Nobody is born a professional. At one time or another we all stood as ignorant ‘fishermen and fisherwomen to be’ staring at gear that meant nothing to us, oblivious of what anything was, much less how it all fit together. For some of us this moment was when we were too young to remember, for others this moment is now. This is the first of 6 blogs in a series we are calling “Gear 101” and it is aimed at those of you among us who are at this precise point, the very beginning.
#1 Rod, Reel and Line
These are the three most important components in the sport of fly-fishing and they are designed to work in conjunction with one another to perform one task: get the fly from the end of your fly rod out to the river where you want it to go. The process of getting the fly out to the water is called the cast and is often the most challenging aspect to the beginning angler, a subject we will cover in detail later in this series.
For now, let’s skim the surface of how these three basic tools go together.
The modern fly rod is made from graphite, a mineral that is both strong and lightweight. The rod is made in a taper, thicker at the butt end where the reel is attached and slowly slimming up to a fine tip. Most fly rods are made to break down into either two or four pieces. Guides, which are small circular shaped metal pieces, are attached to the rod. The guides serve the purpose of holding the line and allow it to run smoothly along the rod as you cast. At the butt end of the rod is the reel seat, which is a metal nut that threads along the base of the rod and tightens down onto the reel to hold it into place. The last component to the rod is the cork handle, located just above the reel seat.
Fly rods are given a “weight” ranging from 000 to 14 that corresponds both to the weight of line the rod is made to handle and the type of environment that it is best used in. For example, a 000 rod should be used with a 000 line and best for small streams when you are most likely going to catch small fish, a 14 rod is intended to be used in saltwater, fishing for beasts like Marlin. In addition to various weights rods also come in varying lengths. In the language of fly rods you will often see the specifics of each rod printed in a series of numbers on the butt end piece of the rod. These numbers are deciphered as such: weight, feet, inches – pieces. For example, a rod that has these numbers: 490-4 is a 4 weight, 9 foot, 0 inches, 4 piece.
The modern fly reel is made up of two parts, the spool, which holds the line and clips into the frame, which houses the drag system and allows you to turn the handle to take in line. The drag system is a mechanism built in to most reels that regulates the rate at which the line is pulled off the reel, think resistance. The purpose of this drag system is to allow you to choose the appropriate level of resistance depending on the size fish you are hooked into. A larger fish needs more drag (resistance) as it will more likely put up a bigger fight. The more the fish has to work the quicker it will tire out and allow you to bring it to the net.
Most reels are made of either composite plastics, which are cheaper and less durable, or aluminum, which are lighter, extremely durable and more expensive. With the more expensive reels you often get more refined drag systems, which allow you to fine-tune your drag while actively fighting fish.
Fly line is the driving force of the entire operation. We often refer to it as the “engine” of the rod, as it is the weight of the line itself that bends the rod during the cast. In spin fishing the entire operation hinges on a weighted lure. This weight is used to pull line out as you cast, thus achieving distance. In fly-fishing we are casting the line not the fly. As you back-cast the rod bends with the weight of the line and on the forward cast the rod springs back and the line shoots through the guides, running freely out to the water.
Fly lines are made up of two parts, the core and the coating. The core is the strength of the line, engineered to provide the backbone and is most often made from nylon, which is braided in order to increase strength and durability. The coating is plastic and protects the core by being pliable and flexible throughout the many conditions you find on the water. The coating is also the place where line engineers have room to experiment. Through different techniques companies have discovered ways to taper, weight and aerate these coatings to provide a line precisely tuned for any fishing technique and situation.
There you have it, a surface explanation of the most basic tools of the trade. The depth to which you can continue to explore and learn is relatively endless as companies are constantly refining manufacturing techniques and materials. However, all you need is a rod, reel and line, oh yeah, and the fourth most important element is time, lots and lots of time.