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December 11, 2016
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What fly?

The variables in fly fishing are considerable and perplexing to the beginner and experienced fisher alike. Deciding what to do in a given situation can be answered easily with about 10 years of trial and error. OR you can pick the brain of a seasoned veteran, already tempered by years in the school of hard knocks, and you will fast-track your learning.

There are subtle “tricks of the trade” for almost every aspect of fly fishing. It starts with rod choice, reel set-up (right or left handed?), make and type of fly line, choice of leader, tippet type and size and best knots to use for all the connections. And we haven’t even gotten to what is most critical of all: fly selection. After all, it is the fly that gets the fish to bite or fails to. In 1892, Mary Orvis Marbury profiled 291 flies in her classic encyclopedia of fly patterns, “Favorite Flies and Their Histories.” Today that number has increased exponentially, giving fly fishers an almost unlimited number of choices. If all of this seems overwhelming, be comforted by the fact that you could get through a season with just a size 14 Adams fly and catch lots of fish. One of the masters of the Catskill waters reputedly does just that.

My old buddy, fly fishing pundit and writer extraordinaire Ed Zern, observed that he had as many as 300 flies tucked away in his fly fishing vest. Mercifully, Art Flick came out with his “New Streamside Guide” in 1969, reducing the essential flies to just nine. Nine flies are all you need. “Oh great,” quipped Zern. “Now I carry 309 flies.”

So, “what fly?” is always the question. A fishing pal came up with a unique way to find an answer. In his book “Trout Flies & Flowers,” Ivan L. Mahoney observed that “the blooming of certain plants coincides with the hatches of specific insects.” We all know that the insect hatches come in a certain reliable sequence, or as Art Flick put it, “The may flies come back each year with the regularity of a great natural law.” Ivan observed that when you see pussy willows in the wet banks, or snow drops or even skunk cabbage whorls, it’d be a good time to tie on a Brown Stonefly, or a Wooly Bugger, or perhaps a Bead Head nymph. When you start to see early daffodils, you might want to tie on a Quill Gordon, advises Mahoney. Remembering these patterns gets easier with the passing years. They do repeat.

Memorizing these hatches is not essential to having a fine day on the stream. You can certainly use your own powers of observation. Take a close look at the insects on the water and tie on the closest imitation from your fly box. Tip: keep a small aquarium net in your fly vest. Netting a passing sample is a lot easier than the near impossibility of trying to pick one off the surface with your fingers. Look your live sample over for size, color and conformity (underside too).

The last resort might be to stop by the local fly shop and ask, “What are they biting on?” We have many fine shops along our rivers, and these pros really know fishing. Most often, advice on fly selection is freely given and you just might get a suggestion or two that could really make your day. Tip: Suggested flies for early April, according to Dennis Skarka of Catskill Flies in Roscoe, are small Brown or Black Stoneflies, Hare’s Ear and Prince Nymph (or as Dennis says, anything that looks like food).

Oh yes, on the old question of reel set-up, right or left handed? Left is definitely correct, although the 50% of fly fishers who prefer right-hand retrieve aren’t wrong either.

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