On The Fly

BY Skip Maloney

“They have planned a snare for the fish and get the better of them by their fishermans craft. They fasten red wool round a hook and fit on to the wool two feathers which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare and the fish attracted and maddened by the color comes straight at it thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when however it opens its jaws it is caught by the hook.

You know the sport: fly fishing. What you probably dont know is that the quote on above is the first written account of the use of an artificial fly recorded by the Roman Claudius Aelianus in the second century.

Nineteen centuries later on a cold windy afternoon in March on an open field behind UNCWs Brooks Baseball Field Dan Wrenn former president of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Association has tied a piece of white wool to a monofilament leader at the end of his 9-foot-long Scott fly fishing rod. Theres a Teton fly reel on this rod and 100 feet of Scientific Angler 8-weight fly line. Wrenn steps into the middle of the field for a technique demonstration and waits allowing a man to pass by.

“Didnt know they were biting out here ” says the man.

Theyre not of course but what you learn pretty quick about fly fishing is that first of all forget about the fish. Its not really about the fish. Its about how to catch them.

“With a spinning rod ” Wrenn explains “the lure is the casting mechanism. Its the (weight of the) lure that pulls the line out. With fly casting its the line itself.”

A fly which is a generalized term for an artificial piece of bait designed to look like any of a variety of flying insects or bait fish is generally made of lightweight material like fur or feathers. It disguises a miniscule hook (unless fishing for heavier-weight fish) and isnt heavy enough to cast over any expanse of water (or in this case a field). The line which can be composed of a variety of different synthetic (most often nylon) materials has some weight to it.

As Wrenn proceeds with the demonstration flexing the rod behind him and then forward in a series of repetitions the line spools off the reel sending the white piece of wool whipping back and forth in the air and finally out over and onto the field in front of him.

While 10 and 2 (oclock) is the most common phrase used to describe the arc of a fly rod as it goes through its back-and-forth motions prior to casting its not universally accepted. Its important to note that if that 10 and 2 motion is played out directly over your head the hook might take your ear off as it whips forward. Newer casting techniques encourage the use of minimal wrist and arm movement which parallels the water (or ground if youre in demonstration mode) and discourages that traditional 10 and 2 arc. Whatever the clock-face arc is on an individual cast the object is to change direction precisely at the point that the fly at the end of your exposed line reaches the end of its backward arc.

You want the fly to land right where the fish is or in some cases right in front of the fish. Sometimes you want the fish to snatch at it right away as if it were a flying insect thats just dropped out of the sky onto the surface of the water. Other times youll want to reel the line in moving the fly along the surface of the water in the path the fish is swimming. At yet other times you might be looking to let the fly sink and catch something just below the surface or sometimes deeper in the water.

A lot of fly fishermen create and manufacture tie their own flies (which is a long story in and of itself). If this doesnt float your boat visit a store that features fly fishing equipment and select from a wide variety including internationally renowned fly fisherman photographer writer and fly creator “Lefty” Frehs Deceiver and (Bob) Clausers Minnow which are both available in an array of sizes and color combinations.

“It depends a lot on the species ” says Tim Glover manager of the Great Outdoor Provision Company on Oleander Drive. “There are shrimp patterns and crab patterns; basically theyre patterns that imitate bait. Youre trying to imitate the food that fish are eating.”

A lot of the fly fishing going on around Wilmington is salt water fly fishing and most of that is off a boat. Without “a ton of public access ” as Glover describes it there isnt a lot of whats known as wade water fly fishing which comprises the bulk of imagery on the subject: man with boots standing in hip-deep water casting a line out into a pool stream or river. This happens here mind you just not as much.

“There are a lot of ponds in the area ” says Glover “and a lot of them have large-mouth bass and bream” (pronounced “brim”; related to the sunfish family).

Chuck Weidner a member of the local fly fishing club enjoys casting into local freshwater.

“There are some retention ponds out along Shipyard and Independence in the area of 17th Street ” he says adding that since fish eggs can get caught on the feet of birds its hard to find a “pond around here that doesnt have some sort of fish in it.”

Weidners fresh water fly fishing which hes been doing for more than 40 years takes him out to more remote areas as well like the headwaters of the James River in Virginia or closer out at Sutton Lake.

“What people like about (salt water fly fishing on) the coast ” says Glover “is that there are all kinds of different species (redfish speckled trout flounder bluefish among others) and a lot of them are toothy and mean and fun to catch.”

The Great Outdoor Provision Company offers area residents the opportunity to learn the two basic skills associated with fly fishing fly tying and casting. They offer a monthly fly tying class typically in the winter months and twice a year conduct a one-day 9-to-5 fly fishing school which focuses on casting skills with about one-third of the time devoted to different types of gear. Theyll also take customers out behind the store for casual 15-minute casting demonstrations.

While it would be easy to invest hundreds and hundreds of dollars in a dizzying deluge of fly fishing gear that utilizes the latest combinations of rod reel and line technology Glover estimates that for as little as $175 you can easily outfit yourself with a basic set of equipment that can start you down the fly fishing stream.

“A lot of times youll get that reaction to fly fishing where people will say Oh theres so much equipment ” says Glover “but you dont have to get all that sophisticated and buy six kinds of fly rods. You can make it simple and easy or get pretty complicated with it. You have a choice.”

Many of the members of the North Carolina Fly Fishing Association have spent years at this type of fishing and their “complications” have grown over time. Wrenn showed up for the field demonstration with four rods different reels different lines and a box of flies that looked capable of hooking everything from a minnow to a “mean and toothy” trout.

So why go through all of this? Whats wrong with a length of willow tree with a clothesline tied to it with a hook and squirming worm at the end of it? Just drop the thing in the water and wait right?

“Things are a little more challenging with fly fishing ” says newly-elected club president Chris Tryon. “For me and a lot of the guys its more of an art form. It takes some skill. Its not rocket science but you do have to have the time and patience to learn how to do it. I might get more fish with a straight spin rod but I get more enjoyment out of fly fishing.”

And there you have it: When it comes to fly fishing its not really about the fish.