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updated: 8/1/2012 6:33 PM

Gear affordability crucial to fly fishermen

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I was treated to a very encouraging scenario the other day.

My schedule was ultra-light so I decided to drive around the western and northwest suburbs looking for fly fishing opportunities.

Even though I was not going to do any actual fly casting (because of a torn bicep), I wanted to explore potential hot spots for future outings.

And lo and behold, standing on the bank of one pond was an adult and a youngster. I watched for close to a half-hour as the youngster whipped a fly rod back-and-forth, laying out line, and then slowly stripping it back in.

I walked over to the duo and asked the kid how he liked learning how to fly fish? His answer wasn't what I expected.

"I've seen television, fly fishing shows, and everything looked good to me, so I asked my dad to help get me started," he explained.

And that's exactly what happened.

His father wanted to start his son off with a moderately priced rod and reel but the only place he could find something affordable was in a catalog. Before he placed his order he went shopping at some of the area tackle stores.

In that same week I discovered a half-dozen more youngsters fly fishing on other ponds. Their tutoring came from a parent or neighbor, and all said they had more fun catching bluegills and bass on fly gear than "working" the ponds with spinning gear.

For the record, I have both high-end as well as low-end fly equipment, collected over a 40-year period. On the low end I have several South Bend rods and reels, and on the slightly higher end, I have Grandt Custom fly rods.

My new Orvis fly reel falls into the category of "moderately" priced. I recently wrote about the new Orvis reel because I was thrilled that the company now makes and distributes affordable reels that most anyone wanting to get in to this phase of fishing, can afford.

And that brings me to the most recent discussion regarding the future of fly fishing.

I recently met a tackle representative, or rep as they are often called, who sells fly fishing gear and clothing to the more up-scale shops in our area.

My friend Paul Melchior splits his work day between selling the higher end of fishing tackle and arranging trips to some great fishing destinations with his service Angling Escapes (

I love this guy because I've been able to learn a lot about trout fishing with a fly rod as well as creating fly patterns that will attract fish. But despite my "coaching" and urging, Paul still holds on to some snobbish attitudes when it comes to the high-end labels adorned on most of his gear and clothing.

My recent conversation with the tackle rep mainly focused how the fly industry continues to shoot itself in the foot, so to speak (my description), by creating rods and reels that most people can't afford.

This rep also admitted how warm water fly angling has helped open the eyes of some fishermen who never would have tried the long rods had it not been for a very select few people talking about and writing about smallmouth bass on. He agreed this facet of the sport has helped expand the industry, be it in a very small way.

Fly fishing is loaded with traditional ways and means. For decades it has been touted a "rich man's sport," with equipment saddled with retail price tags only a select few could afford. And fly fishing had also been dubbed as a sport for snobs. In fact, I once showed up at a Florida Keys fly gathering. I wore my inexpensive vest and carried a fly rod and reel that ran about $50.00 total. Some of those schmoes turned their noses at my gear.

My new rep friend told me the fly industry needs to make quite a few adjustments in order to open the flood gates and doors to more people so as to help ensure the industry will be around for generations to come. I just wonder if the brain trusts in the industry have enough vision to understand what's in store for the future?

• Contact Mike Jackson by email at, and listen to Mike's radio program 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC, AM-1240.

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