Guest Blogger: Clay Cunningham, Cody WY, former National Park Superintendent

I acunningham fly fishingm not opposed to other methods of fishing such as using a casting or spinning rod with earthworms, minnows, or artificial lures to catch fish. That is how I fished when my father took me fishing many times as I was growing up. That is, until I was twelve years old and a former friend, now deceased, introduced me to tying flies. His older brother, a former professional baseball pitcher, also taught me to pitch—but that is another story, The Christmas Drink.
In the late 1940s and early 50s, most folks pursuing the art of fly fishing were doing so with bamboo fly rods. It’s hard to believe today, but those bamboo rods sold for about $12 then in the coal miner’s Heisly Company Store. The quality and casting ability of those old rods with HCH or level fly lines was terrible by today’s standards. Unlike today’s graphite rods, you had to work and practice faithfully to learn how to cast with them. It wasn’t easy. The difficulty discouraged many from trying to fish with hand-tied flies. Beside that problem, the tendency was to lose many flies and that could be costly for the working man let alone a youngster. That is why I learned to tie flies. I sold hand-tied flies for $1.25 a dozen which added to my income that I made selling junk I collected at the town “dump.” With the money I earned trapping and selling furs; I was able to support a large part of my outdoor hunting, fishing and trapping pursuits.
Sometime in the early 1950s a few of the adults I met while fly fishing were using a telescopic steel fly rod. The latest pricey invention! From what I saw, they looked like they worked, but they were heavy “clunky” rattletraps that had no class. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that I remember seeing some fishermen had a white fiberglass Shakespeare fly rod.. The Shakespeare “Wonderod” swept the country. Fenwick, Heddon, Lamiglas, Browning and others followed and fiberglass fly rods created a few more fly fishermen and women. The big discovery was the production of the first graphite fly rod which I saw in the early 1970s.. That did it. Now everyone was able to cast a decent fly with very little practice, and fly fishing blossomed around the world; especially in Japan and America.
I’ve been tying flies for approximately sixty-eight years, and I built dozens of fiberglass, graphite and even a few bamboo fly rods in that time. Here is one man’s opinion on rods. Without question the top dollar Winston, Sage, Scott, Thomas and Orvis graphite rods are excellent rods, but they cost more than several hundred dollars. If you can afford it, buy one. Today the top end bamboo fly rod makers produce outstanding fly rods, but they can run into the thousands of dollars. If you can afford it, and you really love the traditional feel of fine bamboo and their casting pleasure; buy one. Life is short.
For most of us who are avid fly fisherman and who appreciate the experience of pleasurable fly casting with an elegant rod and the sights, auditory perfume and odors of a day on your favorite trout stream; buy or build an IM6 graphite fly rod. I have a Winston, several Sage rods, and I have fished with a $3,000 Orvis bamboo that I did not own. Most of the time, I prefer and use one of the three IM6 graphite rods I built. However, if I win the lottery I will purchase an expensive bamboo rod and a fine English .410, double-barreled shotgun.
The one disadvantage of all graphite rods is they break easily if they get the slightest nick in them, and IM6 graphite seems prone to break perhaps a little easier than some other higher modulus graphite rods.
However, the older fiberglass rods are almost as good for casting as the graphite rods of today. The difference is they are slightly heavier and noticeably slower. Flies, at least where I live, are sold for $1.50 to $2.50 each. They are much cheaper at Walmart, but if you buy those be sure to put some glue on the head of each fly. The best option is to learn to tie your own. The experience is just as much fun as fly fishing itself—well almost anyway.
Oh, and why should you be fly fishing? Because aquatic and terrestrial insects make up ninety-five percent of a trout’s diet and ninety percent of those insects are under the water in different stages of development.

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