Pig Farming in Central Texas


Building Community One Twisted Fly Fishing Event at a Time

Two of the coolest fly fishing-related events you’ve never heard of are happening in San Marcos Sept. 26 and 28. To understand the shenanigans, let’s take a look at last year’s nuttiness.

I relaxed when Mark Crawford walked into Austin’s YETI Flagship Store, beer in hand.


It might have been the extravagantly waxed mustache sitting atop an unruly salt-and-pepper beard. Or maybe it was the black utility kilt he was wearing. Probably it was his broad smile when I answered that yes, this was where the fly-tying thing was happening.

I had never met the burly former soldier before, but it was clear from the very first moment that he was bringing the party with him.

Mark introduced himself to some nervous newbies, dragged out to the Thursday evening event by a co-worker. At a table in the middle of the room, Umpqua signature tier Matt Bennett talked shop with Onion Creek Fly Co.’s Wes McNew.

And behind the bar in YETI’s Custom Shop, ReelFly’s Donovan Kypke and Real Spirits head distiller Davin Topel joined emcee John Henry Boatright in sorting tying materials: pipe cleaners, chewing gum (“What do you think? One piece, or two?” Kypke asked.), miniature dolls with flowing hair and sequined gowns … it was a Dollar Store bonanza.

John Henry called me up to the stage to talk about Pig Farm Ink and why we were hosting this oddball gathering called Iron Fly. He did that because he knew that I couldn’t talk about it without getting a little choked-up.

Iron Fly 2019 happens Thurs., Sept 26, starting at 6 p.m. Click on the poster to enlarge.

He also knew that, along with everyone else in the room, I was attending my very first Pig Farm Ink event and had only the vaguest idea of what we were getting into.

For the Austin pig farmers, it started with a podcast. Jason Rolfe reading his story from The Flyfish Journal and interviewing film maker, Pig Farm Ink co-founder and actual (literal) pig farmer Jay Johnson. Johnson made the case that community matters, that fly fishing is a vehicle for building community with people from all walks of life, and that #flyfishingsaveslives.

Here’s the thing: Pig Farming is a bit of an ambiguous concept – something the founders (really, we should call them “instigators”) built in to the brand. Cancer survivors have Casting for Recovery. Veterans have Project Healing Waters. The rest of us – and cancer survivors and veterans, too – have Pig Farm Ink.

Since the first Iron Fly event in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2011, fly fishing communities in more than 40 cities in three countries have thrown approximately 200 parties. The events have ranged from river cleanups combined with fly fishing tournaments to fly tying combined with karaoke (American Flydol) to the ever-popular Iron Fly events, modeled loosely on Iron Chef.

National sponsors include heavy hitters like Simms and Costa del Mar and PostFly, and the inaugural Central Texas events benefited from the generosity of the burgeoning homegrown community of outdoor heroes that includes Diablo Paddlesports, Howler Bros, YETI, Real Ale, Sightline Provisions and others.

The first, unwritten rule of every event is to suspend judgment and have fun. Alcohol is nearly always involved and breakfast beer is a thing. The last, written rule is this warning: “Irresponsible behavior will be loosely tolerated and asshats kicked directly in the face.”

The space between those two admonitions accommodates all sorts of shenanigans. It even accommodates some serious feels – moments of connection between people who only hours before were strangers.

By the end of the night at the YETI Flagship store, the noobs had tied some respectable San Juan worms and Clousers – fumbling through at least one, side-splitting round blindfolded. The experienced tiers whipped-up some Dollar Store Specials. A few of the flies incorporated dolls’ heads. One featured a partial denture.

A couple of Californians in town for the Austin City Limits Festival were shanghaied and took turns at the vises. One of the random visitors won a pair of Costa del Mar sunglasses. A bunch of anglers who knew each other only through social media posts met in person. A group of ladies, strangers at the outset, made plans for a women’s-only trip. Rideshare companies made a killing.


Saturday morning, some of the Iron Fly contestants and a whole bunch of other folks  -- nearly 40 in all -- showed up at Reel Fly’s Canyon Lake shop for Get Trashed on the Guad. Crawford, who had swapped the kilt in favor of wading pants, brought his entire family, and together they picked up 34 bags of trash. Probably (but not certainly) fewer than a third were filled with their own empties (the rules specify that your own beer cans count).

Turns out that scouring a river for trash is thirsty work.

One angler caught and released a beautiful, 23-inch holdover rainbow trout. Another guy, who had tied his first fly Thursday evening caught his first fish on the fly, ever, and won a handcrafted wooden landing net from Heartwood Trade. Fifth-grader Ethan Wu held the lucky raffle ticket for a Traeger Grill, much to his father Odom’s delight. A couple of people, including me, fell on their asses in the river, to everyone else’s delight.

Get Trashed on the San Marcos kicks off at 8 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 28. Click on the poster to enlarge.

Everyone appeared to be just a little surprised at how much fun they had.

“I kind of liked the veil over both events. You have an idea of what it’s going to be, and people have an idea of what they’re going to be doing when they show up, but it’s just a little different, a little twisted,” said organizer Donovan Kypke, who was also celebrating his first anniversary as the owner of ReelFly Fishing Adventures. “When they got there and realized it wasn’t about competition, people really relaxed and partied and ran with it. The amount of freaking trash we got out of the river – I had no idea it was going to be that scale.”

Davin Topel, the distiller and fishing guide, hosted event planning sessions at the Real Ale brewery and distillery in Blanco, Texas,  over the summer. He said that the Pig Farm Ink events serve as a useful reminder that fly fishing is a sport for everyone.

“It’s not just for old, white guys who have too much time on their hands and like to argue whether or not a mop can be used as a fly,” he said. “Life is complicated enough; your hobby doesn’t have to be. Just grab a rod and go for a hike with your friends. And don’t forget the whiskey.”

Iron Fly 2019: Thurs., Sept. 26, 6 pm—Bitchin’ at Sean Patrick’s in San Marcos

Get Trashed on the San Marcos: Sat., Sept. 28, 8 am—6 pm, Texas State Tubes, San Marcos

Photos courtesy Merrill Robinson.

Loose Connections, Real Friends


The first time it really hit me was at the end of a long, walk/wade session with four friends, two of whom I had met in person just that morning. There had been breakfast beer. There were laughs. There was a streamside medical emergency. There were fish—lots of fish.

The moment I realized that this is my tribe is captured in a photograph. It may not be obvious to anyone else, but when I look at the picture I snapped at the very moment of that realization, I feel it all over again.

This is my tribe.

This is not my only tribe. The family I was born into, and later created, is a tribe, with its own peculiar rituals and traditions and deep sense of belonging. And I am a member of other loose associations, some including anglers whose members overlap in some fluid, and sometimes complicated, Venn diagram.

But this fly fishing tribe, it is a strange thing that I struggle to understand, not least because many of the people I know who fly fish are either a.) intensely private, b.) socially awkward, c.) fiercely introverted, or d.) just generally curmudgeonly. I am, by turns—and sometimes in combination—all of those things.

We are not, as a rule, joiners. If we were, you’d probably find us in a bowling league or on a softball team somewhere instead of on a stream.

There are exceptions, of course—outgoing, back-slapping, hail fellow well met types—but … I’ll be honest, here: those folks make me a little nervous.

 Getting over the mid-life hump

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I turned 50 this year (it still shocks me to write that), which—as it turns out—was much harder than turning 40. At age 40, I could still, justifiably, lay claim to being young(ish). At age 40, there is a reasonable expectation that there might be more tomorrows than yesterdays. At age 40 I had one child, I was single, and I had time to go out on a weeknight and listen to music, or grab a beer.

 A decade later, none of that is really true. Now I have a son in college and two young sons at home. I’m married, again, and I’m gone half the year for work. I have more than one doctor. And I’m still all those things (a through d, above) that make joining a bowling league or book discussion group unlikely.

 One of the consequences of surviving into middle age is that somewhere along the way you lose some friends, and at the same time it gets harder and harder to find new ones. In 2012, Alex Williams wrote a much-discussed story for the New York Times titled: “Why is it hard to make friends over 30?” 

In the article, Williams cites three criteria sociologists have long considered necessary for forming friendships: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other. These criteria explain why so many people form their deepest friendships in college, at a first job, or in prolonged, high-intensity situations such as military service or work as a first responder.

As you get older, researchers say, you have to work a little harder to cultivate, and maintain, friendships. As my friendships become more intentional, I would add two more criteria that have become more important to me: shared interests, and—perhaps more importantly—shared values.

What is it about fly fishing?

My friend Jeff Troutman has asked this question of several guests on his Remote. No Pressure. podcast, and it always leads to a pause in the conversation as the interviewee considers, perhaps for the first time, what it is that brings people in the fly fishing community together, sometimes in profound ways.


Perhaps the pause arises from the inherent tension between the love of a mostly solitary pursuit and being part of a larger group, or culture, that engages in that activity.

It seems like most people I know these days fly fish, or at least have a fly fisher lurking in some back room, bent over a vise with a whiskey tumbler at hand, muttering to himself. It sometimes makes me think everyone fly fishes, when of course most people don’t.

The numbers are hard to pin-down, and definitions are squirrelly, too (are we talking about people who self-identify as fly fishers, people who own rods, people who fish every year, or every month?) but the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates there are something like 1.5 million fly anglers in the U.S.—a mere 4.29 percent of the more than 35 million anglers who fish every year. (Other estimates put the number of fly anglers as high as 6 million, and the number of anglers in the U.S. at 60 million, but industry sales don’t seem to support that.)


Whatever the numbers, and despite—or maybe because—virtually everyone I know these days is somehow involved in the sport, the fly fishing community is a small place, a three-degrees (at most) of separation kind of world.

My experience thus far is that I have a lot in common—values as well as interests—with most of those people. And my answer to Jeff’s question is that the demands of the sport select for people who are observers, people who value quiet and solitude, people who can set aside ego and exercise patience and live in the moment. Fly fishers do what they do, mostly, for the experiences, not the trophies or the kudos (Instagram likes aside).

The differences between those of us who pursue tiny, bejeweled natives on bluelines and those of us who stalk redfish and bones on the flats or monster brown trout in rivers, are significantly smaller than the differences between any of the aforementioned and the vast majority of Americans whose idea of a good time is a football game on the big screen in a noisy sports bar. Although, to be fair, both things provide the same sorts of conversational frameworks and cultural touchstones that dudes seem to so desperately need just to be able to begin a conversation.

Loose Connections, Real Friends

Social media continues to be a hot topic in the angling world, with an increasing number of people decrying (on social media, naturally) its purported effects on the sport and the fisheries. Whether it’s annoyance at “influencers” and the “pro bro” culture, or concern for all those fish we pose for pictures, some folks wonder if maybe we shouldn’t collectively pull back a bit.

 A couple of weeks ago I met Jeff, the host of that podcast, for the first time in real life. Over the past two years I’ve been a guest on the show, we’ve exchanged emails and phone calls and texts, and we’ve kept up with each other through Instagram and Facebook.

 When Jeff mentioned he was coming through Texas on business and wondered if I might have time to fish, I leapt at the opportunity. When he rolled into town, it was like catching up with an old friend. We stayed up late sampling whiskey, got up early to fish, and continued a conversation that has been ongoing in virtual spaces over many months.

It is human nature that we present the best versions of ourselves on social media. It’s tough to document the takes we missed, and we only rarely share our more significant life challenges and disappointments publicly. There are exceptions to this, too, of course, and I am in respectful awe of folks who are able to pull that off with humor and grace. Maybe more so of those who can’t muster humor, or are in need of some grace.

So … I don’t presume that someone’s Facebook profile or Instagram feed is a true and complete portrait of that person. But for a lot of people, it’s a good place to start. It at least gives you an idea of what he or she thinks is important.

Mid-week Shenanigans

It just so happened that on the particular Wednesday evening Jeff was due to arrive, I was already booked for a rare dads' night out with some friends from the neighborhood. No surprise to some of you, probably, but not all middle-aged dads have effective support networks or friends they can just let their hair down with and vent to. So that, fueled by some excellent local beer and cigars, is what I was doing from about 6-10 p.m. on a Wednesday.

Jeff was scheduled to arrive between 10:30 and 11, and by 10:30 I was home with the boys (my wife was traveling for business), who were eagerly awaiting his arrival (they also are podcast and music fans). I needed a quick break and a smoke, so headed to the back porch.

"If Jeff gets here before I come back in, here's what I want you to do: open the door when he knocks, and then say: "Who the hell are you, and what are you doing at my house at this hour?!" 

The boy's practiced ... I assured them that yes, they really could say that .... okay, got it! On my way out the back door, I said: "Alexa ... play Jeff Troutman music .... Alexa, turn up the volume."

About 10 minutes later, I got up and turned around to go back inside, and through the living room window, I saw Jeff standing with his roll-on in the front foyer, a perplexed look on his face, as my boys quizzed him and his own voice serenaded his arrival.

It. Was. Awesome. And hilarious. If I was aiming for maximum awkwardness, I may have succeeded (#sorrynotsorry, Jeff).

Other first meetings, IRL, are often attended by their own, lower-key uncomfortableness.  When my buddy Jess and I picked-up Chris Barclay and Dave Fason at the airport for a week of enforced closeness over 2,500 miles and four states as we chased native trout a year ago, each of us was keenly aware (we all admitted later) that it was going to go either really well, or really badly, and either way we were going to be stuck with each other for the next seven days.

 Unsurprisingly, it went really well.

Loose Connections, Real Friends

Not being a joiner by nature, and with a work schedule that doesn’t lend itself to regularly scheduled events, I don’t make it to many of the meetings of either of the FFI-affiliated fly fishing clubs I belong to. The F3T stop in Austin always seems to occur on a weekend I am on the boat, and as much as I want to go to that Saturday presentation at my local fly shop, a boy’s baseball game (or the Scout campout, or a fishing trip, or … something) takes priority.

So I rely a lot on the loose connections formed through social media. They are, in a way, stand-ins for the “proximity” the social scientists say is necessary for a friendship to take root. Add in some planned (or unplanned) opportunities for interaction, and sometimes those loose connections grow into real friendships.

The nature of the sport itself, and the places where we pursue it, take care of that last thing, the setting that encourages us to let down our guards and confide in others.

Community, and Solitude

Thinking about this last weekend, on a Sunday, I revisited Fly-Fishing: The Sacred Art  by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer and Rev. Michael Attas. I learned about the book from an episode of Remote. No Pressure.

In the chapter called "Common Ground," Mike Attas (an Episcopal priest as well as a cardiologist ... which makes him an expert on both heart and soul, I guess) writes:


We have instant "friends" via social networks. We text, tweet, and e-mail instantly. While these phenomena certainly enable us to cast our nets wide, they do not fill the places in our hearts and souls provided by deep encounters with humans who love, understand, and care for us. True community breaks down walls, encourages human growth and potential, and provides a safety zone when we are broken and hurt ... paradoxically, we also seem to need periods of solitude. We need time alone to listen to our hearts, interpret our needs, understand the role we play in creation, allow ourselves to heal from the toils of the world, and renew our spirits. 

Again, modern life doesn't encourage true silence and solitude. We are victims of noise pollution and sensory overload. We are always "doing" when we need more "being." We need to be still, to rest our weary bones, and to step out of all of the many demands that life places on us.

No activity that I know of satisfies both of these needs as well as fly-fishing does. Good trips are most often taken with longstanding, close friends who share a love of this sport. On these trips, we not only share travel and the time on the water together, we solve all of the world's problems at night after the mandatory fishing stories are told.

There is a ritual pattern to every trip I have taken. We fish hard all day. We spend time on the river dealing with the inner issues, while solving the technical issues of the fish and what they are feeding on. Then we return to the cabin or lodge.  There, the barriers come down amid the telling of stories and the sharing of our inner lives. We talk not only about fishing, but children, work, politics, longings, desires, dreams lost and found. We have drinks and smoke post-dinner cigars as the evening draws to a close ... There may be periods of silence and reflection. Listening is just as important as talking, and I've found anglers to be among the best listeners. We tend to take our lives seriously and yet with humor and joy, so the periods of time back at the cabin are among life's richest treasures.

The Bottom Line

I find nothing to argue with in what Rev. Mike wrote, but I would add that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, taking a chance on converting a loose connection into a real friendship, offers the same (or even greater) rewards as those fishing trips with longstanding friends. Sometimes one thing becomes, over time, the other, but it takes a little courage to get going.

I get to test my theories again this week. Friday, I’ll meet up with a couple of guys from the Dallas area to fish one of my home waters. It’s a trip that has been rescheduled several times, something we’ve been talking about since at least last fall.

I’ve never met either of the gentlemen, IRL, but—after seeing what they celebrate on Instagram, and with a long string of emails and DMs and phone calls behind us—I’m pretty confident they will become friends.

And if I’m wrong? Well, we all got to go fishing. And: I’ve fished with jerks before, but never the same jerks twice. But I’m willing to bet—a day of my life, anyhow—that I’m not wrong, that—as has happened so often in the past—I’ll merely be discovering more members of my tribe.

Photos #4 (fly tying) and #8 (two friends walking) by Merrill Robinson.

A Texas River Law Primer


Sometime around 2002, I had a run-in with a couple of beer-chugging, rifle-toting locals on a Hill Country Stream. Shots were fired. My then 3-year-old was with me. We left.

Rivers and creeks in Texas flow over more than 1 million acres of public land—as much public land as found in all of the state parks and wildlife management areas combined.

Rivers and creeks in Texas flow over more than 1 million acres of public land—as much public land as found in all of the state parks and wildlife management areas combined.

That was when I started to pay attention to the issue of public access on the waterways in this state, an interest that carried through to my participation in establishing the Texas Paddling Trail program as an employee of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Fish or paddle Texas streams long enough, and it will happen to you, too: you will be hassled, accused of trespassing, run-off, or – God forbid — even shot at by an irate landowner.

With the population of Texas projected to double in the next 20 years, and the amount of water to actually shrink, such conflicts are bound to become more common.

There is a better than even chance that when that happens, it is the landowner who is breaking the law, not you.*

The local sheriff’s deputy may not know the relevant statutes, and may side with the landowner, who (after all) helped elect his boss.

The county’s game wardens should have a better grasp of the underlying law, and certainly will have more independence, but (as has happened to me and to others) may not be available, or able to offer a definitive answer about a particular creek or stretch of river.

In all likelihood, you will be advised to leave, if for no other reason than to defuse the situation at hand. And, snap! Just like that, your right – your birthright really – to enjoy the natural resources of the state, has been surrendered.

And it is a right, enshrined in common law, the Texas Constitution, and in statute.

Whether a stream bed is wet or dry is, in most cases, immaterial to your right to use it.

Whether a stream bed is wet or dry is, in most cases, immaterial to your right to use it.

It would be terrific if somewhere there existed a master list of streams, or maybe a map, that indicated which rivers and creeks or which sections are public waters.

It would be awesome if there was a single state agency one could go to and get a definitive answer to your question – maybe even before you get on the water.

The frustrating truth is this: you will find neither of these things in Texas.

There are approximately 3,700 named streams and 15 major rivers flowing over 191,000 miles in the state, and a hodge-podge of state and local agencies with some level of interest or jurisdiction.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Whether a waterway can be considered public depends on something called “navigability.” A stream can be navigable in fact – canoes, steamboats, ships, or even logs have been or are floated down (or up) it; think Buffalo Bayou, the Sabine River, or the Brazos. But, in 1917, in Welder v. State, the Austin Appeals Court wrote that navigability “in fact” should consider public utility, not commercial use, and that “… hunting and fishing, and even pleasure boating, has been held to be proper public uses.”

A stream also can be navigable by statute. In 1837, the Republic of Texas passed a law (now enshrined, virtually unchanged, in the Texas Natural Resources Code, Section 21.001(3)) – that said streams with an average width of 30 feet are navigable.

2. The width of a stream really depends on the width of the stream bed. Practically speaking, this means that it doesn’t matter whether the creek is bank-full, has a trickle in a channel in some portion of the bed, or even if the water has gone underground for some distance. The depth of the water – whether it is ankle-deep or over your head – is utterly unimportant.

Legit: the land adjacent to a stream above the line of upland vegetation is most often private.

Legit: the land adjacent to a stream above the line of upland vegetation is most often private.

A stream doesn’t need to have water in it to be considered navigable. Appeals court rulings (Tex. River Barges v. City of San Antonio, 2000) and Attorney General opinions (S-208, 1956) affirm that even dry stream beds remain open to the public.

The stream bed is the area between the fixed banks, where upland vegetation (grasses, mesquite or oak or juniper trees, cactus, etc.) grows.

Technically, it is the area between the gradient boundary on either bank – an often hard-to-define point midway between the normal water level and the fixed bank. For our purposes, it is usually enough to determine where the upland vegetation begins.

Gravel banks, islands, sandbars, and backwaters and sloughs may be and often are found within the stream bed, and, generally, are public. Unless the waterway is in flood and out of its banks, in which case … not so much. However, impoundments that extend beyond the stream’s bed also extend the public’s right to use the contiguous waters.

3. There is an implied (but not legally tested) right to scout and portage hazards (including low-head dams) in the stream bed. It is generally assumed that one may enter adjacent private property to look ahead and to go around obstacles. If you do that, the foray onto private property should be limited – just enough to accomplish your objective, and then back into the water you go. Convenience is not a good reason to leave the river bed.

Public road rights-of-way (ROW) are the primary points of access on many navigable streams in Texas.

Public road rights-of-way (ROW) are the primary points of access on many navigable streams in Texas.

4. Access to public waters must be through landowner consent or from a public park or right-of-way. In practice, in Texas this most often means a public road crossing. We do not have the right to hop (or cut) fences or take shortcuts through someone’s yard to reach a public waterway.

5. If the stream is otherwise navigable, ownership of the stream bed is immaterial. Landowners sometimes will insist that they own the stream bed and therefore you are trespassing, even if you are in the water. They may, but you probably are not. A 1929 law commonly known as “The Small Bill,” recognized that even in the (rare) cases in which the state does not hold title to the bed of an otherwise navigable stream, it retains a right-of-way over it and the public may use it as if it is public property.

Caveat: The state has ceded ownership of stream beds to home-rule cities with populations over 40,000, transferred ownership of a handful of others, and permitted cities to regulate navigation on some public waterways. That means that Austin, for instance, can impose ordinances regarding things like the use of motorized vessels on Lady Bird Lake.

Landowners who own both sides of a stream, or hold title to the stream bed itself, may have a legitimate need to control livestock; however, that doesn’t make this fence across a navigable stream legal.

Landowners who own both sides of a stream, or hold title to the stream bed itself, may have a legitimate need to control livestock; however, that doesn’t make this fence across a navigable stream legal.

The lawful use of a navigable waterway in Texas encompasses all sorts of things – from hiking and camping, to fishing and (sometimes) hunting, to swimming and paddling (Except on the much-contested Blanco River, where a 2015 law, HB 3618, prohibits camping or building fires in the stream bed. This law was clearly designed to limit access.).

It does not include driving a motorized vehicle in a stream bed, or removing gravel or sand or diverting water for private use.

For those last two things you would need permits from TPWD or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), respectively — two of the handful of state agencies with an interest in waterways.

There is no obvious legal justification for the fence or sign across this state road right-of-way near Maxdale.

There is no obvious legal justification for the fence or sign across this state road right-of-way near Maxdale.

The Texas General Land Office (GLO), which grants easements across public waterways, may offer an opinion about the navigability of a particular section of river or creek based on measurements they make using their own GIS mapping applications and … Google Earth.

Yep, Google Earth – a tool available to you in the privacy of your home.

Very occasionally the GLO will send professional surveyors out to take a look-see in person.

Sometimes TPWD will ask game wardens to do the same. Usually this happens at road crossings, casting above and below the access point for some reasonable distance, and typically only in response to a permitting fight or lawsuit.

So, what do you do if you are hassled by a landowner? First, remain calm and be polite. Chances are the person protesting your presence sincerely believes you are on his or her lawn, so to speak.

When the landowner threatens to call the sheriff’s office, offer to call the game warden. TPWD’s 24-hour law enforcement communications center (512-389-4848, or 1-800-792-4263) can route you to a game warden in your county. You can also find the name and mobile number of game wardens in any county here.

It’s hard to convince folks we can be trusted with nice things when some asshats spray graffitti, dump old furniture or leave beer cans and dirty diapers at access points.

It’s hard to convince folks we can be trusted with nice things when some asshats spray graffitti, dump old furniture or leave beer cans and dirty diapers at access points.

Sadly, landowners adjacent to public waterways have plenty of legitimate gripes, including an astounding amount of trash at and downstream from some public access points, folks traipsing across their property or cutting fences, and other acts of vandalism.

Maybe if they see enough of us acting responsibly – packing other people’s trash out with us, practicing catch and release and passing through quietly and respectfully – those negative attitudes will change.

We should be grateful to those landowners, too: whether by design or not, they often preserve water quality by maintaining a riparian barrier of vegetation and by impeding more dense development.

“No Parking” signs are typically installed by city or county governments (rarely by the Texas Department of Highways), sometimes at the behest of landowners specifically to limit access to navigable waters.

“No Parking” signs are typically installed by city or county governments (rarely by the Texas Department of Highways), sometimes at the behest of landowners specifically to limit access to navigable waters.

Where things fall apart is when a private landowner fences across a public easement to prevent access, fells a tree across a stream to prevent the passage of a canoe or kayak, or harasses an angler or paddler otherwise lawfully enjoying a day on the water.

The first two instances are something lawyers call “purpresture,” and the Texas Attorney General may sue to remove such barriers.

*The third instance is a violation of a not-often-enough prosecuted statute found in section 62.0125 of the Parks & Wildlife Code, commonly known as the “Sportsman’s Rights Act.”

That statute states that: “No person may intentionally interfere with another person lawfully engaged in the process of hunting or catching wildlife,” which in an accompanying definition explicitly includes fish, and further clarifies that the “process” includes acts preparatory to hunting or catching, such as camping. Violation is a Class B misdemeanor, carrying a penalty of up to $2,000 or 180 days in jail – the same as criminal trespass (Texas Penal Code, section 30.05).

Traipse along enough Central Texas streams, and you will see efforts to intimidate or impede anglers and paddlers through illegal fences, misleading signs, and the like.

I believe I am reasonably well-informed about where I have a right to be, and most often confine my fishing and paddling to streams that I think I can make a defensible case are navigable. If you feel the same way, feel free to ignore those fences and signs.

Some of us believe that the approximately 1 million acres of public lands submerged beneath the state’s waters are crucial to our quality of life.

At some point – and the time is coming sooner rather rather than later – we might want to get organized and to begin challenging the public road easements that are fenced to bridge abutments and the fences crossing navigable streams and the like.

Until then, discretion is sometimes the better part of valor and civility often carries the day. Above all, modeling responsible behavior – being good stewards of the shared resources that are our public waters – will go a long way toward defusing conflict.

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. For an in-depth look at the issues, see TPWD’s Texas River Guide, which has a wealth of related information. My forthcoming book, Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas (Imbrifex Books, May 7, 2020), includes an expanded chapter on Texas river law .

Bluelining South Texas


I’m writing a book about fly fishing Central Texas (Fly Fishing Austin & Central Texas, due out in 2020 from Imbrifex Books) – have been these past six months, and will be for the next year or more. It’s a ton of fun, and a whole lot of work, too.

Between my day job, the family, and the book project, I don’t have much time lately to just go fish (or write!) without an agenda.

Except for yesterday.

I’m always ready to get off the boat by crew change morning, but I’m especially eager when I know I’ll be fishing an hour later.

I’m always ready to get off the boat by crew change morning, but I’m especially eager when I know I’ll be fishing an hour later.

For a while now I’ve been lobbying to switch “watches,” – basically flip-flop my week-on, week-off schedule on the tugboat – for a variety of reasons both personal and professional.

On the personal side, one of my best friends of nearly a decade, Jess, works opposite me and we haven’t had a day off at the same time in more than a year, since his wedding in fact.

One of the things we have in common is a love of ultralight fly fishing, so that sort of sucks.

My swap request was finally approved, and last week we were able to hop across boats a few times and tie up some flies while we waited-out the fog.

Yesterday when we got off, we headed to a gem of a little creek about 90 minutes from the dock. It was on my way home to Georgetown, or at least not far out of the way.

It’s easy to get spoiled with water like this just five minutes from the door.

It’s easy to get spoiled with water like this just five minutes from the door.

At home, there are two clear, spring-fed rivers within walking distance of my house (one is, literally, my back property line), and another dozen or so quality streams within an hour’s drive.

Taken together, these waters are possibly the finest warmwater fishery in the nation that not everyone knows about. Thus the book project.

South Texas, on the other hand – I mean the part of the state that falls below a line from Del Rio to, oh … maybe the vicinity of Port O’Connor – is a searingly unwatered place, if by water you mean streams.

If you’re thinking spartina marsh and mangroves and seemingly endless flats of turtle grass and sand, well, it’s kind of awesome. It’s where I took up fly fishing, in pursuit of redfish and speckled trout, but most days it’s not work for ultralight rods.

South Texas has it’s own kind of beauty.

South Texas has it’s own kind of beauty.

The few rivers down that way are turbid and – in their lower reaches – tidal. Access is difficult. But … if you have time to pour over maps, and can make some detours down Farm-to-Market and county roads while going to and fro, you might get lucky.

We did.

This particular creek is a gem. Where we walk in, the water is clear but tannin-stained, and the low gradient of the coastal plain causes the stream to meander and pool in its broad, sand and gravel bed. It’s chock-full of bass, various sunfish, carp and catfish.

Because I have a job and children and deadlines, I fish when I can, not when conditions are optimal. Yesterday was not optimal, not for ultralight glass rods, but it sure was fun.

Oh … that bend!

Oh … that bend!

I put my new Ben’s Fly Rods 1-wt through its paces in 15-20 knots of wind. Jess threw my C. Barclay Fly Rod Co. 3-wt.* Coincidentally (or not), his best fly fishing days have happened when he had that rod in hand.

Anyway, it was a good day after a long two weeks (working over to swap watches) on the boat. Lots of sunfish and some really nice river bass to hand. Jess even managed two catfish on the fly.

The new 1-wt? It did everything I asked of it, and I asked more than I should have – hurling size 8 and size 10 weighted Carp-it bombs and hooking up with some chunky largemouths as well as the ubiquitous sunnies the rod was designed for (I imagine it will be pretty awesome for wild cutthroats, too, but that will have to wait until the manuscript is put to bed).

Jess with a fine creek bass on the C. Barclay 68L.

Jess with a fine creek bass on the C. Barclay 68L.

I wonder how much joy it would bring with a size 14 foam spider? Hmm. I might just have to walk down to the end of the road sometime today.

*I think I wrote in my last post that both C Barclay or Ben’s fly rods were distant aspirations for this working Joe. I am humbled and grateful that both came to my hand much sooner than I expected. Each is a joy to fish and they are heirloom-quality tools I will pass down to my children, hopefully may years from now.

But I stand by my recommendations for terrific value rods (I hate the word “budget” in this context … actually I hate the word “budget” in any context; ask my wife) in the post below.

So, you want to get into fly fishing ….


Someone just gave you a gift card, or maybe you got a Christmas bonus and figure: Hey, it’s time to check out that fly fishing thing.

You start poking around on the interwebs. Probably you search for “best fly rod” or “best beginner fly rod.” You are quickly overwhelmed by a bewildering array of choices.

It’s a good thing. Truth is, never in the history of mankind have there been more choices of really good gear at reasonable prices. With only a few exceptions, our best “budget” rods today are better than the most expensive rods our parents or grandparents could buy 30 or 50 years ago.

Now … you’re probably wondering: where to start? Visit your local fly shop! Seriously. Fly shops are cultural centers as much as retailers, and the people who own them and work in them care about the sport and care about building a relationship with you, the new (or new to fly fishing) angler.

Good fly shops – and most of the fly shops that stay in business more than a couple of years are good – also are excited to meet folks new to the sport. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know, and don’t be intimidated. Heck, you probably won’t even run into anyone actually wearing tweed.

If you don’t have a local fly shop, or if you want to go in with a bit of background knowledge, keep reading.


In fly fishing, it’s all about the rod. The reel is, for the most part and for most target species, just a line holder. More about reels in a bit. Fly line is the third integral part of the outfit, and is meant to last a season or two, and is priced accordingly, but there are some good, inexpensive options out there.

Fly rods are labeled by weights, from 000 on the super-ultralight end to 14 or so on the really heavy end. Most folks use rods between 3-wt and 8-wt. Many anglers recommend a 5-wt as a good, versatile, compromise size. I hold the minority opinion that 5- and 6-wt rods are overkill for most situations you’ll encounter in Central Texas; unless you are specifically targeting big carp or stripers, or pulling lake-dwelling bass from heavy cover, a 2- to 4-wt should be able to handle everything and will be a lot more fun and less tiring over a day-long session.

As an example, even though I am somewhat fitter than TV celebrity Larry King, as I enter middle age I find that I’m good for about 2 hours on an 8-wt, but can swing a 2-wt or 3-wt sunup to sundown and still lift a pint glass without discomfort.

My recommendations at the end of this explainer tilt toward ultralight (3-wt and below) rods because that’s what I fish 90 percent of the time. I didn’t always, and I still own heavier rods, but I rarely reach for them. Generally, I believe most anglers “over-rod” for the waters and species they are targeting. Your mileage may vary, and others will definitely have different ideas.

My recommendations also tilt toward less expensive equipment, generally. Look at the title of this site. I have a good idea, to within a dollar or so, how much the material in most imported fiberglass and graphite blanks costs ($5). I know, to within a couple of dollars, how much a complete graphite rod costs wholesale from an Asian manufacturer ($20-$60, depending on the model and components). And I know that those rods are sometimes painted a different color, re-labeled, and marked-up as much as 500-1,000 percent for the U.S. market, sometimes by brands you would recognize. Not even kidding.

Don’t get me wrong; I like nice stuff — who doesn’t? More importantly, I like stuff that works and doesn’t make me work any harder than I have to while I’m using it. On the one hand, I like to support working men and women with a living wage. On the other hand, I’m also a working man and I don’t appreciate feeling I’m being taken advantage of.

Chances are, if I have a choice between a very good $200 rod and a truly great $800 rod, I’m gonna save $600 and spend it on a week-long roadtrip through the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It’s a matter of priorities. I won’t make fun of yours if you buy those $160 nippers, but I am going to wonder a little.


Rod weights correspond to line weights – measured in grains — of the head or first 30 feet of a fly fishing line. The American Fly Fishing Trade Association (formerly the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association) publishes a handy table that says what the standard is.

There has been significant creep in recent years, mostly as a result of faster, stiffer, lighter blanks; the result is that some rods are labeled as, say, a “6” when in reality they are 7s or even 8s. Some line manufacturers have responded by increasing the actual weights of their rated lines … others are more honest and will tell you right on the packaging that the line is a half weight (or more) heavier than the number they slapped on there. The end result is that, often, you will have to try several lines on a given rod to find one that works well. Don’t assume your rod is crap until you’ve mixed-and-matched a bit. Alternatively, scour online forums or talk to fly shop pros about which lines work with which rods.

When choosing a rod, your first consideration should be: what size flies will you be throwing, and next: how much wind are you dealing with? The weight of your line (and thus the size of the rod) will determine how well you can handle big flies and big breeze. A secondary consideration (though it’s related to the size flies you will be casting) is how well you can deal with big fish, or, what species you will target.

There is an argument sometimes made that ultralight rods contribute to post-release mortality by excessively tiring a fish. The opposite may actually be true, as an angler can more confidently play a fish on lighter gear that protects the tippet.

Rod length is less important unless you are engaged in technical Euro-nymphing (don’t get too excited, it’s a fishing method), two-handed spey casting, or you are fishing small, brushy streams. Many manufacturers default to 9’ lengths and that’s fine. I fish a lot of smaller streams with lots of trees, and the only 9’ rods I own are one legacy 4-wt and several 8-wts I deploy against redfish and snook. I own 8′ and 8.5′ rods, but the ones I use most often are between 6.5′ and 7.5′ and my shortest fly rod is 5’9″.

The number of pieces a rod comes in also is relatively unimportant. Experienced conventional anglers may frown on multi-piece rods as “unserious,” but the very best rods in the fly fishing world happen to be multi-piece. Four-piece rods are standard and pack down small enough to put in luggage. Three-piece rods are common, especially in fiberglass models, and there are a number of 2-piece rods in ultralight weights, and up until the advent of graphite, many production fiberglass rods were made in two or three pieces. They still work just fine. One-piece rods are uncommon

You have choices in rod material, which boil down to, essentially: glass, graphite, or bamboo. Good cane rods are works of art and are quite expensive, so scratch bamboo as a starter. Fiberglass, which burst on the scene as a “modern” and less-expensive advancement over bamboo after World War II, is experiencing a resurgence and many say we are in a new “Golden Age” of glass rods.

Glass rods typically (but not always) are slower and more full-flexing than graphite and a lot of anglers enjoy being able to feel the rod load. That characteristic also is helpful to new anglers when learning to cast. Glass rods (and slower rods in general) excel at short- to medium-range casts (which is where you’ll do most of your fishing, realistically) and typically roll cast more easily than faster, stiffer rods. Some anglers say glass rods have more “soul.”


Graphite, or carbon, rods come in many flavors – from full-flexing low- or multi-modulus models that mimic traditional glass or bamboo actions to super-fast, high-modulus, nano-particle-infused rockets designed to generate insane line speed over long distances. The trend in recent years definitely has been toward the latter, which may not serve you — the person just starting-out — all that well. In-between, you’ll find many rods described as all-arounders, labeled as “medium” or “medium-fast,” and that’s probably a good place to start if you opt to get going with graphite.

You may discover, in test-casting prospects (and you should definitely do that if at all possible) or as you begin fly fishing in earnest that you have a particular “style” of casting that you are most comfortable with. I like a slower, more relaxed stroke and favor medium and slow action rods. A good friend of mine, a very good caster who fishes rods in the same weights, really likes a fast, crisp action and is always on the lookout for the stiffest 2 wt he can find. All that said, you’re not locked into one or the other, just realize that as you switch back and forth between your slower rods and faster rods you’ll have to adjust your stroke and it may be ugly for a couple of casts if you are not paying close attention. I speak from experience.

Where is the rod made? Some folks obsess over this, but from a performance standpoint it is unimportant. If supporting American manufacturing jobs is high on your list of priorities, then consider saving your money for a Scott, Sage, G. Loomis, Thomas & Thomas, R. L. Winston or high-end Orvis or St. Croix fly rod. With few exceptions, all other production rods are made overseas. For the past three or four years, the rod judged one of the five best in the world, with an $800 price tag and offered by a venerable English maker, was sourced in Asia.

Rods built overseas include models by well-known brands such as Redington, Orvis (some models), TFO, Echo, Hardy, Loop, Fenwick, Cabela’s, White River (Bass Pro), Allen and so on. Buy one of those and you are supporting jobs in a foreign land, but design, marketing, warehousing and retail jobs in the USA. Keep in mind that your smart TV, Apple or Android device, and quite possibly your dependable, well-designed vehicle all come from the same places.

Then you have the “Chinese knockoffs,” which may or may not be knockoffs (or from China). Some overseas manufacturers have been building rods for the companies above for close to two decades now and they’ve developed a bit of in-house expertise. What you may not get from these companies, if you buy their version or a private-label version, is the level of customer support or warranty service you are looking for. But, then again, you might. I’ll highlight a couple of good bets in a moment.

Learning to cast a fly rod is not, exactly, like learning to cast a spinning outfit or a baitcaster. It’s a process, and something most of us continue to work on for a long time. It’s more like … developing a tennis stroke or a golf swing, maybe. You can become proficient enough to catch fish and have fun after the first hour or half day of practice, but you may still be refining your technique or adding new casts the last time you pick up a fly rod. I mean, like, right before you die. It’s one of the great joys of a sport that – for me anyhow – has so far proved to be bottomless. I’ll never get to the end of it, and I kind of like that.

Orvis company stores offer free Fly Fishing 101 classes spring-fall. Orvis also offers a terrific, streaming video introduction broken down into bite-size segments. Your local fly shop, if you are fortunate enough to have one, probably does something similar.


My local fly shop, Living Waters Fly Fishing in Round Rock, offers a free, half-day “Introduction to Fly Fishing” at least one Saturday a month, covering everything from how to cast to which flies to use to where to fish. It’s worth driving in from out-of-town to attend and you would be welcomed more than once, though you are allowed to eat the complimentary Round Rock donuts only the first time. Just kidding.

Your local Fly Fishers International (formerly Federation of Fly Fishers) club probably offers casting clinics, or at least practice sessions before monthly meetings, and may have members who are FFI-certified casting instructors. There are 170 of these clubs across the U.S.A., 17 in Texas alone. Colorado has five. At the very least, your local club will have some members who are happy to mentor a new angler.

Buy the best gear you can afford now. Sometimes $800 fly rods cost $800 because a lot of time and effort went into their development, they use top-quality components, and are backed by excellent warranties and customer service. Fit and finish, typically, is outstanding. Your kids will fight over them after you are gone. Maybe before then.

In a few instances, those heirloom rods cost that much only because the companies are paying for American labor, have high overhead otherwise, and have figured-out people will pay through the nose for perceived status symbols. On balance, I would say that you are less likely to be unpleasantly surprised by an expensive rod from a reputable manufacturer than by a no-name cheapo rod.

That said, there are lots of really, really good rods at lower price points these days. More than one fly caster much, much better than me has said that the differences in performance between the best “budget” rods and the best rods at any price are all but indiscernible to anyone other than a competition caster. That is, the likes of you and I are never going to see that last 10 feet of distance or 10 inches of accuracy in our casts.

As you grow in the sport and discover a preferred casting style and quarry and the kinds of waters you most like to fish, you can narrow-down the kind of rod that works best for you. (This is an argument for that 4-wt to 6-wt, range to start with, by the way.) That’s the time to start thinking about dropping big bucks for a higher-end, or even custom rod. For me that means a C. Barclay Fly Rod Co. Synthesis 68L (3-wt) or 66 (2-wt), or something from Shane Gray or Matthew Leiderman. It may mean something else for you.

Concrete recommendations for terrific value rods that I have used, friends love, or are well-reviewed (or all three) include:


1. TFO Finesse, $199. Half-weight through 5wt. Slow, full-flexing graphite. Lifetime warranty. Texas company (manufactured in its own factories in S. Korea). My pick: the 1wt or 2wt for Guadalupe bass, Rios, sunfish, and wild cutthroat in high mountain streams. (note: since this was originally written, TFO discontinued the original Finesse line and introduced something called the “Finesse Trout” at a slightly higher price point. Weights and lengths are the same; no report yet on whether the actions are too.)

2. ECHO Carbon XL, $149. 2-wt through 6-wt. Medium-fast action. Lifetime warranty. Designed by Tim Rajeff. Vancouver, Wash., company. My pick: the 2-wt for everything (this is my go-to graphite rod), 3-wt for bigger fish or windier days. I have friends whose go-to rods are the Echo Carbon 4-wt or 5-wt and they love them.

3. TFO Pro Series II, $170, 2-wt through 10-wt. Medium-fast action. Lifetime warranty. My pick: the 7’6” 3-wt for Central Texas streams. Note that this is not the same model as the Lefty Kreh Signature Series II, which sells for a little less and is quite a bit less capable.

4. ECHO Boost, $229, 2-wt through 10-wt. (Really) Fast. Lifetime warranty. The 2-wt is a favorite ultralight of the guys at Rajeff Sports, the parent company of Echo Fly Rods. Designed to generate “maximum line speed with minimum effort,” the 9’, 7-wt might be a good choice for the salt, for big carp, or windy days. May benefit from being overlined.

5. TFO BVK, $250-$300, 3-wt through 10-wt. Fast. Lifetime Warranty. Designed by Lefty (Bernard V.) Kreh. This design has been around for a while. I’ve had the 8 wt. for ages and use it for redfish and snook. Fast and light. A friend really likes the 4wt. for freshwater.

6. TFO Clouser, $210-$230. 5-wt through 10-wt. Described as fast, but more medium-fast – slower than the BVK, for sure. Lifetime warranty. Designed by the legendary Bob Clouser. I and a few buddies have the 8wt – it’s my go-to rod for saltwater. It’s also one of the prettier rods in the TFO lineup.


7. ECHO Smallwater Glass, $200, 2-wt through 5-wt. Progressive, deep-loading, medium-action rods. Lifetime warranty. Another Tim Rajeff design, my 3-wts (I have two) are sweet casting, small stream rods that can handle plenty of fish. They’re also pretty. (Note: These have been replaced, since this post originally appeared, by the ECHO River Glass series. Reports are that they are even better than the original glass rods.)

8. Cabela’s CGR, $69 (on sale for less several times a year), 2-wt through 7/8-wt. Full flex, traditional glass. So slow they are “noodly.” Lifetime warranty. The 2-wt and 3-wt are a TON of fun on sunfish and small bass, and excel at casts to about 40 ft. Worth every penny of the regular price, a steal when on sale.

9. Maxcatch V-Light, $59, medium-fast, 1-wt through 3-wt. Limited warranty. Sometimes marketed as “Ultra Lite for Panfish and Trout.” The parent company of Maxcatch, headquartered in Quingdao,China, makes rods for a number of major brands and private labels, some very well-reviewed. Having tried half a dozen of their models, the ultralight 2-wt is a real gem. I’ve had bad luck with the 3-wt in the same series, with tip sections breaking for no good reason on four different rods. I can’t speak to the heavier rods, but some may be just fine.


10. Aventik “Super Fiberglass” Fly Rod, $79-$99, 3-, 4- or 5-wt. Medium-action glass. 25-year warranty. The identical rod also is marketed as a private label rod, the “Ruby River,” and has been well-reviewed on The Fiberglass Manifesto and elsewhere. I have the 3-wt, and overlined with a standard WF4F it is a joy to fish. It handles a standard 3-wt line well, too.

11. Fenwick Aetos, $190, from a 6′, 3-wt through a 15′ (!) 10/11-wt. Fast action. Limited Lifetime Warranty. Fenwick is one of the great “blue collar” brands from the glory days of glass. I include the Aetos here because, if you are going to go with a 5-wt, this is the one that has taken top honors in its price range at the Yellowstone Angler Shootout multiple years. (Update: I recently had the opportunity to cast the Aetos 3-wt, and it’s just lovely.)

12. ECHO Base, $89-$99, 3-wt-8-wt. Medium-Fast. Lifetime Warranty. The Guys at Yellowstone Angler also like this rod, a lot. Everyone who has cast one or even just held it marvels that you can get this much rod for that little cash. It’s really a no-brainer if you are just getting into the sport. Or even if you’ve been at it a while.

You probably won’t be suprised to hear that fly rods tend to reproduce when you are not paying attention (or, more accurately, when your spouse or significant other is not paying attention). This is, generally, a good thing.

Fly reels reproduce at a slower rate. Reels typically can handle a range (usually three line weights, like 4 to 6-wt) of lines and can easily be swapped between rods, and you can buy spare spools for most reels at about half the price of the entire reel, putting a weight forward floating line on one and a sinking line on another, or a 4-wt line on one and a 5-wt line on another ….


Reels, as mentioned earlier, are perhaps the least important member of the rod-reel-line trinity. Unless you are protecting light tippet, get surprised as you are picking up your line, or hook a really badass fish, most anglers targeting most species won’t often play a fish on the reel. Exceptions include redfish, carp, steelhead, salmon, bonefish, tarpon, snook and pelagics, like false albacore. For those ,you want a good disc drag. For much of the rest, the reel is a line holder.

For reels up into the 5/6-wt range, traditional click-and-pawl (“clicker”) drags work just fine, and a palmable rim (the traditional way of applying drag) is added insurance.

Vintage examples that work just fine can be had on the big auction site for $25, and terrific modern ones for under $100. Nearly all modern reels are reversible – that is, they can easily be changed from left-hand wind to right-hand wind. Most leave the factory set-up for left-hand retrieve these days (50 and 80 years ago, the opposite was true; someone should explore why that is … ).

If primarily or even regularly using your reels in saltwater, you may want forged (not cast) aluminum with a hard anodized finish and a sealed drag. An exception to this is the Redington Behemoth reel, which is just pretty amazing for $109-$119. Available in sizes from 5/6 to 11/12, the Behemoth has an excellent drag and is an example of new pressure casting techniques that result in much smoother surfaces than the older cast reels.

For a traditional click and pawl reel, it’s hard to beat the Orvis Battenkill, available in five sizes covering 1-wt to 11-wt, for $98-$149. The Redington Zero is another popular clicker, offered in 2/3 and 4/5 for $90. Sage, Nautilus, Ross, Lamson, Galvan, Hardy and – as mentioned, Hatch – are reputable, high-end reel manufacturers. I’ve recently grown attached to 3-Tand’s TF-20 and TF-40 reels for my 2- and 3-wt rods. They’re pretty, sturdy, and with a sealed drag (I don’t really need the drag, but it’s nice to have), virtually maintenance-free. You also have tons of choices in private label and overseas-manufactured reels, some of which are quite good. More esoteric choices include Danielsson – the guy who invented the “large arbor” for Loop in the 1980s, and Vosseler, a German manufacturer that makes finely machined reels at very reasonable prices. Each of those designs take a slightly different approach to tensioning the spool.

Speaking of arbors (the diameter of the center of the spool), the major difference between a large arbor reel and a mid- or small arbor reel is the amount of backing you can (or will need to) put on the spool. Once you have added a sufficient amount of backing, a mid-arbor reel becomes a large arbor reel. In other words, don’t sweat it. The amount of line you can pick up in one revolution of the spool is not terribly important.

When it comes to lines, for the species and waters we fish in Texas, anyway, a weight forward floating line (often designated WF#F) is pretty standard. Some folks prefer double taper (DT#F) lines for specific applications or rods, or sinking lines or sink-tip lines (WF#S, etc.). Fly lines are manufactured with different coatings, from super slick to textured, for hot weather and for cold water. They can be expensive – more than $100 for some, $70-$80 for most. Many inexpensive fly lines are absolute crap and will do nothing but frustrate you. Two that aren’t crap and won’t make you unhappy: Bozeman Flyworks lines, and Maxcatch weight forward lines. Relative newcomer (and US-based “mom and pop” business) 406 Fly Lines makes a terrific double taper fly line ($69) that has worked really well on my ultralight glass rods. Among the big name lines, I’ve had much better experiences with Scientific Anglers than with Rio, but your mileage may vary.


By the way … you do know that a “fly line” is actually some amount of backing — usually 20- or 30-lb dacron — which is attached to the reel; the fly line itself, usually 100′ but sometimes 80′ or 90′; the leader, which can be be level or (preferred, usually) tapered, furled or extruded or knotted, purchased or tied by yourself, nylon or flourocarbon or dacron; and the tippet, the thin end of the leader, which can be renewed or added to repeatedly by using a tippet ring or tying line-to-line knots … you know that, right? Only the actual fly line is what your average person would consider spendy.

Other stuff you might need or want on the water includes a fly fishing vest or sling pack (but a large shirt pocket also works), a rubberized landing net (hand-landing or beaching most species is a simple matter, but a smooth, rubber net is much easier on the fish), hemostats or pliers to remove flies, spools of tippet, flies and a fly box of course … really that’s about it. You’ll want waders in the colder months, most places. You can find decent, breathable waders for $150 or less.

If you are coming to fly fishing from the conventional gear world, fly rods are – in one sense – just another tool. Everything you have learned about fish and fishing so far will help you. Trout are still lying in the same places, bass will still erupt on fly patterns pretending to be the same critters your lures mimicked, and so on.

In another sense, fly fishing more than any other form of angling can be a sort of mystical journey that, if not in itself a philosophy, has an awful lot of philosophy in it. It also has, as (again) Lefty Kreh pithily said: “More B.S. than a Kansas City feedlot.” For example: you thought that round, orange thing was a “bobber,” didn’t you? C’mon, admit it. Well, I’ll have you know it is not a bobber, it’s a “strike indicator,” or just “indicator.” Really. But … also, not really — it’s a bobber.

Like that.

Shrug that crap off. Be patient with yourself as you ease (or jump) into the sport. Find some guys or gals who have been at it a while — more than likely, they’ll be happy to help you out. And whatever you do, have fun!

Welcome. I hope to see you on the water sometime.