An Irish Anglers World

An Introduction to Fly Fishing

A few notes towards helping the novice fly angler choose the correct rod, reel, fly line, and ancillary tackle.

Fly fishing is the presentation of an artificial lure constructed from natural and or man made materials, to represent an insect at various stages of its life cycle or fish such as minnow (freshwater) or sand eel (sea water), with a view to deceiving larger fish species such as brown trout, sea trout, salmon, bass, pollack, and mackerel into taking it. Traditionally practiced in fresh water on rivers and lakes, the sport has branched out in recent years to include salt water fishing as well.

Kell's Co. Meath based angling guide Pat McLaughlin with a Blackwater brownie caught evening dry fly fishing.

Fish that take a fly well and swim in Irish waters are trout, sea trout, salmon, pike, carp, bass, pollack, and mackerel.

Fly fishing equipment in essence comprises rod, reel, line, leader, lure or fly. Essential ancillary equipment comprises a range of wet and dry flies (freshwater), sea water flies and lures, chest waders, fly fishing waistcoat, landing net, fly boxes, fly floatant, de-greasant, leader line of various strengths, tapered leaders (optional), snips, head lamp (evening fishing), and a creel.

If considering taking up the sport a good option prior to spending a cent on fly fishing equipment is to visit your nearest managed rainbow trout fishery. Most offer equipment hire and introductory lessons in fly casting with the added bonus of possibly hooking a decent fish. The experience will help in your decision making while potentially saving you a lot of money should trout fly fishing in the end prove to not rock your boat.

A fine rainbow trout from the managed fishery at Rathcon, Co. Wicklow.

Fly rods: were originally constructed from materials such as split cane, before proceeding to morph through glass fibre, and are now predominantly made from composites of carbon fibre and graphite. The main benefit of modern rod construction is lightness and durability. Fly rods have what is called an “AFTM (Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers) weight rating” which means they are manufactured to cast a particular weight of line.

Good introductory level rod manufacturers are Daiwa, Hardy/Greys, and Scierra. A good rule of thumb if a beginner is to bite the bullet and purchase at the mid range level.

Fly reels: Are simply a vessel to hold the line. Specialist fishing for certain species such as salmon, large brown and sea trout, bass, and blue water game fish do require more sophisticated reels incorporating drags allowing the fish to run under pressure, however most angling situations can be handled using basic uncompromising less pricy equipment.

Greys produce good introductory level reels, again buy mid range.

Reel, line, and flies.

Fly lines: Traditionally made from silk are now manufactured by coating a braided inner core with plastic. Fly lines are made to either float or sink.

Floating lines are the most common type of line and can be used for a wide variety of fly fishing. They are particularly suited to sight fishing with nymphs and dry flies.

Fly Lines come with a weight rating (AFTM) which lets you know the weight of the line. The line weight should be matched to your fly rod’s AFTM weight rating.

It is line weight which enables a rod to cast.

Most fly lines are thirty meters long and tapered to comprise a fine tip section, a middle section or belly, and a running section. Lines tend to come in two tapers, a weight forward taper and a double taper with the weight forward being favoured because of its ability to cope better in windy conditions.

A Weight Forward floating fly line (WF) as the name suggests has more weight in the front half of the line hence it casts better in windy conditions. Some are designed for delicate presentations while others are better suited for distance. Today most fly anglers use weight forward lines.

A Double Taper (DT) has the weight in the middle, with a longer fine tip section that allows for delicate presentations. The back half of the line is the same as the front half, so the line can be reversed which doubles the life of the fly line. They are best suited to smaller streams where delicate presentations are required.

Evening fly fishing on Lough Dan, Co. Wicklow.

Sinking lines incorporate a dense outer coating so enabling the line to sink; some even contain a lead core. Sinking lines can range from sink tips, to intermediate (slow sinking) to fast sinking lines. The speed at which lines sink is controlled by the density of the coating and or the lead core. Intermediate lines will sink at a slow rate; say a half inch per second, while some fast sinkers might achieve seven inches per second or more.

Sinking Lines are used in combination with nymphs, lures, or wet flies where extra depth is needed to sink your flies down to where the fish are stationed. Lakes, medium to large rivers, and coastal locations all provide situations where sinking lines could be utilised.

Fly lines are arguably the most important purchase as a good fly line casts better and lasts longer if looked after and cleaned regularly.

Note: Buy a good quality fly line from a manufacturer such as Cortland or Rio.

Artificial flies: In essence can be wet (subsurface) or dry (resting on or in the meniscus). They can represent a direct imitation of a living creature, or a nondescript design which will trigger a fish’s curiosity or attack response.

If purchasing as against tying ones own flies there are many good professional fly dressers based in Ireland, one such is Jimmy Tyrrell of Irish Fly Craft based in Abbeyleix, Co. Laois.

Jimmy Tyrrell (second left) of Irish Fly Craft and friends.

Leader line: Made from nylon or fluorocarbon and tapered for fly presentation, is attached to the main fly line at one end and to the fly at the other. Lengths of leader can vary depending on rod size and where one is fishing. For example a small stream may necessitate a leader no longer than nine foot, however a fifteen foot leader or longer could be used while lough fishing.

Reading Material: There are a host of books on fly fishing and fly tying covering a range of species, places, and techniques. For the moment we will concentrate on Irish game fishing and there are no better introductory books on this subject then those written by Peter O’Reilly. Titles such as “Fly Fishing in Ireland”, “Trout and Salmon Flies of Ireland”, “Trout and Salmon Rivers of Ireland”, and “Trout and Salmon Loughs of Ireland”, all published by Merlin/Unwin are well worth purchasing or booking out from the library.

Further Reading: Wild Trout Fishing in Co. Wicklow.

Still Further Reading: Big Skies and Stoneflies.

Yet still more: Sea trout fishing in Co. Wicklow.

Click on: Salmo Spero Elite Salmon and Sea Trout Flies.