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Fly Fishing School Hooks Anglers


By William A. BabcockStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 21, 1989


MOST Americans, whether or not they play baseball, have heard of Yankee Stadium. But the only people who have heard of the ``Madison'' or ``Battenkill'' are likely to be fly fishers. As the number of fly fishers grows, though, more and more people can identify Yellowstone's Madison River and Vermont's Battenkill - two of the United States' premier trout streams.

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One reason there are record numbers of fly fishers today is that there are more fly fishing schools than ever before. Fly fishing - which has been termed the most technique-intensive of all sports - is difficult to master. Thus, people often seek coaching before fly fishing the nearest pond, stream, lake, river, or ocean.

``Catching fish any way is fun,'' says Brock Apfel, coordinator of L.L. Bean's introductory three-day-long fly fishing school. ``But the actual act of catching a fish usually occupies about 5 percent of the time - if you're lucky, 5 percent,'' he says, and chuckles. ``So the important thing is what you're doing when you're not catching fish - in between fish.''

Fly fishing, however, does two things that other types of fishing don't, Mr. Apfel says. ``It gives you the chance to cast repetitively in a very pleasant, if not artistic manner. And it takes you generally to places that are very attractive to be in. So it's a chance to practice an artful skill in pleasant surroundings.''

In fly fishing, a fly rod is used to cast a hand-held, weighted line that propels a nearly weightless lure - or fly - to the fish. Fly fishers must master false casts, roll casts, curve casts, serpent casts, and reach casts. And fly fishers ``shoot,'' ``haul,'' and ``mend'' line - all before a fish can even be hooked, played, and landed.

Even assembling the fly and various lines onto a fly reel can involve tying five knots. Then a fly fisher must know how to recognize, when to use, and possibly even how to tie the flies themselves - Woolly Worms, Gray Ghosts, Zug Bugs, Muddler Minnows, Royal Wulffs.

But even when a novice fly fisher has mastered the right casts and can tie the right fly for the right fish at the right season - even that won't always produce a fish.

``Time and time again we see people who are good casters who don't catch fish, and we see others who are lousy casters who catch a lot of fish,'' says Apfel.

``It [fishing] is a matter of how you cause the fly to behave - that really is the bottom line. It's what you have on your line, where you put it, and how you make it act. This involves being able to `read' the water,'' he says.

In a recent L.L. Bean fly-fishing class here, there were 26 students - four of them women - from Michigan to Virginia to Maine. Participants ranged in age from their early 30s through retirement age. Classes often have teen-age participants, Apfel says.

Regardless of age, two basic types of people generally seek fly-fishing instruction. One type has never been exposed to the activity, or even to the outdoors. The other type has often done a lot of fishing, but with spinning rods, and wants to learn about fly casting.

When first-time participants try their first casts, they are anything but artistic.

``Eeiii,'' yells one woman, whose first back-cast snakes her orange line around her black rod as she stands beside the casting pool. A few minutes later, after she has managed to unfurl the May-pole-like mess, she adds, ``I think I'll try this again.''

``Hey, listen to that,'' says one Maine resident, obviously pleased at the whip-cracking sound his line makes as it unfurls behind him. An instructor patiently reminds the novice that ``cracks'' should be avoided, as they can dislodge flies from leaders.