Fly fishing can present a cumbersome learning curve to newcomers. This learning curve and significant contrast in casting technique, when compared with conventional spin and overhead tackle, can provide too great a hurdle for many to even contemplate giving it a go. As a relative novice fly fisherman I decided that a concerted effort was required if I was to ever gain the confidence required to fish effectively with the long wand.
Coupled with the challenges are the stereotypes of gentrified folk wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches sporting a baggy cap and smoking a pipe while using a monocle to peruse a perfectly packed fly box. Ironically, the first chap I bumped into on the water while fishing the Snowy mountains on the weekend fitted the bill perfectly and even had a small, ornamental dog alongside. I mused at the sight and wished I had my camera or at least a friend nearby to share the image with ...
Learning to fly fish requires patience and perseverance plus an understanding that making life difficult is a noble pursuit –in any form of wind or adverse weather, fly fishing becomes exceptionally challenging. It’s also a form of fishing that lacks an inherent agility in regards to reacting to conditions on hand – if fish are on top one minute then down deep the next, you can’t transition readily with one fly outfit, unlike conventional tackle.
These challenges do pose an alluring charm, however, every fish caught on fly is seemingly worth more than those caught using other techniques. That’s not to say that bait or fly fishermen are any "better" than each another, I’m merely pointing out the factor of difficulty involved in fly fishing, which justifies bumping up the marks awarded for each fish caught.
There’s also a certain romanticism that accompanies the pursuit of fish on fly – once past the clumsy loops, fly line tangles and hooks in the back of the head, the ability to form some semblance of a reasonable cast is satisfying in itself. A delicate dry fly presentation in the fresh coupled with the gentle drift of a floating piece of fur and feather can be hypnotic.
I was far from elegant though when I caught my first fish on fly. It was a little rainbow trout that took a dry fly to boot! With a late afternoon hatch the fish started rising, but were just out of my limited and pissweak casting range. After sloshing through the shallows and making one hell of a racket that old mate wearing the tweed jacket would have scowled at, I spotted a rising fish then chased it down and made a fateful cast that plonked the fly line, leader and tiny red tag in the vicinity of the telltale concentric circles. A little head popped out of the water and I instinctively lifted the rod tip to be met with a feisty rainbow jumping on the other end. I laughed like a madman and screamed out to Fisho writer Pat Brennan who had given me many words of advice, assistance and had accelerated my learning curve throughout the day.
The fish bolted and to my horror a loop of line was tangled around the reel – I cursed loudly, fearful of popping the light tippet but had the soundness of mind to freak out then lower to rod tip and pick apart the tangle. Pat kindly offered a hand but this sucker was going to be a solo effort and after freeing the tangle Pat scooped up my first ever fish on fly.
Over the course of the coming days I focused primarily on fly fishing with my bogus casting improving and catch rates heading north. I saw plenty of fish, messed up plenty of opportunities and hook-ups but importantly, managed to hook and land a reasonable number of fish whilst having a wonderful time doing so.
Learning to fly fish has been extremely frustrating but exceptionally rewarding and I have since devised many a plan to target fish on fly both in the salt and freshwater. Are you an experienced fly fisher or clumsy caster? I’d be interested to hear of your experiences with the long wand.