Fly Fishing Basics

On Lake Mattamuskeet, the fishing is good and the days are filled with the enjoyment of fly fishing. Tips on fly fishing rods, lines and technique.

| August/September 1993

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    Fly lines come in different weights. In general, the lighter and shorter the rod, the lighter the line.
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    There's nothing like an afternoon fly fishing on a beautiful, still lake.
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    A fisherman never forgets his very first fishing rod.

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Thousands of years ago some benevolent god hurled a large meteor toward eastern North Carolina, and when it struck it scoured a long, shallow depression in the soil. The depression soon filled with water and the water soon filled with fish—bream and crappie and large-mouth bass—which today inhabit a lake 18 miles long, six miles wide, and an average of two feet deep. Or so one story goes. If true, that deity surely was the god of fly-fishing, and his gift was Lake Mattamuskeet.

In the past few decades the lake has become a shimmering mecca for long-rodders along the eastern seaboard. Recently, some friends and I decided to make our pilgrimage.

The mixing of religion and fly-fishing began in 1676—when Izaac Walton published his legendary volume on the subject, The Compleat Angler — and has continued through Robert Redford's glowing film adaption of A River Runs Through It, one of the sport's finest epistles by Norman MacLean. But somewhere along the line —perhaps because of the great weight of fly-fishing literature— the sport has become burdened with elitist baggage. It has come to conjure images of bespectacled men sporting wicker creels and split-bamboo rods pouring over microscopic insect imitations that could tool a nearsighted entomologist. I don't know if the blame lies in the stereotype, the space-age materials of the tackle, or the latest line of fishing fashion from Orvis, but it seems a heavy toll for a fishing rod that is second cousin to a cane pole. The point is, you don't have to look like Robert Redford at 20, have a Ph.D. (or a Gold Card), or have read A River Runs Through It to get a big kick out of fly-fishing. All it takes is a little practice, patience, and, like all forms of fishing, a little prayer.

Fly-fishing for bass further erodes the sport's elitist sensibilities—pearls before swine some might say—which is one of the reasons I love it. Trout fishermen spend hours trying to match their flies to tiny insects hovering above a stream, hoping to coax a finicky trout to bite. Bass are never finicky. When they are hungry, they are just as liable to quaff a chartreuse spinner bait with hula skirts and spinning blades as something that looks more familiar. Trout are streamlined and bullet shaped. Bass sport huge beer guts. Trout are fast and graceful and fight like Sugar Ray Leonard. Bass are the George Foremans of the freshwater fishes.

Perhaps the root of fly-fishing elitism lies in the vast array of gear that goes with it. Rods alone vary in length from six and a half feet for tiny trout streams to 10 feet or longer for big rivers, lakes, and saltwater fishing. They are made of fiberglass, graphite, or a composite of both, as well as the traditional bamboo. Graphite and composite rods, ounce for ounce, give more power and responsiveness for their weight, but they also come with a hefty price tag. Bamboo rods, if you can find one, are priced like works of art. I've always had a fondness for affordable, flexible fiberglass, probably for the same reason that one never forgets one's first true love.

My first fly rod was given to me by a friend of my father's. He was a towering man named Dinksie (his brother's name was Boo Boo) who shaved his head with a straight razor, kept a slot machine in his garage, and had a reputation as something of a prankster. It was a weathered fiberglass South Bend rod, the color of amber beer, but to a 10-year-old, it could have been the scepter of Midas.

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