Fly fishing is often a solitary sport, and many anglers like it that way. The experience of being alone on a pristine river with just a gentle breeze and the swish of the line playing out, not to mention the glory of reeling in a big one, is an almost religious endeavor for some outdoor lovers.
However, there are bound to be the encounters that are memorable for the wrong reasons—and not just because the big one that got away. Instead, it’s the fellow fishermen (and women) who sometimes are to blame for a less-than-enjoyable encounter on the water.
So, with plenty of great fishing days still up for grabs this summer and into fall, here’s a look at the unwritten rules of fly fishing etiquette. Put them to use around Wyoming or wherever else the fish are biting.
Respect the space of others.
Unless you want to catch a fly in the back—or catch plenty of flak for being the one to land a fly on someone else’s back—give your fellow fisherfolk plenty of room. If you walk down the river and find someone already there, find another spot a few runs up; generally there’s enough space for everyone. As Tim Wade, owner of North Fork Anglers in Cody, notes: “Just because someone is fishing there doesn’t mean that’s the only place to catch fish.”
If you’re staking out your spot along with other anglers, all you have to do is either quietly observe which direction they’re headed in, and plan accordingly. Or you can politely ask where they’re headed. “Communication is key,” Wade notes.
Respecting others’ space also applies to boaters, too. “Proper etiquette is to give the fisherman around you room to fish,” says Dave Crowther, a local fly fisherman and builder of custom rods. “Boat fishermen should make sure not to stop right where someone on shore is casting. There should be enough distance between the boat and shore not to overlap lines.”
Watch where you’re casting (and back-casting), too, especially in more crowded areas: Don’t be that guy (or gal) who’s yanking and whipping his line like a cowboy with a lasso.
Respect the resource, too.
Trout are fragile creatures. “It takes a long time to grow a fish in this area,” says Crowther. “A 24-inch trout can be four years old and then they only have another couple of years left to live.”
Anglers who are fishing catch and release must learn proper release techniques, as improper or sloppy handling can also mean a dead fish. Keep the fish out of the water a maximum of five or six seconds when you snap that trophy photo. Proper fish handling helps protect a delicate resource.
Keep quiet and calm.
One of the most beautiful aspects of fishing is the serene sound of the wilderness: the river, birds, and wildlife, and of course, that glorious sound of the fly whizzing through the air. Keep the peace by keeping your voice low and if you do land a big one, keep the hooting and hollering to a minimum. It’s fine to get excited about fishing, and to celebrate your catch, of course, but do it with some decorum. Similarly, if you’re fishing mid-river: Don’t splash around and stir up the water.
Don’t forget about the little things.
Keep in mind that something as seemingly insignificant as your shadow along the bank can alert the fish and disrupt someone’s fishing; walk far enough off the bank to mitigate that issue. And, if your dog won’t be winning any awards for obedience, it might be best to leave him or her home on this one. The only animals your fellow fishermen want to worry about are the ones with fins in the river.
Learn four powerful little words.
If you you spend enough time fishing, sooner or later you’ll be the at the receiving end of some of the slip-ups mentioned above. And when that happens, don’t get riled up or blow your cool. Instead, politely point out the problem, and if you’re met with resistance, here’s what you say: “You must be new.” Then smile and keep casting.
Written by Leslie Tribble for RootsRated and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So you’ve thought about Fly Fishing this season, we’ve put together a list of the few essentials needed to kick start your season and new obsession.
Fly Rod: A fly rod is a long, flexible fishing rod designed specifically for fly fishing. The length and weight of the rod will depend on the type of fishing you plan to do, but a good all-around rod for freshwater fishing is usually 9 feet long and weighs between 4 and 6 ounces.
Fly Reel: The fly reel is attached to the rod and holds the fly line. Look for a reel that matches the weight of your rod and has a good drag system.
Fly Line: The fly line is the weight-forward line that you cast with the fly rod. The weight of the line should match the weight of your rod and reel.
Leader and Tippet: The leader is a tapered line that connects the fly line to the fly. The tippet is a thin, transparent line that connects the fly to the leader. The length and weight of the leader and tippet will depend on the size of the fly and the fish you are targeting.
Flies: Flies are the lures used in fly fishing. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors and imitate different types of insects and baitfish. Start with a few basic patterns like Woolly Buggers, Adams, and Pheasant Tails.
Waders and Boots (optional): If you plan to fish in cold water or wade in the water, you may want to invest in a pair of waders and boots. Waders are waterproof pants that extend up to the chest, while boots provide traction on slippery rocks and mud.
Other Accessories: You may also want to bring a fly box to hold your flies, a pair of polarized sunglasses to reduce glare, and a hat to protect you from the sun.
Looking for the perfect trout stick? An understanding of how rod performance determines price will help you pick the best rod no matter how much you want to spend
Walk into any fly shop from the Rockies to the Catskills and you’ll see a wall or two full of trout rods. Most shops carry a half-dozen brands at least, and the prices range from the bare-bones value of rods like the ECHO Base, all the way to the pricey G. Loomis Asquith. I’ve spent my entire life chasing trout in the American West, and I’d like to think I know a thing or two about “good” trout rods. I’ve also had the opportunity to fish many different rod brands across a wide spectrum of price ranges. Of course, “good” and “bad” are subjective terms, but using them to describe rods boils down to whether or not a fly rod puts your fly where, how, and when you wanted it. It’s the performance aspect of fly rods that creates the price disparity. But does that price difference automatically mean an expensive rod will put your fly on the water, exactly how you want, as accurately as possible, every time? Not entirely. A competent angler can work with an incompetent rod. If you’re in the market for a new trout rod, here’s what to consider when figuring out which one is right for you, based on everything from budget to your preferred style of fishing. First and foremost, you have to understand that what creates the price differences among trout rods comes down to these three features:
A high price tag almost always correlates to a fly rod blank that’s lighter and stronger than cheaper rods. Winston’s new AIR rod family is a great example to use here. The AIR utilizes Winston’s blend of boron graphite and a new resin (the glue that holds graphite together), which supposedly dries lighter, meaning you’re fishing a lighter rod. The AIR retails for $950 – a hefty price tag. But when compared to the company’s new Kairos—which goes for $475—you can immediately notice the difference in rod weight and overall feel. Blank quality is the biggest factor in pricing a rod.
This is a tricky aspect to quantify because performance is such a subjective term, and it’s devilishly hard to accurately measure. What is measureable, though, is how a blank tracks and deflects. A rod with high torsional stability (meaning the tip stays in a relatively straight line as it moves on your front and back cast) that doesn’t oscillate will, in the right hands, be more accurate than a rod that’s not built with those major features in mind.
Just like the majority of flies are tied to catch fishermen more so than fish, rods are built to draw attention while on the shop rack. From the bright green of the Sage MOD to the trademark unsanded finish on Scott rods, every company has some signature build quality meant to make a rod fit for the classiest of tweed-clad trout anglers. Joking aside, the quality of a rod’s cork, guides, thread wraps, and hardware quickly add up to a bigger price tag. They don’t drastically impact how a rod performs, but I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t appreciate well-built rods. It’s a lot like hunting rifles, honestly. A composite stock doesn’t make a gun better than one with a real wood stock, but something about solid mahogany or walnut just feels better.
Now that you have a better understanding of what sets the price of a fly rod, consider these factors before walking into the fly shop:
How much are you willing to spend on a rod? Go in with a firm idea because that will hugely narrow down your search for the perfect rod.
What do you plan to use this rod for? Is it your .30-06, ready to tackle just about every situation you come across? Five-weight rods are the go-to for most trout anglers, myself included, and are largely considered the best all-around weight. Four-weight rods are lighter and a top choice for devout dry fly anglers, and a heavier, faster 6-weight is the standard stick for guys that like to strip larger streamers all day or dredge nymphs on weighted rigs. When you clearly define the use of the rod you’re going to buy, your options will narrow even further. However you fish, make sure the rod you buy matches your style. You’ll appreciate your investment that much more if you buy something suited exactly to your standard trout fishing needs.
Once you’ve answered the above questions, and taken into account what aspects of a rod are most impactful in rod performance, you’re ready to start shopping. The following list is a great starting point for finding the rod you want at the right price. I’ve personally fished each and every one of these sticks, and while there are many, many others on the market, my field test findings may help guide your decision. Whichever rod you end up with, make sure to keep it clear of car doors, clean the dirt from the ferrules, and catch some trout with it. No matter how pretty or expensive a rod is, as late master rodsmith Tom Morgan himself told me, “Rods are meant to be fished.”
Written by Spencer Durrant for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Spun-hair files are secret weapons for bass, pike, and trout. Here are the best fly patterns, fly-tying tips, and big-fish tactics
Everything about modern flyfishing is fast. We’ve got fast rods, fast-shooting heads, fast-drying UV resin, and even premade wings, legs, and tails that let you whip up flies faster than ever. This might be why spun-hair bass bugs aren’t commonplace in fly boxes today. Everything about them is slow. They need to be fished with patience, you can’t knock them out at the vise, and their air-resistant bodies made Granddad’s slow, noodly fiberglass rod the perfect hair-bug delivery tool. Thing is, spun-hair bugs haven’t lost an ounce of potency since Granddad’s day. And while it’s true that a well-made hair bug isn’t cheap, if you know what to do with one, it’ll repay you with more giant fish.
1. Soak It In
Not only is Pat Cohen the man when it comes to tying hair bugs (see “Spin Class,” below), he’s also a leading expert on fishing them. It’s important to remember that a hair bug behaves differently than a similar fly with a foam, cork, or balsa body, which is why Cohen says you don’t want to just tie one on and slap it down. A little bit of hair-bug prep goes a long way.
“I prefer to fish hair bugs that are waterlogged,” says Cohen. “I’ll actually soak them for up to an hour before fishing to make sure all of that hair absorbs as much water as possible. Just before I start casting, I’ll squeeze the bug out. What you end up with is a fly that will naturally ride lower in the surface film.”
According to Cohen, a hair bug that’s riding low produces a deeper gurgle and pop that simply can’t be matched by topwater flies with solid bodies. This sound can be a dinner bell for huge bass if you present the fly correctly. Cohen says it’s important not to overwork a topwater hair bug. He always lets the splat-down rings dissipate before moving his fly. “I give it a couple of pops and let it sit for three to five seconds,” he says. “If there’s a bass in the area, it knows your fly is there. Bass are naturally curious and will come scope it out.
You just have to vary your retrieve cadence and speed to figure out how to make it eat.”
2. Sinkers and Floaters
Hair bugs are surface flies, so you’d naturally want to cast them on a floating fly line. Most of the time, anyway. If you’re looking for a leg up on trophy pike, bass, or even trout, Cohen recommends ditching the floater, particularly when you’re using a hair diver. Pair these buoyant bugs with a heavy-grain sink tip, and the results can be positively stunning.
“That sinking fly line wants to go down, and a floating fly wants to come up. So you get this up-and-down jigging action, along with this really crazy, erratic side-to-side motion,” Cohen says. “It’s almost similar to a crankbait’s wobble. You can fish it just like a streamer, and it’s absolutely deadly.”
To dial in exactly the action you want, Cohen says, all you have to do is play with leader length. The longer the leader, the more time it will take the sink tip to pull the fly down and the more subtle the action. If you use a short 2- or 3-foot leader, the fly will drop faster and you’ll get increased action on the strip. By varying sink-tip weight and length, you can also fine-tune exactly where in the water column you want that diver to work or suspend.
3. Pop and Drop
Deer-hair poppers might have the uncanny ability to draw in bass, but that doesn’t always mean those bass are going to commit. This is one of the reasons why Cohen often hangs a dropper under his flies. He says the method makes the play more often than not when bass are being finicky.
“What I do is take a 24-inch piece of leader material and tie it to the bend of my popper hook,” Cohen says. “Then you tie a small sinking fly to that leader. A little Clouser Minnow is one of my favorites. As you work that popper, that Clouser is bouncing around below it, and it looks just like an injured baitfish. So you’ve got the unique sound of the popper to call the fish in, but also a smaller target if a bass won’t hit the bigger meal.”
If you tie up Cohen’s “popper-dropper” rig, just don’t forget to alter your casting a bit; fail to open up your loop, and that little Clouser can create some gnarly tangles or end up in the back of your skull.
Back in the day, spinning hair to create a popper was practical; in today’s world of myriad prefab foam-popper heads, it may seem outdated. The reality is that in many cases, a hair popper gives you an edge. The difference lies in the sound it makes in the water, which is a much deeper, more “gurgly” one than your average foam popper. Add in hair’s ability to move more water, and you’ve got a hog caller.
Much like a hollow-body plastic frog, there aren’t many places a spun-hair frog with a weedguard can’t go. You can find hair frogs with popping bodies and diving bodies, but those with more streamlined slider-style bodies are some of the most versatile. They’ll glide over the tops of lilies and grass mats while producing a strong V wake to call in the biggest bass and pike hiding in the salad bar.
Designed by renowned angler Larry Dahlberg, the diver’s magic lies in the head design, which tapers from slanted at the front to a wide, flared collar at the back. Give it a hard strip and it will dive a few inches under the surface, and as water moves over the flared collar, the fly will wobble and shimmy seductively. Strip slowly and a diver will get smoked as it wakes and gurgles across the surface.
Even a small bass can easily suck down a hefty hair mouse. If late-night brown trout hunting is your game, however, you only tie one of these bushy fur balls on when you’re after “the one.” It takes a big mouth and strong commitment for a trout to eat a hair mouse, but when it happens, make sure you feel your line tighten before you set. Otherwise, you’re just going to yank the midnight snack away from the fish.
Pat Cohen of Super Fly is the modern-day hair master. So exceptional is his work that many of his fans consider his flies more art than tackle. It’s no secret that making quality hair bugs is meticulous work that takes plenty of practice to perfect, but if you’re thinking about giving it a shot, Cohen says understanding these three hair-spinning rules is critical before you get started.
“I think a lot of people mistake bass bugs as being made of bucktail,” Cohen says. “Bucktail doesn’t flare properly. I also see a lot of folks trying to use deer body hair, but it’s soft and absorbs a lot of water. The flies don’t always float correctly and often flip over on their backs. To make a good bass bug, you always want to use quality deer belly hair. It’s stiff, flares correctly, and has the most buoyancy.”
“One of the biggest issues tiers have is thread control,” says Cohen. “When it’s time to cinch a stack of hair in place, people are afraid to put too much tension on the thread because they don’t want to break it. But you have to break thread now and again to learn how much tension you can put on it. If you don’t use enough tension, your fly will weaken and fall apart after a while. I use gel-spun threads for all my bugs because they can handle a lot of tension.”
“Carving bass bugs takes a lot of patience,” Cohen says. “When you’re ready for shaping, the trick is not thinking of the final shape. You want to envision a body in its most basic form. As an example, if you break down a popper to its basic fundamental shape, it’s a rectangle on a hook. Trimming the hair into an even rectangle is easier for people to do. Once you have that shape completed, then you can go back and round it into the popper you want.”
Written by Joe Cermele for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Essential advice from one of Field & Stream’s greatest writers
For three and a half decades, H.G. “Tap” Tapply dolled out hard-earned wisdom on all things outdoors in his monthly column, Tap’s Tips. Here, we have compiled 40 of his best fishing tips from the ’60s and ’70s. Tapply specialized in quick, clever solutions to common problems—many of which are sure to solve your modern-day woes. —The Editors
A plastic worm that has been torn or cut in half can be stuck together very easily. Heat the two ends over a lighter till they melt, then hold them together while the plastic hardens. The “weld” will be as strong as the original worm.
You can brighten tarnished spoon and spinner blades, or paint a glittery body on a streamer fly hook, with an “ultra-iridescent” sparkling fingernail polish. It can be found in copper and silver colors in a small bottle with a brush applicator, and costs only two bits.
When you find line-grooves in a rod guide, usually at the tip top, you can buff them away with thin strips of emery cloth. But this leaves a rough surface, so always finish the job by polishing the inside of the guides with crocus cloth (jeweler’s rouge).
When you return home after a day of fishing, make it a habit to leave your box of lures or book of flies open overnight so the contents can dry out. Moisture trapped in an airtight container will soon rust hooks and tarnish metal lures.
When you run your boat ashore after a day’s fishing, stop the motor by disconnecting the fuel line and letting the motor idle till the carburetor runs dry. This will eliminate the chance that fuel may leak out when you put the kicker in the car trunk.
A frozen fish should be thawed slowly. Either put it in the refrigerator 24 hours before cooking it or place it in cold water. If the fish is thawed too fast, the outside flesh may deteriorate while the inside is still frozen too hard to cook through.
To provide a contrasty background for tying flies, paint the tying table soft white or another light shade, or use self-adhering, shelf-lining material in a solid color (light green is ideal). It’s easier on the eyes when tying very small flies.
As a rule of thumb, fish should not be kept in the refrigerator longer than two days before being cooked, for they lose their flavor rapidly. If it is necessary to keep the fish any longer than two days, it is better to quick-freeze them instead.
Two tips for keeping rod ferrules from sticking: One, don’t lubricate them, because oil or nose grease collects dust and dirt. Keep both ferrules dry and clean. Two, take the rod apart as soon as you quit fishing so the metal can’t oxidize and lock.
Small leaks and briar-pricks in boots or waders can be plugged temporarily by melting the end of a plastic worm and smearing the hot goo over the hole. The plastic hardens in a few seconds and sticks well. (Suggested by Mark Knight, Kansas City, Mo.)
Of the many ways to prevent the mesh of a landing net from becoming entangled in brush, twigs, and barbed wire fences, this is the simplest: Slip a heavy rubber band over the handle of the net and tuck the tip-end of the net bag under it.
An old (but not broken) ski pole makes an excellent staff for wading heavy water. Remove the basket at the bottom of the pole and attach a cord to the thong at the top so you can let go of it when you have waded into position to fish.
Some trolling lures revolve one way, some the other. If you know the direction in which your favorite lures spin, you can change from a clockwise to a counterclockwise lure to prevent, or reduce, line-twist. Even so, it is wise to use a trolling keel.
L. F. Manning of Norwood, Pa., tells me he doesn’t use a bait bucket for carrying minnows. He puts them in a sealed, pint-sized Mason jar about two-thirds full of water; says a dozen minnows stay frisky all day if he changes the water every few hours.
When fishing high, cold water in the early spring with spinning gear, try casting diagonally upstream and retrieving just fast enough to keep the lure from hanging on bottom. This often takes sluggish trout that refuse to budge for anything else.
A noisy approach can spoil a good fishing spot, so kill the motor and drift in quietly, then ease the anchor down slowly. When you start fishing, talk all you want, but try to avoid banging or scraping against the boat, for those noises fish can “hear”.
Ever knocked over your minnow pail and spilled your day’s supply of ice-fishing bait? It’s less likely to happen if you put a good-sized rock in the bottom; then if you accidentally kick the bucket, the rock may prevent it from tipping over.
You can keep a little cooler when fishing under a hot summer sun if you line the inside of your hat with aluminum foil, which acts as a heat reflector. It also helps if you wet your hair occasionally; it has a cooling effect as it evaporates.
October is the time when bass start to move out into their winter quarters. The larger ones, especially, seek out the deeper holes. One way to locate them is to scratch bottom in from 10 to 20 feet of water with a plastic worm fished very slowly.
You can often tell what type of mayfly has been hatching recently on a trout stream by looking for spider webs in the bushes and especially under bridges. A few flies always get tangled in webs, and you can match them if they hatch again.
Game or fish from the home freezer often doesn’t taste as good as you expected. One reason, it may have been kept too long. Another, more common, reason: It wasn’t quick-frozen. Many home freezers don’t run cold enough to quick-freeze food.
Recently I warned against putting mothballs in plastic fly boxes because they discolor and soften the plastic. But Col. J. R. Grey of Sacramento, Calif., tells me only those made with paradichlorobenzene do this; repellents with naphthalene do no damage.
Fly tyers prize the barred and black-tipped side feathers from drake wood ducks, so if you shoot a male woodie this fall be sure to save these feathers and give them to someone who ties flies. He’ll be so grateful he’ll probably force some flies on you.
Rod ferrules that fit too tightly can be loosened a little by polishing them with petroleum jelly. Swab it on the ferrules and put them together and pull them apart several times, then wipe them clean. The two parts will slide together much easier.
The sketch shows how Douglas Heathcock of Wellington, Ala., hooks a plastic worm to make it twist when retrieved. He reports that the spiraling action brings bass up from deep water and out of the weed beds even when the worm is fished on the surface.
You can usually keep your spinning and bait-casting reels in working order with a tiny screwdriver and a small crochet hook, one for making repairs, the other for picking out line tangles. Carry one of each in both boxes of lures and you’ll be ready for trouble.
Look for trout at the tail end of big pools at dusk. They drop down into the apron of slick, shallow water as evening approaches to feed on nymphs and hatching flies and are quite easy to take if you can get a fly over them without drag.
A barometer can really tell you if you can expect good fishing. Whether it is high (over 29.90 inches sea level pressure) or low isn’t nearly so important, however, as whether it is rising or falling. Fish bite best when the barometer is rising.
When ice-fishing for species that travel in schools, like perch and walleyes, cut your holes close together instead of scattering them. A light cluster of baits will hold the attention of a school of fish much longer than will a single bait.
Fly-tying feathers that have become matted and misshapen in storage can be restored by steaming them, just as flies can. Put a handful in a flour sifter, hold it over the steaming spout of a tea kettle, and shake it as if you were popping corn.
If your boat pounds when running into a chop, why put up with it? Bring the bow down by moving weight forward, or adjust the tilt of the motor to lift the stern a bit. You can also soften the pounding by reducing speed and taking waves at an angle.
It’s easier and safer to haul a big fish through the ice if you use a gaff. You can make one from a large (4/0 to 6/0) de-barbed hook screwed through the eye to a foot-long stick. Bind the hook shank firmly to the shaft with a strong line.
The sketch shows what I consider the best way to “sew” on a minnow for trolling. Push the snelled hook down through the lower lip, then down through the top of the head, then in and out the side. Tightening the snell curves a minnow and it flops over.
Trout often shy away from a fly or bait if there is a sinker near it, so always use the smallest sinker possible (none at all is even better) and clamp it to the leader at least a foot above the hook. Cast farther upstream, to give the hook time to sink.
Another good habit: when you stop fishing to rest or eat lunch, put your hat or cap on the ground and set the butt of your fly rod in it. This keeps sand and dirt out of the reel. Always lean the rod against something; never lay it down.
It’s easier to row a boat at night if you can “feel” the angle of the oar blade. This can be done by making the grip slightly oval-shaped instead of round, with the oval at right angles to the oar blade. (Suggested by Carl F. Hoberg of Mendon, Mass.)
Next time you cast artificials from an anchored boat, try this stunt: First lob out a live bait with a bobber and then retrieve the lure close to the bobber. Fish that follow the lure in without striking will see the bait and perhaps grab it.
If you use carbon tetrachloride to clean reels or to dissolve paraffin for making dry-fly floatant, use extreme caution. According to the National Safety Council, it is not only harmful if inhaled, but also if just the fumes are absorbed through the skin.
You’ll never lose the screw-on cap for a metal rod case if you attach it with a short length of heavy monofilament. Bore 1/16-inch holes in the center of the cap and near the top of the case; use small buttons inside the cap and case to hold the mono.
A quick and easy way to add or replace rubber legs on a hard-bodied popper is to thread doubled monofilament into a large needle and force it through the body, leaving a loop. Double the legs through this, pull through, clip, seal with a waterproof cement.
Written by H.G. Tapply for Field & Stream and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.