Fishing with a fly

This semester I am finally a full-time graduate student.

Because my classes are in eight-week increments and I am only taking one course from January through March, I have finally had a little time to cultivate some of my hobbies. The one I want to explain to you today is fly-fishing, as it is my most complex and satisfying hobby.

Fly-fishing is an ancient form of fishing that distinguishes itself from other forms of angling through its intentional difficulty. There are far easier ways to bring a fish to hand, but no other method is as gratifying. Much of the joy comes from learning all the steps of preparing tackle and the rhythmic process of casting. If the first two parts are properly mastered, then one will eventually be victorious on the water. The following is a brief description of learning the process of fly-fishing.

This particular method of catching fish dates back to 200 AD. Its tackle, or equipment, is not technical but its preparation can seem tedious. It is important to understand the basic mechanics of the method. A “fly” is an artificial creation intended to mimic any of a fish’s favorite foods. It may be an arrangement of feathers that impersonate a mayfly, or a strip of rabbit fur cut and tied to swim like a minnow. Flies are as varied as the diets of the fish pursued, but they all contain hooks. The hook and fly are tied to a clear section of line called a leader. Learning to tie knots is critical to this step. The best way to learn to tie a knot is by looking at a diagram and then repeating the process many times. The leader is then attached to the “fly line,” a section of weighted line that propels the fly through the air. This juncture will require yet another unique knot. Once a fly, leader and fly line have been joined, it is time to learn how to cast.

Fly-casting is beautiful and rhythmic. It derives its power from symmetry, and when done properly can achieve great distances with minimal muscle. Unlike a conventional rod that flings a heavy lure or bait through the air with a thin line trailing behind, a fly rod uses a thick line to pull a nearly weightless fly along. It is like moving a tissue back and forth by affixing it to a long bullwhip. The tissue would be far too light to throw any distance, but the symmetrical motion of the whip can easily drag it across a room. An open lawn or golf course pond is a perfect place to practice casting a fly rod.

Now, for the fishing in fly-fishing. It is here that this method overlaps most with the others because fish are always the same and generally don’t care what sort of fisherman or fisherwoman you are. The best way to learn about catching fish is to speak to someone who avidly fishes. There is no substitute for the spoken or written words of those who have spent lots of time on the water. The behavior of fish is not something that can be memorized such as tying knots or casting. It must be understood and conceptualized. If one can understand what a fish likes and wants, then one will have a much better chance of presenting a fly in an appetizing way.

Fly-fishing is unique in its process; it has been largely unchanged for more than 1,800 years, though it has been rendered obsolete many times over. Nonetheless, it is still enjoyed by many today because of the fun of learning this complicated method. It is the culmination of that learning that makes each catch that much sweeter.


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Jenifer Jaffe

UIW Editor 2014-15

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