Fly fishing is a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy, but is it a sport? We'll get to that later. First, let's take a look at some of the critical details about fly fishing. While it isn't quite the most popular form of fishing (the standard 'rod and bait' technique has more followers), fly fishing continues to grow steadily. Indeed, in America alone, it's estimated that somewhere in the region of 8 - 10 million go fly fishing every year. Part of why it isn't as commonly practiced as other forms of fishing is special tools and expertise.
And once you get bitten by the fly fishing bug, it’s unlikely that you’ll give it up any time soon. It’s one of those activities that can be pretty addictive, pretty quickly. Now let’s dive into the main point of the article -- is it a sport?
Is fly fishing a sport?
You'd be surprised at how much of a debate this can provoke. There isn't much by way of consensus. To some people, it's a hobby, a leisure activity to be enjoyed with friends. To other people, it's a sport. And once you've tried the activity yourself, you'd probably conclude that it certainly can be a sport.
Perhaps first, we have to determine what a sport is. We can all agree that a sport has to involve some physical exertion. There has to be an element of skill. And it has to be competitive.
The true definition of a sport is:
sport /spôrt/ an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.
So how does fly fishing stack up against these criteria? It can be all of those things. But it's also possible to engage in fly fishing that has none of those properties. So perhaps the correct answer to whether it's a sport or not depends on the context. If you're competing in a competition for Fly Fishing Team USA, then it'll be a sport. If you're taking things easy on the river, then it probably isn't.
So we'll say that it's "sometimes" a sport -- and indeed that's enough. But we will say this: the next time you go out for a long day on the water, notice how tired your body is once you return home. Isn't that a level of exhaustion that you'd expect from a sport?
Who Invented Fly fishing?
As you might expect, fly fishing has a long history. All fishing does -- it's one of the first things we learned how to do as a species. Fly fishing is a bit different from fishing with a spear, however. Still, the history stretches back to at least 200 AD. That's the date when the first thing resembling fly fishing is mentioned, but it may go back even further. It's one of those ancient activities that's still going strong -- in fact, that comment says more about the appeal of fly fishing than anything else. How many other sports have lasted for thousands of years?
Back then, it wasn't sport -- it was all about the meal that it would bring. It was just smart brains from the locals in Macedonians. They saw that the local fish were eating flies and decided to use them to get their fish. Once they realized that handling flies were complicated and ineffective, they tried a new approach: fake flies! And from there, we can imagine that it just became another way to fish.
Things are more about having fun than actually having to go out and catch your food in modern days. The idea of fly fishing as competition began to develop in the second half of the 1950s. The first worldwide fly fishing competition took place in 1981 and still takes place every year.
Fly Fishing Team USA
That the Fly Fishing Team USA exists should be proof that it's a sport. This is where things can become interesting. While there's space for doing little more than spending a nice day on the river, things can get pretty fun when there's a competitive edge. The Fly Fishing Team competes both nationally and internationally. They don't just compete, however -- they educate. They're in charge of helping to expand the world of competitive fishing. Perhaps the fly fishing year's biggest event is the event held by the International Sport Flyfishing Federation, which sees anglers from around the world doing battle. Only the very best anglers get to represent their country on the internal stage -- it's an honor.
Benefits of the Sport of Fly Fishing
So what draws so many people to the sport -- yes, we’re calling it a sport -- anyway? There are plenty of reasons why fly fishing is experiencing a jump in participation. It can add a lot to a person’s life; whether you’re new to the world of fishing, or you’re just looking to give it a try, you’ll find that there are plenty of benefits. Let’s take a look at a few.
It’s a Mental Challenge
Fly fishing is about much more than setting your fly out there and hoping something bites. If you're going to be successful, then you'll need to use your brain. It'll be your ability to figure out the best spot to fish, the current of the river, the habits of the fish, and your ability to identify and mimic the actions of the bugs on the river that'll determine whether you're successful or not. You won't just be giving your body a workout; you'll be engaging with the sport's mental challenge too, and that can be deeply satisfying.
It’s Quiet Time
In this day and age, it can be challenging to get some peace. There is always something to be done. There's always noise coming from one place or another. It's just not very relaxing. But fly fishing is. When you're out on the water, it'll just be you, your rod, and the view (if you're alone, that is -- it can also be fun to go with friends!). You'll find that you can hit a high level of peace just by spending a day out on the water. Did you know that spending two hours out in nature each week is enough to remarkably lower anxiety? It's true. But even if you're feeling wonderful anyway, you'll find that there's magic to be had by spending a few hours out on the water, looking at a beautiful view, without a care in the world.
Fly fishing can be deeply relaxing, but it's not like you're just sitting there. There'll be moments when it's highly fun. Indeed, it's a high level of fun that keeps bringing people back to the sport again and again. You'll even find that the more you do the activity, the more fun you have. If you can get a group of friends interested in joining you, then those days you spend on the river will be among the most memorable of the year.
It’s a Workout
We've already discussed how fly fishing involves a level of physical exertion that can sometimes surprise newcomers to the activity. If you're looking for an activity that is fun, challenging and helps to keep you fit, then it'll be worthwhile learning all about trout fly fishing. And perhaps the best part is that you won't even notice that you're exercising -- you'll get fit while you're doing something that you love. And that's certainly much more enjoyable than spending time in the gym.
How to Get Started Fly Fishing
So now that you know the benefits of fly fishing, how do you get started? It's pretty straightforward. It's probably best to see if there is a right fly fishing spot close to where you live; a fly fishing vacation can be a lot of fun, but if you're keen to get going, then it'll be best if there's a place close to you. From there, you'll need the equipment. The list isn't extensive; it's things like fly fishing flies and some clothing.
And that's more or less it! If you've been fishing before, then you might already have some of the equipment to hand. If not, you'll want to invest. None of the equipment is incredibly expensive, however.
Pro Tips for Fly Fishing
While there's plenty of fun to be had when you're out on the water, looking for rainbow trout with your fly fishing flies, it's not always the simplest of tasks. Many people end up getting frustrated with the activity, but the truth is that you can make things much easier for yourself by incorporating some expert tips into your approach. Take the following advice on board, and you'll find that you're catching a lot more than you used to!
Invest in Good Clothing
Indeed, having a good fly fishing outfit will not make the fish jump to bite your flies. But it can indeed make a big difference to your performance in other ways. For starters, if you're standing out in the water, then you must remain comfortable. If you're not, then you'll be eager to get out at the earliest opportunity. Or perhaps even worse, you'll be trying to rush through the process of catching fish. This isn't possible: it's a slow and steady race, not a spring. Upgrade your clothing so that they're ready for the weather, and they're always comfortable, and you'll be in the right space to stay all day.
Talk to Other Fly Fishers
There’s a strong sense of community among fly fishers. People are always keen to talk about fly fishing, given the opportunity! If you’re having some difficulties with your fly fishing process, then ask more experienced people for help. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn just by opening your mouth. Over time, you’ll become the expert yourself and will be able to pass on information. It’s especially recommended to talk to locals if you’re trying to fish a new area. Local knowledge can count a lot when you’re fishing.
What fly patterns are out there?
You might have some pretty fantastic looking flies, but it's essential to know when to use each different kind. The best fly fishing kits will have a variety to choose from, so how do you select one? Look at what the fish you're trying to catch is eating. Take a lookout at the water, and you'll see that a specific type or types of insect is present. Now all you have to do is match your fly to the color and size of the insect. A fish isn't going to eat something that looks wildly different from the snacks it's been eating all day, especially if there is still plenty to choose from.
If you are new to this check out our video on matching the hatch
Practice, Practice, Practice
Someone is rarely natural at any activity. It takes time to get used to what you're doing. This is undoubtedly the case when it comes to fly fishing. If you're not catching as many fish as you'd like, then look at improving your technique. The difference between getting a good haul of fish and getting none can be the casting method. You can't expect to get the technique precisely right at the first time of asking. If you know what you should be doing, however, then you’ll steadily make progress.
About the Author
Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.
By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.
When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there.