When trying to convince people to try fly fishing, devotees usually argue that casting flies is more elegant or more challenging or some other variation on the idea that it’s good for you. To me, this makes fly fishing sound like the angling equivalent of eating kale or taking the stairs. But there’s another reason to try the long rod, and it’s one that appeals to every angler’s selfish side: learning to fly fish will make you a better all-around angler.
This has dawned on me in recent years, possibly because I came to fly fishing from the opposite direction of most anglers. Many take up fly fishing later in life, when seeking a fresh experience. But from my early teens onward, I primarily fly fished in rivers, creeks and small lakes. When I broadened into conventional tackle and began exploring different kinds of waters in my 30s, I brought a fly angler’s mindset and skills with me. As it turns out, that was pretty useful. Here are a few of the ways that fly fishing can make you a better all-around angler.
#1 Read the Water
If you want to catch fish at least semi-regularly, one of the first skills you need to learn when fly fishing rivers is how to read the water. Fly fishing is slower than spin fishing, and you just can’t cover as much water as spin anglers. So to make the most of every cast, you need to focus your efforts on the richest targets. That means learning to recognize the places where fish hold, such as seams between slower and faster currents, bubble lines, surface bulges that indicate midstream rocks, and so on.
Decades before I ever had a boat with a sonar unit, I was already thinking about how water behaves around underwater structure, not to mention visible cover. This has proven exceedingly helpful in lakes, which almost always have some sort of current, even if it’s just wind generated. For example, a fly angler’s eye for water helps you spot subtle current seams around points or between islands—hot spots for walleye, bass and more.
#2 Plan Your Casts
Along with learning to read the water, the best fly anglers develop a follow-up practice: looking before casting. For starters, you need to scope out where your backcast is going—unless you enjoy untangling your line from trees. It’s also important to study the water and topography for a minute or two to plan your approach. Simply identifying a prime lie and plunging into the water toward it is a great way to spook every fish in the pool. Looking before you leap is a habit that can benefit any angler.
We all want to start fishing as soon as possible once we’re on the water, but whether you’re casting to cover or trolling a weedline, pausing a moment to make a plan always pays off. It lets you ensure your bait is in the best possible spot for as long as possible, while causing minimal disruption to the underwater residents.
#3 Be Sneaky
There’s nothing like fishing small waterbodies, where you’re limited to a 20- or 30-foot cast, to teach you the value of stealth. Being so close to your quarry vividly portrays you as predator and the fish as prey. Wade in sloppily and you’ll blow the pool, and have to hoof it to the next bit of fishable water.
To this day, I cringe when I’m in a boat that roars up to the hot spot and plunges down a Power-Pole or anchor. “The fish don’t care,” I’ve been told many times. But if you’ve never tried a quiet approach, how do you know? To me, there’s no downside to stalking fish like a hunter, especially when it takes only a minute to slow down and approach that spot on the spot more carefully.
The bottom line is that the limitations imposed by fly tackle force you to compensate by developing special skills, habits and knowledge. And taking these attributes back to the wider world of fishing will make you a sharper all-around angler.
Spin anglers can get away with using a single fishing knot to tie on baits. But fly anglers need to know at least a few more, which can be universally useful. A couple of the best are the perfection loop and the double surgeon’s knot. Learn how at www.outdoorcanada.ca/ffknots.