Here and There – by Dominique Liboiron
Mystique, aura, veil of secrecy. What is it about fly fishing? No one can say exactly, but the sport casts a spell over those who don’t take part in it. A different, although equally powerful spell, is cast over those who do.
Next time you see a fly fisher, listen to the adults around you. Parents will whisper to their children in an enthusiastic voice you’d expect from the kids, “Look! He’s fly fishing.”
After what seemed like a tortuous wait, fishing season opened May 5. If you fish, I’m sure that during the off-season you were planning trips to your favourite stretches of water. When you’re there, pay attention to the way some people react to a person fly fishing.
I’m not sure how or when this mystique developed. I find it interesting though because the goal of fishing with a fly rod or a spinning rod is exactly the same, to catch fish. Yet, spinner fishing isn’t as mysterious. Does that mean fly fishing’s aura is related to the technique and equipment? Perhaps, but there’s something more.
Speaking of equipment, one important difference between the rods is what they cast. A spinning rod casts a hook. A fly rod doesn’t. It casts a line.
You can’t cast a fly hook anymore than you can throw a feather or a piece of string, which is often, but not exclusively, what are tied around a hook to make it look like food. The flies can be very small, as in half the size of the Bluenose on a dime. That’s why fly fishers cast thick, heavy line and the almost weightless fly just goes along for the ride.
The main advantage with spinner fishing is that it engages the fish’s five senses, especially when casting bait, and that makes them more likely to strike. When fly fishing, you can’t make the flies taste real or feel real in a fish’s mouth, but you can present a fly that looks and moves almost exactly like what they’re accustomed to eating.
That being said, there are no laws preventing fly fishers from using hooks with either live or artificial bait. In fact, a fly rod transmits more sensation to the angler so the fight would be more intense than with a spin rod. However, there are a lot of fly fishing purists who would feel they’re violating the sport’s spirit if they used bait on a fly rod.
So if fly fishing isn’t as productive, why bother? Some people enjoy the exhilaration of catching a fish and to do that with a fly rod you need to have a plan, a strategy. So in other words, the challenge is the reward. Learning more about nature and the fish’s environment and then using that information to land a big fish is also part of the sport’s appeal. In low, clear water where the fish might scare easily fly fishing really shines.
This is a simplification, but there are two kinds of flies, dry and wet. A dry fly is meant to sit on the surface, but can be used underwater to imitate a drowned insect. Because fish feel more vulnerable at the surface where predators can attack them they only do about 10 per cent of their feeding there. This means they tend to be picky. If you cast a dry fly in a sloppy manner they might hesitate and not risk surfacing to eat it.
Typically, a selection of dry flies could include patterns that look like specific insects. Some patterns look like no insect in nature, but could be real as far as hungry trout are concerned. Patterns known as terrestrials resemble ants or beetles. The fish think these terrestrials have fallen in the water, as could be the case along the bank or under a tree lying across a river. Believe it or not, pike and brown trout will even strike patterns that look like mice.
Presenting dry flies demands excellent casting and the ability to make the fly look and act real. For some anglers, the presentation and technical aspects of the sport are the source of pleasure even though they might not catch as many fish. Not to say that some great fish haven’t been caught with dry flies, it’s just harder to do. Others love the rush of seeing the fish clear the water to gobble the dry fly.
Wet flies are used to entice fish where they do the other 90 per cent of their eating. They are more comfortable eating below the waves and feel more secure so they will forgive a less-than-perfect presentation. You won’t see these fish feeding at the surface so the object of the game is to deduce where they’re hiding and what they’re eating. Wet flies imitate worms, insects, crustaceans, snails (you’d be surprised how many snails some fish eat) leeches, fish eggs and minnows.
To successfully and consistently catch fish on the fly, an angler needs to know about such things as fish behaviour, insect behaviour, the dynamics of water, the influence of weather as well as of the sun and moon along with the seasons. The angler then needs to put all this information together and make it work to his advantage. There is no mystery once you understand these elements and the reality is that anyone can learn to fly fish. It just takes patience, practice and dedication.
As for fly fishing’s mystique, I think it comes from the illusion of knowledge.
That is to say there’s a distinction made between those who have it and those who don’t. I think the fancy equipment and the evasive, guarded or even snobbish attitude of some fly fishers contributes to this illusion as well. Snobbery also hurts the sport’s image, but that’s another subject for another time.
For now, I’ll wish all of you good luck this season no matter what type of fishing you enjoy. Tight lines!
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