I still have my first fly rod, a Tru Temper Rapier 8 ½ foot monster. When I bought it, the store clerk, who knew nothing meaningful about fly tackle, recommended a level 6 weight line for this rod. Add to that huge, air resistant bass poppers and I was ready to go - To go kill myself!
I remember wearing myself out catching fat one and a half pound largemouth bass and fat bluegills in 1968. I was wearing myself out because I was fishing the essence of unbalanced fly tackle. It was so bad that if a suicidal big bluegill was able to grab those size-8 poppers and managed to get hooked, he was liable to instantly become a FLYING FISH. Remember setting the hook on a bluegill and ducking as he came flying at 60 mph directly toward your forehead? If you didn't duck -- you'd have a bruised or stuck head.
My wife even remembers our weekend trip to Lake Hartwell featuring my great fly casting. She was coaxed into my canoe still sporting those late 60s "visitor from space" hair curlers, of course neatly covered by a scarf. We were gently coasting the canoe along a nearby cove's shoreline when I saw subtle surface fish activity.
I reared back and made a mighty cast with a fly like those left. On my forward cast, my line immediately started coiling around my head, then my body. When it came to rest, I was bound and felt quite like a mummy might. When I looked back at my wife, she gave me the I'M-NOT-A-FISH-BUT-YOU-STUCK-ME-ANYWAY look. On closer inspection I saw my fat bass bug had come to roost right in the top middle of her "visitor from space" hair curlers. I was done. At that moment, there was no excuse nor recourse. I gathered up my line, spooled it back on my reel, and began the arduous task of getting that bass bug back. Fortunately, it hadn't actually stuck her, but she wasn't accustomed to being smacked by a fat popper travelling at least 60 mph. I know that it is hard to believe, but she didn't find the humor in all that!
It was an interesting time. Yes, fly fishing intrigued me, but it just about killed me. One thing I learned was that very few people in the south really had experience fly fishing. I was having some really crazy experiences fly fishing. Still, I wouldn't trade my fly fishing beginnings for anything. The Pfleuger Medalist (right) and my True Temper Rapier at least got me started in a direction.
By the 70's I had begun my search for lighter, better working tackle. Early on I purchased a much more expensive, lighter rod. It was a Browning Silaflex tubular fiberglass rod in a 5-weight. It was only 7 feet long with a VERY different casting speed, but I enjoyed the MUCH lighter rod. I fished it with a 4-weight line and was pleased to be away from the huge rod I'd been using. Teamed up with my South Bend Finalist reel, (below left) the outfit was a breath of fresh air.
Even at this point I began to enjoy fly fishing more. I began to look for smaller popping bugs and read incessantly about the sport. I began to catch more fish and have a much better time.
Now let's jump forward to today. A current generation graphite rod in a 7-weight weighs as much as my Browning 5 weight does! The new rods are more powerful, cast crisply, and tire me much less than the rods of the "good old days."
The use of the latest graphite fiber technology, in our latest generation rods, the lightest strongest reels with the best drag systems ever - a multitude of lines in mind-boggling choices for every need - give us a marvelous selection of incredibly light, powerful, low weight and low mass options. Most of my current rods combined with reels and line weigh less than just the rods of the past. We have the best field of flies available to us ever. There are more species available to us on the fly than ever before, and there are more programs to make them available to us. Our knowledge base for fly fishing in the INFORMATION AGE is greater than it has ever been. On websites like this, you can access more information than ever before, any time you want. You can learn as much as you will.
Every day that I venture forth and fish the marvelous fly fishing tools that most fly fishers take for granted today, I am reminded that I had an interesting beginning in this sport in the south in the late 1960s. In all truth, I have to say that I believe to quote Carole King's song -- THESE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS!
Once, I was asked which was my favorite fly fishing day ever. My answer: "The one I'm on today!" Every fly fishing trip can be a treasure. Get out there and fish in the future's good old days! often. Learn to enjoy the pulsing feel of any fish on your line, not just the big ones. Don't forget to take the time to savor each little miracle that occurs while you are fly fishing. One day, time will run out.
After finishing this article this morning, I dragged my river boat to a local river and for old times sake fished with my old Browning Silaflex 5 weight with WF4F line (rigged with modern reel/line left). It was rigged with 9 foot leader/tippet ending in 4 pound .008 mono. I cast a size-10 black streamer and caught several bluegills, crappies, and yellow perch in the muddy 46.7 degree waters. I didn't even pick up my new rods, and I had a lot of fun. I was reminded, however, that the glass rod lacks the sensitivity, feel, and light strength of the late generation graphite rods I normally use. I notice this MOSTLY when fish are taking subtly, as they were on this trip. This lack of feel can translate to missing light takes and fish!
-- Bill Byrd
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