Neil Travis - Dec 31, 2012

Five hundred and twenty-six years ago Dame Juliana Berners, said to have been the prioress of St. Albans, a nunnery in Hertfordshire, England, wrote a chapter on Angling in The Book of Saint Albans; a book containing chapters on Hawking [Falconry], Hawking, and Heraldry. While scholars continue to debate the identity of the author, the fact remains that The Treatise of Fishing with an Angle is a foundational work in fly fishing literature.

While over five hundred years have elapsed since that landmark volume was printed, and books without number have been written on fly fishing the fact remains that relatively little has changed since Dame Juliana penned the words of The Treatise.

In the next few minutes we will talk about what fly fishing is all about, we will strip fly fishing down to the bare essentials, and we will destroy some myths and perhaps some egos in the process.

The flies that Dame Juliana described in The Treatise were quite simple, but they were basically the same as the ones we use today. While we attach material to hooks that Dame Juliana could never have imagined, an artificial fly still starts with a metal hook and various materials are applied to the hook, usually with thread, to make an artificial fly that we hope will fool a fish into attempting to eat it. Despite all the changes that have happened over the last five hundred years the basic item that defines fly fishing hasn't really changed except cosmetically.

It was left to later authors and innovators to flesh out what today we call fly fishing. Charles Cotton, a contemporary of Izaak Walton who penned The Compleat Angler, requested Cotton to write the first detailed treatise on fly fishing, and it appeared in the fifth edition of the Compleat Angler.

But what is fly fishing? When boiled down to the basic fundamentals fly fishing is really just another method of catching fish. It differs from bait and spin fishing in the manner of delivery and the type of bait or lure, but the purpose remains the same.

Fly fishing is a method of catching fish using a lure that is propelled to its target by the weight of the line and not the weight of the lure. This is achieved by using a flexible lever and a line that is the weight that propels the lure [fly] to its target.

The line that propels the lure to the target consists of a core and a coating. The core is the foundation and it is coated with some type of plastic, and each manufacturer has their own formulas which are considered trade secrets. The lines are tapered, and can be made to float or sink depending upon the coating.

The artificial fly is nothing but a lure. In the day of Dame Juliana Berners and Charles Cotton they were constructed of natural materials; mostly fur and feathers. Today they may be constructed of a variety of materials and increasingly they look less like the flies used by those early innovators.
The lures [flies] used in fly fishing are not attached directly to the end of the line. The connection between the end of the line and the lure is called a leader. Leaders are tapered lengths of monofilament, and the larger end is attached to the fly line and the lure is attached to the other end. Originally horse hair and later silk gut were used for leaders, but after World War II the new material nylon became the material of choice for leaders. Spun into a fine fiber called monofilament it has become the standard for fly fishing leaders.

While much has been made about the skills needed to be a successful fly fisher it really boils down to a few simple basics.

First, you have to be able to get your fly to where the fish are. This involves using the flexible lever [fly rod] and the weighted line [fly line] with a tapered connection [leader] attached to the end of the weighted line to deliver your lure [artificial fly] to perform an act called "fly casting."

Secondly, once your lure [artificial fly] is on or in the water where the fish are it has to appear to act naturally. This is called presentation. If your lure [artificial fly] is a "dry fly" it has to float on the surface of the water but it cannot float too fast or too slow. This is called "drag" and under most situations it will not result in inducing a fish attempt to eat your lure [artificial fly]. Likewise, if your lure [artificial fly] is intended to sink it still must appear to behave naturally, and it must be presented at the proper level; just below the surface, midway between the surface and the bottom, or right on the bottom, depending upon what type of food form you are trying to imitate.

Thirdly, besides being able to deliver your fly to where the fish are and presenting your fly so that it looks like something that is edible everything else is hype. You can have the latest equipment, the finest imitations, the best guide, and be fishing at the top angling destination, but if you can't deliver the fly to the fish and present it in a manner that makes the fish eat you might as well take up golf.

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