Flies of Ireland

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The Ones That Got Away

After a relaxing evening fishing on the Boyne River, Michael was walking back to his car carrying two brown trout in a bucket.

He is approached by an Inland Fisheries Officer who asks him for his fishing license.

Michael replies to the officer, “I wasn’t fishing and I didn’t catch these brown trout, they are pets. Every day I come down to the water and put these fish into the water and take them for a walk. When I’m ready to go I whistle and they jump back into the bucket and we go home.”

The officer didn’t believe him and he reminded Michael that it is illegal to fish without a license. The fisherman responded, “If you don’t believe me then watch,” and he threw the trout back into the water.

The officer says, “Now whistle to your fish and show me that they will jump out of the water and into the bucket.”

Michael turns back to the officer and says, “What fish?”

Starting Out: Fishing Line

The right fly fishing line makes all the difference.

In spin fishing the weight of the lure being cast pulls the fishing line off the reel. In fly fishing the weight of the fly fishing line being cast carries the fly to the fish. The fly fishing line you cast and the way you cast it creates the “presentation” of the fly. To catch fish you must present your fly in the water column the way the fish expect to see their foods. The right fly fishing line makes that possible.

Selecting the right fly fishing line will help you get to where the fish are. Your local fly shop is the best place to get advice on fly fishing lines, especially in choosing the right fishing line for your fishing needs. Nothing “sinks” a fishing trip faster than arriving with the wrong fly fishing lines for the fishing situations.

Choosing a Fly Fishing Line

Shape and construction: These determine how the fishing line delivers the fly. In fly fishing you want to deliver the fly where and how the fish expect to see their food. So, you must choose the fly fishing line that is designed with the proper length, weight, taper, color, specific gravity and coating for the fishing you want to do.

Length and Weight: A fly fishing line’s weight is distributed throughout its length – from 90 to 105 feet or more – but its weight designation (1- through 15-weight) is determined by the weight of the front 30 feet of the fly fishing line. Fly line weights range from a 1-weight to a 15-weight.

Tapers: The way fly fishing lines shoot, turn over a heavy fly, present a small fly delicately, or cast efficiently at long or short distances is through the taper design. The fly line’s taper (its outside dimension) is designed by varying the thickness of the fishing line coating. Notice the way a fly line is described – tip, front taper, belly, rear taper, head and running fishing line. All these elements can be varied to change the casting performance of the fishing line. Fly lines are broken into five design categories: the seldom-used level (L), the highly popular weight-forward (WF), double-taper (DT), shooting-taper (ST), and specialty tapers. The fly lines you will use the most are weight-forward, double-taper and specialty.

Color: Some fishermen prefer a brightly colored fly line so they can see where their fishing line is in the air and on the water. It helps them in casting and in knowing where their fly is at all times. Others prefer fly lines that blend in with whatever background they are fishing. Fish see colors, they reason, so why spook them with colors they are not used to seeing? You must decide what color fly line works best for you.

Coating: Fly lines float because they are designed by the manufacturer with tiny air bubbles in the fishing line surface. If instead the manufacturer adds lead or tungsten to the fly line’s coating, the fishing line will sink.

Fly lines are constructed of a core, a taper design, and a coating (usually polyvinylchloride). These basic elements are varied to make form follow function. In other words, by changing the core, coating or tapers, the manufacturer can make fly lines that perform best under any fishing situation.

Sinking Fly Lines

Since more than 90 percent of a fish’s feeding occurs beneath the surface, you need fly lines that get your fly down, sometimes slowly and at other times very fast.

Full-sinking fly lines are best suited to fishing in still waters. They are designed to get flies down to the level where the fish are feeding. So you need to match the sink rate of the fly line to the fishing conditions.

Fly lines that sink uniformly (evenly) or head first are the best fishing lines to use for fishing still waters (lakes and ponds), because they provide better strike detection. Some sinking fly lines tend to belly in the middle because they do not sink uniformly. The belly creates a sensory disconnect between the fisherman and the fish, so the fisherman fails to detect the strikes before the fish can reject the fly. The uniform-sinking fly lines provide a straight-line connection to the fly, allowing you to detect a high percentage of strikes and catch more fish.

Sinking Tips (For Moving Water)

Sinking-tips are sinking portions of fly line (usually 8 to 15 feet) connected to the front of floating lines. They are excellent for shallow and deep nymphing, for mending fly line to create a drag-free float, and for turning over and sinking very large streamers in river-bank and pool fishing.

Basic Gear Rules

For the best advice and choices, buy your fly lines at a fly shop where you can describe your fishing needs and receive the counsel of experienced fishermen. The weight of your fly line must match your rod – 6-weight lines for 6-weight rods and so forth. The larger the fly, the larger the fly line (and fly rod) needed to cast it. Fishing the water column from top to bottom requires both floating and sinking fly lines. As water depth and flow increase, the heavier the sinking fly lines you will need to penetrate it. If you cannot penetrate it to where the fish lie (near bottom), you cannot present the fly in the level at which they are feeding, and you will not catch them. Match the type of the fly line to the fishing conditions for which it is designed. Take care of your fly line, and it will take care of you.

If you see a line marked “Trout,” “Bass,” “Bonefish,” “Big Game” or the like, you know that it is designed for that species. Fly line designations are indicated on the side of the manufacturer’s packages as in these examples: “WF8F” means weight-forward, 8-weight, floating; or “Wet Tip V 13′” means sinking-tip, very fast sinking, 13-foot tip). Then the length of the fly line is given: 90ft./30 yd./27.4m. Each tells you something important about the function of the fly line.

Fly Fishing Line Care

Fly fishing lines should be washed in mild soap and water and wiped dry or cleaned with a line cleaner after use, because they accumulate dirt and algae on their surface, making casting difficult and floating fly lines sink.

After cleaning, allow the fly line to dry in the shade (ultraviolet light from the sun destroys the chemicals in a line), or wipe the fly line dry and dress it with lubricant provided by the manufacturer or with Armor-All. Some newer fly lines require less dressing because they have lubricants in the line coating that gradually weep toward the surface.

When you are not fishing the fly line, detach the fly and wind the line onto the reel until your next trip. Long storage on a reel can create reel-coils in the fly line, but to remove the coils you just need to stretch or cast the line.

At the end of the season clean your fly lines thoroughly and wind them back onto their original line spools.

Always keep your fly lines stored out of direct sunlight. The sun’s ultraviolet rays and high heat (a hot car trunk, for example) can cause the coating chemicals on the fly line to deteriorate quickly. With proper care your fly lines should last from three to five years under normal use.

Starting Out: Fishing Reels

A fly fishing reel is normally operated by stripping line off the reel and wrapping it around the fingers with one hand, while casting the rod with the other hand. You would normally hold the fly rod in your dominant hand and manipulate the line with the other close to the reel, pulling line out in small increments as the energy in the line, generated from backward and forward motions, increases.

Early Fishing Reels

Early fly fishing reels often had no drag (a brake to keep the fish from swimming away). To slow a fish, you had to apply hand pressure to the rim of the revolving spool (known as “palming the rim”). But today, fly reels typically have more sophisticated disc-type drag systems with increased adjustment range and resistance to high temperatures created during braking.

Automatic Fishing Reels

Automatic fly fishing reels use a coiled spring mechanism that pulls the line into the reel with the flick of a lever. Automatic reels tend to be heavy for their size, and have limited line capacity. Automatic fly reels peaked in popularity during the 1960s, and since that time have been outsold many times over by manual fly reels.

Reversible Fishing Reels

Consult the fly fishing reel instructions to see if your fly reel model is reversible. Most fly reels, because of tradition, come set up to retrieve with the right hand. The fly reel’s line guard and the drag system will be set accordingly. If conversion is possible, the manufacturer will supply conversion instructions. A small screwdriver is usually the only tool you will need for the conversion.

Decide which hand you will use to reel in the fly line. Fly fishing tradition has usually dictated cranking the reel with the hand used to do the fly casting. However, this requires switching the fly rod from the left hand to the right or from the right hand to the left. Using one hand to fly cast and fight a fish and the other hand to operate the fly reel has more advantages than the traditional switching-hands method. I believe it is almost always better to crank the fly reel with your free hand (the left hand for right-handed casters and the right hand for left-handed casters).

When the fly reel is set up for the hand you choose, attach the reel to the reel seat on the fly rod’s butt section. Make sure the fly reel is hanging below the rod, and the reel handle is on the correct side for the hand you have decided to use to crank the reel. The fly reel’s line guard should face upward.

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Tight lines!

Starting Out: Fishing Rods

To begin fly fishing for salmon or trout, you’ll need a fishing rod. Experienced anglers typically have two or more fishing rods. Most fishing rods are made of graphite, fiberglass or bamboo. You can get by with an inexpensive new or used graphite or glass fly rod for your first fly fishing trips. But remember, in fly rods, you get what you pay for. The more expensive fly rods provide better materials and workmanship, so the more you fly fish, the more you will come to appreciate the performance high-quality fly rods can provide. They can make you a better caster and, in turn, a better fisherman; so choose wisely.

When fly fishing, you transfer energy to the fly rod when casting. The fly rod casts the line, delivering the fly to the fish. If the fly is delivered properly, the presentation looks natural and the fish takes the fly. The right fly rod, line and leader (tapered strands connecting fly line to fly) are all critical to successful presentation of the fly.

Rod length

The length of fly rod you choose is important. If you fly fish small, brush-lined streams, most often a 6- to 8-foot fly rod may be more suited to your needs than a longer rod. On the other hand, if you fly fish big rivers where casting room is no problem, a 9-foot fly rod makes more sense. Longer fly rods offer the advantage of easier line control.

Choosing the Right Fly Rod Weight

In fly fishing, the line provides the weight to deliver the fly when you cast. The larger the fly the more wind resistant and heavy it is, so the larger (heavier) the fly line you need to deliver it. When fly fishing for larger fish with larger flies, you need a larger rod designed to cast the larger line and flies you will use.

If you start fly fishing by going after trout or panfish, you will use relatively small flies, and delicate presentation of the fly is often critical. A 5- or 6-weight fly rod is the usual choice of most beginners because it can cast small flies delicately and cast relatively large flies to distant targets.

For trout, most people use fly rods ranging from tiny 1-weights up to 8-weight. Bass fishermen will use mostly 6- to 10-weights for fishing large flies. Most folks start fly fishing for trout and panfish with a 5-weight. You can buy the lighter or heavier fly rods later as you become more specialized in your fly fishing.

Teaming Fly Rod and Fly Line

You want a “balanced outfit” – a fly fishing rod and fly line that are designed for each other. Fly rods are designed by manufacturers to cast a certain weight of fly line. For instance, a 6-weight rod works with a 6-weight line; a 4-weight outfit takes a 4-weight line, and so on. If you look at a fly rod, you’ll find this information printed just above the cork grip.

Fly rod manufacturers code their rods in a variety of ways and places. Some fly rods give the rod length and the fly line for which it is matched on a butt cap located on the end of the rod. Other fly rods give the rod length and fly line weights for which the rod is balanced above the cork grip. Most beginners rod/reel/line outfits have the fly line and fly rod already matched.

Other Fly Fishing Outfit Decisions

What is the right rod for me: 2 piece, 3 piece or 4 piece?

Most new anglers begin with a 2-piece fly rod because they fly fish close to home. As you begin to travel to new fly fishing places, 4-piece travel rods may become more important to you (they can usually be hand-carried aboard an airplane).

Buy the best you can afford to start

Since your casting and fishing skills are at a learning level, less-expensive reels and rods may serve you well at the beginning. As your skills mature, you’ll start to improve your fly tackle with higher-performance fly reels and fly rods. Good equipment is always a better value in the long run and will help you learn faster.

Buying tackle at a fly shop where you can talk to knowledgeable sales staff is the best approach. Fly shop salespeople can help put the outfit together and assist you in casting with it. A knowledgeable store clerk should help you with those important first purchases and help you determine what fly rod is the right one for you and where you will fish.

Always check your gear

When you put your outfit together, take a few moments to make sure the rod is securely assembled and there are no cracks or dings that could weaken it. Check your line to be sure it is not cracked or cut. Make sure the fly reel spool is not bent and turns freely.