Friday, June 19, 2009

Picking up fly fishing and the $nob factor

Fly fishing can be daunting, confusing, and downright unapproachable for many of those who want to take up this wonderful sport. The gear alone is pricey, and the terminology is a mix of antiquated measurements, technical terms and names not found in any language. The often confusing and conflicting advise newcomers receive does not help.
If one is a doctor or a lawyer or otherwise endowed with a large disposable income, one could attend an Orvis fly fishing school at some destination resort, but what do other 99% do? Where are they to go for advise?

In talking to non-fly fishers about some angling subject or another, I often discover that they have a fly rod in the closet somewhere that has never been cast. Some present from their wife or grandfather or other caring soul, it has sat there for years gathering dust instead of making memories.

I feel for these people, and have made it a mini mission of mine to encourage people to enjoy the great outdoors through fly fishing.

One of the largest hurdles to get over for a beginning fly angler is the sheer cost of the equipment.
I was in need of a new fly line for a specific rod, so I opened up the Cabelas catalog where I discovered to my shock that the price of a fly line is now roughly the equivalent of an average mortgage payment. Here is where fly fishing gets the 'snob' reputation. There are quite good rods and reels and other gear out there that do not cost an arm and a leg, but they are often buried under pages of $700 flyrods, $600 waders, and $500 reels.
I had customers come to my flyshop specifically because they felt they had been sold down the road and had their wallet fleeced by other fly shops. I had manufacturers reps that denigrated cheap equipment, and at all times exhorted me to push the most expensive rods and reels. I have no problem appreciating and using the best in life, but for the beginner, perhaps a wee bit of restraint is in order.
Sometimes the most expensive equipment is marketed to the angler that wants to improve his or her fishing but buys into the 'Magic Bean" concept that a better gadget will help them along the way, and solve their problems for them. The easy fix has accounted for millions of dollars in sales. I once had a customer that couldn't cast past his shoelaces buy a $700 dollar fly rod so that he could cast farther. The cost for a casting lesson with me would have set him back about $50.

So, to come back to the topic at hand, how does one take up fly fishing?

  1. Visit a fly shop and talk to a professional. If the professional steers you toward the $750 pair of ivory forceps find another fly shop. Buy a book on fly fishing. There are many good ones out there. Take it home and read it. Then read it again. Talk to any friend you have that fly fishes. He or she will give you loads of advise. Some of it will be good and some will be bad. Refer back to the book to be able to tell the difference.
  2. Think about what type of fishing you are going to be doing most and be honest with yourself. You are best off fishing for panfish, stocked trout, or some other easier quarry at first. Under no circumstances pick a famous trout stream for a first destination. That will be just setting yourself up for a fall.
  3. Based upon where and what you want to fish for, determine the correct tackle (weight of rod and line, etc.) Begin exploring fly shops and talking to the people who work there. You will encounter snobs, fanatics, and people who will either not speak to you or will talk your head off. If you want to get rid of them, ask them where the "Worm poles" are.
  4. When you are certain of the right rod and line weight, select a good entry level rod that has a solid warranty. long sticks of graphite tend to break after all. Buy a reel that balances the rod and does not break the bank, and the correct fly line. The line is quite important here. You don't have to buy the most expensive one, but listen to the advise you get. You may need to buy a 6 wt line for your 5 wt rod. See? I told you it was confusing...
  5. Once you have the rod, reel, line, several leaders, a spool of tippet material, and a flybox loaded with a couple of dozen general purpose flies such as attractor dries, wooly buggers, and small poppers, it is time to learn how to cast. But what about the waders and creel and vest, and and, and...? Forget about it until later. Learn to cast. Buy a video on casting, get a simple lesson, and practice on the lawn for a half an hour every day. Write down what you learn. Tell the neighbors to stop asking you what you are fishing for. Use a piece of yarn tied to the end of your leader at first so as to avoid body piercings in strange locations.
  6. Find a gazateer or other good map, put on a floppy hat, pack a sandwich and a water bottle, don the mosquito repellent, grab your gear and start exploring!
Cost of rod, reel, line, fly box, flies, leaders, etc. @$325.00 - $450.00
Ability to get out of the house and off the couch, share the outdoor experience with friends, explore nature, and catch your first fish... priceless.


  1. Great read and well done. Down here in SW Ohio they think all Fly Fishers just fish for trout! I own no high end gear and never will! I fish too much and I'm rough and tough on my gear. From fishing in New York, Maine, or Ohio I don’t care if I catch fish. There are many anglers out there who think just because they have the gear they are supposed to catch fish. This is a mentality that needs to stop! Take care and I think you need to do a part two to the article!

    Tom G.

  2. I love this article! I am a 22 yr old college grad with no money. In college I really took up fly fishing with a group of friends. We are officially fish-alcoholics now spending every weekend on a river or a lake. When I first took up fly fishing I had a very low income and experience. Maybe $100 dollars a week...buying the necessary equipment put me in the hole. I have some friends that seem to have an endless amount of disposable income leading to top gear. But one thing I have learned is great gear is useless unless you put it to the avid use. My friends and I put our money together to go on great trips all over Michigan, Ohio, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and even Florida. From buying used equipment, working with local rod builders, and meeting with people that have the same amount of passion (but much more experience), has lead to some of the best fishing and experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. Getting out with people that know the sport/art of fly fishing is the key... not the money. I believe that many people that can afford nice equipment would be better off getting a group of experienced yet less fortunate anglers on the river with them. I can't tell you how much I have learned from high-end guides for free by just talking with them. Countless times we have had well known fisherman guide us around the river. On one occasion we even had Jim Bedford help guide us around the river systems out in Buffalo! We also have a club at our college devoted for fishing and this too has led to great connections. I encourage everyone to get in the river, with a stranger, and just learn. It is definitely the best way to do it! Again this was a great article opening up a major issue with many beginners.



  3. Thank you Gribble and Theodore.

    You are both right and raise excellent points. There is so much more to write on this subject. The price of gear never equates the ability of the angler or the angling experience. We must remember why we are out there in the first place. The fish, not the gear.

  4. Well where is part Deaux!


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