Just a few words about fly rods

One might say that I came to fly fishing through the back door. I started fishing with a fly rod when I was a kid. 

Notice that I said fishing and not fly fishing.  

Sadly, there were no trout streams near the small town in southeastern Missouri where I grew up. The reason for the early introduction to the fly rod was one of pure economics.  

My dad owned three rods — two casting rods and one fly rod. He also had two sons, my brother and I… so you do the math.  

There were three fishermen in the family and three rods. No more money was going to be spent on fishing poles. We weren’t poor, but we certainly were a long, long way from being rich. 

Somehow, I ended up with the fly rod when the rods were passed out. I can’t remember why or how that happened. It was just one of those things.  

Of course, now I’m glad it did happen that way. 

Maybe it was fate and meant to be because now I fish with nothing else and declare myself to be a true blue, dyed in the wool fly fisherman but back then, at first, I kind of thought that I had gotten the raw end of the deal but as time went on, I grew to love that old rod.

Bill Oder

The fly rod of my youth was a cheap model. I never did know how my dad had it in the first place because he was always a spin cast guy.  

It was fiberglass with an old, dented, gray metallic horizontal automatic reel that had a lever you could push and a spring mechanism would zap the line back into the reel so quick that you could get a burn on your hand if you weren’t careful.  

At first, this feature was kind of fun and I even tried bringing in a bluegill or two by pushing the lever but that didn’t work too well, as you can imagine.  

Of course, after my brother saw me do that neat little trick, he wanted to trade rods but by then I was sold on the fly rod and refused to do so.

I bait-fished with this rod using earth worms, catalpa worms, grasshoppers, minnows and crawdads but nary an actual fly.  

I caught a lot of bluegill, catfish (yes, I said catfish), drum, goggle-eye and a few nice bass on that rod. As a result of this early exposure to the fly rod, my initiation to fly fishing for trout later in my life was made somewhat easier.  

At least by then, I already knew what a leader was (though I had never heard of a tapered leader during the days of my youth) and could even make an awkward attempt at a roll cast even though at the time I didn’t know that it was even called a roll cast.

I remember one bluegill fishing trip to Sunnen Lake near Potosi, Mo. At the time, Sunnen Lake was open to the public. Now it’s a YMCA camp requiring membership fees and so forth.  

Anyway, there were six of us: my dad, my brother, a couple of cousins and an uncle. We were all wading in the water along the shore up to our waists and each had a burlap bag that we called a “tater sack” tied to our belt loops which we were gradually filling up with fat bluegills.  

There was also a small can of worms stuck somehow in our pockets. I don’t remember how we maneuvered that trick.  

I was fishing without a sinker; just the weight of the worm-covered hook was sufficient to sink the bait. You just had to cast it out a short distance and let it slowly sink and watch for a twitch of the line and you were on to a fat bluegill.  

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Bluegill fishing with a fly rod is a good way for a beginner to practice with the fly rod.

Another place that we fished a lot was the Big River, which was nearby. My dad and I were fishing this river one day and as we were walking along the bank, he stopped and whispered for me to be real still and look into the water.  

He pointed out a largemouth bass in shallow water near the bank, maybe a couple of feet deep in the clear water, just slowly biding his time waiting for something to eat to drift by.  

He looked to be a fairly nice one; maybe three to four pounds. My dad handed me a minnow (he always pronounced that word as “minner”) out of his trusty, old minner, I mean minnow bucket, and I stabbed the point of the hook through its lips and then carefully dropped my line into the water about five feet above the location of the bass.  

No cast was needed and none could have been accomplished anyway because of the trees and shrubbery along the bank.  

The bass didn’t waste any time going after the minnow. My first reaction was to set the hook right away but my dad cautioned me to let him take it a little more first.  

It was hard to wait but I did, and it seemed forever but finally my dad said, “Now!” and I set the hook and had quite a fight on my hands with that old fly rod.  

We didn’t weigh the fish but the consensus was three pounds. Good eating size.

So you can see how I became such a big fan of the fly rod. As I said, I wasn’t at first when that clumsy-looking thing was handed to me and was told to fish with that or stay home but things always seem to look differently after a little passage of time.  

I don’t know what happened to that old fly rod. I wish I had kept closer tabs on it but it disappeared at some time over the years as old things tend to do.  

How I wish I could fish with it again. It was full of history for me.

I believe a fly rod to be one of western civilization’s greatest inventions. To me, they are crafted works of art not much different from a fine violin or fine woodwork of some sort.  

I hold even a modest fly rod to this high esteem and I recommend that you not ignore a five-dollar bargain at a garage sale but jump on it right away and add it to your collection because you can rest assured that it has a proud history to tell you if it could only talk.  

Besides, if you are going to fly fish, you’ll need a collection of fly rods even if the collection consists of only two rods and one of them is a garage sale bargain.

I feel sorry for people who have never stood in a crystal clear, spring-fed trout stream casting their favorite fly rod and feeling a battling trout at the end of their line.  

If you have never fly-fished and have a desire to get started, then, by all means, now is the time to do it. It’s easier than it looks.  

All the fishing tackle companies offer quality outfits for the beginner. Get a good book or some videos or just type “How do you cast a fly rod?” on your computer and watch some of those videos. They’re free.  

There are a lot of different types of casts and it is not necessary to learn all of them in order to go fishing, but the basic overhead cast and the roll cast should be in everybody’s arsenal.  

If lessons are available in your area, you may want to take advantage of them. A lot of local fishing clubs will offer free casting lessons and fly tying lessons as well, from time to time, so watch the newspapers for these events.

The main thing is go ahead and try it. You don’t know what you are missing.

(Bill Oder can be reached at oderbill@yahoo.com.)

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