Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Getting started (draft)

(Someone wrote to me asking how to assemble a beginners' fly-fishing outfit without walking into the Orvis store with a target painted on his forehead. Here is a draft of what I will try to expand into an actual article at some point. Comments and suggestions welcome.)


That fly-fishing is an incredibly difficult sport requiring expensive equipment is an enduring myth. There are rods that cost more than most of the cars I’ve driven over the years, and they’re very nice. But do they cast better?

Yeah, but I would advise anyone starting out to go the inexpensive but good quality route. In the words of John Nichols, a damned good fly-fisherman who sometimes moonlights as an author, “You buy it cheap, you don’t weep” when you a) break it or b) lose interest.

Orvis’ Clearwater series of rods and reels is a good place to start. I own three Clearwater rods and four or five reels (plus extra spools).

I like the rods because they are easy to cast. I like the reels because they are basic and sturdy. I like it all because I can afford to fill a gap in my arsenal — a 10-foot 7 weight for bass fishing from a pontoon boat, for example.

Temple Fork Outfitters makes great rods at affordable prices. I own two in the Signature Series - the six foot, two weight for playing around with dry flies in brooks, and the eight and a half foot, five weight, two-piece as a basic all-round rod (and a spare for guests).

Do not spend a lot of money on reels. Unlike spin-casting, which is all about the reel’s action, in fly-fishing the reel is primarily a place to store the line. Orvis Clearwater, LL Bean Double L, Cabelas Cahill are all inexpensive and serviceable reels that will do just fine.

Do spend some money on lines. For the beginner conventional wisdom calls for a weight-forward floating line. I advise a double-tapered floating line, for two reasons: one, learning to cast with a weight-forward line might seem easier but it’s like never taking the training wheels off your bike.

The DT line is also more cost-efficient, as it can be simply reversed when the business end begins to get tired. And at $70 a pop (and up) for premium lines, I want my money’s worth.

For a good discussion of WT vs. DT click here


When you have your reel set up, there are two things the fly shop might try to do to you that you don’t want.

First is they will set it up so you are reeling with your weak hand. If you are right-handed, you should reel with your right hand. It involves switching hands once you’ve hooked a fish, which takes about a tenth of a second.

Why reel with your dominant hand? Because you’re more coordinated that way. Trust me.

The other thing shops do is put too much backing on the reel. Backing is for when the nine-inch rainbow you caught decides to run out to sea and pulls out all the line. What shops do is set it up so the line plus backing fills the reel spool exactly, which is fine as long as it stays dry and wound by a professional using a machine.

Which it doesn’t. It gets wet and pulled out and rewound and dropped and muddy and so on. You want about a quarter to a half inch of gimme room — which means less backing. Don’t sweat it — the kind of fish that gets you to the backing isn’t going to be lost because of the ten feet of backing you don’t have.

When buying boots you want something with rubber soles and studs — the rubber to make them easier to clean and avoid spreading aquatic nuisances (like rock snot) and the studs so you don’t break your neck. Bean and Orvis do these boots as well as anybody.

The fly box:

It depends on where you are fishing, but I would always carry the following for trout:

Dry flies: Adams, Light Cahill, Hendrickson, Elk Hair Caddis, Humpy, Irresistable, Madame X Caddis, Stimulator, Royal Coachman, Blue-wing Olive
Wet flies: Adams, Leadwing Coachman, Light Cahill, Dark Cahill, Hendrickson, Royal Coachman, soft-hackles in several colors.
Nymphs: Hare's Ear, Copper John, Stoneflies in several sizes and colors. Bead heads, tungsten heads and weight to taste.
Streamers: Mickey Finn, Muddler Minnow, Wooly Bugger (several sizes and colors), Grey Ghost, Lefty's Deceiver.
Buggy: Beetles, ants, hoppers and crayfish impersonations.

I always opt for buying flies from local tiers when possible. Unforunately, it often isn't. Ligas Flies in Boulder, Colo. is an excellent source for almost any pattern you might want. You must buy in bulk, but for $100 you can load up on your favorites for a given season.

As to the box itself, I am a big fan of Clif's Day's Worth boxes.

The bookshelf:

Taylor Streit is a guide in northern New Mexico and a very nice guy. His "Instinctive Fly Fishing" is the single best book on the subject ever.

Tom Fuller's Trout Streams of Southern New England is a good starting place for my area.  Countryman Press/Backcountry Guides have several "Trout Streams of..." and "Good Fishing in..." titles in their catalog.

You'll need a DeLorme map book to go with any guide book you buy. The guides aren't updated all that often, certainly not often enough to handle changes in regulations, parking and access.

4 comments:

Main Line Sportsman said...

Excellent advice and great post...

Bill said...

Great post. I'd also recomend reading the Curtis Creek Manifesto--deceptively amazing book.

Patrick said...

Just ordered a copy, will read it pronto. Thanks for the tip.

Bill said...

Flies: Woolly Bugger is a great all around fly.

Orvis has a cool deal: you can order their top 20 flies for ~$10 (free shipping). Great for someone starting out.