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Begin with these five rules...

By NANETTE HOLLAND

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 17, 2001


Maybe you've seen the photos in a travel magazine -- a rugged-looking angler silhouetted against a mountain range, hip deep in a cascading stream. Maybe you've spotted the graceful arc of a fly line out of the corner of your eye as you cross one of the bay bridges and glance at the water. Whatever the inspiration, you've decided to try fly-fishing.

But before you dive headlong into the exhilarating and exasperating world of leaders and tippets, nymphs and streamers, double hauls and shooting heads, take note of these five basic rules of the rod that almost are guaranteed to make your rookie fly-fishing season easier, less expensive and more enjoyable.

1. Your first instructor should not be your significant other.

Fly-fishing takes some skill and effort, and most of our better halves become as temperamental as a 3-weight line in a stiff head wind when faced with the previously unrevealed total incompetence of their soul mates. This leads inevitably to a blatant violation of the cardinal creed of the sport: There is no yelling in fly-fishing.

Instead, take advantage of one of the excellent fly-fishing clubs in the region. The Tampa Bay, Suncoast and Mangrove Coast fly-fishing clubs offer free casting instruction, beginner's clinics, fishing outings and camaraderie without conflict. These clubs are an incredible bargain for the roughly $25-a-year membership fee.

Additionally, virtually all the fly shops in the area offer free casting instruction. Some even have special sessions for women and children. Many instructors are also professional fishing guides accustomed to weathering colossal displays of ineptitude with infinite patience.

Speaking of guides, Tampa Bay has some terrific ones. Most are willing to school you in the basics -- but check to be sure they welcome novices before booking a trip. Guides are expensive, but the good ones are worth their weight in redfish. The first time I held a fly rod was on a guided trip in Montana. And, although the fee I paid was probably not enough to compensate for the aggravation I caused, I actually caught a trout, which amazed me and hooked me on the sport.

2. Stick with one instructor for your first couple of months.

Gleaning advice on the finer points of fly-casting from a variety of accomplished anglers is one of the true pleasures of the sport. And fly-fishers are generally an amiable and certainly an opinionated bunch. But in the beginning, that often conflicting instruction can be confusing and overwhelming. It's better to find someone you can relate to and stick with that person for the first month or two.

3. Practice as often as you can.

Like golf, fly-casting relies on "muscle memory" -- repeating the same motions until they become second nature. You can't make your muscles do what you want them to do without working. Find an open area -- away from trees, small children and other entangling obstacles -- and practice casting. You don't need to overdo it -- 15 minutes at a time is good enough. A friend also recommends writing down key points to remember (such as "don't break your wrist" ) and then reinforcing those tips with practice.

4. Buy the best equipment you can afford, but don't try to keep up with the Winstons and Scotts.

Fly-fishing can easily break the bank. A high-quality rod costs $500 or more, and top-of-the-line or custom rods may cost $1,000-$2,000. It doesn't have to be that way. A decent beginner outfit -- complete with rod, reel, line and backing -- can be had for about $200-$250. In fact, as the popularity of fly-fishing grows, more fly equipment companies are offering solid beginner packages.

Shop conservatively until you know what you're doing, and are sure fly-fishing will be more than just a fleeting fancy.

5. Fish often and fish for fun.

It sounds almost too simple to have to mention, but beginners often get so caught up in learning technique, or so discouraged by their lack of it, that they fail to remember why they wanted to fly-fish in the first place. Get out there and enjoy the experience. Even if you don't catch a thing, you'll quickly learn that there is no such thing as a bad day fishing.

-- Nanette Holland is secretary of the Tampa Bay Fly Fishing Club and can be reached at (813) 238-6763.

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