Stuart Hooley, 47, sold me a rod at Fly Only, a big shop with access to old mill ponds, where customers can try kit, on the edge of Huddersfield – HD8 8LU or 01484 600555 or http://www.flyonlyonline.co.uk/ He talked as he and wife Vicky were preparing to open a branch in Harrogate, All Waters Fly Fishing, Westmorland Street, on Feb. 1.
“You bought nine foot of 5-weight rod, which is a good general-purpose fly rod.
“The weight system is confusing for us, never mind novices, but it is about matching rod and line, so you have a balanced combination which will give you optimum casting.
“It all refers to the AFTMA system, developed by the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association and you can explain it in terms of grains and grams but it’s complicated. Broadly speaking a 5 or 6 combination – not much between them – will see you through if you are likely to go from river to still water or even large still water, chasing trout, or even occasionally grilse (young salmon).
“You would go for a heavier rig if, for example, you were competition fishing in deep water and you wanted a line to drop quickly – say six feet in 15 seconds. It can be critical. You are better off, as they say, fishing the wrong fly at the right depth than the other way round. Also, if you are sinking line to, say, 30 feet, from a boat, a light rod will struggle to lift it back. So you get to to the other factor in the equation, which is what sort of rod you want for the job. If you were going for big salmon, you might want an 8-weight rod just for the lifting power of it and then you want the line to suit it.
“You might go lighter than 5 if you wanted delicate presentation in confined conditions.
“A competition angler will go out with a range of up to 20 fly lines and rods to match. I used to be one. I worked out that for what it cost me, I could have two weeks in Florida every year and now I do that and go fishing over there.
“For your purposes, for one rod, you probably want three 5-weight lines to give you a reasonable range of options – a floater, a slow sinker, to give you about an inch of sink a second, and a medium sinker, around three inches a second. I’m talking about modern plastic lines, starting at about £15. You can still get them made of silk but they will cost you £100 a line and require a lot of maintenance. You would only do it for the pleasure of being traditional.
“The weight standards are not much to do with breaking strain. Even a 5-weight line will have an inner core which will take 25 lbs or so and it would be the same for any line up to 8 or 9. And you can cast just as far with a 5. But you get salmon up to 35 lbs, so line thickness is a consideration at that level.
“You’ve bought a second-hand Scierra rod for £45. I’d say you needed to spend around £150 for something new but that would have been a £180 rod when it was new, say eight years ago. Nothing wrong with it but there have been new generations of ‘cloth’, as the carbon compounds in the rods are called. Fishing gets the spin-off from research done for aerospace and a cloth becomes redundant every five years or so.
“At the lower-priced end of the market, you are getting rods which were probably researched and developed in the UK or Scandinavia or America but made by a contractor in Korea. They are good value but some people want to pay for English-built or American-built and that’s where you really have to pay out. Hardy’s of Alnwick is a great name in this country but they need to get their money back from, say, 5,000 rods a year, while a Korean factory will be making 50,000.
“Carbon-fibre rods have almost completely taken over but there is still a market for fibreglass and even old-fashioned cane. Fibreglass is heavy but strong and suitable for salt-water fishing for sailfish etcetera or in river conditions where you have to aerialise a lot of line. A lot of people still like the feel of split cane when the fishing is up close and personal, although you don’t get a long cast as easily.
“In fly, the reel is less important than it is in coarse fishing or spinning, because you are usually stripping off your slack, or taking it in, by hand. But in salt water, you can easily get a fish which will take all your fly line and 100 yards of backing off the drum and you want to be able to wind that in.
“As for flies, we could talk about fly theory forever, of course. Fishermen like to make it complicated. But all flies are variations of six or seven basic silhouettes and the silhouette is probably all the fish sees.
“In a stocked lake, the fish have all been reared on pellets and if they go for a fly, it is like a kitten chasing a piece of wool. In a river, you do try to mimic what is happening naturally and I like that part of the game, but my impression is that it is still more about getting the fly to the fish than it is about the fly. Even so, colour and design do seem to matter sometimes. Until we catch a talking fish, how much is a matter of opinion. But I don’t argue with the view that it might as well look as real as possible.”