Saturday, January 9, 2010

The fly-fishing bug is still biting after all these years

I've been fly fishing for far longer than I'd like to admit. I've always been fascinated with the sport.
I began as a teenager. My first attempts (believe it or not) were done with a spinning rod. I'd tie a popping bug on and "whip" it out. I even caught a few fish that way.
I could cast a fly rod the first time I picked one up. I was talking to a classmate of mine and he said his dad had a couple of fly rods that we could cast that afternoon. After school, we went over to his house, got the rods out and started casting. I had never held a fly rod before, but I could cast 40 feet rather easily.
I moved to Florida in 1971 and began fly fishing for bluegill, bass and other species. I stuck to freshwater after I moved to Sarasota in 1975. I loved to drive over to Lake Okeechobee and cast for bluegill and bass. I'd fish Upper Myakka Lake, Lower Myakka Lake, the Myakka River, Lake Manatee and the Braden River around Sarasota.
I got bit by the saltwater bug in the 1980s. Several people were instrumental in this: the late Ad Gilbert, Capt. Pete Greenan and Ray Moss. They whetted my saltwater appetite.
In the earlier 1990s, I help Greenan start the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers, a Sarasota-based club dedicated to saltwater fly fishing. Walt Jennings and Mike Lang were the other founding fathers.
Although I'm not purist by any means, I do fly fishing most of the time. If I can get the fish to hit a fly, then that's what I'll do. I've found that on many occasions, I catch as many fish or more than those using spinning tackle.
Why fly fish?
It's fun. If it weren't, I wouldn't do it.
Fly fishing is an effective way to take fish. It's the key to success when walking the beaches in the summer and looking for snook. Just last summer, I had the day of a lifetime. I caught and released 15 snook to 39 inches, three redfish to 32 inches and lost a trio of tarpon, each of which easily surpassed the century mark.
Fly fishing led to tying flies. I use some traditional patterns and I have designed a few of my own. My most famous fly is my Myakka Minnow, a creation that has caught species in both fresh and salt water. The pattern works terrifically any time fish are feeding on small minnows.
My Gibby's Bonefish Fly and Gibby's First Cast Crab, flies I designed in the last three months, have served me well. The First Cast Crab has produced a number of redfish. The Bonefish Fly did well for me on my recent trip to Grand Cayman.
I swore early on that I'd never tie flies. I didn't want to be hooked on the sport that badly. But I gave in one day after I bought a dozen flies and the bill was $53.35. I figured there wasns't $5 worth of matierial in all of those flies.
I discovered you can tie a fly for about 11 cents. To do so, you have to go out and buy $2,500 worth of material and tools.
Used to be, fly fishing was an eliteist sport. It still is when you think about it. And it has nothing to do with money. You're among the elite if you can do it well. If you can go out and catch a bonefish, permit or tarpon on fly rod, then you're among the elite.
I teach fly casting. You have to learn how to cast before you can even begin to think about fly fishing. And I've had a few students who I put my arm around their shoulders and asked, "Have you ever thought about taking up tennis?" They would never grasp the concent of fly casting.
It's really not that hard, but I think beginners want it to be. Or it is in their mind. It's simply an exercise of timing and rhythm.
There are several common problems that beginners have. One is the correct application of power on the back cast and forward cast. They want to power the fly rod throughout the entire stroke and they usually all slow down when they should be applying the power. The power application comes toward the end of each stroke.
Another common problem is improper rod path during the strokes. The path should be on one plane. But most beginners will have the rod on several planes, most likely a concave path. That creates a very large loop and often no loop at all.
What I try to do when teaching is to provide the student with a solid founation. I make sure he or she understands each concept and I give them practive routines.
My philosophy is simple: If a student can get the fly from Point A to Point B and it results in a hookup, then I've done a good job. We fly fish to catch fish. Don't let anyone fool you.
I heard an angler say, "I don't care if I catch fish. I just love being out on the water."
Translation: "I don't catch very many fish."
I tell all of my students that their success or lack thereof is directly proportional to the amount of time and effort they put into it.
A lady in her 60s took a lesson from me several years ago. We spent an hour on proper stance, how to hold the rod, the back cast, forward cast and other things. After the lesson, I advised her to practice at home.
About a year later, she showed up at a casting school I was conducting. She walked up to me and said, "Do you remember me? I took a lesson from you last year and I haven't touched a fly rod since then."
Go figure.
The sport really took off in the eary 1990s. Some attribute the rise in popularity to the moive A River Runs Through It. That flick may have sparked the interest, but I'm not sure. I am sure there was a surge in fly fishing interest.
My feeling is that it was a yuppie thing. It was trendy and had an elite feel. The yuppies jumped on the fly-fishing wagon all at once. Most jumped off quickly. Their money couldn't buy success. And their lack of success drove them to other interests.
Meanwhile, I'm still fly fishing. And I'm still catching fish.

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