The Essence of Fly Fishing
For many of us fly fishing is the ultimate passion. Let's have a look why we cannot withstand the temptation of fishing a beautiful river or a pristine flat.
“Fly fishing means fishing with a fly rod, fly reel and fly line. The latest is due to its weight and characteristics able to pull an imitation (dry fly, nymph or streamer) through the air to finally deliver it to the wanted target. Delivering the flies to the target with the help of a fly line and harmonic movements resulting in an elegantly enroling loop is the core element of fly fishing and the decisive criteria that makes the difference between fly fishing and all other fishing methods.“
A fly at the end of a leader does not make a fly fisher
Already in ancient times fly-like imitations made of feathers were dipped on the surface or fished below it. From today's point of view it would be ridiculous to call this fly fishing. This also refers to fishing flies with a bubble, a Tiroler Hölzl/slinky, a pole, a centerpin reel or Czech Nymphing. What we call fly fishing today started in the moment the first fly lines were manufactured that were able to deliver a dry fly on distance. Only much later nymph fishing was introduced thanks to Skues' persistence and finally streamer fishing completed the range of fly fishing techniques. Up to the middle of the last century greased silk lines were standard but in the 1950ies the first plastic coated floating fly line was developed. Since that time a continuous development of fly line tapers and coating materials has been taking place. Today you can get fly lines for all purposes and fish species.
No fly fishing without fly casting
As fly fishers we try to cast a fly in the most proper way by using a specially tapered fly line. We want to catch fish with it. The difficult and spooky fish make us improve our fly casting technique and widen our knowledge about the target fish and their environment. With no doubt the fishing itself, the attempt to catch fish, is the motor that keeps us motivated in developing all our skills that are necessary to become a successful fly angler. I started fishing at a very early age and after having gone through the basic school of fishing with all its facets from ground baiting to spin fishing and even big game I finally got hooked on fly fishing in 1978. That's a long time ago and although I have fished so many waters around the world and have caught so many beautiful trophies I still get curious if not to say nervous like a child before Christmas if it gets to fish a new water which I have never fished before, especially if it is said to be a really good one. Flies are tied, books about it are read, locals are contacted in advance and maybe friends are sought after who have fished the water before.
When it gets to fish waters with no or difficult/limited access Google Earth is a nice tool we can use to feel right at the river and study it right from our living room. I am a fisherman, a real fisherman, much more than I am a fly caster although I am meanwhile known for my fly casting abilities more or less around the globe. The only reason why I became a quite acceptable fly caster is because there were always good fish around which had chosen a stand which was quite difficult to fish and required a good technique to get the chance to get a take. I was quoted several times for having said that the more difficult a fish is to catch for me the more valuable it is for me and the fish which I cannot catch with all my experience is the most valuable one. This is still true because from this fish I can learn a lot. There is always something you can learn. You can study its habits, its feeding rhythms, its prey, to better handle water currents or to develop an even better way of presentation to ... finally get the take you are waiting for. After having caught such a fish after hours, days or weeks I feel really grateful for having got the chance to learn a bit more about a certain species.
There were many articles published about the pros and cons of barbless(or bent down barb) fishing. There are also those who argue that a micro barb would harm a fish less. I believe a fish does not care too much about our little hooks in their mouth and I am sure that they do not feel pain or stress in the way we feel them all. But if you have to hold your fish longer than necessary in your hands, if you have problems to get the hook out of his mouth even after several attempts, then the fish skin will not be the same any more and you can believe me that this can lead to infections which can kill it. If you hook yourself, your guide or your friend during a fishing trip in the wild you will soon recognize that the release works much better with a barbless hook. A fish which is not hooked well gets away anyway with or without a barb.
Be careful when taking pictures of trophy fish!
If you want to make some pictures of a trophy fish or a protected fish which you are going to release later, you have to be very careful to not harm the fish. Wrong handling can lead to a much higher death rate of released fish. A C&R landing net is a must for someone who wants to make a picture of such a fish. Until your fishing buddy is ready to press the button you can leave the fish in the water in the C&R net all the time, lift it for a second to take the picture and release it carefully. Never lift a fish by holding it in the gills or head up. Especially migrating fish which are full with eggs are very sensitive and it is a must to handle them in the most gentle way. The roe is too heavy and the strings that keep it in place inside the fish will break if you hold such a fish head up. A female spawner that is lifted this way will not be able to spawn any more. If you take pictures of a fish, support it under the pectoral fins and hold it around the tail. It you are on your own, you have to be a pro to make such picture. Without having a landing net and a camera stand placed in advance you should not even think of making a picture at all. The fish will be thankful.
Even avid fly fishers have to admit that some big rivers are limited in regard of the use of fly fishing tackle. Most of the owners of such waters pay tribute to this fact and allow other fishing methods, too. Be it the target species or the size and depth of a beat, fly fishing has got its limits. You can of course bend them in a way that at the end the streamer will be the only remaining part that reminds you of fly fishing. To be honest, to pull out fly line (or even only use running line or monofilament) drop it in front of you and throw a 30-40g streamer either by hand or with the help of a non-active alibi fly line in order to catch a danube salmon (hucho hucho) or a marmorata "on fly" has got nothing to do with fly fishing anymore! There are waters and beats which because of there size, depth or wading restrictions do just not fit as fly only waters. At beats where the fly cannot be fished correctly anymore I totally agree to the late Austrian fly fishing icon Sepp Prager who enjoyed using spinning gear, if the regulations allowed it.
Catch & Release
Catch and release(C&R) is an important tool to protect endangered species. Resident fish populations are much more in danger in regard of overfishing than most migrating species. Fisheries which are dependent on resident species need a very good management. I don't think C&R is necessary everywhere and in some countries in Europe it is even forbidden. I like to eat fish from time to time but if I decide to take a fish I always care of the water I am taking it from. You should know some basics to recognize a good spawner, a so called valuable fish. In Central Europe we have minimal sizes and even catch and must-kill-regulations. Every single biologist knows that such (catch a 22cm-brown-trout-and bang it on the head) regulations are very doubtful. You better protect the valuable age groups of fish and make it possible to take the old fish(and the young if the populations allows it). You can even have a high minimum size. An old fish has carried out its duties and needs a lot of territory. But you have to know the water because a big fish is not everywhere an old fish(a 60 cm brown trout from the Gačka in Croatia is usually only about three years old). Better take migratory fish and protect the resident ones. In Europe it is not possible to push a C&R policy at all but if you fish in the Yellowstone and recognize the huge amount of fly fishers you will soon understand that C&R has its right to exist, too. I think a population considered release (PCR) is the more reliable way in Europe. Anyway I think more and more if not to say most of all good fly fishers release most of their catch.
Limit your catch, don't catch your limit!
Rules for C&R