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Fly Fisherman

(Thanks to Scott, EEK's fly fishing buddy, for his help with this story.)

What is fly fishing?

Fly fishing is a fun way to catch bluegills, trout, bass and many other kinds of fish that live in Wisconsin waters. Fly fishing is not too difficult to learn, but it does help to read up on the sport and practice with an experienced angler.

Fly fishing is a little different than fishing with a spinning rod and reel. When fly fishing, the angler uses a heavy line to cast a very light fly (a lure that looks like a fly). In spin fishing, the angler uses a light line to cast a much heavier lure.

The advantage in fly fishing is that fly anglers can cast flies that are small enough to imitate tiny insects or other natural foods that fish like to eat. These flies are too light to cast well with spinning tackle. Casting takes practice, so get out and give it a try.

You'll also need some other gear in order to fly fish. Fly fishing gear is available at most sporting goods stores and it pays to shop around. Some gear is very expensive but there is also very good equipment that is not expensive. Don't be fooled into thinking that you have to spend a lot of money. You don't!

Before any type of fishing, check out the fishing regulations booklet. When you do catch a fish that is a legal size, you might want to take it home and prepare it to eat. Other people release many of the fish that they catch so that they and other people can enjoy catching them again one day. The choice is up to you.

These are only the basics of this sport. You can get very involved with fly fishing and even collect or try tying your own flies. Or, you can keep it simple and catch all of the fish you need with only four flies. Fly fishing is what you make it, so make it fun!

Fly Fishing Gear

The fishing vest acts as the fly fishing tackle box. The pockets and places to attach items on the vest makes it easy to access and use the gear on the water.

Protects the face, ears, scalp and neck from the damaging rays of the sun. It also protects your head from hooks on flies.

Wearing a sunglasses case on the vest will help ensure that you have eye protection with you when you need it.

Rays from the sun can damage eyes - even reflected rays off the water and rays on cloudy days. The best way to protect your eyes is to always wear sunglasses - but not just any old pair will do. Read more about protecting your eyes. Glasses also protect your eyes from hooks flying through the air.

This fuzzy patch helps keep flies nearby in case the angler needs to replace one quickly and also lets the flies dry out so they don't rust in the fly storage box.

Stores flies and can help keep them organized. Only put flies that are dry into the box to keep hooks from rusting. Make sure the box fits in your vest pocket before you buy one.

Measuring fish is an important part of this sport to ensure that the fish are a legal size for keeping. The DNR sets fishing regulations to keep the fish population healthy for all to enjoy. Having a tape measure on your vest makes it a quick task. You can choose to catch and release fish as well - not everyone keeps all the legal-sized fish they catch.

Waders are special waterproof pants that are worn to help keep anglers comfortable as they stand in the water for hours at a time to fish.

This fish basket is worn over the shoulder and helps keep fish cool once you've caught them. It is lined with grass and dunked in the water every so often. It's a great way to keep fish fresh for cooking later.

Sometimes called a "landing" net, this small net is used to gather the fish from the water and to help you release fish more easily and quickly. It is lightweight and can also be hung from the vest for easy access.

The sun's rays can harm your skin and make for an uncomfortable fishing trip if you're not prepared. Learn more about practicing safe sun.

This scissor-like tool is sometimes called a "hemostat" and is used to remove hooks from the fish and to fix them if needed.

This solution is applied to the fly (bait) to help it float on top of the water longer. It comes in the form of paste, liquid, and a spray.

The lures that you use for fly fishing to attract a bite from fish are called flies. Flies are made out of materials like fur, feathers, plastic and yarn. All of these materials are tied onto a hook so that they look like an insect, minnow, or anything that a fish might eat.

Flies come in many sizes. The sizes that are best for pan fish and trout are sizes 8, 10 and 12. A size 8 hook is bigger than a size 10 hook, and a size 10 is bigger than a size 12.

There are four different types of flies:

  1. Dry flies - Flies that float
  2. Wet flies- Flies that sink
  3. Streamers - Long, slender flies that sink and look like a minnow or baitfish
  4. Poppers - Floating flies that are made out of cork

Dry flies, wet flies and streamers can all be used to catch trout, pan fish and bass. Streamers are also good for catching northern pike. People usually use poppers to catch bass and pan fish in lakes.

A reel is used to hold the line. An inexpensive reel will work well for pan fish and trout fishing because fly reels do not have gears or complicated parts.

Fly rods are generally 7 to 9 feet long, which is longer than a normal spinning rod. If you already have a fly rod, use that one to get started. If you are going to buy your own rod, lengths of 7 ½ to 8 ½ feet are usually best. The length of the rod is usually printed on the side of the rod just above the handle. There is another number there that tells you what weight of line is best to use for that rod.

The smallest fly line is a 1 weight and the heavier lines are 8 and 9 weights. For pan fish and trout, a 5 or 6 weight line is ideal. Remember to get a line that matches the number found on your rod just above the handle.

A leader is a 7 to 9 foot long piece of clear monofilament line tied onto your fly line. This is where the fly is attached. Good leaders are thick where they attach to your line and get thinner and lighter at the end where you tie your fly.

Sooner or later you will want to have a leader that tapers from thick to thin. For starters though, it is fine to attach a length of leader material that is all the same thickness and is about 7 feet long. To get started, take the material for your first leader off of your spinning rod.

There are a variety of knots that you will use to attach leaders, lines and flies. The package that your fly line comes in will have diagrams that tell you how to tie the different knots. Take them along with you as a reference on the water.

Fly fishing can be done in a trout stream like this one, with cold, moving water. This sport is versatile enough for any waters. You might catch any of Wisconsin's three species of trout; brook, brown or rainbow. In streams that have warm water, you might catch bass or northern pike. You can also fish in lakes from the shore or from a pier or a boat. In lakes, you might catch bluegills and crappies or even bass and northern pike.

If you are fishing where there are other people around, be sure that you are far enough away that you cannot hook someone on your backcast! Also, remember that there is a lot to know about going out in a boat, so be sure that you are safe.

Fly fishing reel being cast

How to Cast

Once you've got your gear ready, it is time to learn to cast. It will be much easier to learn if you have an experienced caster give you a lesson or two.

Practice on your lawn with no fly attached to your leader. Make sure there are no trees or power lines to get in the way.

Getting started

  1. If you are right handed, hold the cork grip of the rod in your right hand.
  2. With your left hand, pull ten or so feet of line off of your reel.

  3. Use your right hand to shake the rod so that the line wiggles through the rod and onto the ground in front of you.

Fly fishing


  1. Hold the line tight with your left hand.
  2. Imagine the face of a clock. Using a brisk motion, raise your rod and sweep it back to the 2 o'clock position, stopping your motion abruptly when you reach 2 o'clock. If you did this right, the line that was in front of you should have gone out behind you.
  3. Your backcast is complete when the line is suspended in the air straight behind you. You will want to cast forward before the line falls to the ground behind you. Don't cast forward too soon either! If you cast forward too soon, then the line will not have a chance to completely straighten out behind you and it won't go forward on the forward cast.

Foreward Cast

When the line has straightened out behind you on the back cast, it is time to make a similar motion forward. Sweep the rod forward to the 10 o'clock position. The line should straighten out in front of you and lay straight out on the ground.

Trouble shooting

Things will probably not seem like they work right the first time you try. It happens to everyone so don't be too frustrated.

If things aren't working right, make sure that you are moving the rod between the 10 o'clock position and 2 o'clock position. Make sure you are letting the line straighten out behind you, but not letting it fall to the ground. Your forward cast is only as good as your back cast!

For a listing of trout streams (Leaves EEK!) you'll need to visit the DNR Web site.

For a listing of Wisconsin lake maps (Leaves EEK!), you'll need to visit the DNR Web site.