I recently posed this question on Angler’s Covey Facebook page: “What aspect of fly fishing presents the greatest learning curve for newcomers? What is the element a beginner has to “get” before frustration sets in?” Twenty-one folks responded and their answers clustered in to some tidy categories.
Where are the fish and what are they eating? Finding fish and understanding what they are feeding on was identified as two of the challenges for a successful day on the river. Reading the river to find fish is one of the most important – and interesting – aspect of fly fishing. Serving up the fly is right up there with finding fish. I put these two responses together because, as one of our friends on FB pointed out, you can be throwin’ the right fly pattern, but if you’re fishin’ where they ain’t feedin’, it doesn’t matter.
The Bug Guy introduces folks to entomology
and fly selection.
Nymphing. Subsurface fly fishing presents many challenges to the beginner – heck, to many fly fishers. You need to get a lot of variables right – from pattern selection to depth to finding fish to controlling drift – for a good day nymphing. For some folks, nymphing doesn’t measure up to watching the fish take the dry fly. “The tug is the drug,” though, and effective nymphing techniques can get you fish when there isn’t much happening on top.
Casting. Some folks pointed out that casting has its own set of challenges. Stopping the cast motion in the back cast. Getting the nice loop to lay the fly down on the water. Finding the rhythm of back cast, pause, cast, and stop.
Know your surroundings. One of our friends wrote “Tangles happen, trees happen, bushes happen, shirt sleeves happen, your hat will get in the way of the hook, that darn hook will grab anything it can. Relax, go untangle it and try again.” Accept the fact that you are going to get tangled; however, also know that you will begin to develop a sixth sense – not the kind that sees “dead people” – but the kind that lets you see your surroundings in a broader sense and prevent some of those tangles from happening.
Presentation. “It’s easy to throw bugs in the water, but making them appear real is a challenge,” wrote one of our friends. The steepest learning curve for many – and it was for me – is getting the fly to have a drag-free, fly-first drift. Mending the line. Facing different speeds in the current. Getting excited at a strike and then losing all sense of rhythm and line control trying to get the fly back on the water – all of these factors conspire to destroy your presentation of the fly! I like the very term – I am presenting the fly to the fish to entice a strike.
Putting it all together. I always inwardly smile when folks say “fly fishing looks so relaxing and meditative.” Most definitely, fly fishing brings a beautiful quality to our lives. What it brings to my life, though, is that sharpness of focus. So much is happening – reading the river, choosing the fly, casting for that beautiful presentation, setting the hook, playing the fish – that it requires you to be present in the moment, just like meditation. But not quite. A friend of mine says, “it’s not so meditative if you’re doing it right and catching a lot of fish!”
Enjoy. A couple of our friends on FB said it best: “Slow it down, relax, breathe, enjoy.” And “Fishing doesn’t always go the way you want. Enjoy the day and don’t get frustrated. The next trip will be better.”
Some final thoughts. You can learn a lot by reading about fly fishing or watching the abundant videos on YouTube and on the Orvis site. You can practice casting at the park or in the backyard. I learned more in one morning, though, by getting a mentor and spending a few hours on the river, side-by-side with an apprenticeship into the adventure.
Watch this space over the next several weeks as we explore each of these challenges in separate blog entries throughout August and September.
Orvis 101 Introduction to Fly Fishing
Orvis 201 Streamside