Anglers choose fly fishing for different reasons, but most commonly, it is the challenge, effectiveness, or the breathtaking locations that draw people into the sport. Pursuing fish on the fly fuels passion for anglers who live, breathe, and bleed for the technique. Over time some of these passionate anglers became household names within the fly fishing community by developing the tactics & products we use today. Rods, lines, flies, and casting methods have passed through years of innovation & technology but evolved from crude examples.
One of the first recordings of fly fishing derived from the 2nd-century Roman angler Claudius Aelianus. The mention of wool, feathers, and a hook cataloged in his writings are essential elements of fly creation today. On account of the angler, he spoke “They have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft . . . They fasten red wool . . . round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length.”
“Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the color, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive.” While this may be true that Aelianus was first to mention fly fishing, on the other hand, it is contradicted by William Radcliff. In his book Fishing from the Earliest Times (1921), he gave credit to Marcus Valerius Martialis, born some two hundred years before Aelianus, who wrote: “Who has not seen the scarus rise, decoyed and killed by fraudful flies.”
With attention to later years and further development, what we use today, originated in the 18th century. In this period, rods became jointed, some constructed with bamboo and equipped with rings which assisted distance when casting. A noteworthy angler to mention is Charles F. Orvis, who set the American Fly Fishing Reel design benchmark by developing the first modern fly fishing reel. Given these points, a more in-depth look into the history of fly fishing is available at the American Museum of Fly Fishing and is an excellent resource for learning more about the sport.
Now that the history of fly fishing has been covered, it is important to describe our current equipment examples. First, let’s speak of the rod & reel. A typical single-hand fly fishing rod is 9 feet in length, and the rod will have a reel attached, similar to the size of a coffee table drink coaster. Second, there are a series of lines coiled inside your reel that eventually lead out to your fly being tied to the end.
FLY LINE SETUP
In the sequence below the lines and fly are passed though your reel and rod:
Backing – Dacron or Gelspun
Running Line – Integrated with fly line or attached separately if utilizing Spey techniques with separate heads
Fly Line – Floating, Sinking or Intermediate
Leader/Sink Tip – Tapered Monofilament or Polyleader
Tippet – Monofilament or Fluorocarbon
Fly – Dry Fly (Floating), Wet Fly (Subsurface)
FLY LINE & ROD WEIGHTS
The fly rod and line weights are dependant on the size of fish targeted and range from one to fifteen. Above all, to grasp a better understanding of the use of rod and line weights remember this; the larger the fish, the higher the rod & line weight.
Small Trout (6 – 12 inch) 1 – 3wt
Medium Trout (12 – 22 inch) 3 -5wt
Large Trout (22 – 30+ inch) & Small Steelhead (4 – 8 pounds) & Salmon (4 – 10 pounds) 5 – 7wt
Medium Steelhead (8 – 17 pounds) & Salmon (10 – 25 pounds) 7 – 8wt
Large Steelhead (17 – 25+ pounds) & Salmon (25 – 45+ pounds) 7wt – 9wt
Small – Medium Golden Dorado (6 – 22 pounds) 7 – 9wt
Medium – Large Golden Dorado (22 – 50+ pounds) 9 – 10wt
Small – Medium Tarpon (40 – 80 pounds) 8wt – 11wt
Medium – Large Tarpon – (80 – 200 pounds) 11wt – 12wt
Billfish 12 – 15wt
"10 & 2"
Before venturing into the water, most importantly is to attain a basic understanding of the single-hand cast. To illustrate and assist with the learning of the single-hand casting stroke, visualize yourself casting from the side, facing your dominant shoulder. From this side angle viewing perspective, envision the rod as the minute hand on a clock. The 12 o’clock position is the rod pointing directly up in the air parallel with your body. The 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions following the previous example are vital to comprehending single-hand casting techniques.
CASTING: PART 1
To begin, pull a few feet of your fly line off the reel. When completed, there should be between 12 – 20 feet of total line from the rod tip to fly, including leader and tippet. The roll cast is your first step to begin casting, which, as a result, adequately places the fly line in front of you. To accomplish this, lift the rod tip gently towards your back until reaching the 2 o’clock position near the stroke’s apex. As you enter this position, accelerate the rod tip forward until reaching the 10 o’clock position in front of you. When the 10 o’clock position is achieved, allow your rod tip to follow the rolling loop of fly line toward the water as it turns over. As mentioned earlier, this gently lays your fly line out.
CASTING: PART 2
With the line now in front of you, break fly line water contact and swiftly swing the rod tip behind you to the 2 o’clock position. Turn your head and watch the rod tip as the line follows your casting stroke behind you. When the line has straightened out, pull the fly line through the air and place it in front of you. At this point, stop the rod tip at the 10 o’clock position, but do not allow the line to come in contact with the water. After that, bring the rod back to the 2 o’clock position. Repeating this sequence refers to a false cast, which enables a smooth back and forth casting stroke of the rod, while simultaneously giving you a “10 & 2” rhythm.
CASTING: PART 3
With attention to reducing rod height after the cast forward, let the rod match the line speed fall rate and do this after abruptly stopping it at the 10 o’clock position. Once the desired target of your fly is chosen, lay the fly on the water.
SURFACE FLY FISHING
Watching fish take a fly on the surface is one of the most enjoyable sequences in fly fishing. The disturbance created by your presentation make fish rise, and the type of fly used can make a significant difference in the aggressiveness of the strike. Dry flies, poppers, or skaters are visually satisfying to watch as the attack takes place. Some fish species are more apt to take a fly on the surface, and some anglers target these fish solely for this reason. In short detail, each surface fly fishing technique is discussed below.
This fly fishing technique is popular among trout anglers who utilize flies resembling flying insects that have fallen onto the surface of the water. Both single-hand and double-hand (Spey) rods allow productive dry fly fishing, although most applications call for a single-hander. Typically dry flies ride have no action to them unless intentionally twitched. Simply riding the surface after the fall onto the water with an on-target cast in most situations, results in a strike. The slightest abnormal movement of your fly from improper mending of the fly line can spook fish.
Equally important for this situation is to perform a reach cast correctly, it is critical to your dry fly fishing success. After placing the fly on the water, you must recognize how the fish eat. Some fish rise to eat the fly by having their mouth come out of the water while others suck the fly under the surface. Pay close attention to the subtle difference between takes to ensure a swift reaction to fish taking your fly.
By comparison to the gentle fall of a dry fly, significant surface disturbances can entice sizeable predatory fish to strike. A popper fly is ideal for this situation. The reverse facing cone on the head of a popper, scoops water off the surface, producing spray ahead of the fly when stripped towards you. Simultaneously, a bubbled pocket of air trails your fly, creating a sound that attracts fish. For example, the noise generated by a popper with every strip of the fly line resembles a tiny rock being dropped into the water. Due to the sound and surface disturbance, popper fishing is popular among anglers fishing for Golden Dorado & Bass.
To conclude our examples of surface flies, we must mention skaters. When envisioning what a skater looks like on the surface, picture the fly parting the water’s surface identical to how a boat would. This trail of displaced water seen from below allows fish to track your fly as it moves in a lateral pattern. With the speed that a skated fly moves, the surface strikes are aggressive! After this, in some situations, an exhilarating aerial display occurs when a fish hooks itself, or if the angler sets the hook immediately follows the rise.
Anglers often experience these acrobatics when targeting Steelhead, Sea Run Browns, or Atlantic Salmon, and for this reason, it draws fly fishers to choose a skated fly. Fish are taken on, both double-hand (Spey) and single-hand rods when fishing skaters. Correspondingly, the choice of rod is dependant on casting room, fish size, and distance of the cast required to present your fly correctly.
SUBSURFACE FLY FISHING
Even if topwater is your game, you will undoubtedly miss most of the action without an understanding of what takes place below. The strikes below the water’s surface are viewed only with the anglers’ imagination, as you cannot see a fish commit to your fly. With this in mind, you have to feel your fly line tighten. After a fish brings the line under tension, head shakes typically immediately follow. At this time, there is more than enough excitement for any fly fisher to enjoy the fight, no matter how it happened.
In addition to enjoying the strike below, it happens with more regularity because all fish eat beneath the surface. For that reason, subsurface fly fishing is far more effective than fishing on the surface. It is also important to note that some subsurface fly fishing techniques do not easily indicate the fly been taken. For instance, a subtle twitch of your rod may be the only signal, or a fish could swim towards you, creating slackline. Under either circumstance, a strike can be missed entirely. Only recognizing that a fish is on after the line becomes tight, gives little time for reaction. In these situations, rods and reels can be ripped from an anglers’ hand if a firm grip is not applied. To transition into acquiring more knowledge of each subsurface fly fishing technique and its applications, please continue reading.
The first subsurface technique we will discuss is Nymphing. This term originates from suspending your presentation underwater, with or without a floatation aid. Nymphing fly choices consist of many variations, but the most common resemble subaquatic insect larvae, including mayflies, caddises, and stoneflies. These flies also include invertebrates such as scuds, worms, snails, and leeches. Suspending beads mimicking fish eggs are also an excellent choice, but before fishing beads, check regulations. To explain, what you are trying to achieve with any fly choice is naturally flowing movement. This presentation, along with the undetected angler nymphing properly, entices fish to strike.
Now that nymphing basics are covered, the effectiveness of fishing with and without an indicator must be mentioned. The advantage of fishing without an indicator is the facilitation of a better understanding of water flow, structure, and strikes. This knowledge is essential for experienced angler evolution. Fly fishing with an indicator is beneficial for the new fly fisher and assists in recognizing strikes. In some situations, fly suspension with a float, and additional weight is required for all anglers, no matter the experience level. In conclusion, fishing with an indicator assists with catching fish and becoming a proficient nymphing fly fisher. However, nymphing without an indicator enables you to learn more through feel and become an expert.
Developed in Europe, Czechoslovakian “Czech” anglers perfected this advanced nymphing technique, which uses no floating indicator for fish that would not rise to a dry fly. The critical component that allows Euro Nymphing to be so successful is a clear understanding of where the bottom is at all times of the drift. This knowledge facilitates an angler placing flies at a specific place in the water column, regardless of the structural change in depth.
To begin Euro Nymphing properly most importantly is to maintain a tight line to heavily weighted nymphs, feeling, or “Check/Czech(ing)” for bottom contact every few feet or inches of the drift. Achieving this requires an intricate fly line, leader, and tippet construction typically consisting of two flies completing the setup.
To explain, below your fly line attached to your leader is a bright-colored section of monofilament. This line changes color every few feet, assisting with gauging exact water depth and is referred to as the “sighter.” It is fished above the surface, replacing floating indicators. When sighter movement is unnatural or if a line stop occurs, a hookset should follow, as this is an indication of a strike.
To say nothing of baitfish or other small aquatic predators such as leeches or lamprey, we would unquestionably ignore aggressive feeding and defensive strikes from larger fish. Streamer flies resemble these small creatures and are used to evoke these responses. Fishing streamers correctly is done by stripping line towards you or allowing it to swing laterally after the cast. When the fly lands, swings or comes towards you, this activates a predatory or defensive response from fish. Baitfish streamers trigger the feeding response to chase and eat, whereas the leech or lamprey streamer engages the protection/defense response, to chase away or kill.
Given that both hunger and anger will move fish, it is vital to locate a species of fish that responds well to both. As a result, this will consistently move fish to your fly when one response does not produce a bite. Take note that anglers cannot make fish hungry, but fish will always react if provoked out of anger, you just have to do the correct thing to push their button. Fishing streamers also works well to find larger fish after the big meal, or the king and queen defending the castle. If you are committed to understanding feeding patterns and timing of the spawn, fishing streamers can become your top choice for fishing techniques.
Lastly, covering the water effectively, ensures all fish see your fly and is critical for all techniques. Swinging a fly in a river, stream, lake, or ocean current is the most effective technique for systematically covering the water in a grid pattern on the surface and at different depths. Typically swinging occurs in rivers or streams, with single hand rods, but when casting distance is required, double-hand (Spey) rods are the most effective tool.
Now that the “why?” has been covered, it is important to discuss “how?” When swinging your fly, begin by casting across the current at a 45° or 90° angle. Either cast will determine the speed your fly travels laterally from the casting target to the “hang down” directly below you. Fly speed is also dependant on the mend placed after the fly and line contact the water.
Another key point to note is that, as you strip in line to perform another cast, expect a strike. This action engages the streamer response from fish that have been following your fly. In this situation, fish will commit due to the change in speed. To conclude, if you are not capable of initially reaching the opposing edge of the current, relocate to a new position. One cast can make all the difference, and fishable water should never be left uncovered.
Fly fishers have virtually unlimited options available to various destinations around the world. These seemingly endless possibilities to target fish with a fly are continually growing, with anglers searching out new locations every day. Most importantly, for these trips is selecting the proper equipment and flies. To enable choosing correctly, all water types and a few fish inhabiting those environments must be discussed
To begin with water types, we start from the mountains and eventually move to the oceans. Streams are small flowing freshwater sources, originating from mountain rain or snowmelt. These small water sources flow directly into lakes, rivers, or the ocean, but most are found as a rivers’ water source. They include small to medium-sized fish and trout fishing with dry flies & nymphs is popular among fly fishers. Rods weights from one to seven work well even if the stream offers fish larger than the average size. Due to the size of the water fished, you will not need a rod and line weight above seven.
Next to mention are rivers, which are a favorite among anglers in the Pacific Northwest. These generally large flowing sources of freshwater flow to a lake or the sea and can be immense, supporting huge fish, with record weights close to 650 pounds. Salmon & Steelhead are smaller examples of large river fish, and both are of the anadromous species, living in both fresh and saltwater. All fly fishing techniques, including double-hand rods, have practical applications for use in rivers. Three to twelve weight rods satisfy most angler requirements, and the weight should be chosen by paying close attention to river size and fish size as well as water speed.
Thirdly, on our list of fly fishing water is lakes. Rainwater, streams, or rivers fill them, and these sizeable bodies of freshwater are surrounded by land. Some lakes pour into a lower section of a river that eventually empties into the ocean. Lakes host several different species and can be stocked regularly or have fish introduced, which naturally spawn after introduction to control populations. For example, Jurrasic Lake in Southern Patagonia is an excellent representation of successfully introducing fish into a lake. A few years after the introduction of Rainbow Trout brought in from Montana, this location morphed into the world’s #1 destination for trout fishing with fish well over 20 pounds. In this fishery as well as other lakes, fishing streamers, nymphs, and dry flies are the top choices for flies, and three to nine weights cover rod selection.
Lastly, the vast expanse of saltwater, covering 70 percent of the earth refers to our ocean. This body of water is divided geographically into five sections. Two of these, the Pacific and Atlantic, are divided again into North and South sections, creating a total of seven seas. The saltwater offers the most abundant fish population and the largest size of fish. Within this predator dominated environment, streamers and other flies resembling crustaceans work well for anglers. With the size and strength of fish at the highest level, a stout rod is required that also casts well into the wind. Rod weights varying from six to twelve are standard, with some fisheries requiring up to a fifteen weight if targeting billfish.
To end the summary of single-hand fly fishing, remember this if you are new to the sport. Fly fishing is a process that takes time and dedication to master. We welcome you to an endless journey of learning and excitement that will connect you with nature. The passion for fly fishing has drawn attention from anglers worldwide on almost every continent. Also, at any stage in life fly fishing can become an intricate part of your lifestyle. It can be a pastime, hobby, or career for some. Fishing, no matter the lure or fly delivery system, brings people together from all walks of life regardless of nationality or citizenship.
In conclusion, and most importantly, for all techniques discussed is to gather a proper understanding of reading water and fish-holding patterns. To assist with the learning curve, hiring a guide is a great option to boost your chances. There is no substitute for time on the water! At Fly Gyde, our partners and we have spent countless days chasing our passion and work hard to deliver you the result of those efforts. We look forward to guiding you in the breathtaking landscapes where these moments take place!