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Sunday, March 3, 2002

The complete angler

Staff writer

Although casting a line in a perfect midair loop may take a few years to master, you don't need to be a magician to catch the first trout of your life. All you need is a few 10,000 yen bills to spare for a starter kit.

Here are a few recommendations for those who wish to take up what I consider the most artistic form of fishing.

Fly rods: Unlike fishing with bait or lures, the quality of a rod is crucial to fly-fishing. For accurate casting, you must choose the right rod, considering whether you need a slow, medium or fast action. This in turn depends on where you fish, whether at a lake, a large river or a spring creek. The rod's length also has to be taken into account. From the wide array of possibilities, Tetsuya Inamoto, a fly-fishing adviser at the Tokyo-based fishing-tackle retail chain Sansui, recommends a medium-fast-action, 8-foot graphite rod for No. 3 or 4 lines (see below).

For beginners, American rods like those made by Ovis, Sage or Scott are suitable because their action is faster (i.e. whippier) than Japanese ones, which are usually slow and softer (i.e. more flexible), says Inamoto, adding that slow rods are hard to handle for novice anglers. Prices for two-piece rods of this type start around 30,000 yen, while three- or four-piece rods are priced a little higher.

Fly lines: This colorful vinyl cord makes fly-fishing unique. While lure-fishers can cast long distances thanks to the weight of the lure, fly-fishers use the weight of the line to cast, since flies are almost weightless. The lines are categorized by weight in a numbering system. The lightest is the No. 1 line, which requires more delicate casting, while the heaviest No. 15 line opens the possibility of long-distance casting. The most frequently used lines on Japanese rivers are in the No. 3 to No. 6 range, while heavier lines are needed at lakes.

Lines are also classified into floating and sinking types. Inamoto advises beginners to start with floating lines, which always stay on the water's surface and are easier to handle. Each line measures about 26 meters. A spool of line costs between 4,000 yen and 6,000 yen.

Leaders: Made of clear monofilament or nylon, a leader is what attaches the fly to the line. It is tapered, gradually becoming narrower from the rod end (butt) to the hook end (tippet). For Japanese river fishing, leaders in the 4X to 7X range are normally used.

Reels: For beginners, a fly-fishing reel is something that simply stores the fly line. You can choose any reel you like, depending on your taste and budget, Inamoto says.

Flies: Instead of tying their own flies, beginners can purchase commercially made ones at angling shops. Each fly is priced at around 300 yen. The standard hook size is No. 14. The bigger the number, the smaller the hook size. For Japanese rivers, fly-fishers commonly use hook sizes between No. 12 and No. 24.

Flies are divided into two types: dry flies, which stay on top of the water; and flies that sink below the surface. Most dry flies are imitations of aquatic insects in their adult stage, such as caddis flies, mayflies, stoneflies and midges. The flies that go underwater are further divided into three groups: nymphs, wet flies and streamers. While nymphs and wet flies represent insects in their larval and pupal stages, streamers often imitate a baitfish.

Each fly falls into these categories, called patterns in the fly-fishing world.

Although tying your own flies will give you more insight into fly-fishing, ready-made flies are helpful to beginners since they are professionally crafted and the quality is guaranteed, says Kenji Takahashi of Tiemco Ltd., a major fishing-tackle manufacturer, which sold about 200,000 flies in some 500 patterns throughout the country last year.

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If you're confused by all the variables, don't hesitate to ask the staff at fishing shops for advice. Some shops sell beginner combos, starting at around 20,000 yen, which package a fly rod, reel, line and leaders.

You can buy more specialized equipment such as chest-high waders, wading boots and fishing vests later. For starters, just be ready to jump in and get your feet wet.

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