The Learning Curve

The Learning Curve

Fishing skills: How to get good FAST; proper split-shot placement

  • By: Buzz Bryson
  • and Paul Guernsey
My flies tend to get beaten up while they're riding around in my vest, or even when they're just sitting in winter storage. For instance, some end up with rusty hooks, and the hackles on my nice dry flies end up all matted. What can I do to take better care of them?

I have an old zippered, hand-tooled leather fly wallet with felt pages in it. It belonged to my grandfather and is full of sentimental value to me. I've put it in a little display cabinet, partly because it's cool-looking-but also because it's the worst possible place to store most flies, particularly dry flies.

Hackle mats because it gets smashed. Flat flies, flat storage. Bulky flies, open storage. In other words, keep your flies in a box designed for the type of patterns you use. Flat streamer flies can be stored in plastic sleeves or a wallet because they're essentially two-dimensional. Put a dry fly in the same place and it will soon be two-dimensional as well, which is not what you want. There are numerous types of fly boxes available. Pick one that suits you and fits your vest pocket or tackle bag, and that lets your flies retain their as-tied shape.

Hooks rust because of moisture. Put any type of fly away damp in a closed space with little air circulation, and you'll likely find the hook rusted the next time you go to use it. Start carrying an extra fly box for storing flies that have seen action during an outing. That box should either be left open or emptied at the end of each day to let the flies dry out, or "ported" with enough holes to expedite drying while closed. And if you're fishing in salt water, I'd suggest that at the end of your trip, you wash the flies and fly boxes in warm, soapy water, and let everything dry well before repacking them.

As for your dry flies and other hackled flies that have already been damaged by poor storage, try holding each one over a steaming teakettle with a pair of forceps. The hot vapor might help restore a bit of their lost innocence. -B.B.

I'm fairly new to fly-fishing, and I really like it but don't have the time to spend to really learn to be good at it. Is there any way to speed up the learning curve?

Yes. The best way is to hire an experienced guide who is also a good teacher. There is no substitute for time on the water, and there's no better way to optimize that time than by fishing one-on-one with an extremely knowledgeable teacher/guide who is willing to share his or her savvy. That's the quickest-and unfortunately, also the most expensive-way.

When money is an object, the next-best bet is to join a fly-fishing club (TU, FFF, etc.) that has experienced members. Seek out someone who is willing to be a mentor and fishing buddy-it's surprisingly easy. Some may not be quite as good at passing on their knowledge as a guide who does it daily, but it's still a great way to learn and to make friends.

I didn't mention instructional books, tapes or DVD's. I love them all, and have learned plenty from them. But if you want to move up the curve quickly and have limited time, spend that time with the best instructor you can find-and do it on the water. -B.B.

What is the best way to attach split-shot to a leader while nymphing so that it doesn't always break off-taking the fly with it-when I get hung up, or simply snap when I hook a fish? Is there a better place than others to put split-shot?

What usually happens is that the split-shot wedges under or between rocks and, as you attempt to pull the leader loose, the shot slips down to the next knot. Since almost any knot you'll use in a leader system is slightly (or, ouch, more than slightly) weaker than the monofilament itself, the leader will part at that point. You retrieve what's left, and usually see the pigtail where the leader broke at the knot.

But fly loss and broken leaders can be avoided. The next time you tie a nymph leader, simply leave a couple of inches of the tag end exposed as you snug up that final blood (or surgeon's, or whatever connection you use to join leader sections) knot. Then, when you want to add weight, simply clamp the split-shot onto that tag end. If the shot does get snagged, it will simply slip off the tag end, leaving the leader intact. You'll also find that the split-shot will occasionally slip off during casting-but at least it won't take your fly and part of your leader with it.

By the way, if you're using knotless leaders, you'll obviously not have any tag ends to leave exposed until you add a new tippet section. In that case, you could try nail-knotting a short piece of monofilament to your leader, and pinching the split-shot onto the end of it. The nail knot will usually slip some down the taper, but again, it's a better option than losing your terminal tackle. -B.B.

Got questions about anything under the fly-fishing sun? Write to Ask FR&R, PO Box 370, Camden, ME 04843, or e-mail us at [email protected].