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Non-Technical Fly Fishing

Fly fishing for the beginner without all the jargon.
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Are you confused or intimidated by all the technical aspects of fly fishing? Do you think you can’t catch fish unless you know 15 different types of knots, a dozen different types of casts, understand everything about stream entomology, tie your own beautiful flies, throw perfect 90 foot casts, and understand everything about leader and tippet size? Then this article is for you. I am probably one of the least technical fly fishers I know. I tie few different knots; I have never taken casting lessons; I have never tied a fly; And I still think about leaders and tippets in pounds rather than X sizes. Yet, I have ten Texas State fly fishing records, over 150 lake fly fishing records, and people will tell you that I catch more fish than most.  I still consider myself an average fly fisherman, not an expert, and most definitely not a technical angler.

Many years ago I was given an old fly rod of my uncle’s and I began to fly fish for perch in park lagoons in New Orleans, never knowing that your cast should go from 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock, mine probably was at least 8 o’clock to 4 o’clock. I had no idea that fly fishers used anything other than store-bought popping bugs. I used straight monofilament for leaders never having heard that you need a tapered leader to get your fly to turn over correctly. I used some knots that I learned in the Boy Scouts; still I caught fish.

For most of my life I fly fished very little.  A few years back I bought my first good fly rod, a 9 ft. 6/7-wt St. Croix Imperial – and, no, I didn’t read up on all the rods available, nor did I ask many people what they’d recommend. I simply went to the local fly shop, Backcountry in Tyler, Texas, and asked the fly shop manager, Jim Green, what he’d suggest for a good, all-around, medium-priced fly rod that I could use for bass and bream fishing. He suggested the one I bought. I still have it today and use it most of the time. I have since bought a 7’ – 3-wt. St Croix Imperial and an 8 ½’ – 4-wt St. Croix Avid. These are not extremely expensive, top-of-the-line rods. They are more expensive than the $25 Walmart rod I used before, but they’re not the $600 plus rods available. I am extremely pleased with these rods and don’t think I’ll ever care to buy anything more expensive – they suit my needs. There are rods out there that cost less than mine that are great rods for the average fly fisher. You don’t need $200 rods to catch fish, and you don’t need to understand “fast action” or “slow action” rods, which ones “load” the best, which ones “shoot” the best in order to catch fish – I don’t.

At 65 years of age I still don’t tie my own flies and don’t want to as long as I have my sanity. I buy most of my flies at the local fly shops (I like to support those who give me advice and good service), a few from the internet, and I have friends who give me flies to try out. But the fly that I’ve caught the most bass on (including a 9 and 7.9 pound fish) is the venerable Peck’s #1 Popping Minnow, a big balsa-wood popper that’s been around for about as long as I have. Bass love them! I’ve also caught a lot of bass on clousers, wooly buggers, pistol petes, zonker-style flies, and a variety of other flies I’ve picked up over the past few years.  I don’t use poppers for bream, I use trout nymphs because sunfish feed mainly on insects under the water. With nymphs I catch more panfish than anyone I know. Crappie love clousers and wooly buggers. I’ll even use soft plastics on my fly rod in heavy timber or vegetation.  They are the only things I’ve found that I can fly fish lily pads with. No they’re not flies, but so what, I catch fish with them. The first time I tried a soft plastic on my fly rod I caught a 5.5 pound bass on it at Lake Fork, Texas. Who cares whether the purists like it or not, the fish do.  


Author with a hybrid striped bass

 Twelve years ago I started trout fishing. I picked up a couple of books about the subject, asked a few questions at the fly shop, bought all the necessary equipment for wading and about twenty different flies, and then headed off to Mountain Home Arkansas to fish the White and Norfolk rivers. It paid off as I caught trout on my first trip, using a small wooly bugger most of the time.


I go back a few times a year and usually catch trout while wading rivers. My trout box probably has 200 flies in it, and I might be able to tell you what half of them are. How do I know which ones to use? I ask the local fly shops and the other fishers on the river what the trout are biting on at that time. I might also take a stream sample with a seine to see what’s in the river. Do I understand runs and pools, tailing ends, etc.? A little maybe, but not much, still I still catch a fair number of trout. I rarely use dry flies when trout fishing, 90% of the time I use nymphs under a strike indicator. That way you don’t have to be an expert to get a good dead drift. One of the best things I did was to take Rob Woodruff’s course on stream entomology, I learned a great deal.

As far as knots go, I use three: palomar knot, clinch knot, and double surgeon’s knot. If forced to, I can tie a nail knot for tying the leader or mono to the fly line, but I much prefer the Orvis or Cortland braided loops that go on the end of the fly line. They last forever and are easy and fast to use. I HATE those little eyelet nails that you insert into the end of a fly line.

The only time I use tapered leaders is when I’m trout fishing. When warm water fishing I use straight monofilament for a leader. When bass fishing I use 17 pound test mono, for bream fishing I use 5 to 12 pound test tippet material because it is smaller in diameter and sinks faster than regular mono. My leaders vary in length from 3 ft to 9 ft, depending on the terrain I’m fishing. My casts get where I want them to and my flies generally turn over just fine without tapered leaders.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve never taken casting lessons. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips which have helped me cast better, but I’m sure that if a casting instructor saw my style that he would keel over from a heart attack or just throw up his hands in dismay. But the fish don’t rate us on casting ability or style, and I’m not out there to impress anyone other than the fish. The fish could care less whether I have a tight and perfect loop or not. They don’t care that I don’t know how to throw a curve cast, a parachute cast, do a single haul or double haul, or any of the myriad of casts that experts throw. All the fish care about is that you put something near them that looks like a meal. I couldn’t cast a fly 90 ft to save my life, 95% of my casts are only 20 to 40 ft. The only time I practice casting is when I’m out on the water fishing. On the water I do as little false casting as possible.

The line I use 95% of the time is a Scientific Anglers Mastery Series GPX Weight-Forward Floating Line. That’s what works the best for me. For basic fly fishing that’s all you need. I have a full-sinking line that I use on occasion, but that’s only when I want to fish eight feet or deeper. I couldn’t tell you how long the tapers are on my lines, how big the bellies are, how long the lines are, etc. I can cast them and catch fish with them; that’s all that matters to me.

Fly caught largemouth Courtesy of David Coulson

It is my opinion that there are two main types of fly fishers. There are those who are in love with the art of fly fishing, they love the beauty of the perfect cast, they love the tricks you can do with the line when you are really good at casting, they love to make 100 foot casts that lay out perfectly, they know all about the different types of rods and reels, and the technical aspects of each, they know all the knots, they know all about leaders and tippets, they know all about stream entomology, and they probably tie their own flies. Yep, they enjoy these parts of fly fishing and that’s great. Then there are the others, like me, who love to fish and consider fly fishing to be a very enjoyable part of the sport of fishing, but are not interested in all the technical aspects of fly fishing. They’re mainly interested in catching fish. There are others who fall somewhere in between. Which way is the best? Whichever way you’re most comfortable with and that makes you the happiest. Find where your interests lay, go out and enjoy yourself, and quit worrying about all the technical aspects of the sport and what others think. You don’t have to please anyone but yourself and the fish.


© 2023 Cliff Hilbert
Cliff has been fly fishing for 50 years now in Louisiana and Texas, all fresh and warm water. He currently has ten Texas state fly fishing records (six in public waters, four in private waters) and has held as many as fourteen, He also holds over 150 lake fly fishing records on lakes in East and North Central Texas. It is simply a hobby that he enjoys. He experiences allow him to others find enjoyment fly fishing and catching more fish.