Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Lie of Fly

Fly fishing conjures up visions of retirement, sunset, big sky, mountains. It is worth $1000 a day. A custom-made bamboo rod and reel can set one back more than a bass boat. Match the hatch; tie on a fly no bigger than a nose hair. Well, it turns out that fly fishing just isn’t so different after all.

First, most “flies” are not the dry fly, floating pieces of lint you think. Much of a tackle vest contains wet flies (flies with a copper bead on the head, to make them sink), nymphs, and streamers – all of which appeal to bottom-feeding. If they want that dry fly wet, they are not above biting on a split-shot or two. That matchthehatch stuff? Over half of fish caught hit “terrestrials” – ants, bees, wasps, crickets, and similar non-aquatic creatures, including the fiercesome Wooly Bugger.

Next, there is a Play-Doh-like item called an “indicator”, but which normal folk would call a fluorescent bobber, to indicate a strike. What other fishermen might call cheating – or even illegal – is a step beyond the classic trailer hook; a fly fisherman might actually link a sinking lure beyond a floating lure – like a trot line.

Fly fishermen don’t just have line. They have backing, line, leader, and tippet. Tippet is like leader except it is really, really thin and impossible to see to thread through a #22 hook. (You could probably thread the whole fly through the eye of a 3/0 hook). Backing is nothing more than backup line. Line and backing are much thicker, like packing string, only fluorescent orange and green. No doubt to fool the fish. The leader is usually the length of the rod or 8’ and is used to practice knot-tying. A typical fly rod might have 4-5 different knots on it, at least one of which won’t work. Tippet may be another 6’. That is approximately 15’ of nearly invisible, unmanageable line, creating what baitcast fishermen call a birds nest – or rather spider web, with you all tangled up in a cast that caught on the tree.

Since most fly rods average 8’ or so, they are not much use in brush or along a bank. Fly fishermen will then just let the tippet float out and basically pole fish, like one does at the kiddy pond at a fishing show. If there is a little more room, a fly fisherman might try a Roll Cast, which is the same as the circus lion tamer’s whip. Up and snap. Other casts are the Back Cast for “loading” the rod, a False Cast, for when your aim wasn’t good enough the first time, and then the classic Double Hauling while you’re thumbing and frailing on the Back & False Cast.

One key difference with fly fishing is that they get skunked more often than other types of fishermen or, on a good day, end up with what we might call catching bait.

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