You’ll hear most anything in a fly shop or on the stream—and a lot of it can leave you dazed and confused. Here’s the truth.
[by Aaron Jasper]
The first step from non–fly fisher to beginning fly fisher can lead to a face-first collision with a wall of dense information. Newbies are bombarded with details about fly rod weights and lengths and lines for all occasions, as well as dissertations on dry flies, wet flies, and streamers, which naturally lead to discussions about aquatic insects and matching hatches, which will terminate in talk about the benefits of mono over fluoro—or vice versa. Let’s face it, for all its soul and passion, fly fishing still is a technical sport. As such, it has its share of long-standing truths, opinions, and myths that you’ll confront soon after choosing to pursue fish with a fly. Here are a solid score of myths that deserve to be debunked and hopefully will add some clarity to the scene.
1 – “All you need is a 9-foot 5-weight rod.”
One of the first bits of advice all beginners hear is in regard to their first fly rod. While a 9-foot 5-weight is a great rod to dry fly fish with, it’s not the ideal rod to use for streamer fishing or many nymphing applications. Such a rod isn’t heavy enough to cast large streamers, and the rod length isn’t enough to mend line at long distances while indicator nymphing. A 9-foot 5-weight is a perfect rod for beginners and does open the door to nymph, dry fly, and smallstreamer presentations, but it certainly can’t be hailed as “the only fly rod you will ever need.” From trout to tarpon, the fly-fishing world is just too big and varied. And even if you chase only trout, as your skills progress you will want at least a couple of other specialty rods—faster or slower actions, or larger or smaller weights—that enhance your efforts on the water.
2 – “There’s no difference between mono and fluorocarbon.”
The type of tippet material an angler chooses is often undervalued. Fluorocarbon is more expensive, yet in most applications, superior to monofilament. It is more abrasion resistant and less visible in the water—light passes through it instead of reflecting off it. Torrey Collins, the manager of Housatonic River Outfitters puts things in perspective: Underwater, 1X fluorocarbon has the same visibility as 5X monofilament.
3 – “Barbless hooks are a disadvantage.”
Most fly anglers cut their fishing teeth by threading live bait onto barbed hooks. Thus, the concept of barbless hooks just seems strange. However, barbless hooks penetrate a fish’s jaw more easily than the barbed variety and may increase your hookup rate, helping to offset the number of fish you might lose. In addition, many trout streams require catch and release, and barbless hooks make the release part much more pleasant. In some areas, barbed hooks are illegal. Use them, and you’ll soon learn they are just as effective as barbed hooks. If all of that doesn’t convince you, wait until you catch a trout or happen upon a dead one with misshapen jaws.
4 – “Big trout must have deep water.”
Given cover and a steady flow of food, big trout will hold in water that’s less than 12 inches. On a recent trip to France, I noticed many fish, some more than two feet long, holding in very shallow flows. That made me slow down and study water before I waded through it. It also opened my eyes to the importance of studying every riffle and shallow run. I try not to overlook anything, and it’s led to a significant increase in my catch rate of larger trout.
5 “You need the hot new fly.”
Each year, Umpqua Feather Merchants, Orvis, Montana Fly Company, Rainy’s, and other manufacturers put some great new patterns in fly shop bins. In turn, many anglers get caught up in fishing only hot new flies. But classic patterns are classic for a reason: They have been catching fish for decades. When I was in France, the “hot fly” was a Sawyer Pheasant Tail Nymph, a fly that has been in steady rotation since 1958 after it appeared in Frank Sawyer’s book, Nymphs and Trout. Coupled with Sawyer’s “induced take” method, where the fly is lifted slightly as it approaches the holding trout, a Pheasant Tail works as well now as it did more than 50 years ago. The same could be said for countless other patterns.
6 – “Tungsten beads do not make any real difference.”
Tungsten is significantly more expensive than copper and other metals used to make beadheads, and similar to fluorocarbon tippet, it is often subject to naysaying. Tungsten, however, is significantly denser and has faster sink rates that allow you to reach the strike zone much quicker. Tungsten beads also allow you to sink tiny flies, and the extra weight helps prevent stream turbidity from playing havoc with very small patterns.
7 – “Trout don’t see red.”
Anglers debate whether or not fish can see the color red, and while some fish species probably cannot see it, trout have receptors in their eyes that are sensitive to colors of reddish hue. In his book, What Fish See, Dr. Colin Kageyama says that trout have the ability to see red at greater depths than any other color except white, fluorescent orange, and fl uorescent yellow. So, adding a little red to your patterns can make your flies stand out and elicit reaction strikes. Fortunately, a variety of threads, wires, Krystal Flash, biot tails, and even dubbings come in shades of red.
8 – “Fish won’t spook in fast water.”
Fast, tumbling water might allow you to creep closer to some fish, but don’t think you can just wade into a riffle or pocket water without spooking them. Trout cannot identify footsteps as an approaching human, but they know when they hear something or feel vibrations that are not normal. And when something out of the ordinary comes along, they hide. So stealth is a must. Approach fast runs the same way you would a slow, gentle pool.
9 – “Trout feed on the surface only 10 percent of the time.”
My experience has led me to believe that trout spend far less than 10 percent of the time feeding on the surface. Ten percent of the time equals 2 hours and 24 minutes a day. I spend some days on a river—sometimes days in a row—and don’t see a single fish rise. And I’ve fi shed some big hatches that ignited a surface-feeding frenzy—but not for two hours. Also, as trout get bigger, they seek protein-rich, subsurface food sources, such as small fish and crayfish. Fly fishermen will have much higher catch rates if they utilize methods that allow them to effectively present prey imitations beneath the surface.
10 – “You must match the hatch.”
Although many dry fly purists preach matching the hatch, fish often prefer offerings that are slightly larger than the natural. If there is an abundance of small prey, using a bigger fly will help it stand out. On the main stem of the Delaware River, I once fi shed a major emergence of size 20 through 24 blue-winged olives, and trout were gorging themselves. Then we saw one size 10 Isonychia float down the river, and as this larger mayfly attempted to emerge, a trout chased it down. So we switched to Isonychia emerger patterns and met with far more success.