Thursday, February 2, 2012

Basic Fly Fishing - Part 1

Last summer I decided to sign up for a "basic" fly fishing course offered through the local community college extension course catalog.  It sounded simple enough-- learn about flying fishing, practice casting, catch a fish.

As soon as the class started, I knew there was far more to fly fishing than tying a hook to a line.  It sounded like a college Entomology class-- the study of fresh-water insects, their eggs, larva, pupa, emergers, dunns, spinners-- particularly the life cycles of the May Fly, Baetis Fly, Caddis Fly and Stone Fly, plus some mosquitoes, grasshoppers, ants and crane flies. 
It was overwhelming.  So, I decided to study and break it down into its basic essentials-- all to make it easy and enjoyable.  Here's what I learned.

(1) Mayfly, Caddis Fly, Stone Fly and Other Insects.  There's a lot of talk about these different flies.  There are hundreds of variations of each type, but once you sort through all the technical information, it comes down to this--

MAYFLIES (once hatched and out of the water and flying around) come in different colors, but essentially they are (a) sort of small-- averaging about a half inch-- and they can be recognized by (b) their wings, which sort of stand up like the sails on a sailboat, and (c) the three long tails.  See the first picture at the top, which is a Mayfly.  "Mayflies" also include BAETIS FLIES, which are just another variation of Mayflies.

CADDISFLIES (once they are hatched out of the water and are flying around in the air) are (a) about the same size as Mayflies, but maybe a little bigger, and are recognizable by (b) wings are swept back and (c) the two long antennae.  The second picture is a Caddisfly. 

STONE FLIES (once they hatch and are out of the water and are flying around in the air) are (a) much bigger than than Mayflies and Caddisflies, being an inch or more, (b) the wings are back against the body, and (c) there is a prominent forked tail.  The third picture is a Stone Fly. 

I purposely found pictures that show a man's thumb or finger for perspective. 

MIDGES (such as small gnats and the small mosquito and its cousins) are of interest to the fly-fisherman , as are OTHER "fresh water flies" such as the larger dragon (damsel) fly and the crane fly.  These flying insects also have lives that start as eggs in the water.  TERRESTRIALS are ants, beetles and grasshoppers (insects which live on the land, but might fall or get blown into the water by the wind).  But, most of the fly-fishing talk discusses the Mayfly, Caddisfly, Stone Fly and "midges." 

(2) Most of the action is under the water. I always thought that insects grew up on land and sometimes flew over a lake or stream, and that's when the big fish noticed the flying insect and jumped out of the water to eat the insect in the air--  all the fly-fisherman had to do was dangle a line over the water with a look-a-like artificial fly tied to a hook, and the fish would jump into the air and swallow the hook.   

It's not that simple:  These "fresh-water flying insects" spend most of their lives underwater! The Mayfly is underwater about 364 days of the year, the Caddisfly is underwater about 11 months of the year, and the Stone Fly might be underwater for 23 months out of 24.  These insects only leave the water to reproduce, and then they die. 

That will be the subject of Basic Fly Fishing - Part 2.