make sure your fish is still in the cool, clear, oxygenated water while you take your shot. You might have heard that you can’t keep a trout out of the water no longer than you can hold your own breathe. That’s cute, but it’s wrong. The answer to the riddle is hold your trout out of water no longer than ten seconds. That’s probably much faster than you’ve done in the past.
The bottom line is that it is your responsibility to properly handle Mother Nature’s best work. Return your wild trout to its stream so that it survives and flourishes. You might have the great fortune of catching that same fish again. If not, you’ve done another fly angler a solid by properly catching and releasing your trout.
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Whether you duck hunt or not, there’s one undeniable truth, every shotgun has an effective range. Sure, you can slightly increase your gun’s range with specialty loads (shotgun shells) and high-performance chokes. However, there’s a trade off. You just turned your all-purpose, duck gun into a “one trick pony” long range gun…pretty much useless for all regular shots. Why does this matter and what does this have to do with fly fishing? Hang in there…I’m getting to it.
You see, just like there’s an effective range on a standard shotgun, say about thirty yards maximum…there’s also an effective range when fly fishing the saltwater flats. Shooting at a duck that’s way beyond your gun’s range will result in not only a missed duck, but an announcement to all other ducks in the vicinity that something’s up. It’s just like casting to a bonefish or permit that’s beyond your fly casting range. You’ll probably miss your target, spook your fish and any other fish on the flat as well.
So what’s the answer to the riddle? Only shoot your gun or cast your fly at targets within range. When duck hunting, you need your target within thirty yards or less so you can properly identify the duck, make an accurate shot and clean kill. When fly fishing the same is true, you need to identify your fish, make an accurate cast…and unlike duck hunting watch your fish’s reaction to your fly. In other words, if you can’t see what your fish is doing, you’re fishing blind. That might work if you’re fishing bait, but not when you’re using a fly.
Don’t let an uppity guide or high-performance fly fishing rod company buffalo you into thinking you have to cast a country mile to catch a saltwater flats fish. If you still believe that, I’ve got a Howitzer gun to sell you for next duck season.
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When I was a much younger fly angler I caught a lot of trout. In fact, I caught way more trout back then than I do today. Without a wife or kids at the time, I had little in the way of responsibility. This lifestyle allowed me to always be the first rod on the water. Early morning drives and headlamp-lit hikes would get me to my water before others. A check of the watch would let me know a half an hour wait was still required before my first legal cast.
When it was time to fish, I’d pull out all the stops. With my fly vest fully-loaded, I could rig and re-rig until the fish count began. Whether dry fly, nymph or streamer fishing, I could switch my angling approach by the minute to better my results. And when my water was exhausted, I dash off to the next run and replay my effective approach to fly fishing. At the end of the day, if asked by other anglers, I’d proudly announce the number of trout I’d caught. It felt good…kind of.
Although I did catch a good number of trout, I couldn’t remember any fish in particular. They all blended together in a blur of rushed angling. I wasn’t earning fish, I was just catching them, using any angling technique that produced the biggest result. In retrospect, I was actually stressed out while fly fishing. I had to be the first on the water. I had to catch the biggest fish. I had to catch the most fish. Truth is, all I had to do is enjoy my day in a beautiful location. I was missing the big picture…such is youth.
Today, I’m married. I have two wonderful daughters. I have a job and lots of chores. I don’t fly fish as much as I did in my youth…and I couldn’t be happier. Today, fly fishing is my therapy. To me, it’s not a sport. It’s more of an outdoor activity. Approached this way, I don’t have to be first on the water or catch the most trout. I just have to enjoy the experience. I no longer wear a stuffed fly vest. I don’t rush to the water anymore. Instead, I enjoy the drive and the walk. If someone is already fishing my run, I don’t mind. I’ll wait and watch.
Chances are, the person fishing that run is younger and in a hurry, as I once was, and will soon move to new water. Chances are the person in my favorite run has not yet unlocked the secret of truly controlling fly line during the cast. And chances are, I’ll be able to land my fly in untouched water. Maybe I’ll even earn a trout or two.
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You remember Goldilocks, don’t you? She’s the one who visited the bears’ house and made quite a mess of the place by trying out just about everything…chairs, porridge and beds. What does this have to do with fly casting? Just hang in there…I’m getting to it.
You see, the thing I learned about Goldilocks was that this young woman was on a quest for something special…something that was, “just right.” If she’d been fly fishing for trout, Goldilocks would have eventually determined (after much testing and the breaking of things), that a forty-foot fly cast was indeed “just right.”
There are a few qualified trout-oriented fly fishers that already know this fact, but the majority of today’s anglers don’t. Unfortunately, too many fly fishers think increased fly casting distance alone is the secret to more fish. It’s not. In truth, focusing on longer fly casts is often more of a distraction than a benefit.
So why is a forty-foot fly cast the secret distance? Because fly fishing is a visual game. It’s exciting to see your fish prior to your cast. At forty-feet, you can see your fish. It’s of benefit to see your fish react to your offering. At forty-feet, you can see your fish react. It’s the pinnacle moment in fly fishing when your trout rises to the surface to take your fly. At forty-feet, you can watch in amazement. Better yet, at forty-feet, you’re not so close as to spook your trout.
So next time you’re on a trout stream. Take it from Goldilocks and craft an efficiency, accurate, subtly-presented forty-foot cast. It’ll be “just right.”
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I remember as a kid, hand-making fly fishing leaders with my grandfather. Any time we had a fly fishing trip planned, we’d always meet up for dinner and some hand-tied leader making a week before the trip. Not only was it great to get some of my Grandmother’s home cooking, it was also special to hang out with my grandfather in his den talking about fishing and life, while making magic trout leaders.
This was in the mid 1970’s and the glut of today’s fly fishing products was long off. Whether knotless, tapered leaders were available at the time, I don’t know. What I do know is my grandfather was an engineer by trade and he had a special notebook of magic “tapers.” These were secret measurements of nylon fishing line by length and diameter and this information was not to be shared casually.
Fortunately by birth, I was in the club, so I could be part of the project. I still remember carefully measuring sections of particular gauges of fishing line and cutting appropriately. Next, we’d begin the process of fashioning each section to the next with blood knots. After each knot was tied and cut, we’d add a bit of glue to reinforce the knot. A magic fly fishing leader was born.
Once each fly fishing leader was finished, a hand-written label, along with the rolled-up leader would be popped into a small baggie for safe keeping and identification. The process was repeated until we felt we had enough tapered leaders for the upcoming fishing trip. Over the years, we sure made a lot of tapered leaders together. My Grandfather’s leaders cast and fished like no other leader I’ve since used.
Today, we no longer need to make our own hand-tied leaders. Fancy machines can turn pellets of nylon into finely tapered sections by extrusion. If done right, a proper leader profile and the right material can arguably make the world’s greatest leader. But with this ease of production, any leader profile can be casually created, stuffed into a bag and sent to market. The unfortunate result is a overwhelming selection of knotless leaders that don’t cast or fish that well.
I sure miss my Grandfather’s magic fly fishing leader.
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I wasn’t sure, so I asked Mr. Google. Turns out there are few fish that actually do make sounds. Some fish names now make a bit more sense, like Croakers and Drums. Yup, they make croaking and drumming noises…go figure. There are other fish on the list too, and what seems to be the acoustic connection here is the goal of attracting a mate during the spawn using sound…smart fish.
However, my favorite fish wasn’t on the list…the steelhead. According to Google this fish is silent in the noise making department…even during the spawn. Maybe that’s why they’re so pretty. Then it dawned on me, the steelhead does make a sound, a very wonderful sound…at least the ones I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The sweet sound I’m referring to is the audible click from my classic “click-pawl” fly reel. It’s celebratory music to my cold ears on a quiet Winter’s day.
If you’ve ever fiddled with a classic, click-pawl fly reel in a fly shop, you might not have enjoyed the metallic click-clack sound. It might have sounded harsh to your ears. Then you imagined that same metalic sound in the quiet of nature and opted for a quieter disc drag reel. But there are a few more things to consider before you give up on that classic reel. Firstly, that reel you held had no backing or fly line on it, which softens the reel’s sound considerably. Secondly, it wasn’t spinning at full speed with your chrome fish running down river, changing that click-clack sound into a wonderful “purr.”
The second consideration is the most important. Even in the quiet of nature, nothing beats that magic moment when a steelhead grabs your swung fly, tightens your fly line with the “tug” and then your classic fly reel begins to sing. If anything, you might at that moment wish your reel was even louder to celebrate the moment. If you’re alone on the river the sound of your reel is all yours to enjoy. If you’re not alone, it’s audible hope to other anglers stating that fish are indeed in the run and maybe they too will come tight to a trophy.
Yup, steelhead do make a sound and it just might be the best sound you’ll hear all year.
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Most of us wear clothes, which means most of us have a chest of drawers in which we neatly store them. One drawer in particular is of interest to this story…the sock drawer, actually my sock drawer. In it, I do store my socks, but I also store other items. Maybe that’s because I chose to store my socks in my upper-most drawer…I guess out of convenience. In any case, the convenience of this drawer’s location is also important to this story. It allowed me to be lazy and casually plop non-sock items into it for temporary storage.
I did this once with my trout fly reel after I cleaned my fly line and added some needed lubrication to its inner workings. I reminded myself that I’d have to move my cherished fly reel back into my fishing pack prior to my next fishing trip, but “myself” forgot to do just that. Something about forgetting…it seems to get easier as time passes and family responsibilities increase.
A few weeks later, I had a rare window of opportunity for a quick trip to my local trout stream. Excited, I grabbed my fly gear, tossed it into my car and headed out for relaxing afternoon of fishing. The drive was nice, the music was good and when I arrived stream side, the parking lot was empty. Good day! I proceeded to gear up, waders on and boots tied. I assembled my four-piece fly rod. All I needed was my fly reel…YUP, the very same well-lubed fly reel that was nesting safely back in my sock drawer.
Truth is, you can’t do much in the way of fly fishing without a fly line and fly reel. Although I was frustrated a bit, I did spend some time listening to the stream’s music as I walked its bank and that calmed me a bit. The drive home was nice.
If there’s a lesson here, it might have something to do with keeping my fly fishing gear organized. When I arrived home, I told my wife that the fishing was great. I was too embarrassed to tell her what really happened. I then went straight to my sock drawer and removed all items that weren’t sock related.
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