by Beau Beasley
To some, fly fishing is for college professors, folks in tweed jackets who know the Latin names of fish and who smoke pipes on the river. But actually this quiet sport appeals to people from every walk of life.
First, forget the notion that it’s somehow better than spin fishing. Fly fishing is to conventional fishing as bow hunting is to firearm hunting: not better, just different. Spin fishermen throw weighted lures that pull out the line. Fly fishermen cast weighted lines that take flies along for the ride. The fly itself is a synthetic design, meant to look like a grasshopper or dragonfly, maybe a minnow or crayfish. The possibilities are almost endless. I’ve seen flies that look like baby ducks. Thousands of patterns already exist; you can copy one or invent one or just buy ready-made. I’ve fished all over and I always use ready-made. Doing it myself simply doesn’t interest me, and that’s OK, because other folks are eager to sell me their creations.
The elusive trout may be the fly fisherman’s favored prey, but you can fly fish for just about any species. Virginia waterways offer small and largemouth bass, striper (rockfish), bluegill, carp, crappie. In the spring, anglers from around the mid-Atlantic flock to the James and Rappahannock rivers for shad.
You can even fly fish from boats and bring surprisingly large fish to hand. The state boasts muskie that are often more than 30 inches long and weigh more than 25 pounds (plenty big enough to pursue those baby ducks).
Some fly anglers are dedicated to saltwater fishing, eagerly pursuing red drum, speckled trout, cobia, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, tarpon, and even sailfish. It’s hard to believe such massive fish can be captured with a fly rod, but it’s true.
The actual act of casting a fly can be uniquely therapeutic. In fact, some nonprofits have used this aspect of the hobby, including Casting for Recovery and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
Finally, fly fishing is easy enough that even children can learn to cast, and to tie their own flies. Parents just need to remember to focus on skills-building and togetherness, and not worry about landing scores of fish. Want to take up the quiet sport this spring yourself? Contact your local fly shop to get started. Also consider an Orvis Fly Fishing 101 class, available throughout Virginia at no charge.
Beau Beasley is the author of Fly Fishing Virginia and Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic. He is the director of the Virginia Fly Fishing & Wine Festival.