Today I went to The Fly Fishing Show in Lancaster, PA.  It was a wonderful event with many great exhibitors, presentations, and demonstrations.  Some of the industry leaders in fly tying and fishing were in attendance, sharing their knowledge.  George Daniel, Matt Grobert, Bob Clouser, Dave Rothrock, Ed Engle, Gary Borger, Tim Flagler, Bob Romano, Tom Gilmore and Joe Humphreys were all there to pass along things they have learned and to reach out to the community.  I have learned a tremendous amount from watching Tim Flagler’s videos through his company Tightline Productions, LLC.  I was able (and had the courage as I was a little star struck) to talk to him briefly.  It was great to meet him and thank him for how much his work has helped me grow as a fly tyer.  He was very friendly and gracious. 

The Exhibition Hall of the 2020 Fly Fishing Show in Lancaster, PA

I also spent time talking to David Riggio at Project Healing Waters.  Project Healing Waters is a fly fishing organization that is dedicated to the emotional and physical rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans through fly fishing, fly tying, and fly rod building.  It is a great organization that has helped many veterans find mending through fly fishing.  It is an organization I hope to spend time with in the future as a volunteer. 

Learning about the work of Project Healing Waters

I was also reminded through some of the exhibitors and presentations on the great work done by Trout Unlimited through different chapter efforts and the national program efforts.  Trout Unlimited was mentioned in each presentation I watched.  Their efforts have included restoration, specifically the restoration of Big Spring Run was discussed in a great presentation by Jake Villwock.  Also their efforts to preserve public access of trout waters was mentioned by Rick Nyles and Tom Gilmore.  Trout Unlimited is a great conservation and restoration minded organization that also works to build a sense of community around fly fishing and the water quality efforts needed to protect our waters.  I am a member of Trout Unlimited but hearing and seeing their good works reminded me to also lend a hand volunteering with them this upcoming year.

Going to the Fly Fishing Show and being part of the fly fishing community reminded me to be more involved and that I want to build a sense of community with Fly Fish Mend.  As a relative beginner to fly fishing, I am sometimes nervous about trying to share technical knowledge.  I worry that I’m not enough of an expert or don’t have enough experience to have something worthwhile to say.  While my confidence in my skills and what I’ve learned though my fly fishing experiences is growing, I don’t think I qualify as an expert.  But to build a community, everyone needs to share and participate.  If everyone felt they had to wait until they were an expert, only a few people would share and it would be hard to build a community.  So I’ve been sharing my thoughts and feelings through my blog primarily, but I’ll change that in this blog post to include some technical information focused at helping newer fly fishers start to tackle the learning curve of the skills and knowledge that helped me in my growth as a fisherman. 

Learning Curve

An obstacle to fly fishing is frustration connected to the amount of things you need to learn to be able to catch fish while fly fishing.  Fly fishing is a relatively simple concept of replicating an aquatic insect or organism, connecting it to a heavy line to propel a very light lure, presenting it in a way to trick fish into thinking its food, snaring it on a hook, and then landing the fish.  But, just like any activity and its associated culture, it comes with gear, language, physical skills, understanding the environment of the activity, and committing to time spent learning and being active in the activity.  To learn all these aspects you will need help.  There are lots of resources to help I can try to connect you to and I can describe some tips and tricks I have used to try to catch up on my knowledge and to catch more fish.  And there is always more to learn and more opinions to consider. 

Basic Skills

Tying Knots – This is a critical task.  There is a need to learn to tie a few different knots.  This is not something I am good at, but I am getting better. It requires lots of practice, and without it, you can’t fly fish without someone to help you tie the knots.  The main elements to master are connecting the fly to the tippet or leader and connecting the tippet to a leader.  The most common knots for connecting the fly to the leader or tippet include the clinch knot and the improved clinch knots.  There are incredible graphics and videos online for helping to teach these knots.  The common knots for attaching the tippet to the leaders include the double surgeon’s knot, the blood knot and the nail knot (also inspiration for my logo!). There are literally millions of graphics, websites, and YouTube channels to help you with these knots.  It is important to take your time and practice knots.  You are going to lose lots of flies and break lots of tippet.  There are also tippet rings, which allow you to use a clinch knot to connect a leader to tippet, though issues such as bending and breaking can occur with the rings as well.  Learning to tie good knots helps prevent many break offs and helps you quickly get back to fishing when it inevitably happens.

Casting – The sexy and eloquent physical aspect of fly fishing is the casting.  The iconic scene of the father and two sons fishing in “A River Runs Through It” is always the first image that pops into my mind when I think of fly casting.  I am an active learner, so my best recommendation for learning how to cast is to take a class.  The majority of fly shops will have beginner classes offered.  In these classes, a guide will teach you basic knots, the basics of types of flies and how to fish them, and how to cast.  Generally these classes range from $100-200 and are about 3-4 hours.  This is a valuable investment in money and time to jump start your fishing skills. 

Iconic Scene from A River Runs Through It

The basic principle of casting is that using a controlled acceleration then stop movement in a linear back and forth motion allows the rod to flex (which fly casters will call loading the rod) and return to its straight form.  This transfer of energy from your body and arm into the rod and then into the line, propels the heavy fly line with the lighter flies quite a distance towards your target.  This takes lots of practice to keep a rhythm, feel the loading of the rod, pull and manage the line from the reel, aim the cast and prevent the line from being tangled. Nothing will be more valuable than to spend time practicing how to cast, another great excuse to go fishing! But practice can also be down in your yard or a nearby open field area where you will have plenty of space and won’t be dragging your fly line across a rough surface like pavement. 

A common problem in casting is referred to as a “tailing loop”.  A tailing loop creates knots in your leader by overpowering your cast in the forward portion of the cast or not allowing the line to completely straighten behind you in the back cast.  The casting motion reminds me in part of a golf swing, (I am a horrible golfer) where a smooth and linear path creates a more effective cast that minimizes tangles (or missed strikes on a golf ball).  You always need to pay close attention to your surroundings to make sure you don’t catch the flies in trees or other obstacles for your back and forward casting motions.

There are many derivations of different casting techniques and methods that can help you in different situations.  As you advance through fly fishing knowledge it may be good to learn the reach cast, the pile or parachute cast, the aerial mend, the haul or double haul and many others.  I would recommend reaching out to a guide or using the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center as an online resource.  There are many videos that are helpful in fine tuning techniques through the Learning Center.      

Planning – I have found that I enjoy learning about where to go fly fishing almost as much as fishing itself.  I am a scientist and a bit of a nerd.  I like research.  There is at least one book per state in the US that describes fly fishing in that particular state.  I typically fish in Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Two great resources I have used include: The Guide to Maryland Trout Fishing: The Catch-and -Release Streams by Gelso and Coburn and Keystone Fly Fishing: The Ultimate Guide to Pennsylvania’s Best Water by Ramsay, Heck, et al.  These are both wonderful resources, and there are others that are also helpful, but I typically go to these first.  There are also many online resources and fishing reports, many through the websites of local fly shops.  It is important to know where to fish but you also need to know where to park, where private property is posted for no trespassing, what hatches or flies are appropriate for the time you are fishing, local regulations or laws, licensing requirements, flow levels, and other safety concerns (wildlife, poison ivy, wading conditions, etc.).  Calling a local fly shop prior to a trip or even stopping in before hitting the river is always a good idea to get good specific tips and to make sure you have all the gear and flies you need.  

I will add more to the Learning Curve Series over time, so look out for some of my tips and tricks.  If you have ideas to share, please add a comment!

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