Is It Fly-Fishing?
I believe that catching fish with fly-fishing equipment is the
most sporting, challenging, and enjoyable way to catch fish.
I believe that the challenges presented when fly-fishing enhance
the sport, and bring it to a level that exceeds other methods
of recreational fishing. However, that being said, I do not
believe that fly-fishing methods are always the best method,
or even the appropriate method under all circumstances. This
then brings us to the question; when is fly-fishing not fly-fishing?
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
To examine this question with the hopes of arriving at a
satisfactory conclusion we must turn to the history of the
sport. Clearly, from the earliest available manuscripts, the
nature of the sport of fly-fishing is clearly delineated. Flies
were constructed from fur, feathers, and steel lures, and
were designed to imitate some natural occurring life form
that would be mistaken by a fish for the real thing, or in the
alternative would be attacked by the fish as an intruder
invading its personal space. This lure, now called an artificial
fly, was attached to the end of a length of line and, by using a
long rod-like lever, was 'cast' into the water by the angler. One
thing that seemed to mark the first several centuries of fly-fishing
practice was that fly-fishing involved an artificial fly, a rod to cast
the fly, and an angler to make the whole thing work.
Along the way flies were tied to represent a number of different
food forms from insects, bait fish, small rodents, crustaceans,
and in a variety of forms from wet, damp, and dry. At some
point anglers began to fish their flies in ways that did not
necessary involve an angler casting their fly to the waiting fish.
The first step involved casting the fly out of a boat, and then
as the angler rowed the boat the fly would be trolled behind.
This remained the primary departure from the way fly-fishing
had been practiced during the several proceeding centuries.
In recent years we have witnessed a renaissance of fly-fishing,
and today anglers attempt to take all manner of fishes by using
methods that employ some form of fly-fishing tackle. Anglers
using 'fly-rods' fish for such game fish as Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna,
and every other kind of fish that formerly were considered fish
that could only be caught by sportsmen using bait or lures that
were trolled behind large power boats. By using these same
methods and substituting fly rods for large trolling rods, and
substituting an artificial fly for bait or a metallic lure anglers hook
and land these fish on 'fly-fishing' tackle. The anglers doing this
are successful, but is it 'fly-fishing?'
In the 60's Pacific salmon had been planted in the Great Lakes
in an attempt to control the alewife, a species of herring that came
into the Great Lakes via the Welland Canal. The standard method
of catching these new game fish was to employ a large lake-worthy
power boat, down-riggers, a stout trolling reel, matching reel, and
a variety of metallic spoons, plastic lures, and similar paraphernalia
hooked to the end of a series of metallic flashers. By attaching your
lure to the down-rigger you could troll your lure at the proper depth
without putting any actual weight on your line. When the salmon
struck, the line that was hooked to the down-rigger would release,
and you could fight the fish free from the weight that was necessary
to get it down to the level of the fish. JC and I had caught numerous
salmon using this method.
During those years JC and I were doing field testing for a number
of angling companies, and it mostly involved testing products that
were intended for use in traditional fly-fishing techniques. In the late
60's we were approached by a manufacturer that was producing
some lures that were a cross between a lure and a fly. The years
have dimmed my memory of exactly what they looked like, but I
do remember that they had some type of plastic lip beneath the eye
which was intended to make them wobble like a swimming bait fish.
JC and I had always dreamed of catching some of those large Great
Lakes salmon on a fly, and so we hatched a method to use
conventional fly-fishing tackle, down-riggers, and these lures to
accomplish that task.
First we procured a 9 weight fly rod from Scientific Anglers with a
matching reel. Since we were not casting the 'fly' that we were using
we filled the spool with 30 pound test Dacron rather than a fly line.
We did not use a leader, but attached the fly directly to the Dacron
line by using a large snap swivel. Thus equipped we took to the water,
attached the Dacron line to the down-rigger, and dropped the whole
thing down to the level where the fish finder indicated that the salmon
were swimming. Eureka, fish on! Recently I found a photograph of two
grinning fly-fishing addicts, which looked a lot like a much younger edition
of JC and me, holding up some large Coho Salmon that we had caught
on this 'fly-fishing' rig.
Did we believe this was fly-fishing? At the time I am not certain,
but looking back I think that the only part of this adventure that
remotely resembled fly-fishing was that we were using a fly rod
and reel. Was it more challenging? Was it more sporting than the
standard method? I think the obvious answer is no. We could have
achieved the same result by simply attaching the 'fly' to a standard
We have come a long way down the river since Dame Juliana
Berners wrote The Treatise of Fishing With an Angle,
but the principles that she formulated have stood the test of time.
Today we have devised many ways to catch fish on flies that Dame
Juliana could never have conceived, and in ways that I doubt she
would have approved. When I am fishing with a fly rod casting flies
that are constructed of fur, feathers and steel I am confident that I
am fly-fishing as Berners, Walton, Cotton, and all the other progenitors
of fly-fishing conceived it to be. Anything beyond that begs the question. ~ Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
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