Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fly fishing is a challenge that keeps on giving

Why fly fish?
Why not?
I posed that question to the late Ad Gilbert and he said, "I've already caught a thousand redfish on spinning tackle. Do I want to catch another thousand on spinning tackle?"
Good point.
Boil that down and it means Gilbert wanted a challenge.
Nothing more.
Fly fishing traces its roots back to 200 AD when Claudius Aelianus wrote about people fishing a river with flies made of red wool and feathers. Today, the sport is practiced all over the world for a variety of fresh- and saltwater fish.
Like many, I began fly fishing for bluegill and other panfish when I was in my early teens. My first attempts took place with a spinning rod. I tied a No. 10 popping bug on the end of my line and whipped it out in "fly-rod fashion." And I caught fish!
I really got into fly fishing when I moved to Florida. At first, I was strictly a freshwater angler. I had a 6-weight fly rod and a 9-weight. Both rods were custom made by Loren Wilson of Okeechobee. They were fiberglass, somewhat slow and rather whippy. But they performed well. Wilson, a master rod builder, fly tyers and guide, charged me $65 each for the rods.
I didn't fly fish in salt water in those days because I really didn't know much about it. Although I regularly fished the salt, I had no idea what to do. Plus, there were no fly shops in the area and no saltwater fly fishing equipment.
My first endeavor into the brine took place in that late 1980s. My early mentor was Capt. Pete Greenan, now a Master Certified Casting Instructor. I remember catching oversized redfish in Whidden Creek while fly fishing with him. Since that time, I've caught tarpon, snook, spotted seatrout, dolphin, cobia, Spanish mackerel, little tunny, bonefish, houndfish, tripletail, mangrove snapper, jack crevalle, flounder, ladyfish, black drum and other species. Most saltwater species will take a well-placed fly.
I now own many fly rods. My saltwater arsenal includes (all TFO) a 12-weight, 9-weight, two 8-weights and two 6-weights. For fresh water, I have a 1-weight, 2-weight, 3-weight, 4-weight and 6-weight. I am sponosored by TFO, so I get the rods at a good price.
My most memborable saltwater catch?
That's easy. It was a 14-pound bonefish taken at Shell key near Islamorada in the Florida Keys. The fish was taken at high tide on a blustery October day. My guide said after releasing the fish, "You might as well quit because you'll never catch a bigger bonefish."
I've caught many more bonefish, but never one approaching that size!
I also have a 165-pound tarpon on 12-weight fly rod and a 39-inch, 20-pound snook on 6-weight.
My most memborable freshwater catch?
It would have to be a 35-pound common carp that I caught on a Befus Carp Fly in Grand Traverse Bay last June. It was the largest of 24 carp I caught while sight-fishing over two days.
I've had some other noteworthy catches in fresh water, including a 30-pound coho salmon from the Pere Marquette River in Michigan, and a 6-pound largemouth bass from the Everglades.
I've also won or placed in a number of fly fishing tournaments. I won the Sarasota Sportfish Anglers Tarpon Tournament Fly Rod Divsion in 1993 and was runner-up in 1996. I've won the snook, redfish and spotted seatrout divisions of the Sarasota Chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association's Photo Release Tournament and the CCA/Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers' Fall Fly Fishing Challenge.
I remember the first time I picked up a fly rod. I was in the ninth grade and I was talking to a friend, Scott Ecker, about fly fishing. He said his dad had a couple of fly rods and we could use them. After schook, we walked to his house and cast the fly rods.
I could cast fairly well the first time.
I'm pretty much self-taught. I taught myself how to cast. I taught myself how to double-haul. Most of what I learned came from Lefty Kreh's book, Fly Fishing in Salt Water. If you don't have this book and you're serious about learning to fly fish, you should purchase a copy.
Many anglers make fly casting much more difficult than it really is. They want it to be difficult for some reason.
However, nothing could be easier. It's simply a matter of timing, rhythm and proper power application. Simply put, if you can walk and chew gum, you can cast a fly rod.
Realize that it does take effort. You've got to have a keen desire to succeed and be willing to put in the time and effort it takes.
I am not a purist by any means, but I do fly fish a majority of the time. I haven't done anything other than fly fish in fresh water in years. And I estimate that I fly fish in salt water about 80 percent of the time. Reason is that I am a full-time kayak fishing guide and some of my clients use spinning rods.
Fly fishing is a neat way to pursue fish. It's a lot of fun and a never-ending endeavor. It my be somewhat of a cliche, but you learn something new almost any time you get out on the water or when you're in the company of other fly fishers.

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