Want to get better at fly fishing and have fun in the process? Attending an Orvis fly-fishing school is your best bet, and we have schools across the country, but perhaps you've already taken a class and are looking for the next step. A guided fishing trip is another way to learn, but let's face it—few of us have the time to go on enough guided fishing trips a year to feed our fly-fishing addiction. The answer is to find a fishing spot close to home and really learn it. Haunt it.
You don't have to find a pristine trout stream. You don't even need to find trout. Whether you live in Scottsdale or Miami or Detroit, though, I'll bet you can find a bass pond within a mile or two of home. And the thrill of a largemouth or smallmouth (or peacock if you live in Miami!) taking a floating bug in a misty dawn is equal to the rise of a big brown trout. Maybe better.
A reassuring note about bass fishing with a fly rod—they aren't leader shy at all (16-pound test won't scare them a bit), and you can slap your fly down on the water as hard as you want. The harder it lands the better they like it. You don't need much gear—a chest or waist pack, a few flies, snips and an extra spool of tippet material and you're ready to roll. If you own a kayak or canoe, great. If not, you can catch them from shore. Bass are shallow water feeders, particularly at dawn and dusk, and all day long during their spawning season, which can be anywhere from March in Florida to June in Maine.
Because dawn and dusk are the best times, you can fish for bass before or after work. No need to wait for the weekend, just find a bass pond near your home or on your commuting route and leave a little earlier in the morning. Try ponds in public parks. Drainage ditches can hold bass, and they are also great haunts for carp, which are one of the most thrilling and challenging freshwater fish on a fly rod. And of course most of these little ponds also hold panfish, which are a ball when the bass aren't cooperating.
I'm partial to cemetery and golf course ponds myself, mainly because they hardly ever get fished, and largemouths often grow fat and stupid in them without ever seeing a popping bug. Some of these can be problematical, as the first guys on the front nine might not appreciate you waving a stick next to a water hazard, which is why I like early morning commando raids on these.
Here's how to find a bass pond of your own. Pick a likely target on your drive home from work. Look for a small pond with lots of weed growth or other structure like sunken trees on at least one end. The next warm, still morning, get up before dawn. Plan on getting to the pond just as it gets light. Look for swirls, boils, or splashes, which are either feeding bass or cruising carp. Either way you're in luck. Cast a proven surface bug like a Sneaky Pete near the swirl. Wait. Wait some more. Then give the bug a gentle twitch. Fish it slower than you can stand it. If you repeat the process three or four times without a strike, you may be facing carp.
Carp are not as easy as bass, but they can be caught, and once hooked you'll have a world-class battle on your hands. If you suspect carp, try a small (size 8) Woolly Bugger. Cast gently to where you see the swirl. Often carp take a fly as it's sinking, but if the fish does not take the fly (watch your floating line for a twitch), then begin to move it in slow, short twitches with long pauses in between. If the Woolly Bugger doesn't work try a size 10 Hare's Ear Nymph. Keep trying. Carp are spooky and can't see well, but persistence pays off.
What kind of rod, reel, and line do you need for bass, panfish, and carp? I thought you'd never ask. Just go here. You'll see our recommendations for rod, reel, line, and all the accessories at three different price points to meet your budget.