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What is fly-fishing?
This article tries to explain in simple terms what it is to fish with a fly - fly-fish or flyfish.
Fly fishing differs from most fishing in the way that the the fly - the lure or the "bait" - is very lightweight and can't be used to propel the cast. If you are fishing a spinner, plug or a baited hook, you usually have some weight that can pull the line off the reel in the cast.
This is not the case with the fly. The fly is so lightweight, made from a thin hook and some feathers, fur or synthetics, that it can't pull even the lightest fishing line anywhere.
The reason for the fly being light is that it's mostly supposed to represent something small and often lightweight like an insect, a small larva or a small fish or shrimp. Flies can represent all kinds of animals and sometimes other kinds of edible items such as plant seeds or even bread.
Flies can be so light that they float and can look like an insect suspended on the water surface, which is a food item eaten by a lot of fish. Flies can also sink and be made to look and swim like fish and even sink to the bottom and act like a crab or a crayfish.
In order to cast the lightweight fly lure, the fly-angler uses a fairly thick and heavy line that can be "swung" in the air and carry the fly out over the water.
The casting is done with a series of upside-down pendulum like motions where the rod is tipped back and forth while the fly line follows its tip. By repeating the motion and maybe feeding out more line, the fly-angler can give the line enough forward speed and length to stretch and deliver the fly where the fish is.
Both the rod and the reel used in fly-fishing is made for the purpose and constructed differently than spinning rods. I will return to rods and reels later.
Once a fish is hooked the angler won't normally spool in the line, but keep the line taught by pulling the loose line with the hand not holding the rod. When the fish is under control, the angler might opt to get the spare line on the reel and fight the fish using the reel.
Why call it flies?
Calling it flies and fly-fishing is basically confusing. Even though some flies actually are supposed to look like common flies, the far majority looks like other flying insects like mayflies, sedges, beetles and many more. But in spite of the name flies are also made to resemble underwater animals such as larvae and nymphs of different insects, cress bugs and even worms and leeches. When fly fishing in saltwater, it makes little sense to imitate flying insects since most of the food in the ocean is swimming underwater. So here we imitate fish, shrimps, crabs and many other animals. We still call the flies flies, in spite of them having very little to do with the animal a fly.
Flies can even be made to look like frogs, mice and even snakes as I saw it recently. You will hear terms such as crab flies, ant flies and even mouse flies. And yes, the latter are made to look like a swimming mouse!
And to make things even more confusing, flies are sometimes made to look like nothing natural at all. Like some lures, which are brightly colored and have no natural shape, flies can be all kinds of colors and shapes, which fish seem to like, but seem to have no resemblance with the things they eat.
I will return to different types of flies in later articles.
But why fly fish?
With all that complexity and all the limitations, why would anybody ever want to use a fly rod and fly line rather than a thin line and a lure that can cast with one swoop and go much farther?
First and foremost to be able to fish with small things. Many fish will feed on stuff that is only a fraction of an inch in length, and to imitate that you need something small. Using feathers, synthetics and small hooks to form a fly, we can imitate even the smallest food items like midges, mayflies and small nymphs and larvae. You can also fish something that floats: a dry fly, which would be impossible if the fly had to have weight.
Another reason can be stealth. Using a fly rod you can get the a very gentle presentation of the hook, and can avoid spooking fish off with the splashing of a lure.
Many fly anglers will also argue that fly fishing is more fun. And true enough: if you are not catching, casting with a fly rod might be less boring than casting with a spinning rod, but that's probably a matter of personal taste more than the objective truth.