Have you ever wondered what “Flies Only” means? Before we can answer that very restrictive question we must first answer question the bigger question, “What is a Fly?”
I was hanging with some avid fly fishing buddies over the weekend and I posed this very same question to each of them. “What is a Fly?” The answers varied widely but the most common were; “artificial“, “handmade“, “used on a fly rod“, and “made of natural fibers“.
I would like to address each one of the answers individually. First let’s look at artificial. I have used many grass hopper patterns that have neoprene bodies and legs that are attached to a single hook. They float very well and can be seen from longer distances because they sit much higher in the water, without using Float-ant. The hopper pattern definitely is artificial, it is sometimes handmade, and can be fished on a fly rod but it does not have any natural fibers. Is this a fly that can be used in a flies only section of water?
The Egg patterns was another area that brought much heat to the discussion. How can a plastic bead on a hook be a fly? Well it is artificial, it is made by a machine, it can be fished on a fly rod. It has to be a fly?
How about a nymph pattern? It is most commonly constructed with a metal bead head along with hair and or feathers. This must be a fly. It is artificial, it is handmade (well not all of it), can be used on a fly rod and has some natural fibers. This has to be a fly.
How about a jig with a lead head, feathers and a rubber egg sucking leach. Is this a fly?
I have taken my kids to “Flies Only waters” where they have used spinning equipment with a bobber (strike indicator) a split shot and a bead headed nymph. Is this proper etiquette?
Over the past year I have fished the “Flies Only” sections of the Truckee, the Yuba, as well as Taylor Creek near Crested Butte, Colorado. I have seen all of the aforementioned being slung around the sky by some of the most astute fly fisherman the sport has to offer. Are they working within the law?
After countless hours of heated debates with some fly fishing purists, who fish the Yuba and Truckee often, I still don’t have a clue. If we are the very people who fish these Blue Ribbon waters and we don’t have a clear understanding of what the law is, then we must look to the California Department of Fish and Game to define it for us. I have spent hours looking the California Department of Fish and Game’s web site and I’m still looking into murky water.
My quest for this knowledge started two years ago, when I started fishing swim baits (an artificial lure attached to a single barbless hook). Is this a fly? I will take the stance that, “Yes, in California, it is a fly! “
But after speaking to Reggie Hammond, Game Warden in the state of Maine, who also owns Kennebago River Kamps which consist of four cabins that sit on the Kennebago River a short distance from Kennebago Lake. Kennebago Lake is the largest fly fishing only lake east of the Mississippi and is approximately 1700 acres in size.
“I’m a traditionalist, I’m a fur and feathers kid of guy,” Hammond said. “As long as they catch them and handle them properly, if they want to use synthetic flies that is ok with me.”
Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regulates fishermen through methods, size restrictions and bag limits, and seasons. As technology has changed, the laws have not. So the state of Maine is addressing these changes by further defining its laws on “what is a fly?”
About ten years ago Maine changed the rule that would allow fisherman to a fix split shot to a fly fisherman's leader. In the prior years the weight had to be attached to the structure of the fly.
The states current open water (non-ice fishing) fishing regulations and definitions were written in the 1950’s and this spring Maine will be addressing its out of date terms and definitions and then will implement the changes in 2012.
“The rules were written prior to the technological advancements in fishing,” Hammond said. “We (the State of Maine) had been getting inundated with questions regarding flies and the materials they are made out of, legality of certain gear, and fishing methods. Fisherman were asking if it is legal to use synthetic flies. What we are striving to do is provide fishermen with the black and white answers to their questions and also have consistent enforcement by wardens throughout the entire state. change of sentence So we knew we needed to define a few terms.”
Getting back to the bottom line of what a fly is, Maine’s current position is that a single pointed hook dressed with feathers, hair, thread, tinsel, or any similar material, no hook, spinner, spoon or similar device maybe added. “A fisherman who is fishing in flies only waters can not use two hooks on a single fly but two flies are ok,” Hammond said. “Our laws are so old that we don’t have any mention of strike indicators or any man-made materials. The term we have had problems with is ‘similar materials.’ This leaves room for interpretation. What we are striving to do is to provide consistent laws so a warden in the southern part of the state is enforcing the same laws as the warden in the north.”
Maine not only defines what a fly is, they have taken it one step further. They defined what fly fishing is and explain it this way. A fly fisherman can cast upon “Flies Only” water and in a matter which the weight of the fly line propels the fly. No more than 3 non-baited artificial flies individually attached to a line maybe used. It is unlawful to troll a fly in waters restricted to fly fishing only.
“No spinning rods in fly fishing only waters,” Hammond said. “Your line has to propel the fly.”
My swim bait theory with a spinning rod is against the law in Maine, but not yet in California.
Hammond says, “for the most part, fly fisherman abide by the rules.”
“We mostly have problems with people sneaking into Fly Fishing Only waters and fishing with bait,” Hammond said. “One aspect to look at is the mortality rates of fish using bait. Studies have shown fish have a significantly higher mortality when caught using bait. If you look at the mortality rates of a fly fisherman versus a single-hook artificial lure only fishermen, you could see similar mortality rates. single hook being key .”
Hammond explained what he has seen on the San Juan River in New Mexico, which is artificial only and you can only use a single barb-less hook. He also stated that fly fisherman sometimes use too light of tippet and play the fish out too long, and then they proceed take the fish out of water.
“You try to run marathon and then stick your head under water and see how long you will live,” Hammond said. “This is what happens to a fish when it gets played out on light line and then taken out of the water for a bunch of photos. I have seen fish that will swim away from shore after such a battle, only to die later.”
When fishing “Flies Only” waters please follow the law. The way a fisherman plays and handles a fish seems far more important than what type of artificial fly or lure is used. Please keep the fish in the water. But the law is the law and as technologies change, so must our laws. Maine is addressing the advancements, maybe California should too, after all California is the tech capitol of the world.
So to conclude, As long as you are respectful to the fish and follow your state’s laws then your fishing karma will be positive, therefore you will catch more fish.