My friends and family all had the same reaction to my writing a book on fly-fishing. “Whew! Fly-fishing is such an art. It's so difficult and expensive. How can you write about it—you have to do it.” Well, they may be right, but drawing on every wordsmithing tool I know, I hope to make the complicated simpler—not simple, simpler—so you can wade into the watery world and catch fish.
What you'll find between these covers is for the uninitiated, not the grizzled thirty-year veterans of fly-fishing who tied their first fly knots at age ten. After you read my introduction, you'll realize I have no mystical methods for deceiving wily trout. Instead, I'm seeking to demystify this long-acclaimed sport. My feeling is that anyone can dip their toes into fly-fishing waters and experience the pleasure surrounding this great pastime. If you want to enjoy this sport, rediscover peace in nature, or experience good fortune on some of America's most breathtaking rivers and streams, this book is for you.
Maybe you were like me not long ago: interested but not experienced and not sure where to turn. Fly-fishing is an endless learning experience that can be daunting. Yet there is a beautiful simplicity to it that lies just beyond a few practiced basics like casting and matching reel, rod, line, hook, and fly sizes. What you'll find here is everything you need to learn about this style of fishing.
I have a hunch that most of you have fished with traditional spin casting equipment and are now peeping over the wall at fly-fishing. Many fly fishers come to the sport from bait and spinning reels. The perception that fly-fishing is an elite, exclusive pursuit is held by few actual fly fishers. Most welcome new anglers. Yet Fly-Fishing is still considered to be a daunting and expensive sport. It doesn't have to be.
The novice who wanders into the local fly shop may seem like a bull in a china shop. But everyone new to the sport starts out this way. I trace back my own entrance into the fly-fishing world to the love of fishing in general, instilled in me as a youth growing up in the East Texas piney woods. Large bass, plucky sunfish, and spiny bluegill roamed the cow ponds nestled in forests crisscrossed by a network of oil well roads. My brother and I spent hours during the long summer days tossing nightcrawlers and grasshoppers with cane poles. Turtles usually chewed off our stringered catches, but what remained we soaked in salt water and fried. The delight of eating fresh-caught fish has not waned to this day.
After settling into Los Angeles in my early twenties, I chose the High Sierras as an annual destination. The five hours on Highway 395 was like time spent with an old friend. Netting glistening rainbows at 7,000 feet was pure magic. I had a brief run fly-fishing for salmon on Oregon's North Umqua in the mid-′80s, but did not yet take to the sport. And there was a reason for that.
I attribute the magic of fishing for trout on June Lake to an old master who described a better way than the old Texas hit-and-miss approach. He said to anchor my boat 30 to 40 feet from the reeds, cast 20 feet from the shore in about 8 feet of water with a 2-foot, 2-pound leader and #18 treble hook jammed with floating cheese or salmon eggs. Pretty mechanical. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though, because bait casting in East Texas meant pretty much changing from night crawlers to purple worms to grasshoppers to lures, then back again. Trout fishing seemed like a formula for catching all fish, and it was. The old-timer's recipe worked most of the time, as I came home year after year with my limit. Today that view has changed. Though fly-fishing is more of a challenge, its rewards exceed those of bait fishing, and the concept of catching my limit has been reversed to limiting my catch.
What happened during my first fly-fishing experience was that my lack of casting ability quickly eroded my patience and enjoyment. As my fly-fishing friend so aptly insists, “Casting is the main thing at first.” If the novice can't learn even the basic cast, he or she will quickly tire of fly-fishing and end up watching others from a convenient rock. That happened to me.
So let me encourage you right now to spend the time and money on a lesson or two. You may know someone who fly-fishes, but are they a good teacher? A good fly fisherman does not necessarily make a good teacher. You start to pick up their bad habits, and spend years down the road trying to work out their kinks. Even the world's top golfing pros take lessons.
Fly shops offer guides and instructors. My first instructor was a Federation of Fly Fishing certified instructor who had me casting for nearly three hours in a duck pond until I learned to cast properly. Of course, I had to practice, practice, practice those good techniques. And you will, too.