Crash Course
by Paul Prentiss

My intention is to provide the reader with an overview of basic fly fishing equipment. One needs to keep in mind that 'real' fly fishermen spend a lot of time and energy looking at or thinking about fishing gear. In some cases, more time is invested in reading catalogs than on the water - not a good thing. When talking with a fly fisherman about his gear never use the words Bobber, Pole, Worms, Stringer, Bait, Down Rigger, Fish Finder, Dough Ball or Pork Rind. They may only be used if the fisherman's name is Bubba and he is wearing a T-shirt that says property of UCATCHUM FISHING POND.

Potential fly fishermen need to understand the basic differences between fly fishing and other forms of angling. In bait or spin fishing the angler casts a weighted offering that travels to the target pulling a light line behind it, while in fly fishing the angler's line caries the lure to the target. To make this technique work a 'balanced' outfit is prerequisite. This means that the rod, line, and reel need to match up and work together properly. The selection process follows.

LINES ~ it's important to understand that fly rods are designed to handle specific line weights. A rod that is designed for a 4-weight line may not perform as well with a heavier or lighter line. Line weights range from the lightest 0 through 15. Heavier line weights are good for long casts, large flies, and windy conditions. They handle weighted flies and sinking lines in deep water better than light line weights, and they have the backbone to control large, powerful fish. If you're fishing in Rocky Mountain West for trout, you're probably going to use a 3-wt to 6-wt line (the full range being 0-wt. to 8-wt.). Line weight corresponds to the weight of the fly line in grains (14 grains to a gram). Only the first 30 feet of fly line is measured in the calculation. The lower the number, the lighter the fly line is. Thus, if you are using a 5 wt rod, it should ideally be matched with a 5 wt. fly reel that has a 5 wt. fly line. Lines are designed with a variety of tapers and characteristics (floating, sinking, interchangeable tips, etc). Tapers in a fly line allow for easy casting and presentation in particular situations. Without getting into more detail the two most important and heavily used tapers are the weight forward and the double taper.

RODS ~ once the line has been selected the rod follows. The majority of today's fly rods are made from graphite. Graphite is lightweight, strong, and maintenance free. There are other options such as bamboo, fiberglass, and boron/graphite composites but graphite is the mainstay. Typically, fly rods for trout are between seven and nine feet long, and will cast flies ranging in size from a midge (2cm insect) to a large streamer (baitfish 3 to 4").
Aside from aesthetics, there are three basic decisions to make - rod length, number of sections, and action. Length and sections are restricted by the models offered by various manufacturers. Generally speaking longer trout rods, (8 1/2 feet to 9 feet) keep backcasts high and offer better line control on larger waters. If you want a rod for a small brushy stream, a short rod (7 feet to 8 feet) works best in tight situations, both for casting and for playing fish. Rods break down into 2 or more sections. Today's most popular models are 3 or 4 piece products. If you plan on a lot of traveling a multi-piece rod is worth consideration.

Rod performance is the ability of a rod to handle a wide range of fishing conditions. A great rod combines the best attributes of both sensitivity and power. Rod actions are often classified as moderate, fast, or very fast. Slow-action rods seem to have pretty much disappeared from the graphite offerings. Moderate actions are designed for delicate presentations, and cast without amplifying certain casting flaws. Fast to very fast actions give greater power and accuracy for longer casts or windy conditions.

Picking out a rod is like buying as car. You need a test drive. One of rods you try out will feel better than the others. You can cast more smoothly, accurately, and farther with less effort. Never buy a rod without casting it unless you are an experienced angler and very familiar with the product you are buying.

REELS ~ fly reels are designed to perform two major functions. First, they serve as a place to store the fly line, and second, they provide resistance or "drag" against a fish so they can be landed in an efficient manner. Most reels are made from lightweight aluminum, either cast molded or machined from a solid block of aluminum for maximum strength and durability.

Reels are matched to the line and rod that you purchase. The possibilities range from traditional to modern designs. The three main points to keep in mind when selecting a reel are: adequate capacity, smooth drag, and the balance it gives to a rod. Adequate capacity means the ability to accommodate both the fly line and backing. A good, easily adjustable drag system is of considerable importance when dealing with large fish. For the sake of comfort and casting consistency the reel should balance the rod within the grip section.

CONCLUSION ~ fly fishing is not overly complicated but it's not a simple endeavor for the uninformed. In many ways this is its great attraction. The smart move is to go to a fly shop with a knowledgeable staff and follow their advice. You'll save time and money and accelerate the learning curve.