I keep trying but it seems like no matter how hard I try some folks are just not able to comprehend my addiction. And to be honest, even though I can click off half a dozen reasons why fly fishing is special, I have a suspicion that it cannot really be explained. You either get it or you don’t. I think it might be encoded in the genes.
But seriously… where do you start?
With the casting? It is more difficult than conventional casting. We all know that, and we all know casting is a real part of the allure. I often tell my students that fly casting is much like throwing darts or hand gunning paper targets. There is a certain satisfaction in putting something where you want it to go. I explain that the challenge of fly casting can make even a fishless outing rewarding if you made some advances in your skill or produced some really difficult casts during the day.
BTW… is it only a southern US thing, or do y’all sometimes get the “fairy wand” response? The implication being that fly fishing is somehow effeminate. I get a lot of, “Will I have to grow a pony tail too?” I have an answer for those folks too manly to try it, but we’ll save that for near the end.
Fly fishing is complicated, again, at least compared to a lot of conventional fishing. There are knots, and leaders, and lines, and rods, and we’ll not even mention entomology because it is a non-topic for me where I live. Some people do not think complication is a positive thing, but we know it is, and again, those that get it, get it.
Fly fishing is busy. It is definitely, if not the most, one of the most active forms of fishing. We are talking completely on the other end of the spectrum from watching a bobber over a doughball or trolled baits getting washed out behind a droning offshore boat. True, it does not allow much time for tipping back the flask, but there is always time for that after the day is done.
Productivity. That can go either way. Where I fish, flyfishing is definitely not the way to put the most fish in the cooler. For most saltwater species live bait is the way to slay ‘em. The funny thing is, the reason I was introduced to fly fishing at a very young age was because it was the best way to fill a stringer with Bluegills. My father was an avid fish eater. We fished all kinds of ways, and always the most efficient way. Back then you were allowed 50 Bluegills per person, even if that person was 5 years old, and a white foam spider on a flyrod was the fastest way to do it.
Fly fishing is the next step, the bigger challenge for those who feel they have caught enough fish an easier way. At some point in most anglers’ journey, they progress through the steps of catch a fish / catch a lot of fish / catch a big fish/ catch a lot of big fish. Now, they want something else, something more.
Fly tying is one of the things I leave toward the end. Usually, when you mention that every one of the flies they see in the fly shop were made by hand you get to see a quizzical look wash over their face. Then, when you explain that the vast majority of avid fly anglers make their own flies, you might see a light go off somewhere deep in their mind. This is not just a way to fish, this is a lifestyle. This is a hobby that is equally pursued at home during the off water hours. Oh, and how cool is it to fool a fish on something you created yourself?
Staying off the water, we can then go back to casting, or at least the practicing of casting. And, not just the mastering of the challenge, but the delightful Zen-like feeling that comes from gracefully unrolling long strings through the air for no other reason than to think about nothing else and relax with some gentle physical exercise.
If they are still with you, at this point you can start to get more to the sensory part, which for me is the most important. It is all about feel. You feel the rod load and the line shoot. You feel the fish eat. “The tug is the drug!” You feel the surge of the fish when it realizes its mistake. And, if you are lucky, you feel the cold dense musculature of the vanquished gaping quarry. Then, if you look into its eyes when you scold it, you will feel its confusion, and then its appreciation when you let it swim away.
And you know what, to those that imply there is something less manly about fly fishing, I point out that it is just the opposite. Catching a fish on a fly rod is like hand-to-hand combat. There are no multiplying gears in a fly reel. If you want an inch of line you have to earn that inch, and if the fish wants that inch, you make them earn it. For much of the fishing I do, neither is the rod of much use during the fight. Its job is to help deliver the fly. Once the fight is on, I am pretty much hand-lining the fish with the help of a fancy winch with a smooth drag, but even with that, most of the time it is my fingers and hands that meter out line. And, no disrespect, but down here we don’t use nets. At the end, you grab that fish by its face with your hands and hang on. Baby, it ain’t over till its over!
Well, I’m sure I left some things out, but that’s off my head. I think maybe one in 20 folks that get that summary seem to get it. Usually, that talk doesn’t come until after the class and those that will evolve are already hooked anyway. It's in the genes.
What did I leave out?