Ever watched an expert fly fisherman making long, rhythmic casts? It looks so effortless, yet the task is shrouded in enough mystery to be thoroughly intimidating.
"It's a shame people are afraid to give it a try," says Fred Thorner, a fly fishing instructor with over 30 years of experience. "Sure, it takes forever to master, but the basics can be learned in hours."
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EXPLODING THE MYTHS
Thorner should know. The 69-year old Little Neck resident has introduced hundreds of people to fly fishing through free casting lessons at the Orvis Shop in Garden City.
"It's not the elitist sport some would have you believe," he explains. "It's reasonably affordable to get started; you can succeed after learning a basic cast or two, and there's no need to travel to exotic places to start catching fish."
Indeed, Long Island is loaded with prime fly fishing water, from mill ponds to back bays and ocean rip tides. Freshwater fly casters target panfish, trout and bass while salty fly rodders focus on bigger game including false albacore, bluefish and stripers. In either case, local experts agree, lessons are vital for a fast start.
CLASS IS IN SESSION
Mark Malenovsky, 60, a professional guide and instructor from Hooks and Brooks Guide Service in Sayville likes to work with newcomers, saying, "They don't have bad casting habits that need to be corrected."
Locally, lessons vary widely in price, from $30 to $60 for hourlong fly tying or casting classes to personalized instruction costing $300 or more. Some fishing clubs offer free lessons to members or at special events. Expect to spend between $500 and $800 for a basic fly fishing setup -- but wait until you've taken lessons before purchasing so you'll have a better feeling for the kind of equipment that fits your preferences.
THREE SIMPLE TIPS
As for tips, Tony Ertola, a 54-year old International Federation of Fly Fishers (IFFF) certified casting instructor from East Yaphank, who gives lessons at River Bay Outfitters in Oceanside, says just three will take you a long way:
1. "Point your rod tip down toward the water and remove slack from the line before making your backcast."
2. "Study live baits so you can manipulate your fly to look as natural as possible."
3. "Practice, practice, practice."
WHERE TO TAKE LESSONS
Fly casting clinic
9 a.m. April 25 at Southaven Park, Brookhaven. Registration required.
COST Free (although park fees apply)
Hosted by Art Flick Chapter, Trout Unlimited
Fly Fishing 101
10 a.m. Saturdays May 2-June 20 at Orvis store, Garden City
Montauk Lake Club, Montauk
8:30 a.m. May 22 and June 5. Registration required.
INFO 516-785-7171, naturalanglers.com
Northeast Fly Fishing School sponsored by Natural Anglers, Massapequa
Camp-Site Sport Shop, Huntington Station, 631-271-4969, campsitesportshop.com
River Bay Outfitters, Oceanside, 516-415-7748, riverbayoutfitters.com
GUIDES AND INSTRUCTORS
Harvey Bennett, The Tackle Shop, Amagansett: 631-324-7770
Mark Malenovsky, Hooks and Brooks Guide Service, Sayville: 631-589-0065
Tony Ertola, IFFF certified casting instructor, East Yaphank: 631-680-8019
Barry Kanavy, Natural Anglers, Massapequa: 516-785-7171, naturalanglers.com
Angelo Peluso, instructor and author, Port Jefferson: angelopeluso.com
Fred Thorner, instructor and author, Little Neck: getstartedinflyfishing.com
FLY FISHING HOT SPOTS
Once you've got a handle on casting, the next logical step is to get out and give fly casting a try on the water. Some classes actually include this real-time learning experience and most fly casting or fly tying instructors will recommend a few spots to get started. Note that a state-issued freshwater fishing license is required for fishing in any of Long Island's freshwaters ($5/day, $12/week, $25/year for residents).
For saltwater fishing, anglers are required to sign-up for the free Marine Recreational Fishing Registry. Both can be obtained at town halls, some outfitters, or online at www.dec.ny.gov/63.html.
When you are ready to push out on your own, here are a few hot spots that are both productive and easy to access:
Green Island, Wantagh: You'll always find a spot to tuck out of the wind while casting for fluke, blues and stripers. A New York State Sportfishing Permit or Beach Vehicle Permit required for parking must be purchased by April 30 or after Labor Day. Contact NYS Parks (631-321-3515).
Caleb Smith State Park, Smithtown: An intimate trout stream off Route 25 where anglers fish from assigned beats and short casts rule the day. Reservations required. Fee: $20 for 4 hour session (631-265-1054).
Blydenburgh County Park, Smithtown: Rent a rowboat and cast for aggressive bluegill and largemouth bass. Fee: $7 first hour, $5 additional hours from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend (631-854-3713).
Upper Lake, Yaphank: Wide open shoreline access along the south bank and 1,500 stocked trout make this a perennial hot spot. Access from Town of Brookhaven park on Yaphank-Middle Island Road.
Montauk: Long Island's ultimate fly fishing challenge. Fish the rips -- or work the surf if you dare. Hire a guide to combine casting lessons with a sure shot at trophy stripers, blues and false albacore.