Flyfishing basics with no additives
Live demos and hands-on coaching, given by certified instructors, are the best way to improve casting skills. Spring is a busy time for venues that offer casting education. Check the calendar at laflyfish.com for dates and locations.
“Mon..o..so..di..um Glu...ta... mate.”
Then the announcer says, “No wonder our kids don’t like to read!”
Unfortunately, the same can be said for fly fishing. Too many would-be flyrodders are going to internet sites where the level of detail would scare off rocket scientists from taking up our sport.
A wise man once said, “Simple is as simple does.” Don’t know exactly what that means, but let’s run with it.
Here are some simple basics to getting started in our sport.
Rods and lines are rated on a weight numbering system, 1 through 12. Each number represents an actual weight, in grams, of the first 30 feet of fly line. Progressively stiffer rods require higher weight lines to load properly. So choosing a rod and line of the same weight ensures maximum performance.
Most freshwater fishing is done with weights 3-6, for most inshore saltwater, weights 7-9, and for most offshore use, weights 10-12.
If on a budget, don’t skimp on the rod. An inexpensive reel can work, and there are bargains to be found on fly lines. The rod is critical to your success.
A good quality rod is made of graphite, has a cork grip and if for saltwater, an anodized reel seat. Most important: The number of guides should equal or be greater than the length of the rod! Too few guides causes line sag, which can hinder the ability to shoot line.
Starting just over $100, you can find rods that have a warranty. If the rod breaks, it will be repaired or replaced for a nominal fee. You basically have a lifetime rod.
Choose a reel that has a rim for hand-control drag and an adjustable drag. For fresh water, a click drag will do. For salt water, you’ll need a disc drag and an anodized finish to prevent corrosion. Nearly all machined reels meet that criteria. Always choose a reel that has enough backing capacity for the fishing you plan to do.
I get asked often about graphite reels. They’re a cheap way to get into saltwater fly fishing because they’re corrosion proof. But beware that graphite reels usually last a couple years, while machined reels — with proper care — can last a lifetime.
In fly fishing, the line casts the lure. For this reason, the weight, shape and finish of a fly line are important. Most fly lines are marked on the box with three-coded designations such as WF-6-F, L-5-F, DT-8-S. The first code denotes the line shape: WF= Weight Forward, L=Level, DT=Double Taper. The second code is the weight of the line. The third code indicates its buoyancy: F=Floating, S=Sinking, I=Intermediate.
In addition, there are many subtypes of weight-forward fly lines based on varying shapes, such as “Bass Bug Taper,” “Bonefish Taper,” “Trout Taper” and so on. A Bass Bug Taper would have a short tip and thick belly to make it easier to cast large wind-resistant flies. A Trout Taper would have a long tip for delicate presentation to wary fish.
With the exception of offshore, nearly all the fishing we do in Louisiana can be done with a floating weight-forward line (WF-n-F).
For salt water, you’ll also want a line that has a stiff core and a hard finish. Such a line not only casts farther, but it won’t go limp in the summer heat.
Fly lines are usually 80 to 100 feet in length. Hook a big red, and he could spool you in a few seconds — if you didn’t have ‘backing.’ Dacron line — usually 20- or 30-pound-test — is used for backing. Most reels can support 100 to 250 yards of backing plus fly line.
A ‘leader’ is a stretch of monofilament or fluorocarbon that connects fly line to fly. It is usually tapered, from a large diameter ‘butt’ section that is connected to the line, down to a ‘midsection’ of smaller diameter, and down to a smallest diameter ‘tippet’ section that is tied to the fly.
The purpose of a tapered leader is to efficiently transfer energy from the fly line to the fly. You can buy commercially-made tapered leaders, or make your own using several sections of different sizes of ‘leader material’ or ‘tippet material.’
There are numerous leader formulations on the internet — enough to make your head spin. For most general fly fishing, even inshore saltwater, all you really need is a simple three-piece leader.
For example, my typical bass leader might be 4 feet of 24-pound mono (butt), 2 feet of 16-pound mono (midsection) and 2 feet of 12-pound mono (tippet).
One flyrodder I know who fishes redfish claims to use just one section — about 8 feet — of 16 pound mono and that’s his whole leader! Does it work? Yes — as long as the wind isn’t blowing too much, the fly is somewhat small and his casting is perfect!
Leader material is usually sold in spools of 30 yards. It’s more expensive than regular mono for the same length — which is why my friend uses regular mono. But consider that it’s premium stuff, and you’re using so little of it.
Never let a big fish break your leader — and your heart — because you went cheap.
When buying tippet spools for freshwater, look for the ‘X’ size. The larger the X number, the smaller the diameter of the mono. In fact, the ‘Rule of Eleven’ determines the X number: 0X = .011 inches diameter, 1X = .010 inches, 2X = .009 inches, and so on.
For bream fishing, I use 3X or 4X for my tippets — typically 8 to 6 pounds — depending on fly size.
For salt water, leader or tippet spools are rated in pounds just like regular mono. For reds and specks, I use 10- to 14-pound tippet.
To connect fly to tippet, tippet to midsection, midsection to butt and butt to fly line, you need to know some connecting knots.
I suggest going on Youtube and searching on “Uni-Knot.” This is by far the most versatile knot you can use — it works for all connections as well as tying the fly to the tippet (in that case, referred to as a Duncan’s Loop) and also for tying the butt to the fly line (in that case, lookup “Nailless Knot”).
Best of all, the uni-knot works on both mono and fluorocarbon.
Another simple knot that comes in handy in the middle of a speckled trout blitz is the surgeon’s knot. Very fast to tie. It’s also stronger than the blood knot, which is recommended in most trout fishing books — and that’s where it belongs. On trout streams, not in salt water.
I hope this is enough to get some of you started. Be sure to followup by going to a clinic or conclave near you this spring!
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