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Fly Fishing in Kansas

Kansas is a great place to fly fish because of the varieties of fish you can catch.

Since fly rods are typically much longer and have lighter action than conventional fishing rods, catching a small fish feels like you caught a whopper.

The Difference Between Fly Fishing and Conventional Fishing

• Flies - The most significant difference between fly fishing and conventional fishing is the weight of the lure. In conventional fishing, the weight of the lure or sinker tied to the end of the line is what pulls the line off the pole when you cast it. However, in fly fishing, the lure (referred to as flies) has almost no weight, so they do not have the ability to pull the line off the reel when you cast it.

Therefore, in fly fishing, it is the weight of the line that carries the fly to the target, so you cast the line, not the fly. If you ever watch a fly angler, you see them moving the rod back and forth to a 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock position because they are using the rod’s action to create the distance of the line needed to reach their target. When the angler pulls the rod back to the 2 o’clock position, they are loading the rod with tension in one hand and creating slack in the fly line in the other. Then, on the forward cast, the tension in the rod pulls the slack out of the line and shoots it towards the target. Sometimes, to reach a target, a fly angler will make several back-and-forth motions, each time shooting the line out a bit further.

• Fly rods -Fly rods come in various weights and lengths. A 2-weight rod is matched with a 2-weight line and a 5-weight rod is matched with a 5-weight line. A 2-weight is great for small fish like bluegill. A 5-weight is the most common one for starters. For those who go after bigger fish, an 8- or 9-weight is preferred.

• Fly lines -Unlike conventional fishing line which sinks, most fly lines for beginners are buoyant. A 7-to-9 foot leader is attached that looks like regular fishing line, except it tapers down. The purpose for the taper is to land the fly gently on the water. 

Types of flies

Flies are typically designed to mimic the life cycle of aquatic insects. They are tied using feathers, fur, deer hair and other materials with the attempt to make the fly look like one of the three basic stages of an insect: larvae, pupa or adult.

• Dry flies -These flies are designed to stay on top of the water. For most fly anglers, dry-fly fishing is the most fun because the fish rise to take the fly and that action can be exhilarating as a fish explodes out of the water. Terrestrials like grasshoppers, ants and June bugs, which hatch on land and fall into the water are also classified as a dry fly.

• Nymphs - A nymph is a catch-all term for the life cycle of the insect before it reaches the surface. As you shop for flies, you will begin to discern between dry flies and nymphs because it’s obvious one can float and the other cannot. While dry-fly fishing is the most fun, fishing a nymph below the surface usually catches more fish.

• Streamers - Streamers are meant to replicate small fish and are fished by “stripping” - short tugs on the line while it’s being retrieved to mimic the action of small fish. Wooly Bugger and Clouser Minnow are the two most popular types of streamer patterns.

• Poppers - Called thus because they make a “pop” when given a sudden jerk, these topwater flies are designed to attract fish with noise. 

Where to Fish

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks intentionally create fishing opportunities by creating public access to lakes and rivers and having an intensive stocking program designed to populate the bodies of water they manage with an abundant supply of fish. During the winter months, trout are stocked in various places in KDWP so you can even fly fish for trout in Kansas.

I recently discovered a new resource that connects anglers to privately owned waters, The Land Trust, which is an Airbnb-like model where landowners offer their property for hunting or fishing for a certain fee for a certain time period.

• Bank fishing - Since fly casting requires as much distance behind you as in front of you, it’s imperative you fish from banks with no trees or brush behind you.

• Float tubes - My favorite way to fly fish is with inflatable one-person units because you can access places you just can’t reach from the bank. If you choose to use a float tube, ALWAYS wear a flotation device while in the float tube.

• Boats and kayaks - These are another great way to access water because they get you into places you can’t reach from the bank.

You don’t have to go to high mountain trout streams to find some of the most enjoyable fly fishing that’s right in your back yard.

Rick McNary is a leader in bringing people together to build community and reduce hunger in sustainable ways. This article first appeared in the Kansas Living Magazine.