Bait Fishing vs. Fly Fishing

This isn’t the original post I entitled Bait Fishing vs. Fly fishing.

I realized after writing the original post that I might as well have been writing about politics or religion. The fly fishing vs. bait fishing debate is one of those things that very few people will ever see eye to eye on. Hardcore fly fishing purists will always insist that bait fishermen are a lower class of people that shouldn’t be allowed near the water while the dedicated bait fisherman considers fly fishermen a bunch of puritanical, self righteous fucks.

I know many people, including myself, are in the grey area that exists between the two rash generalizations above but unfortunately the people most vocal on any given subject are usually the extremists. Due to that, the two opposing opinions above are usually what we in the middle have to hear in the great bait/fly debate.

What I originally wrote was a long rambling list of reasons why I refuse to participate in this debate. In reality I can sum up why I refuse to participate with a couple of my favorite pictures.

Those fish weren’t caught on flies…

The Things We Have To Do

It is with much internal conflict that I have recently decided to join a fly fishing club.

I want to lay the blame for this decision on my new friend over at g0nefishin9 who suggested that I try teaching fly tying after reading one of my posts earlier this month. This was an intriguing thought and got me wondering what steps I would need to take to get to a point where I could teach the art of fly tying.

The first step was obviously getting out and meeting other people who are into fly fishing. This is much harder than it should be. I’m new to the area, I’m a stay at home dad and there are no local fly shops for me bum around, so the only option seemed to be finding a fishing club within a reasonable distance.

So I found a club that meets about forty-five minutes from my home. This is what they offer:

  • Informative and educational programs at monthly meetings.
  • Fellowship and sharing information with other knowledgeable fly fishers.
  • Opportunities to join in the educational programs the club organizes, fly tying, rod building, beginners fly fishing classes, advanced fly fishing classes and casting lessons.
  • The opportunity to participate in club sponsored fly fishing outings to cold water, warm water and salt water.
  • Opportunities to contribute to various programs such as Project Healing Waters, Casting for Recovery, fly fishing clinics for kids and conservation programs.
  • Raffles and drawings for chances to win high quality fly fishing gear, flies and supplies for members.
  • Access to the club Members Forum.

All of this seems to be exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll meet new people, learn new skills, improve on skills I already have and have new exciting opportunities in the world of fly fishing that I didn’t have before. Yep, this’ll be a great way for me to add to my existing knowledge and get to the point where I can teach others how to tie flies.

Now the problem with this is unless wrapped in the warm fuzzy embrace of booze I’m not particularly social. I fake it well when I have to, but the prospect of talking to new people terrifies me and being in a crowd of people I don’t know is quite possibly the most uncomfortable situation I can think of that doesn’t include blood or pain. Yet for some reason I still want to teach people how to tie flies.

Also paying money to join a club full of people I don’t know seems a little like joining an internet dating service. I feel as if I need to issue a write up about myself.

I’m 5′ 10″

Brown hair and eyes

Enjoys long walks through flooded spartina grass, crab flies, spotted tails, Fat Tire beer, heavy hatches, mountain streams

Turnoffs include dry fly “purists”, sand gnats, size 20 and smaller hooks

But like I said above, the opportunities for me to get involved with the greater fly fishing community in the natural, organic fashion are slim to none, so I have to bite the bullet and suffer through the self administered psychological torture of joining a club. And if nothing else it’ll give me more to write about.

A Paradox?

My third child is due in a little over a month which is driving my wife’s nesting instinct into hyper drive. I am at the mercy of this tour de force of cleaning and organizing and was recently asked to please straighten up my “fly tying stuff”. So I did.

As I was going through all of my materials I started to wonder how a member of PETA or one of the other animal rights groups would feel in my home. Now don’t worry, I didn’t start rethinking my life or anything. I just realized, I have a lot of dead animal in my house and it’s all confined to one small corner of my living room. I can just imagine some member of a radical animal rights group coming into my house and fainting at the sight of my fly tying desk, and then waking up and possibly trying to burn the place down.

I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of money over the years on different patches of fur and feathers. On top of what I’ve bought, I’ve tanned the hides and saved the feathers of most of the game I’ve shot since getting into fly tying. At this point I’ve got squirrel skins, squirrel tails, deer skins, deer tails, flank feathers from mallards and wood ducks, cured wood duck skins, pheasant tails, whole pheasant skins, fox, rabbit, raccoon (American and Finnish), grouse, crow, rooster hackle of all sorts, wild turkey feathers, beaver, muskrat, and I’m sure a bunch of stuff from a bunch of different animals that I can’t even remember. This weekend I’m planing on hitting a fly shop and will probably buy a few more pieces of critter to tie with.

I like natural materials for their movement in the water and a little for my superstitious belief that maybe a little animal hoodoo will rub off on the fly. I try to work in a bit of fur or feather in most of what I tie.

Now for the possible paradox in the whole system.

I use all of this dead animal to make flies, that I use to catch fish, that I will immediately release back into their environment so they can live another day. If I accidentally kill a fish I don’t plan on eating (and 99% of my fly fishing is catch and release), I feel guilty.

A Labor of Love

I have a habit (not what I would call a bad habit necessarily) of going a little overboard when it comes to tying flies. What happens is, I plan a fishing trip, be it a week in advance or a year in advance, and I start tying every conceivable pattern I can think of for that trip. Then I go on said trip, come home, and start tying every pattern I wish I would have had. This little quirk has left me with an insane number of flies, many of which have never left my home, much less been fished with. The plus side to this is with all of that practice I’ve gotten pretty good at making flies.

About a year ago I had a very brief moment where I believed I could be a pro fly tier. I went to a new fly shop that had opened with a box of my flies, showed them to the owner and without any hesitation he picked out four different patterns and told me he wanted a dozen of each. Easy as that.

I walked out of that shop king of the fly, knowing that it was my ticket into the glamorous world of the fly fishing industry. I was going to be one of the few lucky people in the world who had a job that they loved. The rest of my life was going to be spent making flies, talking flies, fishing flies. I would be a legend in fly fishing circles. Fisherman would drop my name like I was Lefty. Oh yea, my life was going to be fucking awesome

And that feeling lasted about thirty minutes into tying the first dozen flies for that order. That’s when I realized I could tie flies fast or I could tie flies neat, but not both. I also found out that when it comes to making flies for other people I tend to become a touch obsessive. I like my personal flies to look good and to be durable, but if I tie up a half dozen of something for an upcoming trip I don’t worry if one or two flies have a slightly longer wing here or a shorter tail there. I know it doesn’t really matter to the fish. As long as it floats/swims/drifts properly a few minor aesthetic problems with a fly won’t make much of a difference.

I do not feel that way when it comes to making flies for other people. I want them to be perfect. They must be identical. There must be NO flaws. None.

For someone whose catch phrase would be “hell, I don’t know, seems good enough to me, whatever,” being obsessive about anything is kind of stressful.

So, like I said, the dream of tying flies professionally died pretty quick after my first order from that flyshop.

I do still occasionally sell flies from my shop on etsy. So far most of what I’ve sold have been to people that know next to nothing about fly fishing looking for presents for someone else. When I do sell a fly I have to ask what color, hook size, and weight they want and if I get an answer back at all it’s usually a great big “I don’t know.”

I did recently sell two orders that were worth a combined $25 or so. After shipping, materials and time I think I made a cool $5 profit. The funny part about it is that I’m totally cool with that. I knew after that first four dozen flies I sold that making money wasn’t what it was about for me. I just like tying flies and if other people are willing to buy them so they or someone else can go out and try to catch a fish, all the better…

Though, I would like a new reel.

Hipsters, Rednecks and Tenkara

I don’t want to sound like a hipster, but I was tenkara fishing way before it was cool. Yep, before it became fashionable in the fly fishing community, I was catching fish using nothing but a rod, line and fly. The first fish I ever caught on a fly was fishing “tenkara style”. That was in the 80′s. Tenkara didn’t become mainstream until around 2010. Yea dude, I’m that far ahead of the curve.

I’ll admit that the rods used weren’t the $150, cork gripped, tenkara rods used today. No, me and mine, we used telescoping fiberglass rods known as bream busters” that you could get from K-mart for about $15. These rods were usually used like a canepole to fish worm or crickets for the various sunfish that inhabit the fresh water tidal rivers around where I grew up, but when the time seemed right, like directly after an afternoon thunderstorm or during a calm sunset, we would pull the floats, split shot and hooks off our lines and add a popping bug. These we would “cast” tenkara style to any place we thought looked fishy, more often than not to get a strike as soon as the bug hit the water. Some of largest bass and bluegill I ever took were caught like this.

It always makes me chuckle a little when I read an article, some of which were written by fisherman that I have the greatest respect for (John Gierach and Ed Engle to name a couple), about tenkara. Most of these articles include things about tenkara’s ancient Japanese roots, its simplicity, its beauty, blah, blah, blah. I’m not trying to disrespect this form of fishing, but rednecks on the coastal plains of South Carolina have been fishing like this forever. Fly rods were few and far between where I grew up, but every little country store that sold tackle in my area carried an assortment of cheap popping bugs just for people to use on the ends of their canepoles.

The first time I saw an actual tenkara rod was on the banks of the Beaverkill in New York back in about 2006 (there I go, being all hipster on y’all again). I was fishing near the campground one day when a Japanese gentleman walked down to the river holding what looked to me like the world’s skinniest bream pole. Being curious I walked over and asked him about it. He told me, in broken English, about traditional Japanese fly fishing, showed me some flies he tied and showed me how to “cast” his rod. I told him, in southernese, about my fishing a very similar outfit with bass bugs in my home waters. There was a lot of smiling and nodding and probably very little real understanding of the details of that conversation but I think we both got our points across.

I didn’t really think too much about that conversation until a few years later when I saw an article in a magazine all about tenkara. “Wow,” I thought. “Bream buster fly fishing is going mainstream.”

Lately though I’ve been thinking about getting a tenkara rod. They are much lighter and more delicate, in a good way, than my beloved bream busters and I have a feeling I would really enjoy fishing with one for native brookies up in the Smoky Mountains or, really, for any trout on any small stream. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ll probably end up with a tenkara rod sooner or later, but I swear, as God as my witness, that I’ll never tell anybody back home how much I paid for my fancy bream buster. And I’ll only fish it ironically.

Missing

I wanted this post to be entitled My Triumphant Return to the Lowcountry. I was going to talk all about the fish I caught, the deer I killed, the fresh sea food I consumed, the palmettos, the marsh, the salt air and basically everything I consider essential ingredients to a story all about a trip back to my homeland, coastal South Carolina.

Instead this was possibly the worst weekend of my life…

A lot of the things I write tend to focus on how my family life interferes with my fishing and hunting. I’ll probably be moving away from that theme due to my children and mother-in-law going missing this weekend.

Don’t worry, I’ve got them back, but for twelve or so hours of my life, because of the combined incompetence of a hospital and the Charleston SC city Police, I had no idea what had happened to my kids. The details of what did happen aren’t important. What is, is that I have an over active imagination and a taste for the macabre and these are not good qualities to have if your children are missing.

I can say, without a doubt, that during that time if I could have given up fishing, hunting or even going outside again just to know where my children (and I guess my mother-in-law) were, I would have. And now that the ordeal is over and everyone is home safe and relatively unharmed I am really glad I didn’t have to do that, because it would have sucked.