The best part about fly fishing is that you can chase just about any species around the world with a fly rod. From the urban and grungy Denver, South Platte, to the pristine Acklin Islands in the Bahamas and every river in between, there is success to be had when a fly rod is in hand.
That being said, there are several different approaches and methods to choose from within fly fishing. Generally speaking, however, anglers typically can break down the sport of fly fishing into two separate categories. Freshwater and Saltwater fly fishing. Today, we cover the different Freshwater fly fishing methods and a couple of other widespread species you can target with a fly rod.
Before we continue, however, let's define what fly fishing is:
Fly Fishing - noun
A method of fishing that uses lightweight tackle is typically referred to as a "fly."
It is impossible to talk about fly fishing methods without covering flies. Artificial flies can come in various sizes, shapes, and colors. From tiny dry flies designed to imitate an emerging or dead insect to shinny small imitation crabs flies for Saltwater flies, the water type you are fishing on (and season) will ultimately be the determining factor when choosing what fly to use for your day on the water.
If you are starting on your fly fishing journey and you find yourself in one of the many landlocked states, I would argue that most of your time on the water will be targeting freshwater species. However, this should not discourage you; a never-ending laundry list of freshwater species you can chase with a fly rod should not discourage you. The most famous/sought after? Trout. Why? Besides Brad Pitt making it look cool outside of his silly little outfit, trout fishing can be done in just about any river in the United States. For the most part, understanding a solid foundation of the following three for catching trout is crucial for any accomplished fly angler. With trout fishing being the most popular species to target, let's break down the various methods of catching trout with a fly rod.
When new anglers get into the sport, a hallmark of achievement is catching a fish on a dry fly. Personally, there is nothing more synonymous with fly fishing than watching a trout sip your slow drifting fly on a balmy spring or summer afternoon. Dry fly fishing is the act of fishing with a floating fly that (for the most part) imitates a bug that is buzzing around during a specific time of year. I say specifically because the key to success in dry fly fishing, aside from the good dry-fly presentation, is your fly selection. Successful dry fly selection depends on a few categories: fly color, size, and shape. Back in the day before fish saw less pressure, an angler would be able to get away fishing the same fly day in, day out, and year after year. But, with the growth of the sport, so grows the intelligence of fish, which is why new dry flies typically come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and most of all, color. As a general rule, however, using a dry fly that imitates what you are finding on the water or even hopping around amongst the grass is typically a good indicator of what to be using during your time out on the water.
The following method of fly fishing for trout is said by many to produce significantly more success when you are out for a day of fishing. Nymph fishing is a general term used to describe fishing flies under the surface of the water. Typically these flies will be imitating various life stages of insects within various depths of the water column. Nymph fishing is used to describe a handful of various bug life stages, including midges, nymphs, and emergers. Typically, this is the first type of fly fishing new anglers are introduced in their first guided trip. As I mentioned previously, nymph fishing is one of the most effective fly fishing forms and is often a more straightforward form of the sport. Nymph fishing is also synonymous with the term strike indicator. Like a bobber in the conventional tackle world, a strike indicator is nothing more than a visual cue for an angler, letting them know their fly has piqued the interest. Put plainly; if you are looking for the best, most effective way to enter the sport of fly fishing, our recommendation is by learning one of the most important fly fishing techniques.
If I were to describe a streamer pattern quickly, it would be a large shanked hook wrapped with many feathers and an obnoxious amount of flashaboo trailing off the bend of the hook. Honestly, that's pretty much it. But let's look at this a little bit closer. When we look at the various flies that fill our fly boxes, we are pretty aware of what they are imitating. You know, hoppers are mimicking various grasshoppers, ants, beetles, and dry flies are imitating several gnats, mayflies, or caddisflies but, what are streamer patterns imitating?
Most of the time, streamer patterns imitate baitfish, leeches, crayfish, minnows, or sculpins. All are enticing and hefty meals for various trout species, predominantly brown trout. But why do streamer patterns work?
In the early fall months (September), brown trout start to prepare for their spawning season. During this time, brown trout become aggressive and territorial. And, like any territorial being, brown trout will chase down, smack and strike at anything that gets in front of them. That is the short reason why streamers work. But, for those interested, here is some more clarification. Typically when fishing streamers, you are tossing them tight to the banks, and once your streamer is in the water, you strip, twitch and stop your fly as you see fit. If appropriately presented in front of a big brown, the brown's territorial instincts will kick in and lead to one of the most aggressive strikes you've ever had. Oh, and one of the most thrilling fights you've ever had if you remember to set the hook right. MAKE SURE TO STRIP SET PEOPLE.
While the above are the three main strategies for catching trout on the fly of trout fly fishing, there are many other strategies for fishing for various species—for example, Carp and Bass.
Many anglers consider catching carp on a fly rod the ultimate freshwater thrill. Clever, spooky, and at times downright challenging, landing a carp on a fly rod is akin to landing a bonefish in Belize! The best place to try your hand? The Denver South Platte.
WHEN SEARCHING FOR THOSE TWO SPECIES, the DSP is a prime destination: low, clear, and a tactical sight fishers paradise. Often, much of the groundwork you learn from trout fishing carries over to the warm water world.
Even though carp will be much more persnickety, typically when river flows are high, the pressure carp experience is generally reduced. Generally speaking, Carp and Smallmouth are a little less wary during the summer months. However, when the clarity in rivers such as the DSP improves, you will be able to see just about every fish in the river. I told you it was a sight fishers paradise. But remember this with the DSP being in just about everyone's back yard, the carp, and DSP smallmouth are more competent than most, and the stealth approach and presentation are CRITICAL.
When water clarity is not perfect, don't worry; that can be a good thing! While you will not be able to see every fish in the river, it is much less likely that they will see you. This means more opportunities to get close and maximize the quality of your presentation. Big, heavy, and dark flies are necessary for the fish to see in the reduced clarity, and the presentation needs to be as close to fish as possible for them to see in the stained water. When the water clarity takes a turn, carp use it to their advantage and take in a lot of calories without the fear of looming predators.
As temps heat back up and clarity returns, smallmouth fishing gets even better! Hot summer evenings are prime Smallmouth windows, and these fish are more aggressive than in the cooler months. Stripping flashy baitfish patterns and twitching crayfish around a structure can yield some very high-quality smallmouth close to home.