By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Fishing for reasons to fly? Here are a few
Placeholder Image
“Scholars have long known that fishing eventually turns men into philosophers. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to buy decent tackle on a philosopher’s salary,” — Patrick McManus

The philosophic aspect of fly-fishing frightens many.

Some believe they are not fly-fishing material because they don’t read poetry, like fishing vests, and prefer transmissions to transcendentalists, so they ignore curiosity. I made fun of a friend in high school when he took up fly-fishing, but realized a few years ago that to be a true lover of angling, one must at least appreciate all methods.

Fly-fishing really isn’t an attempt to make fishing more challenging or morph the angler into some sort of Zen expert, but both can happen. It’s more about knowing that you will lose $20 in flies in the brush behind you and understanding you can’t let it bother you. It’s contemplative not commercialized. It’s seeing a 6-inch brown or rainbow trout as a trophy, just because it’s beautiful, and you made it think it was eating a fly and didn’t bait it with flesh, muscle, or science.

This reaction is learned with experience. As my buddy Klinger puts it, “The best education is to spend some time on a stream winning little victories with stupid fish. This eventually helps you learn how to catch ones that are a little more wary.” Fly-fishing is about little victories. The first ones involve tying the right knots, then getting the cast further than the rod is long. Finally come the fish, but they conveniently coincide with the moment the method becomes more than the result.

Assuming you have a little patience and are okay with spending a day dangling a nymph behind a rock in a little trickle of a river at a fish the size of saltwater fishing bait, here are some suggestions about the tools that might help.

Rods and reels
Outdoor stores from Sports Authority to Bass Pro have starter kits ranging from $50 to over $120. Sierra Anglers ( in Modesto has a Scientific Angler combo for $94.95. Owner Bob Nakagawa said a guy bought the combo for his wife, and ended up liking the way it casted more than his own more expensive rod.

“You get what you pay for to an extent, but you get much better performance for your dollar than you used to,” Bob said.

My fishing-expert-on-retainer, Maddog, echoed Bob’s sentiments on the current bang for your buck.

“Most of the time the rods are made from old technology that is still very good in casting quality. If you get a decent sales person at a fly shop they can tell you what lines fit the rod.”

Bob would be that decent sales person.

The nice thing about the starter kits, other than bargain quality, is that everything is matched. In the same way that you don’t want to put a sturgeon reel on a trout rod, you don’t want a tiny reel for an 8-weight rod.

Let’s say you want to try a fly rather than spinning rig up at Kennedy Meadows this summer, a 4-weight or 5-weight starter kit would suffice and allow you to drop flies or nymphs in areas difficult to reach with a spinning combo.

I started with a $70 starter kit from Cabelas two years ago after conversations with some friends about picking up the sport. One followed suit, saving a few bucks on his starter kit, then noticing mine casted a bit better when we chucked our first casts at Knights Ferry.

With no more than $90 invested, (no vests, waders, hats ... yet) we ventured into the realm of self-taught poetic fishing. Both starter kits did their jobs and kept us in the sport and later in search of upgrades and newer technology.

If you have discovered fly-fishing to be a good use of time and money, replacing your $95 beginner combo with the $199 river-ready Redington rod, reel and case deal Sierra Anglers offers might be a good next step.

Ralph, who helps teach a fly-fishing class at the University of Alaska-Southeast in Juneau, owns an eight-weight Orvis Clearwater II rod ($169-$219 depending on size) which is considered a beginner rod by Orvis standards. Temple Fork also makes exceptional rods (see the Professional Series) that would work well as a beginner or intermediate rod, but again, spending $145 on just a rod, only to find out you detest fly casting wouldn’t be all that funny.

After a bunch of trips with my starter trout kit, I went with a Temple Fork Pro Series model.  

As for reels, pick up just about any fly-fishing magazine with gear reviews, and they will almost certainly include the Lamson Konic and Guru. Ralph matched his Clearwater II with a Sage 1880 reel and retrieved some beautiful Alaskan steelhead with relative ease, creating jealousy that strained yet another friendship.

If you are confused about size or length of rod, combos or marrying rods and reels, guys like Bob that molded their career around their passion and spend a considerable amount of time on the water will be able to match you up with what you need. Just ask. I’ve found that fly-fishermen are very willing to help. The local fly-shop is the fisherman’s water cooler. Every local fly-shop I have ever entered has had locals and employees chatting about river flow, runs, fussy fish and future plans. All have also been honest about set ups, flies and even location. Well, maybe a little ambiguous about location, but  thats understandable.

If you are beginning, keep it simple, get to a local fly-shop, let them hook you up with the right gear and ask questions.

Summer is a good season to start, because the least amount of gear is required and cold weather can compound frustration. You can get away with nothing more than the rod, reel and a few caddis or Adams flies and nymphs. Wading boots will make the mountain runoff more tolerable and keep feet sturdy on the wet rocks.

The Simms Headwater boot is $150, but is lightweight and is one of the most popular boots at Sierra Anglers. As my buddy found out, you can buy good boots once every couple years, or cheap boots twice in one season.

Felt-bottomed options can be cheaper, but there is a bit of a movement to get rid of felt as it can be a vehicle to transport dangerous organisms and parasites that choke rivers with slimy mats of vegetation or infect and kill fish.

Simms makes a variety of both boot-in, and stocking-foot waders. Boot-in is as obvious as it sounds; the boots are molded to the waders which makes getting in and out very quick. However, proper fit could be an issue, as well as ankle support, because of this, many prefer buying waders and wading boots separate and spend the extra time lacing up.

Another necessity will be a pair of clippers that can make delicate cuts. Few things are more maddening than cutting the line rather than the excess after a beautifully executed knot.

Vests are by no means required. I don’t use one, Klinger has a Filson brand vest, Maddog wears a waist pack (not fanny, completely different), Ralph won a vest, but wears a chest bag, so does Bob because its smaller than a vest and the more pockets, the more the unneeded stuff.

When starting out, keep it simple. When hours start exceeding cost, then look for upgrades.

Sierra Anglers does not waste time with irrelevant flies. Fisherman’s Warehouse in Manteca also specializes in quality flies that you need. Outside of the Montana Special I order from a shop in Montana, anything I need for the Stanislaus, Russian, Umpqua, or even my home rivers in Alaska, I can get at Fisherman’s Warehouse at a solid price.

Parting thoughts
Fly-fishing should not be intimidating. As is the case with anything, it rewards patience and practice, and does not have to be limited to simple rivers in secluded mountains. Like bass fishing? Tie on some poppers to your fly rod; it’s much more versatile than you might think. But don’t be surprised if you get that philosophic catharsis, have the urge to watch A River Runs Through It seven times in a weekend and buy every John Gierach book Borders sells.

Since there is no time like right this second, check out about a March 18 show and jump in with both feet.

Happy casting.

To contact Jeff Lund, e-mail