Nick Curcione and Tony Martinez offshore.
Just getting started in BTB fly fishing? Here are some frequently-asked questions. They are divided into sections for people who are:

Notes for Newbies…

If you are just getting started with fly fishing, here are some things to focus on, and useful resources:

Tight loops at Catalina

Capt. Bryan Webb throwing a tight, smooth, loop

Learning to Cast

At a minimum, you need to be able to do a roll cast and a basic overhead cast. Once you feel comfortable with those, add the single and double haul. Last, learn the water haul. You should be able to comfortably cast 45+ feet in most conditions (including different wind speeds and directions), but the further the better.

Remember, instruction helps, and “practice makes perfect”. Like golf, tennis, or other sports, most people starting out fly fishing could really benefit from professional instruction, and getting out on some grass and practicing casting.

If you want help from a real person, there are a several venues for getting help (see our BTB Resources post):

Fly fishing clubs – if you can find a local club, this is a great option. Not only will you find help, you’ll meet some great people along the way. Organizations like the Federation of Fly Fishermen have lists of clubs and contact persons.

Fly fishing stores – most stores either offer casting classes, or can refer you to an instructor

Certified fly-casting instructors – Organizations like the FFF have instructor certification courses, if you can find a certified instructor in you area, they are a great resource to get started quickly.

Books, DVDs and On-line videos – are useful too, especially as references. Of course , with on-line videos, you may spend some time searching for a good clip or two, but hey, it’s free, right?

Here are some references we’ve found useful:

DVD: Book: Book:

Knots and Rigging

You should know how to add a whipped loop or a braided mono loop to the fly line; how to tie a good double line, such as a Bimini Twist, Australian Plait, or Spider Hitch; a knot to connect lines with very different diameters, such as the Albright Special, Hufnagle, or Slim Beauty; the Surgeon’s loop and Surgeon’s knot; and two good terminal knots – one that connects directly to the hook, such as the Trilene knot, Palomar knot, or Uni-knot, and a loop knot like the Kreh Loop, Perfection, or Uni-knot.

Here’s a couple of references we’ve found useful:

Book: Book, video:
Flycasting Systems by Bill Nash
Contact Nancy at: [email protected]

General Salt Water Fly Fishing References:

Book: Book: Book:

Some other things to practice:

Scott Jaunich - fighting a big fish

Fighting a big fish down deep – courtesy Scott Jaunich

Cranking the reel fast and for extended durations
Since fly reels are typically single action (one turn of the handle = one revolution of the spool), a long-running fish requires a lot of cranking. Think you’re man enough? Pull off the entire fly line + 50 yards of backing, and reel it back in as fast as you can. Let us know what you think…

Pumping the fish without high-sticking the rod
Long, skinny graphite rod + lots of tension + deep bend = an exploded rod waiting to happen, right? Don’t let it happen to you. Learn to short-stroke fish, and don’t raise the rod too much above horizontal when trying to raise a sounding fish.

Facts for Fly Fishers…

If you are an experienced fly fisherman, here are some additional things to think about, and FAQs

Can I use my freshwater equipment?
Yes – light rods (5 – 6 wts) are great for smaller fish when the wind’s not blowing, but you must be able to cast a fast-sinking line with it. A heavier trout rod, bass rod, or salmon rod is fine for the lighter – medium weight outfits. You need to be careful about washing your gear with soap and water after fishing.

Also, keep in mind that reels with aluminum parts that are not anodized must be well painted to avoid corrosion, and some freshwater reels with click pawls can not be tightened up enough to avoid the occasional spool overrun when a fish takes off.

Why not use just a regular weight-forward (WF) line, instead of a shooting taper?
You can definitely use a WF line instead of a shooting taper. However, shooting tapers are easier to cast long distances, and since there is rarely a need to pick up the line to cast again before the head reaches the rod tip, there is no real advantage to using a WF fly line. But if you are a reasonable caster, and already have fast-sinking WF lines, don’t bother replacing them with shooting tapers unless you really want to.

Will a Spey Rod work?
Yes, but a long rod is a definite disadvantage when fighting a fish from a boat. Even the 9′ standard fly rod is too long from a small boat, especially if you are fishing by yourself.

Will a floating line work?
Under certain conditions, yes. But in general, a very fast sinking line will be more versatile, and once you master the technique of picking up a sinking fly line, you’ll find that it casts farther, with less effort, than a floating line.
Shimano Butterfly Jig

Shimano Butterfly jigs

Guide for Gear Guys…

For you cross-over people, here are some answers to FAQs, along with a few other thoughts

Why are fly rods and reels so expensive compared to conventional fishing gear?
Volume. And the law of supply and demand. The number of fly fishermen is miniscule compared to the number of conventional tackle fishermen.

Why do many fly reels use cork drags versus some of the more advanced materials used in conventional tackle?
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Fly reels do not require a lot of drag compared to heavier conventional gear. Cork has worked dependably in fly reels for decades, so why change? However, as premium cork has become less available, and large-arbor reels have become the norm, more advanced drag systems that incorporate multiple composite or plastic disks have become almost commonplace.

Can I build a custom fly rod on a conventional rod blank?
Yes, it just may be harder to cast, due to weight, stiffness, and flex patterns. Fly rods built on conventional rod blanks have been built for many years, primarily by people more interested in fighting fish than casting. If you go this route, you should look for a longer blank, with more of a parabolic action.

Some of the IGFA rules for equipment setup (like the 12 inch limit on shock leaders) seem to be a severe handicap for fish like sharks and billfish. Do I have to follow IGFA rules?
No, of course not. Many people fish with 30″ wire shock leaders for sharks, and 30lb class tippet material. Just don’t try to submit a big fish for a record.

Some other notes:
Don’t expect to be able to get to the same depths you fish with conventional gear. 15 or 20 feet is about the maximum you can do without having to wait a long time.

Don’t expect to be able to retrieve a fly as fast as you reel in a jig or plug. Think about it – if you turn the reel handles 4 times per second on a Shimano Trinidad, you will be cranking in close to 16 feet of line per second. You might be able to strip 3 – 4 feet of fly line in the same time window.

Don’t expect to be able to reel in line as fast while fighting a fish. Same problem – a single-action fly reel picks up 15 – 18 inches of line per handle turn. How does that compare to the Shimano Trinidad mentioned in the last paragraph?

Tips for Transplants…

Striper fishing on the East Coast

courtesy Nick Curcione

If you are from the east coast or gulf coast states, here are some things to consider:

Can I use my existing equipment?
Yes, you just have to replace your WF floating line with a fast-sinking shooting taper. A striper/bluefish/false albacore outfit is fine for most of our BTBFF. If you have a big tarpon or tuna rod, bring that, too! And a 6wt rod with a fast-sinking line is great for smaller fish.

Be aware that if you currently use one of the tropical or warm weather fly lines, you will probably need to replace it with a line designed for use in colder water. Tropical fly lines are built with stiffer plastics, so they retain castability in hot weather. While SoCal weather is pretty mild, our waters rarely get much above 72 degrees, so these tropical fly lines get pretty stiff and wirey when used out our way.billsknots-TnT-GettingStarted