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March 31, 2011 / flogginwater

A Fly Fishing Primer – Part Two

This is a continuation of the series, copied from my original posting on the Oregon Fishing Forum. This is part two of an on-going series geared for those just starting out in the game of Fly Fishing. I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m passing along my knowledge and opinions gained over 18 years as a fly angler. Look for additional parts of this series to come! PS: Yes, I know the photos in this part are largely NOT of fly-gear, but I use much of the same accessories when I’m chucking gear as I do flinging flies. Cheers!

We’ve covered the very basics in what to look for as a beginner buying your first fly rod setup. In this section, we’re going to cover some of the other gear that you’re going to need (or want) as a neophyte of the Way of the Fly Angler. Some of the things I will present here you may not want or need. I might leave some things out that you want or need. I’ll try to cover as much as I can, without trying to sell you on buying out your local fly shop, or dropping a month’s pay on new stuff.

The first tool you’re going to need as a new fly angler is a good set of hemostats, or forceps. These were originally a medical tool used by surgeons to clamp off blood vessels, and to hold needles/thread while sewing a patient up. Turns out, they’re a VERY useful fishing tool – as they allow you to grab delicate fly hooks with ease, and remove them from the jaws of a fish, without hurting the fish, or the fly. They generally have finer tips than fishing pliers, and just about all versions of these tools have adjustable locking teeth to hold a grip on your fly. General medical versions are made of stainless steel, and they can be shiny or matte gray. Fishing-specific designs can be found in non-reflective colors. If you’re cheap like me – matte black spray paint works just as well – just touch it up when necessary.

I happen to have the luck of being married to a woman whose father worked in the sanitation section of a large hospital. Surgical tools such as hemostats can be a use-once item as far as the hospital is concerned – for hygiene purposes. The tools get sterilized, but tossed anyway. My father in law being a fisherman himself – was able to procure (with permission) a large number of these. I was recipient to about ten pair myself.

Forceps come in either straight, or curved nose varieties. Both have pros and cons – I tend to prefer the straight variety with long, thin jaws, since I’m a lover of panfishes. The long, thin jaw types fit into small bluegill and pumpkinseed mouths better than shorter, fatter jawed versions, or the curved versions.

Fishing varieties can also be found with integral scissors – useful for trimming leader or tippet lines, or doing radical stream side surgery to your flies (like cutting off hackles, shortening a wing, removing tails – all of which I’ll get into in another section on techniques).

Get two pairs – whatever style you choose – as you will inevitable either loose a pair, or forget them. Getting the handy little retracting zip-cord pins and attaching your forceps to these helps alleviate that problem.

The next good tool you’re going to need – line nippers. These are just nail clippers – you can go the smaller fingernail size or large toenail size clippers. All you’re going to be doing is cutting fishing line (unless you are in to stream side mani/pedi dates.) – Putting these on a zip retriever is a good idea, as is getting two pair. If you want to spend more than you need to – you can get fancy fishing-specific line nippers made of ceramic, with a small needle in one end to clear fly eyes of head cement, or you can get the steel versions with a knife blade instead of the typical nail file. Spray painting the shiny ones is a good idea. Reflective metal can put fish off, as it’s non natural. Remember, you’re trying to blend in as much as possible when on the river (or lake.)

It’s hard to fly fish without flies – and you’re going to need someplace to put all your flies. You can use anything from little plastic cups with screw-on lids, to the clear plastic Plano lure boxes, to the standard plastic fly box that has foam inserts to hook your flies into, all the way up to fancy metal or wood fly boxes with metal clips or magnets to hold your flies. Other than the metal varieties – I’ve had all the other types of fly boxes. Each has their perks. I prefer the boxes that have foam rows for the flies, or a box with magnetic material in it – as these will keep your flies from blowing away in the breeze, or all falling out if you tip the box wrong. Boxes made of closed cell foam will float – which is nice when you inevitably drop a box into the river. It will happen.

I’ve taken to using two primary boxes – one is a black nylon covered closed cell foam box that came with my chest pack. It floats, it has rows of foam for attaching the flies to, and it closes magnetically instead of with a plastic clasp. I love it. The only downfall to it – the clip which holds it to the vest doesn’t hold it as tight as I’d like -but that can be remedied when I get motivated to do so.

My other box is made by Plano, it’s got a clear plastic lid, and foam on one side to push the flies into. This lets you see exactly what’s in the box.

Depending on how many flies you decide to take with you, and what your organizational plan is – you can get by with a single box, like I often do – or you can go wild and carry 20 boxes. Your back is probably stronger than mine if you do that a lot. I used to. Now I’m getting older, and suffer from some hip and back pains thanks to years of abusing my body through work and extra curricular activities. The lighter I travel, the better.

I carry at least one knife with me whenever I go fishing. They’re very handy, useful tools. My main fishing knife is a Gerber diver’s knife. It’s stainless steel, has a rubberized handle with high visibility pommel and hilt (easy to find when dropped). It has a semi-serrated blade on one side, and a line-cutter on the other. Mine came with a sturdy Kydex (thermoplastic) sheath, with a screw-on belt attachment (easy on/off without undoing the belt.) A knife is of immeasurable utility should you find yourself caught in a hellish tangle in some vines, brush, or the mess of 20lb fishing line we all will find ourselves in at one point or another. This is especially important if you’re fishing from a float tube and you wind up getting your legs tangled in something. Attaching a lanyard to your knife is a good idea if fishing from a tube or a pontoon.

Boat fisherman should ALL have a knife – to cut line from your prop, or to cut your anchor line free if you should happen to hang an anchor, or otherwise need to detach yourself from an anchor RFN. This is why I prefer a semi-serrated blade versus a standard plain blade – semi serrated or fully serrated blades cut through rope/line much easier. Keep your blade sharp too.

A few other items you might want to keep with you – a tailor’s measuring ribbon – this is a plasticized cloth ribbon imprinted with a ruler. Easier to pack around than a builder’s type tape measure, and since it’s not metal, it won’t rust or cut you. A length of paracord is always handy – I try to keep 20′ to 50′ in my pack. It’s light, it’s cheap, and it’s got a ton of uses – from rigging an impromptu rain fly for shelter, to being used as a stringer, a tourniquet, a rod sling for lowering your rod down a precarious slope, to tying a rock to it and using it as a float tube or canoe anchor.

A set of needle nose pliers is a good thing to have – for removing larger flies from fish’s mouths – to removing stuck flies from yourself or other fisherman. A bottle of fly floatant and a small container of BB size split shot will be useful. The floatant does what it sounds – it helps keep your flies on the surface of the water. It can also be applied to leaders and the fly line to help it ride high (would be careful about using it on lines, as it could actually foul your fly line and make it sink with some lines). Split shot is another no brainer – if you need to fish deep – crimp some and begin your chuckin & duckin’.

A water bottle is a nice thing to have. I have a pair of polycarbonate bottles that are tough as nails, with wide mouths. I can mix up powdered drinks, or stick with plain water. If bushwacking, carry a few water purification tablets, and you can purify water in them. And they’re reusable – I fill them from the tap before I leave home, instead of having to buy water for the trip.

I also carry an ink pen and copy of location/species codes with me when fishing or salmon/steelhead, in a waterproof baggie. I also always carry a camera with me when fishing.

I carry my wallet, in a ziplock bag, in my waders or in my chest pack so it doesn’t get wet.

You’re going to need something to carry all of this stuff in. I’ve tried it all – vests, back packs, butt packs (aka fanny packs) to the chest pack. I’ve settled on a chest pack – as it’s lighter, and more efficient for me. The backpack let me carry too much stuff. I carried ALL my tackle in it usually – regardless of what I was fishing for. The upshot, I could scale back the tackle, and keep spare clothing in it, in a plastic trash bag to keep dry. And there was room for water and lunch. The fanny pack was annoying – it rattled, it rested wrong on my hips and got irritating after a while, and any time you pulled something out of the main compartment, you had to spend valuable fishing time reorganizing everything to put one box, or that bottle of floatant back in. The vests were somewhere in between the chest pack and the back pack in terms of how much crap I carried. I don’t know about you – but I hate having empty pockets, so I always found a way to fill them. That got heavy – and that gets old.

So the chest pack works for me. Try all the methods and see what works for you.

The last few things I’m going to recommend – regardless of the waters you fish – a pair of chest waders, a wide brimmed hat, and sun glasses (preferably the polarized type.)

The waders will keep you warmer and dryer year round. Wading is often the best way to sneak up on weary fish and get into casting position. You’ll need them in most waters if you’re float tubing, they’re really nice when fishing from a pontoon since you’ll stay dry exiting/entering the tube. They keep you dry when it rains, they help block the wind when it’s nasty. Good breathable waders will help regulate your temperature when fishing – but neoprene can be better in really cold water – just remember that neoprene can easily over heat you, which makes you sweat, which can actually make you colder. Wearing waders will also make you a bit more prone to dehydration – so keep that water bottle handy!

I prefer stocking foot waders over boot foot. I just do. Try some on and see which ones you like more. Stocking foot are more versatile – in my opinion, as you can change up boot styles to suit the area you’re fishing (felt sole, lug sole, cleated lugs/felts) without using bulky cramp on traction devices. I can also take the boots off and have more range of motion with my float tube fins than I get with boots on. Just be careful when going bootless that you don’t step on a sharp object and puncture your waders.

The wide brimmed hat will become obvious the first time a fly comes right back at your face or the side of your head. It’s protection. As are the sunglasses. If you get the polarizing kind – it’ll let you see into the water better, so you can spot fish, and maybe even see how they’re reacting to your fly or lure. Sight fishing is great fun. And just being able to SEE is more fun than loosing an eye. Wear a hat, and wear some eye protection. Sunglasses are cheap – I wear a pair of Berkley’s that I picked up from Wal Mart for $8. If they break, or if I loose them, I’m only out $8, and I can go buy new ones. Buying 2 pair might not be a bad idea.

Next section we’ll talk more about lines, leaders, and flies. Till then, tight lines.

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