A 2009 
Yellowstone Institute School for Novices
by Shirley Andrews

Learning to Fly Fish

Taking up a new hobby or sport requires a willingness to learn, some bucks to invest, and a whole lot of patience. Fly Fishing is no exception. Anyone attempting to learn this sport wants to be good at it and wants to be good right away. But be forewarned, fly fishing might not be for everyone. What is involved in the learning process? After all, it looks so simple from a distance, that graceful arching of the line as it lands gently in the water, not to mention the “cool” appearance of the fishermen in their waders, vests, hats, and polarized sunglasses.

Let's start with a well seasoned instructor, perhaps Rhea Topping, who has twenty plus years of experience, certifies instructors, operates fly fishing schools out of Upperville, VA and Livingston, MT, guides in several countries, and is one darn good fisherman or should we say fisherwoman.

The first step is to learn to tie knots, not just any knot, but the improved clinch knot and you need to be able to tie it with wet hands, slimy hands, cold hands, in the fog, in the rain, in the dark, and in a hurry. Once you become an expert in that knot, there are many additional ones to conquer.

Next you learn about your line and what terms such as leader, tippet, and butt mean. Then you can practice your expert knot tying abilities making sure you've got the right size of each segment placed in the proper order.

It's all about bugs and while you don't have to be an entomologist, it really helps if you become one. It helps to know things like: how the temperature affects the bugs, their flight patterns, their life cycles, approximate time of emergence and ,of course, the ability to identify the bug is of great importance. Become an expert on stone flies, caddis flies, may flies, and midges.

You also want to know about fish: what kind of fish are in the streams you're fishing, their behavioral patterns, what they are eating, and their favorite eating times. Ideally, you would have purchased a fishing license, read the regulations, and be familiar with the body of water you are fishing from. You might even resort to pumping the stomach of a fish to determine its diet.

Flies come in hundreds of shapes and sizes attempting to imitate an exact match to the bug of your choice. Try to avoid placing a fly in places such as your hair, nose, ears, or other body parts. It's also nice if you can avoid landing the fly in a bush, tree, grass, or your fishing partner. Take extra precaution not to 'catch' your instructor or guide. Make a note that the two best attractor flies are the royal wulff and the grizzly adams and should someone ask, be willing to comment: Neither of these imitate bugs but are called attractor patterns. Be prepared to match the hatch and remember that flies have nicknames.

You must learn to read the water identifying a cut bank, an eddy, an edge, a seam, pockets and most importantly a bison's favorite crossing spot. Once you have honed your water reading skills, you are ready to advance to the fish movements within the water: hopper patterns, rise forms and the varying levels of water disturbances based on the behavior of the fish.

Now comes the time to practice your casting making sure you don't bend your wrist, don't cast too harshly, or move your arms incorrectly. This process is extremely important, not only to land your fly in the proper position in the water, but above all, you must look like a natural to those who might be observing. Whether you ever catch a fish or not, the key is to look as though you know what you're doing. You never know, like Rhea, you might end of with multiple marriage proposals, but be cautious, realizing their motive may simply be to obtain your fly collection.

Your rod in hand, vest loaded with supplies, line properly tied, correct fly chosen, adorned in waders, hat, and sunglasses, you're off to set new records. Be sure to keep a camera close by and remember to always turn the fish slightly sideways when taking the shot. This increases its size by several inches. If you decide to keep the fish, be sure and clean it first before packing in your take home container. If you're practicing catch and release, handle gently, keep the fish in water, take the hook out promptly, and hold with both hands allowing it to rest and he will scoot away possibly to be caught again. Above all else, lie with top authority.