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What is fly fishing?

Flyfishing is quite simply fishing with an artificial fly. It is not fishing for flies. Just in case you were wondering.

Of course some people would like to take it further than this. Many fisheries (and some rod licences) stipulate that flyfishing tackle must be used. I have seen it written that flyfishing is fishing with flyfishing tackle. So I've consulted the dictionary.

The first dictionary didn't contain flyfishing (even as separate words). No help there then.

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English, in 1964(!), fly fish is/was to fish with fly. That's it. No mention of tackle.

Which raises the next question.

What is a fly?

The dictionary says that a fly is natural or artificial fly used as fishing bait. Which is a bit like saying a dictionary is a dictionary.

Actually this IS an interesting question. I don't want to get too technical, like, but the answer is not straightforward. You would have thought that it was, of course. I mean we could say that an artificial fly was an imitation of a natural fly. That would be easy. But this is fly-fishing and nothing is easy.

For a short while in history 'purists' decided that fly-fishing was the fishing with a floating imitation of a winged insect. If your fly sank you were not fly-fishing. Which is an interesting notion. Of course if your fly sinks you are actually wet-fly fishing. Someone should have told them. Actually people did, and they fought about it. In England we still have the repercussions of this strange behaviour; on many of the chalkstreams you can only fish using the dry fly until some time in June. And then after this you are then allowed to fish the nymph (which is a wet-fly) and then only upstream.

If you fish downstream you will be hanged. And if you fish the downstream lure you will be tortured first.

Karen: Why tortured?!
Paul: This is to teach them a lesson before we hang them. In the good old days we used to ship them out to Australia.

Anyway, flyfishing is not just the fishing with an imitation of a winged (or otherwise) insect. Salmon fishermen, for example, fish with flies and salmon don't eat insects and besides, no-one in their right minds would consider a salmon fly to resemble any sort of insect whatsoever, excepting, perhaps the odd exotic butterfly. Frankly if real flies looked anything like salmon flies I for one, would never go anywhere near Scotland and no one would live there.

Steve: Why are salmon flies like that exactly?
Paul: Salmon don't feed in fresh water and therefore the only way to catch these fish is to induce an aggressive or territorial response. Salmon flies do this.

Salmon flies are flies however. The definition of a fly could be an artificial bait constructed using natural fibres. This would be quite easy, would mean that spinners and worms aren't flies, and is a definition quite a few people actually use.

For rather a long time this was the definition of a fly. The problem occurred however, with the introduction of man-made fibres. Some people do have a problem with this and do not consider any fly created with man-made bits to be a fly at all. Which is a little harsh, especially if you use tinsel.

However, I will give you an extreme example taken from the other end of the scale: you can buy pre-moulded rubber shapes and glue them on the hook and end up with something out of the house of horrors. Is this still a fly?

I'll leave you to make up your own mind. For me, yes it is.

Steve: What is the difference between a lure and a wet fly?
Paul: We are entering a rather confusing world now. You could call all flies 'lures', but most anglers would consider a lure to be a fly which resembles either a bait fish or absolutely nothing on this planet (as well as using their mouths to eat, fish also use them for aggressive purposes and some flies are designed to stimulate this). Wet flies on the otherhand are designed to resemble drowned or aquatic insects. Dry flies float. There is a lot of crossover.


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