Fly fishing Abrams Creek in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.Photo/Johnny Molloy
We anglers are a jealous lot. We’ve been known to covet the fish others catch, wishing we had been the one to bring in the big one. It all boils down to a passion for the sport. And fly fishermen may be the most passionate anglers of all.
Anglers tossing artificial bait have two basic choices — flies or lures. A succinct yet simple way to contrast fly fishing from lure fishing is this: fly fisherman use a longer rod and a smaller lure than do spin fisherman. Fly fishing certainly has a more sophisticated air to it, and it is generally a more expensive hobby. What follows is a primer on flies. Even if you will never throw a fly the rest of your days, read on, for fly fishing can be intriguing.
Choice of flies is your opportunity to make or break your fishing trip. The wrong fly in the wrong place can mean no fish, while the right fly in the right place can mean a fishing trip to remember. When choosing flies you not only need to know what kinds to get but how many to get. For example, if you are going out on a five-day river float and you will be casting tiny midges, count on losing a few just trying to tie the dang fly on. Or if you are using flies on a bigger, faster western river, you may land some in streamside trees. And then there are the lures that get away when fish break the line. If you are fishing hard, factor in losing a fly a day, at least. Keep extras of your favorites.
A fly is a small artificial lure made from hair, feathers, thread and other materials. It is designed to imitate an insect or other bait that a fish would naturally pursue. Once used primarily for cold water fishing such as trout, fly fishing has expanded to warm and salt water. Most flies have but one hook.
Flies come in a dizzying array of patterns. Some anglers will tie their own flies. Tying your own flies is a great activity during the colder times when the fish aren’t biting, and is considered part of the fly fishing experience. There is an art to it. Tying flies takes patience, but they are much cheaper than when purchased in the store. Whether you tie it or buy it, the fly you ultimately use depends on what type of fish you are trying to catch, when you are fishing, where you are fishing, and what type of fly fishing you want to do.
When fly fishing, the line provides the weight needed to cast your fly and is also used to make your retrieve or presentation. Most flies are too light to provide enough weight to throw. Try throwing a feather and see how far it goes. In contrast, when spin fishing your lure provides the mass and weight to allow you to cast the lure to the fish and therefore you have to use your reel to retrieve and present the lure.
These flies are called “dry” because they float on the surface of the water and are designed to imitate a floating insect. A very light hook is used to help it float. To keep the fly floating you may have to treat it or dry the fly between uses. A popper is another type of dry fly. It is made from cork, floats also, and is used to catch panfish and bass.
Wet flies are designed to imitate underwater bugs; therefore they do not float on water surface. Bigger wet flies can be made to imitate critters such as crawdads. It can be argued that more than imitating a particular insect a wet fly is designed to imitate the motion of an insect underwater, rather than a particular insect.
Streamers are larger flies and may be considered a subcategory of wet flies. Streamers, long and narrow, are created to imitate a minnow or injured baitfish. And as with other lures the larger flies are designed to catch the larger fish. Streamers sometimes have more than one hook, are often used to catch warm water species such as bass. When retrieving streamers you make the action erratic in order to imitate the actions of an injured fish.
Consider a nymph to be another type of wet fly. A nymph is an insect that is changing from its larval stage, coming out of its cocoon, and is particularly desirable, as it rises to the surface before hatching. Some nymphs will be weighted to keep them underwater. Bobbers — strike indicators — as they are known in the fly fishing world to distinguish them from the fishing-with-live-worms-from-the-bank-set, are used to help the angler know the fish is biting the nymph.
A terrestrial is what its name indicates — a bug born on the land that has accidentally gotten into the water, such as an ant, beetle or grasshopper. Terrestrials may be tied as dry or wet flies, and when cast will be made to land a little harder on the water — as a grasshopper would if mistakenly ended up in a stream instead of on the land.
Once fly fishermen get the “bug” they are among the most dedicated to their way of angling. Some call it an art, some call it a creed, others call it a way of life. Hopefully, you have gained a glimpse into the world of fly fishing.