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Fly Fishing on a Shoe String
by Ed Zaun

started my fly fishing career about 30 years ago, when I was still in high school. I was looking for a different way to catch Largemouth Bass, Pickerel and Panfish, one that was more exciting than spinning gear. I bought an Abu Garcia fiberglass 7/8 weight and matched it to a Pflueger Medalist reel, used 10lb monofilament for backing, and I can't even remember what kind of fly line I used, except it floated most of the time. I bought my flies, and as I recall, I had some success, but not the great gobs of fish I was hoping for. My casting stunk.

When I turned eighteen, I enlisted in the Air Force, my fly fishing came to an abrupt halt, and my interest was not to be rekindled until about 5 years ago. I had become an accomplished freshwater fisherman, and I was looking for a better way to fish when I remembered my dusty old Abu Garcia. I promptly borrowed all kinds of books from the local library, learned to cast in a manner that might not heap scorn and ridicule upon me, and I was hooked again.

As a teenager, then later as a married Father of two (beautiful girls, Thank You for asking) I didn't have huge wads of combustible cash just lying about, so I learned how to whip and strip on a shoestring budget. Orvis, Sage, Thomas and Thomas, and even St. Croix will have to wait.

When I decided to concentrate on becoming a real fly-flinger, the first thing I realized was that my Dad had been right again, dammit. He had taught me something that I now accept as an axiom, although he never phrased it quite this way: "Superior Equipment cannot compensate for Inferior Skills". In other words, just because you have the best stuff doesn't mean you know what to do with it.

Fly fishing is, ideally, a minimalist sport. The idea is not to take 700 lbs of gear with you, but just what you need. In keeping with that thought, I decided to begin my affair by minimizing my investment…

I use a Pflueger FY-90-10, 9'-0" 10 weight fly rod. It casts reasonably well, and with it I can throw a size 1/0 Deceiver about 70' in a 10 knot breeze. I've matched it with a Pflueger Medalist 1958RC reel. This reel holds 200 yards of 20 lb. Dacron backing and 95 feet of fly line, which I believe to be more than enough for anything I might encounter, although I wouldn't mind some fish reminding me how my backing is attached to the spool… This may seem to some of you, to be inferior equipment, but if you'll go to my Pictures Page, you'll see it works just fine. I like the 1598RC, because like all Medalist reels, it is bulletproof. The drag system is simple, just a spring that tensions a pad that slows the spool. The spool itself has a lip that covers the outside of the cage and allows me to palm the reel and apply the amount of drag I want the fish to fight. I keep my drag set just tight enough so that when I strip line from the reel during a cast, the spool stops and doesn't backlash. Yep, I'll stack a good caster with my rod and reel up against an average caster with a Trident any day. Net cost: $180 including line and backing.

I use Cortland 444 WF-10 intermediate sink line for most of my fishing, and soon, because of the low cost, I'll be getting another reel and loading it with 444 WF floating line. I've found Cortland 444 performs as advertised under all the conditions I've fished with it. Cost: around $40.

If you either fly fish already or surf fish, you have waders so I don't need to get into that, but I like just the plain old rubber and canvas chest waders. They're cool enough for early and late summer and there is plenty of room in them for extra sweat pants and warm socks when I have to knock the ice from the guides. Cost: $50.

I giggle every time I see a stripping basket in a store. The prices run from $30 to $80. I had a couple of the hand shopping baskets, you know the kind you'll find in a supermarket, with slots already in them. I took some nylon wire ties and secured those to the bottom of one, cut them off at about 2" and Voila`, instant free stripping basket! It's bigger than most of the commercial ones I've seen, and it works perfectly. Cost: $0

Tapered leaders will run you into some money, especially when you swap flies and lose your tippet section to knots. If you tie your own, you can experiment with designs and find what works best for you. You can also tie up as many as you want for next to nothing. Each spring, I buy those spools of monofilament that will fill an individual spinning reel. I use 30, 20, 14, 12,10 and 8-lb. test, in clear. When I've finished each leader, I take a small piece of masking tape, roll the leader up and trap the wraps with the tape. I'll then write on the tape the length and tippet strength of that leader for identification later.

Most expensive rods come with a protective tube to house the rod and keep it safe. Mine didn't, so I went to the nearest Home Depot and bought 10' of 1 ½" PVC pipe and 2 end caps. I mark the ends with a Magic Marker so I can tell which rod lives in which tube, a few minutes with a hacksaw and I had a rod tube which is stronger than those aluminum ones you can buy for about $35. Net cost to me: about $8.

Now for the single most expensive part of my obsession: the Flies. Even here, you can get started without the need to knock over a liquor store or get involved with a crooked land deal. Simply start slowly at first and pick up speed as you go. Most fly tying supplies are cheap enough, so pick 3 patterns you want to start tying and just buy the materials specified for each. This is actually better for you in the long run because you'll become proficient at each pattern as you learn how to tie, before moving on. As for tools, you can also get away relatively unscathed here as well. I use a Thompson Model "A" vise, at about $40. I'd like to try a rotary vise, but I also tie Largemouth Bass, and Trout flies. I personally don't see the need for a rotary vise for saltwater flies. The rest of the tools are pretty much generic, unless you need gold plated stuff to work with. Again, Dad's Law comes in to play, "Just because it cost you an arm and a leg doesn't mean you can perform any better with it." Commercially tied flies will cost between $3 and $10 and up, but you will be producing them for less than $.40 each, and you will have that disgusting smugness about you which proclaims, "I caught this fish on something I made!"

As you can see, fly fishing is not just a game for the rich and famous. The key thing about any phase of this is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!!!! That means casting, and tying. Practice makes perfect, and this time it really does. Put your time in and you'll find people making all kinds of "oooh" and "ahhhh" sounds when they look into your fly boxes, watch you cast them and reel in those fish.

The bottom line is this: If you have confidence in your gear, you'll catch fish and do well. The only way you can gain confidence is using your gear and improving your skills, you can't buy proficiency and you can't rent it, either. Most people who go hog wild with their first set up, almost invariably get frustrated when they find those casts don't look like Lefty's or Flip's, and unfortunately, they give up. They consign their rods to a dusty corner of the basement and miss out on all the fun. Too bad, but you can pick up some great deals that way… End

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