The challenge of creating your own flies and catching fish with them is the ultimate outdoor experience for many angles.
Fishing enthusiasts spend countless hours fine-tuning their hand-made artificial flies and practicing their presentations on the water. They are replicating what actually happens in nature when a trout rises for an insect floating on the water.
Top fly fishermen and fly tires gathered in Champion on Thursday for a reunion to share stories, advice and their products at Highlands Sporting Clays.
Ben Furimsky, 50, president and CEO of The Fly Fishing Show, said the sport is something he’s enjoyed since he was a boy, and it has taken him to fish in many states and countries around the world. He grew up in Rockwood in Somerset County but now lives in Crested Butte, Colorado.
“What I really like about fly fishing is the places it can take me. Everywhere we do it is a beautiful spot,” he said. “I even do it in some pretty heavy urban areas. But you learn a lot more about the environment in those urban areas and things you never really knew existed right in the downtown area. Personally, it’s the challenge. It’s a more active way of fishing.”
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While he’s fortunate to have fished in many places, including recently in Belize in Central America, he’s always wanting to try new places. When asked where he’d like to go next, he said, “Every place I haven’t been yet.”
He has plans to soon fish in Mongolia and would eventually like to go to Greenland for Arctic char. He’s been told fishing in Greenland would be like fishing in primitive environment in Alaska 100 years ago.
However, you don’t have to travel to fly fish.
“One of things I learned in Pennsylvania is how to nymph fish very well. We have a long heritage in Pennsylvania of our nymph-fishing techniques tracing back to George Harvey and especially Joe Humphreys,” he said. “Also I learned how to fish very technical waters. When the waters get low and clear here, it’s challenging. And that’s where you can excel with a fly rod versus other techniques.”
When it’s low and clear and you cast a lure in, those fish become alarmed and leave. That doesn’t always happen when you use small flies imitating natural foods.
“I definitely learned how to fish for technical trout in Pennsylvania. When I moved out to Colorado, some of the known hardest waters were the easiest for me. I had to learn how to fish the fast water, the heavy water, the deep water that I didn’t know how to fish from here.”
Pennsylvania is a hugely diverse state having more miles of streams to fish than any other state except Alaska. He’s fished for trout stripers, bass, pike, bluegill, trout and steelhead in the commonwealth.
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His passion for the sport developed when he was a child fly fishing for bluegills, and he would seek out the larger ones. “To this day I like sight fishing,” Furimsky said about seeing a fish and trying to get it to strike one of his flies.
“You cast out and watch them come and take it; that’s the ultimate,” he said.
It’s a sport where participants are always learning and hoping for a banner day no matter how old they become.
“If it was easy, we would get bored and move on,” he said about it being a sport “where you’re never going to be perfect or you’re never going to outgrow it.”
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Fly fishing attracts people for a wide variety of reasons. “They may get into the casting, they may be into the fish, I love to catch different species on the fly rod, which is one of the reasons I like to travel to fish,” he said. . … But ultimately what we are doing is trying to imitate the natural foods of the fish. So you have to learn that.”
Evolution of fly fishing gear
The fly-fishing industry has evolved over the past decades with new synthetic materials to tie flies. While people have always used fur and feathers, there are now synthetic materials, threads and hooks to make more diverse finished products for angles.
“The synthetics make them have more durability,” Furimsky said. The new products add to the variety of range, luster, and action in materials and glues.
“There’s thousands of kinds of rubber legs,” he said as an example of the gamut of options to fine tune your designs. In the old days, he said, it was common for angles to use elastic from their old underwear for fly tying as they didn’t have the choices they have today.
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Furimsky has his own variety of flies that are sold commercially and one that sticks out is his BDE, a general mayfly pattern. “It stands for Best Dry Ever,” he said about it being applicable to many waters; you just have to pick the size and color to start being successful with it. He also makes caddis flies, terrestrials and streamers.
Another proven fly fisherman is Tom Baltz, 70, of Mount Holly Springs, Cumberland County.
“I probably started typing when I was around 10,” he said. “Trout are No. 1, but smallmouth bass are awesome. Any fish you can fish for are fun. They’re all fun. I don’t pass up a chance to fish for anything.”
He became a professional fishing guide in 1974, and is now an Orvis endorsed fly-fishing guide through his company, Angling Adventures, in south central Pennsylvania.
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“They love it,” he said about introducing children and adults to fishing and they soon start catching fish.
He fishes with a variety of tackle, but “flying is the most interesting to me.”
“You’re putting a lot more into it than going to a sports store and buying spinners,” he said about the total satisfaction that comes with tying your own flies. He did point out that he does like using lures and other tackle and doesn’t want to take anything away from that type of fishing.
He enjoys the satisfaction of designing new flies and catching trout on them. Fly fishing is a sport that has a long history. He believes there are more books about fly fishing than there are about any other sport such as baseball, football or bass fishing. “That tells you something,” he said about the intrigue and interest.
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For those wanting to start fly fishing, he suggests visiting orvis.com online and checking out the learning center that provides the basics of the sport. He said after someone gets the basics down, they can vastly improve by spending time with a guide.
“I like to take people who have done a little bit of fishing and want to get better at it,” Baltz said. “That’s where the angler who hires me gets their greatest value. I can cut a year off their learning curve, generally speaking. If you’re brand new and a beginner, that’s fine too. … Everybody learns something from their day out on the water.”
Experience can be the greatest teacher, according to Baltz.
“Ultimately,” he said, “it’s about how much time you spend with your feet in the stream.”
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at [email protected] and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website’s homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.