Lay Down Your Misconceptions, Pick Up A Fly Rod!

Learning the sport of fly fishing, and how to do it on the cheap, is a lot easier than most people think.

David Cannon | July 25, 2006

Many people have misconceptions that keep them from ever giving the fly rod a chance.

I find that as I’m out on the water or anywhere that fly fishing might come up in conversation, I’m consistently running across people who have a lot of incorrect assumptions about my favorite pasttime. And it just so happens that there’s just not really a whole heck of a lot to write about regarding Georgia trout fishing in August, save the tailwaters and headwaters we’ve talked about the last two months. So I thought it would be a great opportunity to address some of the misconceptions that keep many from ever giving the fly rod a chance.

Misconception No. 1:
Fly fishing is too expensive.

If anyone can argue against this point, it’s me! I’m 24, at the beginning of my career, have just purchased my first house and am getting married in a few months. (Catch-and-release won’t be practiced on this one!) Case-in-point: I can pinch pennies!

Regardless of what you may have heard, you can get completely outfitted for the trout stream for peanuts.  So, let’s begin by making a list of everything that you’ll need to get started in the sport.

  1. A rod (graphite)
  2. A reel
  3. Fly line (weight-forward or double-tapered)
  4. Leaders and tippet material
  5. Waders and felt-soled wading boots (or boot-foot waders)
  6. Flies
  7. A fly box
  8. Tools (nippers, forceps and tie-fast)
  9. A vest or chest pack

What we’ll do from here is go with the least-expensive equipment that actually works.  I recommend starting this way because, even if you can afford to sink a few-thousand dollars into outfitting, it’s frustrating when you get all geared up for a new activity and find that you hate it.  I don’t think that will happen with fly fishing, but you never know.  Above and beyond that, you will be able to find suitable upgrades when you feel the need for them.  Trust me, catalogs will begin to magically appear in your mailbox once you buy your first piece of equipment.  Funny how that happens, huh?

Alright, so let’s talk rods.  From my experience, $40 seems to be the magic number.  The first rod I bought was $40; a graphite nine-foot five-weight that I still use as my primary rod (make sure that the rod you buy is graphite, not fiberglass; either IM-6 or IM-7).  No, it doesn’t have the action of a $600 rod, but it does exactly what I need it to do: get my line and my fly (or flies) to the desired target.  Will I eventually upgrade to a better rod?  Absolutely!

My most recent rod purchase was a 7’6″ 5-weight Eagle Claw Trailmaster fly rod.  It’s a five-piece rod that fits nicely into a backpack or duffle bag which makes it great for vacations or for someone who frequently travels for their job.  The cost of this rod was also $40.  And, I found that I got a lot more than a good rod for that price; I got outstanding customer service.  The rod was broken several months after the purchase due to my own neglect.  I left it sitting in the driveway after a good cleaning and a certain member of my family backed over it with their car.  I sent an email to the people at Eagle Claw and received a quick reply.  In a matter of days, I had a brand new rod with a hard case at no cost to me, even though it was completely my fault.  So, you don’t have to buy a top-of-the-line rod to receive top-of-the-line service.

I paired the nine-foot rod with a $10 reel nabbed off of eBay wound with $10 fly line (if you’re going to be fishing bigger waters like the ‘Hooch, Chattooga or Toccoa, buy better line).  The reel has a click-drag system, which is alright, but I’ve recently upgraded to a large-arbor reel with a disc-drag system that works like a dream.  Combined with my $40 rod. this set-up has helped me land around 400 fish, including numerous fish over 20 inches, in the past year and a half. That’s about 20 cents per fish!

Leaders and tippet material can be grabbed for a few dollars at your local evil-corporate-retailer or pick them up at your local fly shop and get some free expert advice while you’re there.  Start off with  3X, 4X, and 5X leader packs and tippet spools.  You should be able to get all of this for around $40 total.

Felt-soled, boot-foot chest waders can be found starting at around $55 through Cabela’s.  These will keep you dry and safe as you explore the new waters you will grow to love over the years.  Another great option is purchasing stocking-foot waders along with the $50 Hodgeman felt-bottom wading boots.  The boots come with a free membership to Trout Unlimited, which will be your ticket to learning the sport from experienced anglers who will be more than happy to take you along on their next adventure.  So, if you were going to buy the TU membership anyway, the boots really only cost $15.  And, they’re good boots!

Whatever you end up buying, make sure the boots or boot-foot waders have felt-bottomed soles.  River bottoms tend to be a little slick… okay, really slick, and the felt drastically improves your ability to safely navigate the water you are fishing.

For discounted flies, give Hill’s Discount Flies or Blue Fly Cafe a shot.  They both sell good flies at near-wholesale prices and have a wide variety to choose from. Spend $30 and you’ll have a great starter collection.  Here are some must-haves for your fly box:

  • Elk Hair Caddis (sizes 14-16)
  • Orange Stimulator (sizes 12-14)
  • Adams Parachute (sizes 14-16)
  • Olive Wooly Bugger (sizes 10-12)
  • Prince Nymph (sizes 12-14)
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (sizes 14-16)

Once again, it may be worth it to you to stop by your local fly shop to purchase flies.  They charge about $2 per fly, but they are a little better quality than the discount sellers’.  You can also get the latest reports on what has been effective in that specific are, which will greatly increase your chance of success.

A good fly box that will hold all of the flies listed above and keep them organized can be found for around $10 at your local fly shop, as well .  Put that on the shopping list when you go to pick up your leaders and tippet.

Of course, you have to have the right tools to be able to do the job right.  So, you’ll need nippers to clip tippet (say that five times fast!)  from the spool or excess off of a knot.  The cost of a good set of nippers should start at around $5.  You’ll also need forceps to remove a hook from the boney jaw of a big brown, or to pinch down the barb on a hook to prepare for places like Dukes Creek, Waters Creek or most trophy streams.  This tool should also cost you about $5.  And finally, a tie-fast is a priceless tool to have on hand, especially during the colder months when your fingers aren’t working well enough to tie certain demanding knots.  $7 is all you’ll need for this tool and can also be found at any fly shop in Atlanta or north Georgia, or Wally-World.

And finally, you have to have a way to carry the gear you have acquired.  Most anglers opt for a vest to perform this function.  A vest can be purchased starting at around $20 and will carry anything you will need on the stream.  But, it’s not the only option.  Fly-flingers who like to pack light often choose a chest pack, which will usually be just spacious enough to carry a fly box, leaders and tippet spools and also have places on which to hang your nippers and forceps.  The adventurous angler may go with an anglers backpack that often includes a camel-bak water storage system, enough pack space to equip you for a day-hike and small chest packs on the front of the pack straps for fishing gear storage.  The options are endless, and one can be found that is specifically tailored to your brand of fishing.

Now, let’s recap and itemize the costs of each so that we can get an estimate on what it costs to get started and be prepared on the stream:

  1. A rod – $40
  2. A reel – $10
  3. Fly line – $10
  4. Leaders and tippet material – $40
  5. Waders and wading boots (or boot-foot waders) – $55
  6. Flies – $30
  7. A fly box – $10
  8. Tools (nippers, forceps and tie-fast) – $17
  9. A vest or chest pack – $20

Total Cost: Approximately $225

Remember, we went with the minimums on everything.  And, the prices on this list are estimations, so your actual total may be a little different in either directions than the one we show here.  But really, there aren’t too many hobbies that you can be completely set up for at around $200.  Of course, you can spend as much as you want.  But, why spend a ton of cash on a hobby you haven’t tried yet?  Save that for later when you know you love it and will be doing it for a while.  Then go to the fly shop and get that dreamy fly rod off the rack.

And, when compared to other ways of fishing, such as trolling lakes for bass, the cost of getting rigged up for fly fishing is nothing!  There’s no boat, trolling motor, trailer, oil and gas to buy except for the gas it takes to fill up your vehicle for the ride to a stream.

In addition to that, if you really want to turbo-charge the learning process, sign up for an instructional class and learn from the professionals in Georgia.

Unicoi Outfitters in Helen offers a “three-hour tour” (a three-hour tour) known as the Gilligan Special.  This class offers students one hour of overview, such as casting and equipment basics, then the opportunity to tie into an over-sized rainbow or brown on one of their trophy waters for the next two hours.  The cost is $200 for two anglers and would be well-worth any new anglers’ time.

The Atlanta Fly Fishing School is another great way to go if you want to get a little more in-depth.  It’s also closer to Atlanta, located just off of 400 in Cumming.  Mack Martin and the rest of the gang at AFFS are some of the most knowledgeable people in the state when it comes to overall knowledge of all things fly fishing.  A five-hour basic fly fishing class here will currently run you $125.

The great benefit to paying some money now and learning from the professionals is that you will actually save money in the long run.  If you’re trying to learn on your own, you’ll spend countless hours trying to figure things out for yourself, not to mention spending, especially now, a ton on gas money, then having to go back and un-learn bad habits you’ve developed.

Misconception No. 2:
It takes years to become a successful fly-angler.

It goes without saying that the more time you spend learning about trout, trout streams, fly casting, and bugs, the better you’ll be. There really is a limitless amount of knowledge that could be valuable to a trout angler.  But you don’t have to quit your job and become a trout bum or wait until your hair is white to find fun and success with a fly rod.  In fact, there is a wealth of knowledge right at your fingertips.  Check out North Georgia Trout Online.  There is a great message board on this site that is frequented by some of the most knowledgeable experts in our state.  Simply ask a question and it will be answered.  Oh, and I hear that the GON Trout Home Page is pretty good, too!

The learning curve is very steep, but also fairly short. While I’m sitting in the office during the week, paying for the Social Security of retired experts like “The Ole Rabunite,” I can only dream of perfecting my skills on a beautiful mountain stream. But, basic skills like reading water, fly selection and presentation can be learned in a few weekend trips. Once you have a decent knowledge of these aspects of fly fishing, your catch rate will go up dramatically.  The other side of that coin is that you can study the sport your entire life and still have days where a creature with a brain the size of a grape-nut humbles you. But days like that make the successful ones that much sweeter.

Misconception No. 3:
Fly-anglers are rich, elitist jerks.

Sure, we’ve got our fair share of pompous stuck-ups and idiots. But every other group of sportsmen, or people for that matter, does, too.

I see fly fishing moving further from that image in the near future as more and more people take advantage of affordable gear and destinations that weren’t available just a short time ago.

And honestly, I’ve met some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people through fly fishing. It really is a rarity to come across someone who’ll look down his nose at you for not casting a $500 rod, or for using an “impure” wet-fly, or for clamping on an appalling split shot!

So, if you’ve been thinking about giving fly fishing a shot, spend a little money on gear, seek out some local experts at a TU meeting and make the short drive to our north Georgia mountains.

You’re only regret will probably be that you didn’t begin sooner.

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