On the fly – The art of fly-fishing takes patience, ingenuity
On April 30, dozens of lines will be cast into Nevada County’s lakes and streams as the fly-fishing season arrives.
And the sound of flies plopping into bodies of water will be music to the ears of fishing aficionados, who spend hours tying minuscule pieces of rubber, feathers and cloth to the end of metal hooks in a springtime ritual designed to deceive the trout and salmon trolling along the water’s surface into giving up their lives.
It’s a tradition romanticized by Hollywood and fly-fishermen themselves, who note lines were cast into the Sea of Galilee more than 2,000 years ago.
It’s a practice that has yet to be perfected even today, which makes the tradition a labor of love for anyone with a rod and a reel.
“It can be as simple as you want it to be,” said Denis Peirce, who sells and manufactures flies and bobs for the fly-fishing set.
Peirce, who writes a weekly fishing column for The Union, has been
trying to fool fish with a fly for 35 years, with moderate success.
“It’s a situation where you can never stop learning,” said Peirce, 53, who has been fly-fishing throughout California and northern Arizona.
In truth, there are quite possibly as many approaches to learning the sport as there are flies to tie to the end of a hook.
And there are those whose passion is such that they think nothing of taking an underwater camera to videotape the feeding pattern of fish or become a shade-tree entymologist, studying how an insect’s
anatomy can make for the perfect fish food.
“It can be endlessly complicated,” said Bill Sunderland, 70, who first learned to fly-fish by sneaking his father’s rods as a preteen nearly 60 years ago.
Sunderland has written three books on the pastime, including “Fly-fishing the Sierra Nevada,” a region the Grass Valley resident considers one of the best on Earth for the practice.
Sunderland calls the difference between fly-fishing and pole fishing as the difference between checkers and chess. Instead of simply tossing a line, fly-fishing requires the art of placing an object often no larger than a paper clip into the water in a way that convinces the salmon or steelhead there’s food nearby.
More than 40,000 of these flies lie in state inside tiny plastic boxes at the Nevada City Anglers shop run by Tony Dumont, who has been fly-fishing for 50 years.
Learning how to fly-fish, Dumont said, is more than just buying a jacket, rod and reel and heading out to the Yuba River.
It’s also about finding the right fly for the fish you want to catch. Some flies are weighted to catch salmon and trout swimming beneath the water’s surface, where most of the food is, while a larger majority are flies the size of the cap of a ballpoint pen, with feathers and brightly colored touches to mimic food on the surface of a body of water.
One of the best places to learn how to cast, Dumont suggests, is right on a grassy lawn, simply because there’s no moving water to worry about and you can concentrate simply on your form.
That’s where Dumont takes newbies during his day-long fly-fishing classes, the first of which commences Saturday.
Once they learn how to cast the rod, then it’s off to a body of water using a variety of flies that mimic any one of thousands of bugs and critters that can be found floating on or just underneath the water.
In his shop, Dumont has flies that mimic grasshoppers, mayflies, shrimp, even salmon eggs to use on the Lower Yuba during spawning season.
“That’s the beauty of it, that you’re trying to imitate exactly what the fish eat,” he said.
The practice is met with more failure than success, fly-fishermen and women suggest. But it’s the beauty of the hunt that fascinates.
“That’s why I live here,” said Peirce. “You can’t find a better spot on Earth for fishing than here. Trout don’t live in ugly places.”
Where to start
Good places for trout fly-fishing in and around
– Lower Yuba River (west of Englebright Dam)
– On the Yuba River at the Nevada/Yuba County line (below Highway 20 bridge)
– North fork Yuba River by Downieville
– Fuller Lake
– Gold Lakes Basin area off Highway 49 above Downieville
– Truckee River
– Feather River
Source: Tony Dumont
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