Non-Technical Fly Fishing
[img2="left"]http://www.theflyfishingforum.com/photos/files/4/FlyFish1.jpg[/img2] NON-TECHNICAL FLY FISHING
BY Cliff Hilbert
Are you confused or intimidated by all the technical aspects of fly fishing? Do you think you can’t catch fish unless you know 15 different types of knots, 12 different types of casts, understand everything stream about entomology, tie your own beautiful flies, throw perfect 90’ casts every time, understand everything about leader and tippet size? Then this article is for you. I am probably one of the least technical fly fishers I know. I can tie about three different knots, have never taken casting lessons, I have never tied my own flies and I still think about leaders and tippets in pounds instead of X sizes. Yet I have 12 Texas State fly fishing records, over 150 lake fly fishing records, and people will tell you that I catch more fish than almost anyone they know. And I’ve never considered myself more than an average fly fisherman, surely not an expert and most definitely not technical.
Many years ago I was given an old fly rod of my uncle’s and I began to fly fish for perch in park lagoons in New Orleans, never knowing that your cast had to go from 10:00 – 2:00, mine was probably 8:00 – 4:00. I had no idea that fly fishers used anything other than store-bought popping bugs. I used straight monofilament for leaders, never having heard that you need a tapered leader to get your fly to turn over correctly. I probably used some knots that I learned in the Boy Scouts. But I still caught fish.
For most of my life I fly fished very little until about seven years ago when I bought my first good fly rod, a 9’ – 6/7-wt St. Croix Imperial – and, no, I didn’t read up on all the rods available, nor did I ask many people what they’d recommend. I simply went to the local fly shop, Backcountry in Tyler, and asked the fly shop manager, Jim Green, what he’d suggest for a good, all-around, medium-priced fly rod that I could use for bass and bream fishing. He suggested the one I bought, I still have it today and use it most of the time. I have since bought a 7’ – 3-wt. St Croix Imperial and an 8 ½’ – 4-wt St. Croix Avid. These are not extremely expensive, top-of-the-line rods. They are more expensive than the $25 Walmart rod I had before, but they’re not the $600+ rods that are available out there. I am extremely pleased with these rods and don’t think I’ll ever care to buy anything more expensive – these suit my needs. There are rods out there that cost less than mine that are great rods for the average fly fisher. You don’t need $200 rods to catch fish, and you don’t need to understand “fast action” or “slow action” rods, which ones “load” the best, which ones “shoot” the best – because I don’t.
At 59 years of age I still don’t tie my own flies and don’t want to as long as I have my sanity, lol. I buy most of my flies at the local fly shops ( I like to support those who give me the advice and service I need), a few from the internet, and have friends who have given me flies to try out. But the fly that I’ve caught the most bass on (including a 9# and 7.9#) is the venerable Peck’s #1 Popping Minnow, a big balsa-wood popper that’s been around for about as long as I have. Bass love them! I’ve also caught a lot of bass on clousers, wooly buggers, pistol petes, zonker-type flies and a variety of other flies I’ve picked up over the past few years. I don’t use poppers for bream, I use trout nymphs because bream feed mainly on insects under the water, and I catch more bream than anyone I know. I catch a lot of crappie on clousers and wooly buggers. I’ve even begun using soft plastics on my fly rod in heavy timber or heavy vegetation, they are the only things I’ve found that I can fly fish lily pads with. No they’re not flies, but so what, I catch fish with them. The first time I tried a soft plastic on my fly rod was last year and I caught a 5.5# bass on it. Who cares whether the purists like it or not, the fish do.
Six years ago I started trout fishing. I picked up a couple of books about the subject, asked a few questions at the fly shop, bought all the necessary equipment for wading, about twenty different flies and off to Mountain Home Arkansas I went to fish the White and Norfolk rivers. I even caught trout up there on my first trip, about 15 rainbows. I think I used a small wooly bugger most of the time. I’ve been back there 3-4 times a year since then and usually catch trout each time I go wading. My trout box probably has 200 flies in it now, and I could probably tell you what half of them are. How do I know which ones to use? I ask the local fly shops and the other fishers on the river what the trout are biting on at that time. I might also take a stream sample with a seine to see what’s in the river. Do I understand runs and pools, tailing ends, etc.? A little but not much, but I still catch a fair amount of trout - I’ve caught 40 or more trout per day on more than one occasion up there. I rarely use dry flies when trout fishing, 90% of the time I use nymphs under a strike indicator. That way you don’t have to be an expert to get a dead drift.
As far as knots go, I know three – a palomar knot, a clinch knot and a double surgeon’s knot. I have no idea what they are, or how to tie the other knots that a lot of fly fishers talk about. If forced to, I can tie a nail knot for tying the leader or mono to the flyline, but I much prefer the Orvis or Cortland braided loops that go on the end of the fly line. They last forever and are easy and fast to use. I HATE those little eyelet nails that you insert into the end of a fly line.
The only time I use tapered leaders is when I’m trout fishing. When warmwater fishing I only use straight monofilament on the end of my fly line, I never use tapered leaders for this purpose. When bass fishing I use 17# test mono, for bream fishing I use 5 – 8# tippet material because it is smaller in diameter and sinks faster than regular mono. The length of the mono will vary from 3’ – 9’, depending on what type of terrain I’m fishing. My casts get where I want them to and my flies seem to turn over just fine without tapered leaders.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never taken casting lessons. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips which have helped me cast better, but I’m sure that if a casting instructor saw my style that he would keel over from a heart attack or just throw up his hands in dismay. But the fish don’t rate us on casting ability or style, and I’m not out there to impress anyone other than the fish. The fish could care less whether I have a tight and perfect loop or not. They don’t care than I don’t know how to throw a curve cast, a parachute cast, single haul or double haul, or any of the myriad of casts that experts throw. I do virtually no false casting, it is unnecessary usually. All the fish care about is that you put something that’ll fool them somewhere near them so they can eat it if they want it. I couldn’t cast a fly 90’ to save my life, 95% of my casts are only 20’ – 40’. The only time I practice casting is when I’m out on the water fishing.
The line I use 95% of the time is a Scientific Anglers Mastery Series GPX Weight-Forward Floating Line. That’s what works the best for me. For basic fly fishing that’s all you need. I have a full-sinking line that I use on occasion, but that’s only when I want to fish 8’ or deeper. I couldn’t tell you how long the tapers are on my lines, how big the bellies are, how long the lines are, etc. I can cast them and catch fish with them, that’s all that matters to me.
It is my opinion that there are two main types of fly fishers. There are those who are in love with the art of fly fishing – they love the beauty of the perfect cast, they love the tricks you can do with the line when you really get good at casting, they love to make 100’ casts lay out just perfectly, they know all about the different types of rods and reels out there and what the technical aspects of each are, they know all the knots, all about leaders and tippets, all about stream entomology, probably tie their own flies - they enjoy these parts of fly fishing, and that’s great. Then there are the others, like me, who love to fish and consider fly fishing to be a very enjoyable part of the sport of fishing, but are not interested in all the technical aspects of fly fishing, they’re mainly interested in catching fish There are probably others who fall somewhere in between. Which way is the best? Whichever way you’re most comfortable with and makes you happiest. Find where your interests are, go out and enjoy yourself and quit worrying about all the technical aspects of the sport and what the experts and purists think. You don’t have to please them, you only have to please the fish.