Neil Travis - June 02, 2014

Frequently we get questions from people that find FAOL on the Internet. They either indicate that they found our site through some search engine or I can tell by the way they form the question that they are not regular readers. The writer will often begin their question with a statement like; "I have never been fly fishing," or "I've been fly fishing a few times." Then they want me to tell them, in fifty words or less, what type of rod to buy, what length of leader to use, etc., etc., etc. It always proves a challenge to provide an answer to those types of questions, and basically there are no easy answers.

Fly fishing, beyond the barebones basics of making a successful forward cast without wrapping the line around your head, is a multifaceted sport that is not easily explained in fifty words or less. The fact that many of us have book shelves that are groaning under the weight of an ever increasing load of books about fly fishing is amply proof of that fact. From Dame Julian

Years ago, when JC and I were giving fly casting lessons, part of our mantra was that fly fishing was as easy or complex as you wanted to make it. Over the intervening years that statement continues to ring true, unfortunately the truth of that statement is often lost on many people that set out to take up the sport of angling with a fly rod.

Basic fly casting is relatively easy to master by anyone with a modicum of eye hand coordination. I never met anyone that could not make a reasonable cast with a bit of instruction, however I certainly have encountered people that were never going to qualify for a master casting certificate. Could these people go out and fish with a fly rod? Certainly, but their casting skills would certainly limit them to the type of fly fishing that they could expect to accomplish successfully. That's because the basics are easy, refining those basics requires a degree of dedication, practice and skill that they did not possess.

Recently I had an email from an individual that wanted some advice about fishing with flies in salt water. He was planning a trip with his son to an area in Florida. He indicated that his only real experience using a fly rod consisted of some casting lessons that he had in a parking lot. He had already researched the price of hiring a guide and indicated that was out of his price range. He was willing to admit that this might prove to be overly ambitious and that an alternative plan might be in order. I suggested that he take his son to Florida, find a bait and tackle shop, get a spinning or bait casting outfit, and ask them where they might go and catch some fish.

We live in an age of instant gratification. We want what we want and we want it now. Fly fishing, beyond the basics, consists of a series of increasingly steep learning curves that take time and determination to master. I have spent nearly 50 years fly fishing and I am a reasonably competent spring creek trout angler. However, I would be completely out of my league if I was shipped off to some exotic salt water destination and given a salt water fly rod with a large salt water fly pattern attached to the leader. I have never fished in the salt and it has been several years since I have fished with large flies of any kind. In short, I have not devoted the time and determination necessary to be competent fishing with this type of equipment.
The recent interest in Tenkara-style fly fishing demonstrates that desire for something that is easy to use and that has the potential of producing instant results will create a following. The equipment is simple; a collapsible rod, a length of line attached to the tip, and a fly. You can't get much more basic than that, and, like the cane pole that many of us used in our youth, under the proper conditions it is all you need to catch fish. However, like the cane pole with the line attached to the tip, it has its limitations. Most of us graduated to rods with guides and reels which proved more challenging to use but increased our range of angling options.

In addition, many of us discovered that catching fish was just one facet of the fly fishing experience. Part of the attraction for many anglers is the self-imposed difficulties that accompany more challenging angling venues. As a spring creek angler I enjoy the challenges of using small flies, mastering tricky currents, using light weight rods, light tippets and catching wild trout in beautiful places. The satisfaction of delivering my fly to a wild trout using a reach cast and several quick mends which results in a drag free float that is accepted by my target is pure delight to me. That outcome is the result of hours spent observing, casting, failing and trying again and again until I had perfected the technique necessary to produce consistent results.

Is fly fishing easy? Yes and no. You can use a Tenkara outfit and catch some fish. You can master the basics of fly casting with a conventional fly rod outfit and catch some fish. However, if you aspire to achieving more than just "catching fish" with a fly then fishing with a fly will require more effort. At first that may be hard, but with time and practice it will become easy and then it will become fun and the source of great enjoyment and satisfaction.

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