Getting Your Feet Wet

By Ken Kastorff

Picture a well-placed fly rod cast landing the fly under an overhanging mountain laurel. The fly sits on the surface of the water for just a second, with a small twitch of the fly rod, it moves with the appearance of a living thing and then, there is an explosion of water. The game is afoot!

So you want to learn how to fly fish? Ok! Let’s break this down into the basics. Three things come to mind: Gear, flys and technique. So before we get started, let me say that there isn’t enough room in this magazine to write everything on just one of these subjects much less all three. Keeping that in mind, I am going to try to save space on the pages and condense things down to be a little brief, and hopefully, helpful.

Gear: The list of what you need to get started is somewhat easy to compile; how much money you want to invest can be a little more complicated.

Rod and Reel: If you haven’t figured it out yet, rods come in different weights and actions. The weight will depend on the type of water you plan to spend your time fishing on and what species of fish you are expecting to catch. For general trout fishing, look for a medium action 4, 5 or 6 weight rod. In general, smaller creeks- lighter rod, bigger rivers-heavier rod. In reality, the weight of the rod has more to do with the size and weight of the flies you will be casting. So, if you plan to throw big flies, for instance in salt water, then you are going to need a heavier rod, like an 8 – 12 weight rod. It also has a bit to do with the distance you will be casting. Of course casting ability comes into play here as well. You can spend anything from a few dollars up to more than a thousand dollars for a rod. If there was ever a truer statement, when it comes to buying a rod, it’s that you get what you pay for. Get a decent rod! You want something that isn’t a broom handle. Pick a rod with a good warranty! I don’t care how good you eventually get at fishing sooner or later you will break a rod. Find something that casts well and has a no fault life-time warranty.

Pick a good reel that allows you space to put at least 100 yards of backing and a good fly line on it without crowding the reel. If you are planning to use the reel in both freshwater and saltwater, then make sure to check that it will work in both. Make sure that the reel you buy has a good drag on it. If you are planning to fish freshwater streams only, then you should be able to find a low-end reel for about $100. If you have a few dollars extra, get a spare spool. Saltwater can double that price, minimum. Just like rods, if money isn’t an issue you can spend much more on a fancy reel.

Fly Line: Get good fly line. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on your line. In general, a good weight forward floating fly line will allow you to catch most anything you want. If you bought that spare spool load it up with a sink tip line.

Waders and Boots: Get a good pair of waders that are reinforced in the knees and butt. Check to see if they have a warranty. You want stocking foot waders and a good light pair of wading boots. Check to see what the regulations are in the area you plan to fish. Some states will not allow felt soled boots. Felt soled boots are still, by far, the least slippery boots to wear, but no matter what you buy, remember to always clean them after using them so not to spread invasive plants or diseases from one river to another.

Fishing Pack / Vest: You need something to put all your “Stuff” in. Definition of “Stuff!” Leaders, tippets, fly boxes, nippers, forceps, floatant, etc… You get the picture. Whether you get a pack or a vest depends on your personal preference. I like something I can attach a net to. Other than that, I go for comfort.

Flys and Fly Boxes: This can be the most intimating part of learning to fly fish. Get some help! Got to a shop or a friend and have someone take the time to explain all the options. I am going to break this down to the bare basics, but you need to learn more than I can write down here. You can break down flies into three categories, Flies, Terrestrials and Streamers.

There are three basics species of flies in the United States, Caddis, Stone and Mayflies. There are lots of different subspecies of each of these flies. The life cycle of each goes something like this. These flies mate and land on the water and drop eggs that sink to the bottom of the river and hatch out into nymphs. The nymphs crawl around under the water for a while and eventually float or crawl back up to the surface as emergers. Wings unfold and dry out and they take off and mate and the process repeats itself. There are other flying insects that trout will eat also, like mosquitoes, wasps etc. Each has a similar, but possibly slightly different, lifecycle and in an effort not to complicate things too much, I will leave you, the reader, to investigate these other options on your own. In general, if the fly has a hackle, a ring of feathers around the collar of the fly, it is going to be a dry fly. In order to fish a dry fly, it has to float. This means you have to put some sort of coating on it to stop the fly from absorbing water. If it looks like small worm, it is probably a Nymph. Many nymphs will be tied with a small metal bead at its head- these are called bead head nymphs and help the fly sink. If it looks like a worm and it has a tuft of material on its back it is probably an emerger. There is a different technique for fishing each one.

Terrestrials are pretty simple to categorize. Anything that normally lives on land that ends up in the river and can be a food source for fish: Grasshoppers, crickets, worms, etc.

Streamers are anything that lives in the river; like minnows, leaches, tadpoles, etc.

So you need a place to put all these flies and keep them organized. This is where the fly box comes into play. The only recommendation I have is: Get at least one box that is waterproof for your dry flies. Also, take time to open all your boxes and dry everything out each time after a fishing trip. Otherwise, you will have a box of rusted useless hooks.

Technique! This one is easy! GET HELP! Find a shop, a friend, a guide, take a class, do a guided trip, read a book. Do all of the above but GET HELP! Learning to cast is not that hard, but unlearning bad technique is almost impossible. Learn good proper technique to start with and you will eliminate a lot of frustration and enjoy a sport that you can do your whole life. Good Luck!

Ken Kastorff is the Owner and Guide at Endless River Adventures located along the Nantahala River in Bryson City, North Carolina.