Many’s the time I have gone to a lake or river with my fly rod and people I meet will come up to me and say, “Oh, you’re a trout fisherman, huh?” I am sure they mean well, although they appear to be very Angling-Impaired.
It is like if you pulled up in a pickup truck, and everyone you meet says, ”Oh, you haul a lot of stuff, huh?” Most things have a lot of uses, and fly rods are no exception. They’ve been around a long time, so why do people still make the assumption that if you have a fly rod, you are a trout angler?
I am about to try a clear up some of these misconceptions.
Let me start out by saying that a modern fly rod is capable of catching any fish that swims in fresh or saltwater, except maybe very deep-living species like the Giant Squid, or Anglerfish. I don’t think anyone has ever caught a Roosterfish or a Megamouth Shark, but I do know some people that have caught swordfish on deep-sinking line.
It’s extreme, but it can be done.
There are a lot of us that catch panfish, crappie, bass, carp, and other great fish, in addition to trout, salmon, and pike. I fly fish for landlocked striped bass a lot.
There is a whole tourist industry built around people who want to fly fish the coastal waters and flats for bonefish, tarpon, permit snook, etc… Fly fishing is definitely not limited to just trout and salmon.
How Did Flyfishing Start?
People have used artificial lures to catch fish for thousands of years.
Lures were made from shells, bones, feathers, and whatever was handy, as were the lines. Around 200 AD, a Greek historian named Aelean described Macedonians hand-crafting something resembling an artificial fly on a hook and dabbling them into the water with short Hazelwood rods and delicate Horsehair line to catch the local trout.
But why just trout?
I am just guessing, but I imagine the equipment was too delicate to handle anything much bigger or scrappier than a trout.
There did not appear to be any kind of reels used, no line guides.
They just dangled the files in the water near feeding trout and yanked them in when they bit. Not very sophisticated or efficient, but I imagine it was loads of fun and put food on the table as well.
Are trout worth that kind of trouble? Absolutely.
Things pretty much stayed that way for quite a while, with a few improvements, but nothing Earth-shattering. In 1210 AD, a Western European journalist, Wolfram von Eisenbach, described a man wading in a stream and fishing for trout and grayling with a, “feathered hook”. He was obviously witnessing a Fuedal-Era fly fisherman (and a very tough one, since waders were not invented, yet, and streams were just as cold then as they are now…).
Still no reels or rod guides, yet. Fly fishing was tough back then and was popular with common people. Trout was still the main quarry due to the delicate nature of the equipment (some lines were even made of silk…), but there are accounts of occasional salmon being hooked. I can imagine the chaos that would cause…
Improvements began to show up near the end of the 17th century with the introduction of commercially manufactured gear, with features like rod guide for line control, and finally… a reel.
Although it was just a spool with a handle. It was better than nothing.
Trout were still the main prey, but other species were soon to be introduced to the fly…
The Golden Age Of Fly Fishing
The late 19th century was the birth of modern fly fishing. George Snyder, a Kentucky watchmaker engineered the modern single-action fly reel and split bamboo rods were invented (I still fish with a split bamboo rod that is over 120 years old…).
The dry fly made it first appearance and the Adams fly pattern was born, still in heavy use today on trout streams the world over. The 20th-century inventions have made it possible to target just about anything that swims, with the advent of mass-produced fly gear, which has brought the prices down to where anyone can afford to fly fish.
Thousands upon thousands of fly patterns have been crafted from all sorts of materials, such as closed-cell foam, Gorilla Glue, Epoxy Glue, and much more. Fiberglass and graphite rods have replaced bamboo as the rod of choice, except for those like me, who relish the historical aspects of many things. Modern fly lines are made of durable materials and tapers that float, sink deep, and anything in between.
Fly fishing for bass and carp in the 21st-century is one of the fastest-growing fishing sports. Woman have taken up fly fishing in droves for bass, trout and even bluegills.
The Bottom Line…
It is more than likely that the majority of people will forever link fly fishing to trout.
Most other types of anglers consider us something of Elitists and Purists. And, to tell the truth, some of us are.
I’ve had many a spirited conversation with other fly tiers and anglers about the correct proportions for a Catskill fly, and how to properly fish a nymph fly. But most of us fish for whatever is around at the time, and just enjoy being out there. Fly fishing is a completely different kind of fishing, more like Tai Chi with waders.
With us, no matter what species were are fishing for, it’s not about catching fish. It all about being out there doing the fly fishing thing. Instead of being just visitors to the waters, we actually feel like we become a part of the ecosystem while we are there…an active participant.
Of course, I am not speaking for everybody, but of all the other fly anglers I know, I am sure at least some of them will agree with some of what I am saying. If your curious, go ahead and indulge yourself.
Inexpensive fly gear can be found at places like Walmart, and you can teach yourself to fly fish by watching YouTube videos, or logging on to all the great fly fishing websites like flyangersonline.com. There are lots of instructors around. I’ve been around for many decades, and in my entire life, I have never heard anyone say that had any regrets about learning to fly fish and maybe even tie flies.
Go out and have some wholesome fun. Happy fishing….