Fishing on the Fly
For a real thrill, pick up a fly rod and head to your favorite fishing hole
By David Hart
When Sandy Moret watched an 80-pound tarpon grab the fly on the end of his line 40 years ago, it wasn’t just the fish that was hooked. Moret, a newcomer to Miami at the time, didn’t know much about fly fishing. Though he had plenty of experience with bass and baitcasting tackle, when a friend took him to the saltwater flats near Miami to chase tarpon with a fly rod, he really didn’t know what to expect.
“It was pretty cool to see this fish actually move up and grab the fly, but when I set the hook the fish just went nuts,” he recalls. “It must have jumped 20 times, and it was a tremendous battle. I’ll never forget it. The whole experience was unlike anything I had done before.”
Not only was Moret hooked, he was so taken with the sport he moved to the Florida Keys and started a guide business and fly shop called Florida Keys Outfitters. He’s hardly picked up a spinning rod since.
Fly fishing isn’t easy, at least not the first few times. Much like a first golf game, it can be both challenging and frustrating. But once you get the hang of it and catch a fish or two, it can be incredibly rewarding and relaxing, whether those fish are 80-pound tarpon or eight-inch brook trout.
A fly rod is designed to send an artificial fly, often lighter than a real housefly, to a distant target through the physics of the rod and the line. Conventional fishing tackle relies mostly on the weight of the lure itself to put that lure on a target 30 yards away. A fly rod, however, uses a combination of the weight of the line and the energy of the rod to propel the fly forward.
For guys like Moret, catching fish is just a small part of the pleasure of fly fishing.
“It’s always nice to actually unhook a fish, but is it necessary to actually touch that fish? Not for me. One day I hooked 20 tarpon and never landed one of them, but I was thrilled,” says Moret. “The whole experience of seeing a fish, making a good cast and watching that fish take the fly is so rewarding, I don’t mind if he spits the fly sometimes. For me, it’s all about the hunt, the skill, the grace of casting and the equipment.”
David Williams, a guide from West Yellowstone, Mont., agrees. For him, it’s about the challenge and the art of fooling a fish with a tiny puff of feathers or fur that some might mistake for pocket lint on a hook. His dad gave him a fly rod when he was 10 years old – 50 years ago – and he tied some strands of deer hair on a hook and caught boatloads of crappie on those homemade flies. It was, he said, much more rewarding than catching those same fish on a live minnow or night crawler.
In some instances, it’s also the most effective way to catch fish. Trout in particular are picky eaters, Williams says, favoring a single insect over all others on a given day. A well-tied fly can mimic one of those bugs so well a trout can’t tell the difference. On the other hand, the wrong fly won’t get a second look.
“You could catch trout with a garden worm if you wanted to, but it’s just not the same as knowing the right fly to use and using it properly,” he says. “It really is a challenge, which is why I love it so much. I’m still learning something new every day.”
The best way to speed up the learning process is to visit a fly shop and ask questions. Even better, book a day on the water with a qualified guide who can teach casting techniques, fish habits and the basic knots necessary to keep those fish connected to your rod.
“It’s really just like golf,” Moret says. “You’ll learn so much more in a short amount of time with a good instructor than you will in hours of trying to teach yourself. All it takes is one good cast to a fish that is willing to eat the fly you put in front of it and you’ll be hooked for life.”
Top Fly Fishing Destinations
Bonefish, permit and tarpon
Yellowstone National Park
Cutthroat, brown and rainbow trout
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Rainbow, brown and brook trout
Redfish, speckled trout
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Striped bass, bluefish
Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania
Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Salmon, rainbow trout
Lake of the Woods, Minnesota