6 Fly Fishing Myths Debunked
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6 Fly Fishing Myths Debunked

Fly fishing myths are steeped in tradition and secrecy stirred together in a small pot of self-righteousness. Between the superstitions and misinformation, lies the bare essence of the sport that has befuddled so many anglers since Izaac picked up his first angle. Casting through the shadows(so to speak) to dispel some of the myths that have been fostered and propagated through the years by fishermen, the media, and the industry is Quixotic. Here is my shot at conquering the windmill built on half-truths and outright lies about chasing fish with a fly and a fly rod.

Top Fallacies Of Fly Fishing

There Is No Such Thing As ‘Shadow Casting’

ARGGGGGGHHHH! This wouldn’t even be on the list, let alone top it if it weren’t for that damned movie! Granted, the movie rendition of the Maclean classic is one of the best celluloid tales of fly fishing ever made. However; the whole scene of Brad Pitt emulating a stonefly hatch by whipping his fly over the water has to go!

Brad Pitt shadow casting
Yeah! Uh, NO!

I have been asked by a multitude of anglers, usually neophyte ones, from Alaska to Chile if I would teach them to shadow cast. Excruciating expressions of sadness and confusion ripple across the questioning fisherperson’s face when I tell them that this imaginary element of fly fishing is a figment of Hollywood’s imagination. I had one woman actually quit a beginning casting lesson when I told her that we wouldn’t be learning to shadow cast. From that moment on, I have told people who ask, that the shadow cast in the modern fly fishing vernacular is called a “False Cast.”

“Big Flies For Big Fish”

A few days ago I saw a video with a well-known fishing personality utter these words. She spoke with the earnest conviction of a preacher, so much so, that I think she might have convinced herself that what she said was the truth. People who continue to distribute this line of thought knowingly send lots of anglers on the fly fishing version of a snipe hunt, sans burlap sack. Whether in saltwater or fresh, the size of the fly rarely determines the size of the fish that is caught. What catches big fish is getting your fly in front of said big fish and said fly being the one that said big fish wants to eat. Size matters when choosing a fly, for sure, but usually anglers go too big. Some of the larger fish I have caught and have seen caught were on flies #18 and smaller.

It Is Expensive

Yes, it can be. But there are a lot of affordable gear options for the beginner and the pro. Brands like Echo, Redington, Orvis, and Douglas have quality rods that cost less than a date with your significant other. There are also a ton of quality reels out there that won’t break your bank, Lamson and Orvis are two fly reel manufacturers that come immediately to mind. Like most hobbies, you can spend as much or as little as you like, but the cost of really great gear options can be less than two weeks of your morning Starbucks.

You Catch More Fish On Bait Or Lures

This is such a tired falsehood that I have quit pounding my fist on the bar with blazing eyes when trying to convince the worm drowner, spoon chucker or crab tosser otherwise. Whether in the salt or freshwater, flies systematically outperform other modes of fishing when fished by the average fly caster.

Why is this? It is simple. Fly fishermen tend to use flies that look like what the fish are trying to eat. This is a guess, but fish don’t see a wadded up nightcrawler, a shiny silver spoon or a crab skewered on a hook as a normal and inviting part of their diet. At least, I don’t think so.

The reason spin and bait casting are so popular and effective is that the modicum of skill to be average at either is far less than fly fishing. It takes time and patience to become a good fly fisherman. You can’t fly fish three days a year and expect to catch a permit or steelhead. The average fisherman, both fly, and gear anglers put together, fishes less than 3 days a year. If you are in the 3-day club, then yes, you will out-fish your evil twin with a spinning rod while he flails away with a fly rod. But with a little more time and experience, most fly fishermen have great success on most fish species. (I can already see the; “What about halibut or grouper?” comments coming…click here for my rebuttal)

All Fly Fishermen Are Law Abiding Conservationists

Unfortunately, this perception is far from the truth. I have seen the most pious fly fishermen throw Whitefish on the bank because they are a nuisance, fish with barbed hooks in barbless waters, take steelhead or salmon home without having the proper tag or license and exceed the limit.

The sign on the saugatuck river about sea run Brown trout
Not all fly fishermen are conservationists…

There is a host of other unethical practices that some fly fishermen get away with. This is due to the lack of law enforcement people and by the attitude of the public in general because of the “noble, romantic nature of the fly fisherman.” People are people, good ones and bad ones. The same goes for fly fishermen. Be a good person first and you will be an ethical angler second, then this myth will be a truth.

The Biggest Myth

Perception is reality. These are just a few perceived truths about fly fishing. But the greatest myth about fishing a fly is that it is difficult. If it were then I couldn’t or wouldn’t wade into the frigid water on frosty mornings thinking I have a shot at a steelhead. There wouldn’t be little kids in over-sized waders saying aloud; “Ten and two,” as their arms swing rods back and forth. Pictures of first timers with huge bass or a bonefish wouldn’t adorn Facebook pages and offices around the world. This is the greatest myth about fly fishing.