For those well acquainted with the particulars of spin fishing, fly fishing can appear to be a kung-fu ninja form of fishing requiring a supernatural grasp on one’s existence.
All that glistens is not gold, and appearances can be deceiving.
While fly fishing is a different form of fishing, it isn’t as sophisticated and perplexing as it looks. The primary difference can be summed up in the cast.
In spin fishing, the lure or bait is heavy enough to carry forward momentum during the cast. In fly fishing, the fly is nearly weightless, so it is the line that must propel the fly forward.
You might have noticed how thick fly line appears when compared to the thin monofilament used in spin fishing. It is that thicker fly line that has a specially designed taper and weight that provides for casting minuscule flies out to distance.
With that said, floating a tiny dry fly that closely mimics a naturally occurring aquatic insect is obviously going to require a different technique than simply reeling in a flashy spoon.
What Is Fly Fishing?
First of all, lets clear up a common misconception – that fly fishing involves tying a real, living fly, to the end of one’s fishing line. That’s not to say it isn’t possible, but fly fishing, it is not.
Fly fishing involves the use of an artificial fly as a lure. Fishing flies are quite artfully crafted, and require a very practiced hand in order to be tied on quite minuscule and delicate fishing hooks.
The Benefits Of Fly Fishing
Now you might be thinking, “Delicate hooks? That seems like a surefire way to lose fish!” On the contrary, even very small hooks are able to hold quite large fish.
The truth is, a large fishing lure is much easier for a fish to shake loose when compared to a nearly weightless fishing fly.
That near weightlessness prevents the fly from wiggling no matter how much a fish might struggle and shake it’s head.
Conversely, a heavy lure will be thrashed about much easier and can potentially be wiggled lose much easier.
Does Fly Fishing Catch More Fish?
The answer to this question is very circumstantial and depends on both the angler and the situation. In the hands of a skilled fly angler, the fly rod will prove more versatile than traditional spin casting.
If we realize that fishing is primarily about appealing to the natural feeding behavior of a fish, then we should also realize that imitating natural food sources is a very effective way to accomplish that task.
Accordingly, when fish are naturally feeding during an aquatic insect hatch, the fly rod will provide a distinct advantage. Imitating and casting tiny insects will prove to be all but impossible with alternative tackle.
With that said, there are times when the lures commonly used in spin fishing are likely to imitate bait fish and other natural foods better than the common fare of fly anglers.
But many streamer flies and sub-surface flies are quite capable of imitating those fish foods as well.
What Types Of Flies Are Used In Fly Fishing?
You will find that there certain types of flies that are well-known and popular among fly anglers. But since fishing flies can be hand tied by everyone and anyone, the types of flies are only limited by the tier’s skill and imagination.
For the sake of understanding and organization, you can generally refer to fishing flies in three categories: Dry Flies, Streamers and nymphs.
Simply put, a dry fly floats on the surface of the water. Most often dry flies are imitations of small aquatic or terrestrial insects. Aquatic insects would include mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, midges, dragonflies, and a few others.
But terrestrial insects like ants, grasshoppers, and beetles are also very effective when fished appropriately.
How Does A Dry Fly Float?
Realistically there are a number of ways that you can make your dry flies float. Small aquatic or terrestrial insect designs are incredibly lightweight, and when correctly cast, will rest on the surface of the water without sinking.
To further buoy their natural tendency to float, you can also apply fly floatant products, like Gink or Loon Aquel, to your dry flies.
Fly floatant helps your dry flies to shed water rather than being absorbed by your dry flies.
How To Fish Dry Flies
Lets have a ‘be the fish’ moment and try to think like the fish.
If a trout was in the midst of an stream, and observed insects drifting downstream time after time, you would assume this fish is becoming educated on insect behavior with each passing bug.
So we need to make our dry fly behave like the natural flies if we want to fool this trout. Most natural insects are going to drift downstream with the current, and not across the current.
This is a super important detail that you must get right. More often than not, dragging your dry fly across the current is a dead give-away that something is amiss, and the fish will react accordingly.
This cross-currrent movement is abridged by the term ‘drag’ and you will frequently hear the term ‘drag-free drift’ referenced. This is just angler-speak for effectively drifting your dry fly without any unnatural cross-current movement.
Quite unlike a dry fly, a streamer fly is most often meant to sink. Streamer flies are tied to imitate bait fish and other aquatic creatures like leeches and crayfish.
Since bait fish occasionally swim near the surface, some streamer flies are meant to fish on or near the surface.
In fact, some floating streamer flies bear a striking resemblance to floating lures you might use while spin fishing. This is where the dividing line between a ‘fly’ and a ‘lure’ gets fuzzy.
How To Fish Streamers
You really need to imitate natural behavior of the prey in order to effectively fish a streamer. That behavior is going to vary widely depending on what you are trying to imitate with your streamer fly.
If you think about how natural fish food move it will be to your benefit.
Most bait fish make fairly subtle movements the vast majority of the time. Even when moving across current, small fish usually remain facing upstream and move side-to-side slowly.
Of course, there are exceptions to this concept. When frightened or feeding bait fish will move very quickly.
You will find that effective streamer fishing is a trial and error game. One day you might fish streamers with slow and subtle movements and draw many strikes.
Other days darting your streamer fly near the surface will draw aggressive strikes. Working currents at different angles, depths, and rates of retrieve will shed light on what the fish want.
Nymph flies imitate the early stages of aquatic insect life. Before an aquatic insect emerges from the water and into it’s adult phase of life, it will hatch from an egg and live the majority of it’s life underwater.
Studies of fish behavior have shown that a huge majority of feeding activity happens underwater on aquatic insects. With that being the case, fly fishing with nymphs is a very effective technique.
Our struggle as fly anglers is that fishing nymphs below the surface doesn’t provide us with much feedback regarding what were are doing right, or doing wrong. Initially, learning to fly fish with nymphs can be frustrating.
Fly Fishing Nymphs Techniques
One of the important objectives involved in nymph fishing bears some similarities to dry fly fishing. That being, a drag-free drift.
Fish are very accustomed to how aquatic insects behave, and a nymph that swings in the current is likely to be rejected outright.
Most often, fly anglers attach a strike-indicator to their leader, which floats like a bobber. Trailing beneath the strike indicator is the remaining length of leader which connects to the fly.
This trailing length of leader sets the depth at which the fly is presented to the fish. Ideally, the fly is positioned as to drift very close to the stream bed, but not hang-up on debris.
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