It was nice to get out of the house during winter as a family for a camping trip. We used ultralight spinning gear for trout fishing. I never got into trout fishing, always wanting to hunt bigger fish. I’d see people on both rivers fly fishing, and because of that grew up thinking fly fishing was just for trout and wading.
After moving to northeast Oklahoma and a return to fishing many years later, after I had grown, I worked with a group of guys who would travel to the western United States for week-long trout fishing trips. I used to hear them talk about fly fishing. The lingo was all very technical. I didn’t know anything about the things they talked about. It was all totally different from the fishing I did (mostly for catfish). It just seemed strange to me to travel to catch fish I’d use for striper bait here in Oklahoma. I had again gone on some trout fishing trips, but just never did get into it.
Those experiences caused me to make a lot of assumptions and hold some prejudices about fly fishing. It was no surprise to me that after I got into kayak fishing in 2007, I just never paid much attention to the kayak fly fishing crowd. I saw the posts on the forums. I read the occasional fishing report from fly anglers who posted in the “General” sections of kayak fishing forums. For some reason, however, I just always fell back on my preconceived notions about fly fishing. It was mostly for old men trying to be way too technical about their hobby. It was too windy to fly fish where I go. It takes too long to learn. It’s too hard, anyway.
I’ve seen those $750 rods in the catalogs - who’d want to waste that kind of money? Fly fishing is an expensive way for old men to catch bait. I don’t need to spend that kind of money to catch bluegill! My favorite saying that I’d use on my fly fishing brother was, “While your bait is flying around in the air, my plastic worm is in the water catching fish!” Of course, that was to rib him and see how far I could push him. What are big brothers for - even grown ones - after all?
That all changed for me about a week ago. My brother had moved some time back and wanted to store some things in my barn. About a week ago, I needed to move some things out of my way and found his fly rod, a cheap Shakespeare model he bought at the world’s largest retailer. It was out of sheer curiosity that I carried it into the yard and gave it a try. It was, of course, a total failure. I put it back in the barn and mentioned it to him later, thinking it was funny. He encouraged me to give it a try with a real intention of doing it correctly. In fact, I distinctly remember him telling me that he doubted I would be able to do it, but I could try it, anyway. What are little brothers for - even grown ones - after all?
My brother did give me the crash course in fly fishing. After thirty minutes, I made my first cast that wasn’t a total disaster. Thinking maybe I could find a little assistance with the help of YouTube, I went inside and began watching fly fishing videos on line. I learned a few very basic principles and went back outside to practice more. I got a little better. I think it was almost lost on me how much fun I was having trying to learn to fly cast. I began seeing small things that absolutely proved my assumptions about fly fishing completely wrong. First, I had already witnessed guys on YouTube catching trophy-sized bass on fly rods. I tuned to a fishing show to see the recently deceased fishing guru, Jose Wejebe, catching permit and snook on a fly rod in Florida. How could this all have gotten by me?
Day two of my experience was a lesson in casting in the wind. I was able to cast the fly line in close to a thirty mile an hour wind with a fair amount of accuracy. I couldn’t do that with weightless soft plastics as easily, and I was completely new at this! I realized that I was actually learning how to cast the fly rod, and it wasn’t hard. It just took some practice.
I decided to plan an outing to try what I had been practicing. I’d try my hand at a kayak fly fishing trip. Two more days of practice, and I found my wife bidding on an 8-weight setup on a local auction site. I was very excited when she sent me a text saying that she’d won it, and I could pick it up on my way home from work. I began getting a few things in preparation for my outing. I was surprised again when I learned I didn’t need too many things, and it wasn’t all that expensive. Another of my assumptions shot down. I’d be afraid to total up what I’ve spent on conventional fishing gear. One of my favorite sayings is from Koos Brandt. He said, “My biggest fear is that my wife (when I’m dead) will sell my fishing gear for what I said I paid for it.” So far, I’ve not spent too much on fly fishing - not anywhere close to what I spent on my first conventional setup and tackle to go bass fishing.
After a week of practicing, the weekend finally arrived and I was really excited about a kayak fly fishing trip. Conditions were less than perfect - pretty bad, as a matter of fact. I rigged up and headed out anyway. The rigging was far simpler and took less time. I carried a ton or so less stuff. I decided I liked it.
Here’s a picture of my kayak rigged for conventional fishing gear, and the next one is my rigging for fly fishing. My usual rigging consists of six rods, a crate bag, two rod holders, a couple of other smaller tackle and worm bags, fish finder, landing net, pliers, lip grippers, and Hawg Trough. For my fly fishing trip, I only carried a small Plano tackle bag that had everything I needed, the fly rod, lip grippers, pliers, and my Hawg Trough. I did add an anchor and a Yak Attack “Park-N-Pole”. I do carry those things with conventional gear occasionally, and figured I could use them on this fly fishing outing, but the bad conditions prevented it. The wind and the current in the river were both strong, and going in perfectly opposite directions. It made all my plans irrelevant. I had to take what I could get and fish from the kayak, in spots I hadn’t planned on.
Even as a complete beginner at fly fishing and with the disappointing conditions, , I was able to paddle out and find a spot that offered some protection from the wind. I targeted a brush pile and landed my very first fish on the fly, a small cat fish! It wasn’t a monster, and it wasn’t the species I was targeting, but I took it.
Behold, my first fish on the fly!!
I also caught a whole bunch of bluegill, and before returning to the launch I did get my first bass on the fly rod. He was little, but he was my first bass on the fly!
I considered the outing a success, even though conditions were terrible and the fish were small. I learned a ton of things. I continued to improve all day. I didn’t get skunked, and above all else, I had a complete blast doing it!
After making some adjustments (like a better quality fly line, and moving some of my rigging around), I returned the next day. Conditions were far better, as the wind had subsided and the river had fallen some. I had even more fun the second outing, and now have a fly tying vise, materials for tying flies, and an instructional book and DVD on the way. My wife informed me that she has ordered me a 5-weight set up, and it should be here shortly. I plan on using the 5wt to catch bluegill for bait to catch big cats. I plan to do a lot of bass fishing with the 8wt, and also plan to target some of the huge carp and river redhorse sucker fish I see on the river I fish most. My brother and I have a trip planned in the future to a tailwater for a fly fishing striper trip. Do I sound hooked? I openly admit that I am.
I have no intention of stopping using my conventional gear. I like all of my gear, and just added a new and fun way to fish. The important thing is that I learned some very valuable lessons. Most important among them is to open your mind to other fishing techniques and methods. If I had known what I know now, I’d have been fly fishing a long time ago.
I’d encourage anyone to give fly fishing a try. It’s not hard, it just takes a little bit of practice and perseverance. I’m not at all good at it yet and make plenty of horribly bad casts, but guess what? On my last outing that I took my conventional gear, I made bad casts, too. I threw a couple of baits into trees, backlashed a reel at least twice, and made a horribly loud cast that spooked a huge bass away that I had been sight fishing. I still have lots to learn about fishing, regardless of the method I’m using to deliver a bait to the fish. Learning should be a fun experience, and I should have been more open-minded about fly fishing long, long ago. I’ve missed a lot of fishing opportunities by falling into a lot of completely wrong assumptions about fly fishing. Don’t make the same mistake. At least give it a try. Who knows - you might end up a fly fishing newbie addict like me!