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Fly fishing at different scales is fun

Catching a permit on a fly is a big accomplishment. Guide Bruce Leslie of Pacencia, Belize, holding a permit caught by Karen Voss of Eau Claire. Ken Schreiber of Osseo is on the right. Submitted photo.

It’s taken me many years to gain modest proficiency in fly fishing. I started out when I was about 10 years-old with my grandfather’s 8-foot long bamboo rod, level floating fly line, and a Pfleuger Medalist reel casting small poppers for bluegills. That’s still one of my favorite pastimes and I still have the rod and reel. Last Thursday morning the Rush River was cool, calm and beautiful. Tiny tricorythodes mayflies were hatching, flying above the river in clouds that looked like sparkling snowflakes. The trout were actively sipping on the tiny mayflies. While the ephemeral tricos spent their entire adult lives in a few hours, I had an enjoyable fishing experience.

Trout fishing during a trico hatch can be fun and frustrating at the same time. I’ve been trying to fish with tiny size-26 trico flies for a few years. It takes a steady hand and good eyes (or a magnifying glass) to tie such a small hook onto a 6X or finer leader.

Selecting the right size fly is essential. Trout can see a big difference between a 4 and a 5 millimeter-long imitation. The river is low and clear so longer casts are needed to avoid spooking the trout.

Catching trout during a trico hatch takes intent observation of individual feeding trout, patience, stealth, a no-drag drift of the fly and eagle eyes to see the strike. A gentle lift of the rod tip is all that is needed to set the hook. It can be frustrating to see trout rising all around and ignoring your offering, but catching even a foot-long trout on such a small fly and a light 4-weight rod is a satisfying accomplishment.

In contrast, in March this year I was lucky enough to do a saltwater fly fishing “grand slam” in the coastal waters of Belize, catching permit, tarpon and bonefish all in the same day. I used my big 9-foot long, 9-weight fly rod, 10-weight, weight-forward floating line, and a reel with lots of backing that day.

Casting imitation crab flies for permit against a 15-knot trade wind takes some powerful casting. Permits are notoriously spooky and it’s easy to scare them off with the line so accurate casting is essential.

My good friend and Belizean fishing guide Eloy Cuevas has patiently taught me the art of saltwater fly fishing. Eloy showed me how to do powerful double-haul casting to gain distance and to punch the line through the wind. Stripping the line in when starting the back cast and again when starting the forward cast accelerates the line and allows “shooting” the line forward.

I grew up setting the hook by raising the rod tip. When saltwater fly fishing, you point the rod at the fish and strip the line in to set the hook. That was a hard lesson for me to learn but it really does work well.

The techniques of casting big flies with saltwater tackle apply well to fishing in freshwater. Larry Dahlberg, of Osceola is the creator of the TV show ‘Hunt for Big Fish.’ He invented the Dahlberg megadiver, a big deer hair streamer fly that dives when retrieved and imitates baitfish. I’ve caught barracudas and jacks in saltwater and smallmouth bass, northern pike and muskies in freshwater on Dahlberg megadivers. It takes a large fly rod and heavy line to throw those big flies but catching a big smallmouth on a fly rod is really fun.

Unlike spin fishing or baitcasting, fly casting uses the weight of the line to propel the fly toward the fish. Fly fishing allows very subtle presentations of light flies that effectively imitate fish prey, be they tiny tricorythodes mayflies, crayfish, crabs, or larger minnows.

Fly fishing is a fascinating play in fluid dynamics; through the air with the line, leader and fly, and in the water with waves and currents. There are few activities more satisfying.

Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at

--Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist