Fly Fishing in San Francisco: Get Hooked on the Sport

John Juracek
John Juracek
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Maybe you just saw A River Runs Through It and have visions of being Brad Pitt knee-deep in a fast moving stream. Or, maybe you always wanted to embrace the mysticism of fly fishing on a river in the early morning. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that mysterious. Increasingly, it’s easier than ever for beginners to embrace the storied sport.

“A problem with the fly fishing industry is they make it too complex,” says Keith Westra, a 13-year instructor at Leland Fly Fishing in Sonoma. All you really to do first is learn how to fly cast, he says, which can be picked up in a simple lesson, and then the entire experience will be much more enjoyable. Once you learn how to fly cast, then it’s practice, practice, practice.

Learning to fly cast, though, can be easy or complicated, cheap or expensive, depending on how much gear you’re convinced to buy.

To that end, Patagonia is introducing the Simple Fly Fishing Kit to introduce newcomers to fly fishing. The approximately $260 kit includes a tenkara fly rod, line and leader, a box of flies and Simple Fly Fishing by Yvon Chouinard (with a set-up guide).


Simple Fly Fishing

Tenkara is a type of traditional fly fishing from Japan. It largely was unknown in the U.S. until the last few years, but is often considered slightly simpler because it requires only a rod, line and fly—no reel. In fact, the entire idea for the Simple Fly Fishing Kit evolved when Chouinard started work on a book on tenkara fly fishing. He realized this could help be a tool to demystify the sport and get more people on the water.

“First and foremost, the target audience is newcomers to the sport,” said Bart Bonime, director of fishing, at Patagonia. “Chouinard is confident that this program is the most appropriate gateway of attracting people to the sport. It’s simple, it’s highly effective and the cost of entry is far less than traditional fly fishing techniques.”


Tenkara Kit

Fly fishing has, historically, had an intense fascination with equipment, worrying about which kind of rod and reel and fly you should use in different conditions. Because of the lightweight fly or lure, casting requires different kinds of techniques from traditional fishing.

“The first thing people have to realize is how fly fishing is different from regular fishing,” said Westra.

Most commonly, casting the line is done with a forward cast, where you whisk the fly into the air and back over your shoulder, until it’s nearly straight, and then flick it forward using your forearm. Dropping the line and fly smoothly into the water in such a way that it appears natural to the fish can take plenty of practice. At least you’re enjoying the outdoors while you fine-tune your technique.

In San Francisco, Golden Gate Park houses an historic fly casting pond, which is also home to the Golden Gate Angling and Casting Club. The club hosts novice fly fishing classes and free casting lessons every month. And, the clubhouse on the water is actually open to the public, contrary to popular belief. If you stop by there, said Westra, there are often people who’d be happy to answer questions.

In the Bay Area, he also suggested checking out the Oakland casting ponds and local clubs like the Diablo Valley Fly Fishermen and the Mount Tamalpais Fly Fishers, which can point you in the right direction. Or, head out to Patagonia to get the Simple Fly Fishing beginner’s kit:

Patagonia San Francisco
770 North Point
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 771-2050

Patagonia Outlet Santa Cruz
415 River St, #C
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 423-1776

Patagonia Palo Alto
525 Alma St.
Palo Alto, CA 94301
(650) 329-8556

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