YOU CAN SIT with a pole on a pier and hope that fish will jump at your hook. You can use a net. You can even bomb around a lake in a high-powered boat bagging big bass. But the ultimate fish stories are reserved for the people who fly-fish for salmon, trout and bass.
Fly-fishing is so revered a sport (Hemingway, after all, was a passionate fly-fisherman) because the fish has a better than even chance. A fly-fishing duel is personal: just one human and--maybe--one Moby. This probably explains why humans have been trying for almost 100 years to beat the odds by devising ever more artful and realistic lures that will trick the wily fish into thinking there's a tasty fly (or grasshopper, nymph or beetle) skipping across the water. Flies are tiny (3 1/2 inches is considered huge, the size for hauling in Atlantic salmon) and made of hair or feathers that are glued or tied to metal hooks of various sizes. Some are brightly colored, others drab and realistic. The size, shape and color are usually determined by the culinary fancy of the particular fish you intend to stalk, but creative fly tying--just wrapping up whatever is at hand--has brought unexpected success to skilled anglers.
Dry flies float, wet flies sink, and each has its uses and champions. Some commercially available flies, such as the Royal Coachman, have proved successful in different places for a multitude of fish over many years. Other flies are so specific, they seem only to work for one person in one stream at 5:32 a.m. during a full moon. Some flies even carry their creator's name: Adams Irresistible, Royal Wulff, Light Cahill. And sometimes the instructions for tying your own flies are as daunting as an 18th-Century cookbook: "Trim dyed deer hair from the hide and prepare it by knocking out the underfur."
Don't despair: The basic equipment is easy to find and not very costly; the process is relatively simple, once your fingers are used to working in miniature. Clear acetate, or rubber, cement can be found in art-supply stores; any tackle shop should provide hooks, monocord tying thread and materials for the body and tail: yarn, tinsel, chenille, chicken feathers and, of course, plenty of deer hair.
Frank Amato Publications, P.O. Box 02112, Portland, Ore. 97202, publishes several books on fly tying: "Fly Tying Manual," by Tom Light and Neal Humphrey; "Tying and Fishing the West's Best Dry Flies," by Bob Wilson and Richard Parks; "The American Nymph Fly Tying Manual," by Randall Kaufmann; "American Fly Tying Manual," by Dave Hughes. Amato also publishes Fly Fishing magazine; subscriptions cost $16 for five issues.
Also look for "The Fly Tyer's Primer," by Richard W. Talluer (Nick Lyons Books), and "The Basic Manual of Fly-Tying," by Paul N. Fling and Donald L. Puterbaugh (Sterling Publishing Co. Inc).
Materials and instruction for fly tying are available at Fisherman's Spot in Van Nuys, Fly Fisherman's Workshop in Rolling Hills Estates, and Marriott's Fly Fishing Store in Fullerton.