We’ve got answers

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Operators are standing by  Photo by Louis Cahill

Operators are standing by Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

You may not yet know the name Carter Lyles, but he will soon be familiar to you.

Carter is the newest member of the G&G family. Although you haven’t seen his name on the site before now, if you follow us on Facebook, you’ve likely noticed him hard at work.

In addition to all the cool fly fishing content Carter has been sharing on Facebook, he’s been asking questions and so have you. Today I’m going to answer a few of the fly fishing questions asked by our Facebook fans. If you enjoy it, let us know. We’ll do more of it in the future.

Question 1

Could a short rod ( 8 or 9 feet) with a two-handed rod’s grip and a spey/skagit style line work? Most of my water is very tight quarters from shore. All I would like to achieve is roll casting a deerhair bass bug about sixty feet. Is this possible or should I not waste my time on making a custom rod?

The line between single and double hand casting grows blurrier every day. What was once the realm of fifteen foot rods on salmon rivers is now common place on trout streams. Shorter and lighter switch rods are versatile tools for all kinds of anglers. While the idea of a short, two-handed rod is not completely invalid, if you are not set up to roll your own graphite what you will end up with is a pretty strong compromise. I will not discourage you from experimenting, but I will offer a couple of suggestions on how to work with what’s already available.

A switch rod will probably be the best tool for your purposes. It will give you the distance you need with ease and handle that popper very nicely. Working with a switch rod in close quarters is usually just a matter of adjusting your anchor placement. Check out this video of Jeff Hickman showing you how it’s done.

If the conditions truly don’t allow the use of a longer rod, there’s really no need to glue a bunch of extra cork on to your fly rod. There are a wealth of spey casts that can be performed with a regular single-handed rod. I use this technique all the time and I don’t know how I ever got by without it. My good friend Simon Gawesworth has written a great book on the subject. It’s pretty enlightening, and a whole lot cheaper than a custom rod. Check it out on Amazon

Question 2

What colors of flies work well in stained water?

This is a topic I wrote about recently. There are a couple of ways to think about it. Lots of guys believe in fishing brightly colored flies in stained water. This approach works under certain conditions. Another camp believes in large dark colored flies. This is a solid approach. Yet another group like flashy flies and that works too at times.

For me it’s all about understanding how the fish’s eye responds to the changing conditions as water becomes increasingly stained. When things get really dirty, I turn to flies tied in black and white. You can read the full story (HERE).

Question 3

I can double haul and keep my arm on the shelf in the yard, but when I hit the water it all changes. All I want to do is hook a fish…

Nothing can screw up your presentation like a fish. This is an issue that absolutely every angler faces at some point. There is as much difference between casting on the lawn and making a good presentation on the river as there is between a round of Putt-Putt and sinking the final putt in the Masters. The first time I ever fished the White River in Arkansas, my casting melted down at the sight of what I still believe to be a world record brown trout. It happens to the best of us. That said, here are a few suggestions that may help.

Keep practicing.

The only difference between a beginning angler and a master is time.


It’s kind of like dating. You usually find the girl of your dreams just about the time you stop trying too hard.

Take your time.

There’s a lot happening in the river that doesn’t happen in the yard. It’s physical work to get to a fish. You’re often winded or on bad footing. The wind changes direction or the sun gets in your eyes. Take a minute to catch your breath and think about the variables before you cast.

Focus on the fundamentals.

The fly rod really does work the same on the river as it does in the yard. Don’t get fancy. Load the rod, make loops, present the fly. Leave the fish out of it…for the minute.

Question 4

I have a 4 year old granddaughter that likes to go fishing with me. At what age could I introduce her to fly fishing? And what would be a good starting outfit?

This is such an important question! I learned to fly fish at eight and I have often thought that I was taught too young. Trout fishing was so hard for me that I became frustrated and refused to try it again for years. I now realize that I was not taught too young, rather I was taught too quickly.

A child’s attention span is very short and they don’t really go in for delayed gratification. That is to say that having your fly refused time and time again is an acquired taste. To really help a child build a life-long love of fishing, you have to come to them on their terms. Kids like to play, so make fishing a game.

I firmly believe that every child’s first fly rod should be the Echo Micro Practice Rod. I would also highly discourage making a big deal out of it being a fishing rod. It’s a great tool for teaching casting, but as an accessory for the family dog or cat it has no equal! Show your granddaughter how to make the line go and make a game of hitting everything in the house with it. If she takes to casting, great, but if all she wants to do is twirl it in the air like the girls in the Olympics, that’s fine too. She is still learning the physics of keeping a line in the air. The muscle memory is developing.

Once she’s been at it for a while and is working the thing pretty well, get her an Echo Gecko and take her somewhere with really stupid fish. Leave your rod in the truck and help her catch fish, even if it means sneaking a worm on the hook. When she’s tired of it, do something else. You’ll have a regular fishing partner before you know it.

While you’re at it, teach her to handle the fish gently and release it unharmed. A lot of folks think that kids need to take fish home to enjoy fishing. They don’t. They get that expectation from us. Teach them that releasing fish is more fun than killing them and they will be responsible anglers their whole lives.

Question 5

So how important is the line weight rating on a reel. Let me explain. I have a 5 – 6wt Allens Kraken reel (amazing btw) and I have a 5wt rod with 5wt wtf line and that’s good and all but I also have an 8wt rod I would like to fish some salt but I don’t have a reel. What is the disadvantage of running 8wt line on my 5wt reel? Can I sacrifice some backing to make room for the added diameter?

A line rating on a reel indicates it’s line holding capacity. The five weight line your reel is made for is much smaller in diameter than an eight weight line. While you can indeed sacrifice some backing (in reality quite a lot of backing) to fit the line on the reel, it’s a bad idea.

Let’s say, for example, that you take that setup out bonefishing. Your guide eventually stops laughing and everything is going pretty well, until you hook your first bonefish. At this point two things become strikingly obvious: 1) Why people become so obsessed with bonefishing; 2) why those same people spend so much money on expensive saltwater reels.

Saltwater fish are tough fighters and capable of blistering speed. Unlike trout fishing, the backing on your saltwater reel is not there to keep your line pig tailing. And with a drag system made for trout or bass, you’re going to need every inch of it, including the hundred yards you pulled off to fit that eight weight line.

That’s not the end of your troubles either. No trout reel has an arbor with the line pick-up you need for saltwater. When I started fishing saltwater, I tried using an eight weight reel I used for steelhead. It was a disaster. I very quickly bought myself a Nautilus G8. That’s right, bought with my own money. It’s the best fly fishing investment I ever made.

The worst part is that your trusted five weight reel is going to be completely shot after you use it in the salt. If it doesn’t fly apart it will surely corrode from the exposure to saltwater. I don’t know the exact model you have, but fresh water reels are not made from the expensive alloys used in saltwater gear. They often don’t have the sealed drag systems either which means complete disassembly and lubrication every night if you take them to the salt. Even that is forestalling the inevitable.

If you’re going to skimp on a reel, make it your trout reel. Get yourself a good saltwater reel. You will never regret it. You can always put a six or seven weight line on it for big trout and steelhead. It’s better to go squirrel hunting with a bear gun than the other way round.

Question 6

Why must every sport end up interesting those people that think they have to be the best and coolest? And as a follow up question, what can we do about them?

This is a topic I feel very strongly about. It’s a sentiment echoed by a great many anglers and, in my opinion, may be the greatest threat to the future of fly fishing. No, that is not an overstatement and I’ll tell you why.

The fly fishing community is a very small one. We are limited in number by nature. We are the folks, men, women and kids who appreciate the reward of doing things the hard way. By definition we are a minority. It’s cool to be in a small, tight knit community but it comes with its costs.

The fly fishing community is too small to sustain the industry which supports our endeavors. That’s why fly rods, lines and reels are so expensive. The economy of scale. Good products disappear from the market because they are not profitable. Great products are never produced because of the cost of development. Small manufacturers fail and would-be anglers are kept out of the sport by cost.

This reduction of the sport and the surrounding industry are a handicap to each of us. It’s an idea that takes a while to make peace with. None of us want to see more people standing in our favorite fishing hole but their absence hurts us as well. It stifles innovation, drives up costs and marginalizes us in the political theater where issues like conservation and regulation are decided.

So where do the “cooler-than-thou” anglers fit into the issue? They are the excluders. The ones who taunt and drive away folks who would otherwise take up the sport. For generations fly fishing has been an exclusive activity. Folks have been excluded because they didn’t have money or land, because they were women, because they weren’t cool. That is a mindset we should never have taken, and one we can no longer afford.

Here is where I think a good deal of the problem lies, and many of you will not like it. Although I use the word myself, fly fishing is not a sport. I’m not sure what to call it. An endeavor? A pastime? A hobby? None of those monikers feels right, but neither does sport. A sport is by definition competitive. Sports were developed as a metaphor for violence in civilized society. It is just this underlying violence that our reader is reacting to and there is no place for it in fly fishing.

The neanderthal posturing that accompanies this competitive nature is a form of intimidation that keeps good people out of fly fishing. It is something I personally have little tolerance for.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not some kind of pansy that thinks everyone’s ego must be babied. I’m the farthest thing from a pacifist. If you are bullying a newbie fly fisher or killing wild fish, I’ll be the guy in your face about it. It’s not the violence I mind, you see, it’s the metaphor. If you want to get drunk and start a fight that’s fine, just not while I’m fishing.

Fishing is a different kind of occupation. In fact, that might be the right word for it. Ever since water has run down hill people have fished. They took it up to feed their families, not to show how cool they were. And in those days, I am willing to bet, if your neighbor wasn’t catching fish you shared yours or at least taught him to catch his own. I don’t recall the passage in the bible where Jesus makes fun of the fishermen. I believe he was the last of us to walk on the water.

I am fortunate to know many of the most talented anglers living today. Those men and women, who have sweat blood to learn their craft, who are gifted in ways that I will never be, are without exception humble about their skill, generous with their knowledge and patient with beginners. That’s how you can tell who the badasses are.

As for your follow up question, “what can we do about them.” Ignore them. It’s what they deserve. It makes them crazy and there’s really no point in letting then ruin our fishing. Let’s work together to make fly fishing inclusive rather than exclusive. As they say, a rising tide floats all boats. Each one teach one. That’s how we do it.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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16 thoughts on “We’ve got answers

  1. Really great post Louis! These are some really good questions, and some equally good answers. I really like your answer to the last question concerning the “elitists” that inhabit our waters. It’s a problem that, in my opinion, has become more of a problem over the past couple of years. I don’t know if that’s because only d-bags are picking up fly rods before hitting the water, or what, but it’s defnitely a growing concern. There should be more focus on teaching the new anglers, conservation, and promoting the positive impacts that the fly fishing community, be it small, has on the environment. Your advice really is the best…ignore them. Treat them like cancer and stay away. And thanks for your input on question #4. My wife and family have asked me a couple of times when I plan on teaching my 1yr old daughter to fly fish. I’ve yet to ask anyone else’s opinion, but you gave me some pretty good insight on how to introduce fishing/fly fishing to my little girl. Good stuff bro!

  2. Great stuff Louis. # 6 really hit home for me. I can’t stand the snobbery around fishing. Skiing has the same thing. I just recently read a post on my local fishing blog about comp fishing. They guy brought up a great point. They keep putting themselves in a differnet catagory…we are all fisherman…trying to catch a fish…all the shit in the middle just simply doesn’t matter.

    #4 alos hit home…and your right on the money. I have two girls 3 and 5. I have been slowly intorducing them to the sport. I started with spinning gear and worms. Once they had hooked a few bass and bream it was on. My three year old wants to go every time I hit the water. One thing I learned is…if they are loosing intrest you hae to be ok with that and move on. You can’t force it.

  3. Louis, I have read every one of your posts for several years now, some of them I just pass over because you haven’t taught me anything new – that is not to say they are not helpful to others, I just already knew what you were talking about and didn’t need to read it again myself.

    This post is different, your last part is insightful and spot-on. You have articulated what many of us in the business have been trying to say for a long time. I applaud your effort at bringing this to light and talking about it in a way that makes sense to all of us. Thank You!

  4. IMO, part of the answer to questions #6 has to do with the easy access to technology. Just about everyone has a camera phone and many have the GoPros. Within minutes of being in cell service or WiFi, one can post photos or videos to numerous social media outlets to show the world what they accomplished. This is just the way it is with the younger generation that is getting into fly fishing in the last 10-15 years. I don’t want to point the finger at the young guys and gals as there are some older folks who do the same but the majority of photos and videos I see are of fisher people under 40. It’s a “look at me” world anymore and the more facebooks, twitters, instagrams, etc. we have, the more it will continue to be that way. It seems all it takes is a few “likes” or “Killer Fish Bro” comments and one can start to get an inflated ego which only prompts the person to continue posting more of the same. Then like a drug addict they get addicted to that attention and need to stroke the ego with more and more “hero” shots. They then realize some other dill-hole is getting more attention so they have to one up them. The cycle continues and the normal fly fishing community suffers.
    This isn’t meant to bash young people or technology. I’m not some old dude with a rotary phone. I’m 38 and have access to and love technology but fortunately am not wired to care what the world thinks of my every move. And I do enjoy seeing photos and videos of great scenery, fish and flies. There is an amazing world out there that most will never see but I could just do without seeing photos and videos of EVERY great scene, fish or fly with some dude in a brightly colored hat and cheesy smile in them. I completely agree with Louis we have to ignore them. If we don’t, they wont realize they aren’t as cool as they thought they were because no one is commenting or “like”-ing them and that’s the coolness barometer these days.

  5. Best way I have found to introduce young kids to fly fishing is a few sticks, a spool of cheap 4x, a couple pairs of hemostats and some size 12-14 hares ear nymphs . All cheap stuff to acquire. Find your local fishing dock where all the bait steamer ‘gills hang out. 2 or 3 kids will keep you busy unhooking fish all afternoon. When any of the above equipment gets knocked into the water, and it will, it is no big deal.

  6. I had spent 15 years of my life fishing regular tackle in both fresh and saltwater in and around Alabama. 3 months ago I took the plunge into fly fishing and haven’t picked up a bait caster or spinning rod since. There always seemed an “us and them” mentality between the camps, but there are a lot of lessons to be learned from both. Sites like this one inspired me and broadened my horizons. I hope that fly fishing can continue to expand. The more people who have skin in the game the more who end up caring for the fisheries and the creatures who inhabit them. Some of the best bass fisheries in America are in here in Alabama and they continue to improve since there are so many people who have a stake in them. Thanks for creating such a resource for a new guy such as myself!

  7. Nice job, Louis. I like the format of Q & A and always enjoy your confident perspective.

    As for the fly-fishing snobbery, that has always been with us, and it is insideous to advancing our standing in the world,which is important to sustaining our fisheries. Exclusivity is not just rude, it drives away potential TU and FFF members, it marginalizes our constituency among DNR and elected officials, and it limits future fly fishers. The leaders in our industry have largely been self-effacing folks generous with their time and knowledge. Unfortunately, the people attending their first TU meeting or observing us on the water far too often encounter grumpy snobs. The only way I know to counter this is by good example. Fly fishing is not that difficult to learn. It is fun. There are lots of acceptable ways to do it. And everyone should be welcome to do it to the extent and in the way they choose, as long as it is legal. Driving folks away, as you point out is going to hurt big time us in the long run.

  8. “Those men and women, who have sweat blood to learn their craft, who are gifted in ways that I will never be, are without exception humble about their skill, generous with their knowledge and patient with beginners. That’s how you can tell who the badasses are.”

    Well Said!

  9. Hi: A bit on #1 and #6. A friend has taken some older 9′-10′ Sages, popped the back of the reel seat off and retrofitted a bottom handle. Did a really nice job and with a bit of experimenting, the rods work well for him. Not my cup of tea but I’m not using them either. He has developed into quite a good caster!
    Re: #6. I’m now 60 and have been fishing since I was a little kid. Worms, other bait, artificial lures, gang trolls, bass bugs, spinning rods, salmon and steelhead rods and then yes, eventually fly rods were all part of my early development. My point is that many of the “holier than thou” fly fishers that I meet today started ….. fly fishing and missed those early stages of development. I have pretty much only used flies for the last 30 years, but by choice. I love seeing families at a lake using spinning rods and HAVING FUN. Brings back old and very pleasant memories and that is what all fishing, including fly fishing, should be about.

  10. As for #6, I blame flat brimmed hats.

    Seriously, those guys are just as welcome as everyone else. GoPros and all. I think think a lot of what reads as ego may be misdirected youthful exuberance. There’s no wrong way to enjoy fly fishing as long as you respect the resource and other folks who share the stream. In the early 1980s I was an obnoxious punk rock kid. He’s still in there, just grown up a bit. Let’s all try our hands at leading by example.

    Thanks for the support guys. You rock!

  11. Your answer to #6 was a work of art. Very well articulated and thanks for your well thought-out words. To briefly build upon (and celebrate) it, I guided 11 years and have been lucky enough to be a part of the industry my entire life, and I have seen “cooler-than-thou” anglers come in different shapes and sizes, from stodgy vest-wearers to the flat brims. We shouldn’t point the finger at a specific “group.” It’s an attitude. I have seen as many 60 year-old “excluders” as I have kids wearing flat brims. They don’t help fly fishing. They make it an elitist club, which is hard for outsiders to find flattering and hard for insiders to embrace.

    Within the culture, though, everyone can inspire without excluding. Those two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive. It is ok for things to be aspiration and full of color and life. It is just unnecessary for ti to make people feel bad.

    There are a lot of great people, ideas, cultures, attitudes, characteristics and personalities in fly fishing. There is also a lot of humility. Thanks for reminding people to celebrate these things. As you said, we should ignore the excluders. Let them do whatever it is they need to do. Fly fishing is bigger than them. It is bigger than all of us. That’s what makes it so great.

    Again, great, great post. I just printed it out and put it up on my wall.

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