By Phillip Potter, AKA TarDevil
Fly fishing has garnered the image of an elitist sport, reserved for the privileged with means and time to burn. The words “fly fishing” typic-ally conjure images of gents and ladies resplendent in the latest attire and equipment from the top shelves of the Orvis warehouse, deftly casting immaculately crafted imitations under directions from reputable well-paid guides to hungry rising trout. Fishing done, they are helicoptered to fine lodging where the evening dialog is enhanced by plush surroundings and garnished with dry martinis and perfect manhattans. More often than not, fishing conversations are quickly brushed aside in favor of corporate P&L and investment portfolio dissertations. Even if you’ve never seen such behavior in real life, the fly fishing equipment brochures and catalogs do their best to perpetuate the image. And if you look inside those catalogs you will be dismayed, if you fish on a budget as I do, at the prices. One rod and reel can easily consume a monthly mortgage payment.
So here and now I debunk the above myth and declare that fly fishing can be enjoyed by the average person who spends evenings in primitive campsites, sleeps in tents, drinks sodas or cheap beer and punches a clock for a living. And (the marketing gods forbid), fly fishing is perfectly fine for bass, bream or crappie. It’s downright fun, if you ask me. In fact (having done both), it is my preference.
I’ll coble together my perspectives about budget fly fishing, but there is one inalienable fact about fly fishing that demands topmost consideration regardless of resources – are you committed? Anyone of average intelligence and ability can learn to use spin casting rigs anywhere between minutes and an hour. The same person can easily learn to fly fish, but rarely in a day or a week; most likely not in a month. Fly fishing is a way of life and requires time, patience and practice to become effective and productive. You must be willing to work through frustrating phases of casting and presentation before “lifting” to a fish or you will rue your investment in the sport, budget or not. So if you’re ready for the journey, read on.
There are two diametrical schools of thought regarding rods and reels… one camp says “buy the best reel your can afford” and the other says “buy the best rod you can afford.” Since you are reading this on a website largely dedicated to catching bass from America’s rivers, I can only assume such fishing is your primary objective. Therefore I stand solidly in the corner of “buy the best rod” and save on the reel (as an aside, I disagree with the premise of buying the best reel and skimping on the rod… if you are fishing in an environment where a quality reel with sound drag is required, such as for bonefish, permit, and tarpon, then you need both quality rod and reel – but that digression is for another conversation and website). Obviously my opinion is only as good as the next guy’s so you can read ‘em all and make your own decision, but in all my years of fishing warm fresh waters I’ve yet to encounter a fish that honestly required me to “get on the reel.” To be honest, you’re just as likely to lose a fish to slack while taking up fly line. It looks cool and I’ve done it lots of times – but it never was a necessity. What I’m saying is, why sink a significant portion of your budget on a piece of equipment that mostly just holds your line? There are plenty of low dollar reels available – large arbor and otherwise – with sufficient line capacity and decent disc drags ranging anywhere from thirty bucks up. I currently use a Hobbs Creek reel from Bass Pro Shops (about thirty-nine bucks) on my go-to six weight, and for nearly a decade prior to that fished with Pflueger Medalist Rim Control reels (twenty-nine bucks these days at Dicks). My eight weight rig is mounted with a moderately more expensive Orvis Battenkill mid arbor reel, but only because I use it in salt water.
Whatever reel you purchase, the first major dent in your budget should be spooling that reel properly with backing and a quality fly line. I use gel spun line as backing but a significant contingent of fly fishermen stay away from it and recommend Dacron only. I cannot argue that point. You won’t get as much backing with Dacron as with gel spun, but as said earlier you also aren’t likely to get far into your backing while fishing for black bass. If you do get into backing, Dacron is much kinder to your hands and won’t leave cuts like gel spun or braid. If you use gel spun, buy the larger thirty to fifty pound stuff.
My fly line recommendation to beginners is a quality weight forward (WF) line. It is easier to cast heavy wind resistant bass flies with WF line it and lends itself to a variety of conditions. There’s a plethora of brands available and you can pay next to nothing at the big merchandisers or spend a wad in specialty shops. I’ve bought lines that worked well for as little as eighteen bucks and I’ve spent twice as much on stuff I trashed after a few outings. Generally I stick with Cortland or Scientific Anglers (the Bass Bug Taper from Scientific Anglers is one of the best, but a little pricey at around sixty-five dollars). Spend some time hanging out at an outfitter’s store or maybe join a fly fishing forum (such as RiverBassin.com!!) for input and suggestions, but make yourself happy and buy decent line. Just make sure your line weight matches your rod.
A quality rod can make the difference between tossing your rig in the yard sale stuff out of frustration and progressing toward a satisfying new hobby. Matched with a decent fly line, there’s a discernible feel casting quality fly rods that’s hard to quantify on paper but easy to experience, even for beginners. Feedback is so crucial and good rods almost paint pictures of fly lines beautifully extended behind you, loading your rod and waiting for that forward motion that sends line and fly gracefully across the water, lighting gently and precisely. Your hand and the rod’s action speak to each other telepathically.
And speaking of action, there are three types in fly rods; slow, medium and fast. Fast action (tip flex) rods are relatively stiff up to the tip and are used in windy conditions for long casts with large flies to big (really big) fish. Slow action (full flex) rods are flexible their full length and typically used in small creeks and streams for small trout and pan fish. Medium action (mid flex) rods are somewhere in between, ideal for the majority of conditions and comprise the majority of rods sold. You can’t go wrong if you begin your fly fishing pilgrimage with a medium/mid flex rod.
What are you going to pay for this rod? Depends on your budget. You can go nuts with a Winston, somewhat less with G Loomis, St. Croix or Sage, or a more moderately priced Fenwick (personally, I’m very fond of Fenwick). Truth is, I have a couple of White River rods from Bass Pro Shops I picked up for around sixty bucks each that have rewarded me with great casting and many fish. Again, chatting it up in shops and forums will help shape your choice, but if you can allocate seventy-five to a hundred bucks for a fly rod you will appreciate the results.
So, doing some fast math I figure you can get on the water with a decent fly fishing outfit for one-fifty to two hundred bucks. A few months hanging out and fishing with some experienced folks and you’ll be sending out fifty feet of line with ease. You’ll have to buy some flies until BoyScout or SmallieSam covers fly tying bench essentials but until then, happy casting!!