Flyfishing for Trout
Flyfishing appeals to people from all walks of life. New Zealand has superb trout fishing available to anyone who wants to pursue it, with the purchase of a Fish and Game licence.
But many anglers are daunted by the perceived intricacies of flyfishing, preferring to target trout using other methods. In reality, flyfishing is very simple and possibly the most versatile and effective method of targeting brown and rainbow trout.
Casting a fly
Flyfishing relies on the weight of the line to propel the fly to its target. Specialised rods–fly rods–have been developed to cast special lines–fly lines–with a length of trace and a fly or flies attached to the end. The fly line delivers the flies to the trout, so anglers can use tiny, lightweight, artificial baits–flies are usually made of feather and fur.
Rods are designed to cast a certain weight of line and lines are manufactured in a variety of weights, ranging from AFTMA#1 to AFTMA #14. In general, lighter weights are suitable for smaller waters and heavier weights are best on lakes and boisterous rivers. A #5, #6 or #7 rod and matching lines is good for general river and lake fishing, while an #8 or #9 weight might be a better choice if you fish large rivers and big lakes with heavy flies in windy conditions.
Fly reels are often just simple spools on which the fly line and 50–100m of backing are stored. A beginner can purchase a perfectly adequate, matched rod, reel, line and backing, usually with a spare reel spool thrown in, for two or three hundred dollars. Fly lines range between $60 and $150, depending on type and quality, and beginners should consider owning at least two lines: a floating line and a sinking line. A fast intermediate or a medium-sink line is a good choice for a second line.
Artificial flies
Flies imitate a whole range of trout food, from small fish and freshwater crayfish to aquatic insects (nymphs), their flying adult forms (mayfly duns and spinners, sedges) and terrestrial insects that blunder onto the water and drown–even small mammals. All these creatures are trout food imitated superbly by hand-tied flies.
Flies can be purchased from most good tackle stores, or anglers can tie their own–fly tying is almost as popular with flyfishers as the fishing itself.
On the water or under the water
Flyfishers fish their flies either below the water’s surface or on the surface. Floating flies, called dry flies, imitate recently hatched aquatic insects about to leave the water for the air, terrestrial insects which have fallen onto the water’s surface, or occasionally small mammals such as mice. Dry flies are always fished using fly lines that float.
Dry-fly fishing works best when insects are hatching off the water or during summer when there are plenty of terrestrial insects on the water. It can be practised in both flowing and still water.
Fishing a fly under the water is generally a more consistent way to catch fish. Anglers can use a number of methods to fish sunken flies. Weighted flies are often fished using floating lines, especially in rivers and streams, the flies sinking through their own weight.
In rivers, flies that imitate the larval forms of mayflies and other aquatic insects (nymphs) are usually fished with a floating line. In many cases a tuft of yarn, a piece of coloured foam, or some other floating material is attached to the trace or fly line to act as a strike indicator. If the indicator dips, a fish has taken the fly.
This technique is called ‘nymphing’ and is also practised in lakes, though the delivery method may be different.
The other way to sink flies is to use a sinking line. Sinking lines–just sinking tips in some cases–drag the leader and fly under the surface of the water. By fishing fly lines with different sink rates, anglers can closely control the depth they’re fishing.
Sinking lines are used in both rivers and lakes. Sinking lines can present large, bulky flies–called lures in some parts of the country–as well as nymphs and tiny wet flies. They’re also used to deliver Glo-bugs and other flies, best fished almost statically.
There is a vast range of different sinking fly lines, from ‘hover’ lines that will fish a fly just under the surface to super-fast sinking lines that plummet towards the bottom.

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