Growing up, flyfishing was something that I found only in the pages of a Hemingway novel. Then I moved to the Ozarks, where trout is king, and on opening day thousands of people crowd the banks downstream from the hatcheries. Many of these anglers opt to flyfish for the brook trout present, and they do quite well.

Fly fishing is a method of fishing that involves presenting a lightweight artificial bait (the fly), often resembling an insect or invertebrate, on top of or just below the water. The goal is to present the fly in a realistic manner to tempt a fish into biting. 

What is the difference between fly fishing and regular fishing?

When fishing with a spinning reel, the weight of the lure provides the momentum needed to pull the line off the reel for the cast. The lure is then pulled back past a fish at depth, or live bait is suspended in the water, and fish find it.

The opposite is true with fly fishing. Since the fly has no real weight of its own, the mass of the line is used to create the momentum needed to carry the fly out to the target area. And, unlike the plop of a plug or weight hook hitting the water, the goal is to deftly land the fly on the surface like it was a real bug just landing there.

What kind of line do I use?

The line used in flyfishing is different from regular fishing as well. Instead of a spool full of a single diameter line, the fly fisherman’s reel holds a tippet, leader, fly line, and backing. The backing is a large diameter floating line that fills the space on the spool, both to give you a faster retrieve and to provide some room to work in case you hook the fish of a lifetime. The fly line is a smaller diameter line, typically also floating, designed for casting a fly.

The leader and tippet attach to the line and provide a nearly invisible connection to the fly. Usually made from nylon, the strength of the leader and tippet determine how hard a fish can be fought without it breaking the line. Some leaders have a tapered diameter so that they can function as both leader and tippet.

The tippet itself is a monofilament line, smaller in diameter than the end of the leader. By using a tippet the fisherman can create an even less visible connection between the line and the fly than the leader allows. An added benefit to using a tippet is that you will not have to cut taper from the leader to change flies.

Is fly fishing harder than regular fishing?

Fly fishing can be harder than regular fishing. It offers the opportunity to challenge yourself by learning a new skill, like the many different casting techniques available for specific situations, such as the “Spey Cast” which can be used when fishing in large rivers. It forces you to hone a sharper eye for evaluating river conditions and currents.

In clear streams, flyfishing can require a spot-and-stalk method of pursuing the fish, giving a hunting feel to it. The timing can be a bit frustrating as well. Dusk and early morning are the best times to fly fish. That is when the bugs are active on the surface, and the trout are rising to feed on them.

But, knowing the days when the bugs hatch and will be present can sometimes be a guessing game. You can add another layer of skill and enjoyment to the sport by tying your own flies, not to mention the sense of satisfaction from catching fish on a lure you made yourself!

Do you catch more fish fly fishing?

Whether or not you catch more fish with a fly rod can be a matter of opinion. It depends on the skill of the angler, the quarry, and how picky the fish are that day. There does seem to be an online consensus that fly fishing is the most productive method for catching trout, and the number of anglers using flyrods at the trout park appears to confirm this.

Fly fishing is a decent bet for other species too. Dad once told me his best rig for catching bluegills was a flyrod with an imitation spider “fly” (though the last time he had used it I was a small child). The advantage to fly fishing is that you can see what the fish are rising to eat, and then match your lure to it.

Why do fly fishermen stand in the water?

Fly fishermen stand out in the water because flyrods cannot cast as far as a spinning or baitcasting rod. They need to get closer to where the fish are or might be.

Wading out into the river also provides the fisherman more room to cast without fear of getting their line hung up in a tree and also allows some flexibility in drifting flies with the current. Wading a shallow river or stream gives the angler freedom of maneuverability in searching for sections of water that may hold fish. Brush-choked banks are much harder to walk than open streambeds.

What fish can you catch with fly fishing?

You can catch nearly any fish on a fly. The difficulty of fly fishing comes in matching the equipment, cast, and fly to the situation and fish present. Some fish may require a deftly presented fly on the surface (a “dry” fly), while others will desire a nymph or streamer traveling slightly subsurface.

The larger and heavier a fish, the larger and heavier the line, reel, and leader/tippet need to be. If the leader is too light, a large fish may have to be played to exhaustion to avoid breaking the line. Use a stout enough leader to allow the landing of the fish in an ethical timeframe. 

Can you fly fish in the ocean?

If you prefer to go big or go home, then saltwater fly fishing may be your thing. The equipment can be oversize and expensive; reels and hooks will need to be made from stainless steel. A saltwater fly reel for tarpon or marlin may need to hold over 500 yards of backing and line to accommodate the long runs of these large fish.

The smaller ocean fish like bonefish and redfish are pursued in the shallows from flat-bottom boats or by wading. Ocean fish are notoriously warier than their freshwater cousins, requiring greater skill and patience to approach and entice.

Conclusion

So, as we have seen, fly fishing is an entirely different way to fish than most anglers are used to. It is a challenge that brings a sense of satisfaction and may also be a way to increase your catch rate.

Fly fishing forces you to develop a deeper relationship with the water you fish, to be more attentive to the currents and your surroundings. It is both an art and skill, one my wife refers to as “poetry on the water”. While I do not have quite that visceral of a response, I think that the next fishing pole I buy will be a fly rod.

Brandon Tanis