Neil Travis - November 21, 2011

In the world of fly fishing the fly rod has become something akin to a magic wand. I think that Gierach had it right when he coined the phrase "standing in the water waving a stick." It seems to be a well-accepted fact that the fly rod makes the angler, when in fact it's the angler that makes the fly rod.

A fly rod is a long tapered rod with metal guides attached to the shaft at various places along the length of the shaft. At one end is a device that allows the angler to attach a spool that contains string coated with plastic and a grip, usually made of cork rings, which allow the user to hold the rod without having to grip the actual tapered rod. It can be constructed of a variety of materials from natural material like greenheart, ash or bamboo to manmade materials like metal, fiberglass, graphite and a variety of other exotic materials. The materials and the taper allow the tapered rod to have distinct characteristics. Some are limber and some are stiff, some flex over the length of the shaft and others only flex at the tip end. We describe them as slow or fast, and each type of "action" has its ardent followers.

Now admittedly not all fly rods are created equal and I have handled some rods that were better suited for poking bats out of a chimney than for casting a fly line. However, most modern fly rods, even the less expensive models, are more than adequate for the purpose for which they are purchased. Is the latest model able to do anything that is discernable different than the latest model produced by the same manufacturer last year? Will Model A, that costs several hundred dollars, allow the user to do anything that he can't do with Model B, which costs less than half than Model A? The reality is that a fly rod is a tapered rod with metal guides attached to the shaft by thread. Fly rods don't produce tight loops and accurate presentations. Left to themselves they just lie there, it's the user that makes them perform. Yet we spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars to possess one – a tapered rod with metal guides attached to the shaft by thread, and we believe that owning the latest and the greatest model is the answer to all our dreams.

The "how to" of fly fishing is fraught with myths. We fish dry flies upstream, wet flies across and down, nymphs must be fished on the bottom, and emergers must be fished right in the surface film. You need to use the finest leader possible when fishing for selective fish, your leader should sink and fluorocarbon is superior to nylon. If bulls  t was brass fly fishing myths would constitute a fine brass band.

Sometimes fishing a dry fly upstream is the most appropriate way to get the proper drift; however, how many of us have hooked and landed a fish that rose to a dry fly fished down steam? Sometimes nymphs should be fished tight to the bottom, but the real issue is where the fish are taking the nymphs. Nymphs drift and they are not always on the bottom, and the same can be said of emergers. While it's true that 'technically' for a fly to be an emerger it has to emerge – break through the surface film – but the term emerger is a general term used by anglers to differentiate between a nymph and a nymph changing from the nymphal form to an winged form. That process may take place right in the surface film or it may begin several inches below. If the fish are keying on the emerging flies several inches below the surface it's likely that they will ignore an imitation fished in the surface film.

The issue of leaders is fraught with myths. The leader is the connection between the fly line and the artificial. Generally it is gradually tapered to allow for a smooth transition between the larger diameter of the tip of the fly line and the place where the fly is attached. While some anglers subscribe to exceptionally long leaders, especially in very clear or shallow water, it is rarely necessary to use a leader longer than 12 feet, and if your presentation skills are sufficient for the task a leader of 9 or 10 feet is usually completely more than adequate. Recently fluorocarbon material has become the rage in many fly fishing circles. When asked about the difference between a spool of fluorocarbon and a spool of nylon a longtime acquaintance of mine that has probably forgotten more about fly fishing than most anglers will ever know replied dryly, "About ten dollars a spool."

Another myth is that the leader should sink. When asked why the leader should sink most anglers will say that the fish will see it if it's floating. Really and what if they do see it, what difference will that make? Once again we are giving the fish more credit than they deserve. What does a leader or a tippet represent to a fish, a floating piece of weed, or a stem of grass? I don't know but I know that they do not have the reasoning power to differentiate between a floating piece of grass and a piece of monofilament. I also know that fish do not have the necessary reasoning power to connect a piece of monofilament to an angler at the other end. Whether the leader sinks or floats is immaterial, what really matters is what effect the leader has on the fly that's attached to the end. In fact, unless I am fishing nymphs or streamers that I want to sink I generally dress my leader to float, especially when I'm fishing dry flies. I don't want my leader dragging my fly down because it's sinking. I have come to know that if I make a proper presentation and the fly behaves properly that, if I have selected the proper fly, a floating leader will not result in a refusal. The fish that I am trying to catch aren't that smart and I suspect the ones that you are trying to catch have the same IQ.

If you still believe some of these fly fishing myths come on out to Montana next summer and you and I will go out after dark and catch some Snipe with a flash light and a burlap bag. It's great fun. I'll give you the bag and the light.

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