I’ve always wanted to learn to fly fish. The old romantic idea of swinging a fly rod on some lone stream without another soul around always captivated me. Fly fishing had been on my bucket list for almost a decade before I put an honest effort into the craft. I started to save money for gear and lessons several times, but some unforeseen expense around the house always came up that depleted the bulk of my cash (taking on any new hobby after kids come is always difficult). Eventually I did get all the gear, piece by piece. I made a few mistakes and ignored common sense advice along the way, like spending more on my fly reel than my rod and going cheap on a quality fly line but it all worked out in the end – somethings must be experienced rather than heard before a lesson is learned.
Make the time
I had given up on taking a professional class. It would prove difficult enough just find time to fish let alone finding the time and money to travel to a class. So, I turned to books and online videos to get the basics. I practiced casting every night in my front yard for weeks, trying to use what I’d watched or read that day during work. It was touch and go for a while but finally I read about practice method that allowed you to see how you were doing instead of how you thought or felt you were doing. I set up my smart phone and recorded myself casting. Now I could truly see why my cast weren’t doing what I wanted them to. Only after watching myself did I see real improvements. Let’s just say my 10 & 2 casting form was more of an 11 & 3, my wrist was never stiff enough, I never watched my back cast, the list goes on and on. The point is I was never doing what I should have been doing even though I thought I was. I was also during these front yard practice sessions that I found the value of a fly line that cost more than 30 bucks. My first fly line completely fell apart just casting in my yard.
There seemed to always be something more to learn about the craft. I submerged myself in it and soaked up everything I could watch, listen to, or read. I had the mentality that I still wasn’t good enough to hit the water. When I wasn’t trying to learn everything I could, I was looking at traveling to all the popular destinations for trout, since western Kentucky doesn’t exactly rank up there on any hot spot lists. After all, I took up fly fishing because that’s the proper way to catch trout and I wanted to be proper!
So there I was, feeling I didn’t know enough to be a “real” fly fisherman and dreaming about some Yellowstone stream that was teaming with trout, halfway across the country. In essence I was torturing myself with the idea of what Fly-fishing was or should be. I needed everything to be like I read about in the books. I had created all these unrealistic expectations in my head which sucked all the fun out of the sport.
It was my wife that finally lit a fire under my butt. She said something like “I had become more enamored with what I wanted rather than what I had.” So, I went fishing.
The Clarks River was only a few minutes from the house. It’s classified as a river but the characteristics of the water was more of a good size creek. Let me say this – a couple hours on the water casting, choosing flies, and wading will teach you more about what fly fishing is than any amount of online videos ever could. Nothing was perfect about that day. The water wasn’t crystal clear, there were several other people fishing (using spinning reels), and it was sprinkling rain, but I loved every minute of it.
I was fly fishing and that’s all that mattered!
I was also fortunate enough to land my first fish on a fly that day.
In the end getting on the water is what mattered. You can obsess over the details until you run out of books and videos, but the water will teach you what’s important. It will show what gear is really needed versus what you think is needed. You’ll learn that a reel, is just for holding line and the money you saved buying a more affordable model can be used to buy a better rod. It’ll show you catching a bass on a fly is just as rewarding as a trout (my 2nd fish on a fly was a 28 in. Gar that took the better part of half an hour to land and was absolutely thrilling!)
My advice for all the newcomers to this great pastime is to just go fish.
Learn as you go and stop worrying about what you think fly fishing should be. Get on the water and get some flies wet. The rest will fall into place because if you wait until you feel that you’re ready or know everything about the sport – you’ll spend more time behind a computer screen chasing an idea than you will on the water chasing fish.
Written by James Smith
James Smith, 34-year-old disabled combat infantryman who predominantly fishes warm water streams in western Kentucky, and stocked trout streams throughout the region. Including the National hatchery at Wolf Creek and the tail waters of the Cumberland River.
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Let’s hear some of your thoughts in the comments! What things have you learned by just being on the water?