Gone Fishin': Don't be shy, try the fly
The case for the sport of fly fishing in the Chicagoland area has long been a curious one. While it's not necessarily closed it has not been entirely open, either.
There is a robust array of fishing opportunities in our area, but the classic fly fishing options are fairly nonexistent. A local search for cold water creeks inhabited by wild (or even stocked) trout is going to come up empty; they simply are not there. Tributaries with runs of Great Lakes salmon and trout exist in our surrounding states, but so too does a culture of float, center pin and conventional fishing that is largely fly free.
The closest place that lends itself well to fly fishing in the traditional sense is the Driftless Area of Iowa and Wisconsin. Unfortunately, even the closest parts of that region are over a three-hour drive and that all but eliminates the day-trip option, or at least makes for a very long day. The circumstances leave one to wonder what a casual fly angler is to do here.
At his Naperville fly shop, the DuPage Fly Fishing Co., owner Jeremy Spaccapaniccia is no stranger to puzzled inquiries from shop visitors about fly fishing's place on our local waterways. Even with the dearth of traditional fly fishing waters nearby, he is not shy about encouraging anglers to swap out their usual angling methods for fly the next time they're out on the water.
"One of the questions we get the most is, 'Where is your live bait, and where do you fly fish around here?'" said Spaccapaniccia. "Our answer to that is, 'Look, it's just another way of going about it.' We catch anything anywhere at any time, we just happen to do it with a fly."
Spaccapaniccia's words align with a growing trend in modern fly fishing: a crossover into situations that have been historically dominated by more conventional tackle methods. Muskies, bass, carp and bowfin might not have been targeted with fly gear in the past but a new day is rising, especially as fishing becomes more popular during the coronavirus crisis.
These days, DuPage Fly Fishing Co. has seen a massive influx of business, and rightfully so. "Fishing and fly fishing is the perfect social distancing activity," said Spaccapaniccia. "Say you want to cast 30 feet that way, you have to be able to cast 30 feet that way, too. You're making yourself have space."
For those looking to get into fly fishing, there are a few things to keep in mind when buying gear. While conventional rod/reel setups are labeled by action, fly fishing uses a numbering system similar to golf club grading. Fly setups are graded on a scale of 1-weight (very light) all the way up to a 12-weight (very heavy).
According to Spaccapaniccia, "anything in a 6-to-8 weight is a good all-purpose setup for all of the different species of fish we have in Chicagoland." It is important to ensure that both the rod and reel have the same weight grade.
When it comes to choosing which flies you want to fish, there are many excellent styles and patterns that are versatile and effective at attracting strikes. If you are a fan of bluegill, crappie, white bass or carp fishing, nymph patterns are very effective in local waters. A Copper John Nymph is a particular favorite.
Fans of big-game fishing should focus their fly selection around streamer patterns. Smaller streamers like the Lunch Money Shad and the Deceiver are great for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. For the musky and pike angler, you can't go wrong with the Gamechanger or the Murdich Minnow.