By Nick Simonson
While many eyes turn to the ice this time of year, the onset of winter also brings new fly anglers into the fold. Maybe a fly rod is a holiday gift to oneself, or perhaps a thoughtful relative wrapped it up in order to expand their favorite sportsman’s outdoor options. No matter how a person is introduced to the world of fly fishing, winter is the time to learn more about not only fly angling, but also fly tying and the ecology, biology and ways to catch fish with the fly rod both in the upper Midwest and in more traditional fly fishing locales.
The best way to learn how to fly fish is to first master the cast. Find a mentor who has been fishing with the long rod for a few years and get ready to practice the cast. Without a leader, tippet or fly on the end of the line, work with that person’s guidance on the basic mechanics of the fly cast in a large, open area a few times each month for about an hour each time. Perfect locations for these activities include gymnasiums in schools or community centers when there aren’t others present. This might mean going in early or late in the day, but finding the place and the time shouldn’t be too hard in most communities.
The fly cast doesn’t come right away, and some people pick it up quicker than others, so don’t get frustrated. As a lure is used to load the blank of a spinning or baitcasting rod, the line is used to power the cast in fly fishing. Getting a feel for the subtle increase of potential energy in a fly rod and knowing how and when to drive it forward takes some practice. Utilize those experienced mentors available in the immediate area, or a number of video or written tutorials to climb the learning curve faster in a controlled environment.
When spring arrives, there are many places to go that don’t require the most advanced techniques to catch fish. Find a small farm pond stocked with bluegills to master the cast on water and try out the lift-and-pull hookset required with a fly rod. A sandy shore on a panfish lake when sunfish and crappies are moving shallow also creates an ideal place to cast and catch fish, without many obstructions behind to foul up the line. Wherever there are opportunities to catch fish with standard tackle, one can also convert them on the fly rod and apply the methods learned over the chilly months once spring shines through.
While a new fly angler can easily buy the fly patterns needed to start, learning how to tie flies provides a greater understanding of the sport and can begin simultaneously with learning how to fly cast. Winter gives new fly anglers a chance to get more in touch with their offerings and learn more about the nymph-to-adult stages of insects and learn how to best imitate those things that fish eat throughout the seasons. Vises can be had at very low prices this time of year and many kits provide materials and instructions to tie up a number of different patterns to help those new to fly tying get a faster feel for the hobby.
Fly tying can also lead to a lifetime of lure making because the skills learned there can be transferred over to other tackle crafting activities. From pheasant tail nymphs and woolly buggers, the thread management and material application can easily be transferred to bass, walleye and crappie jigs, along with dressed trebles on spinners for trout, pike and muskies and patterns that produce on the long rod can easily be converted or upsized for use as jig patterns on standard tackle.
Tie It Together
Putting together the pastimes of fly angling and fly tying provides a greater understanding of the natural world and the importance of healthy streams and lakes and the waters that feed them, along with the protection of surrounding lands being key in providing the bountiful insects and baitfish that can be imitated on the end of a fly rod each season.
The idea that fly fishing is just for trout couldn’t be farther from the truth. Each year, more anglers find enjoyment in catching their favorite game fish on the fly, from bluegills and crappies to pike and muskies, crafting a variety of small offerings and monstrous streamers to connect with these fish. There’s a fly pattern for every piece of bait that can be eaten, from the tiniest midge to the biggest minnow. Learning to tie an imitation of the various pieces of a fish’s food web will help connect with that species no matter what cycle the world around it is in.
While the calendar is as far from openwater as it can be, now is the time to make that first foray into the fly fishing world. This niche provides greater insight into the biology and ecology of fishing, and a new way to pursue everything that swims, developing a greater appreciation for the clean-running streams that harbor not only trout, but a variety of fish that can be found with a fly rod…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Fly fishing action is never far away. Locate a panfish pond or small lake and fish for those species normally pursued with conventional tackle to test out a well-practiced cast with a fast reward for a winter’s worth of work. Simonson Photo)