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The fly angler uses a rod longer and lighter than those used for cast and spin fishing. Fly fishing rods can be as short as 2m (6 ft) long in freshwater fishing and up to 4 m (14 ft) long for saltwater or spey rod fishing. The average freshwater rod is around 8 to 9 feet in length and weighs between 2 and 5 ounces, though a recent trend has popularized lighter, shorter rods.

There are several types of casts in fly fishing that are used in a variety of situations. The most common cast is when the angler whisks the fly rod forward and back using primarily the forearm and upper arm, using the wrist to soften the motion. Generally, the rod is moved from the 10 o'clock position to the 2 o'clock position without letting the line touch the water or ground. The objective of this motion is to "load" the rod tip with energy and allow the energy to travel the length of the fly line creating distance and control. This motion, known as 'false casting', can be used to pay out line, dry a soaked fly, reposition a cast, or show off one's casting abilities. False casting continues until the desired amount of fly line is airborne: perhaps as little as 3m (roughly 10 feet) for small streams, but averaging around 10m (30 feet) in most freshwater conditions. Anything over 18m (60 feet) in freshwater is likely to impress fellow anglers more than the fish, but many saltwater situations call for casts well beyond 25m (82 feet).

When a 'false cast' is 'released' the line floats gently down to the water. Casts are made to spots where fish are likely to hold, such as pools and pockets in streams. Once on the water, the fly may either float or sink, depending on the type of fly and the style of fishing. This presentation of the fly onto the water is one of fly-fishing's most difficult aspects, because the angler is attempting to cast in such a way that the line lands smoothly on the water's surface and the fly appears as natural as possible. After several moments the angler withdraws the fly by pulling in a small portion of line by hand (this is called 'tending' the line), then lifting the tip of the rod. The angler then makes another presentation, perhaps after a few false casts. If a fish strikes, the angler pulls in line while raising the rod tip. This sets the hook in the fish's mouth. The fish is then 'played' either by hand, where the angler continues to hold the fly line in his hand to control the tension applied to the fish, or he eliminates the slack in the line to get the fish 'on the reel' in order to use the reel's mechanism ('drag') to slow the fish's runs.

Another aspect of fly fishing is choosing the appropriate 'fly'. While flies originally were made to imitate flying insects, they have evolved to match the diets and stimulants of the targeted species. These can be: aquatic larva and pupae, fish, eggs, worms, grasshoppers, mice, frogs, leeches, etc. Other types of flies are simply 'stimulators' which are used to anger or trigger a natural aggressive response from species such as spawning salmon.

Fly fishing for trout usually takes place in small streams and ponds, as well as rivers or lakes; although the basics are the same, methods and flies vary. Methods and flies also vary substantially across regions and countries. The UK, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Tasmania, Patagonia and parts of Europe are probably the most common destinations for freshwater trout fishing.


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