Founder of The Daggerfish Gear Co.
I often think of handlining with the Daggerfish as the American version of tenkara, a Japanese style of simple fishing. You can check out a post we wrote comparing tenkara rods and the Daggerfish, but all you really need to know is that tenkara rods are fishing rods without reels, while Daggerfish are reels without rods.
This begs the question...how do you fly fish without a rod?
There are obvious limitations, but fly fishing with the Daggerfish is both possible and effective, and actually makes for a great way to get started fly fishing for beginners. Even without a rod, we can still make good use of a wide variety of fly fishing gear and techniques, just modified to work with our minimalist setup. Like in our article on spin fishing with the Daggerfish, I’ve taken advice from my brother Evan, who’s been fly fishing for the better part of three decades. Here are his recommendations:
Use a casting bubble
We don’t always need a fly fishing rod or fly fishing line to cast a fly. Instead, we can use a casting bubble, a clear plastic float fixed to our line, to provide the weight needed to cast. Spin fishermen already use this technique to fish flies from spinning reels, and we can do the same with our handline.
Choose the smallest casting bubble you can, and if necessary, fill part way with water to add weight and increase your casting distance. Because they’re clear, casting bubbles won’t create a large visual disturbance on the water’s surface, but Evan reminds us “Casting bubbles will disturb the surface of the water when they land, so fishing dry flies will be more challenging.” Instead…
Focus on subsurface flies
When using the Daggerfish as a fly fishing reel, our best bet is to fish below the surface using wet flies and nymphs. Cast upstream and allow your subsurface flies to drift downstream towards areas where the fish are hiding. Try swinging a nymph or letting it dead drift in the current, rising just at the end of drift to provoke a strike.
Another option is a dropshot rig, which adds additional weight for casting. The weight on the end of the line makes for especially effective whip casts with the Daggerfish.
In either case, we’ll be targeting a natural drift for the fly, so ensuring we minimize drag is important. To allow for this, we can...
Mend by unspooling
As Evan explains, “Using a normal fly fishing rod, we’d make mends or do a parachute cast to add slack to the line and avoid putting drag on the fly. With the Daggerfish, we can’t mend, but we can allow our line to unspool off the tip of the Daggerfish with basically no resistance.”
Unspooling allows us to create slack in the line, avoiding drag in the same way mends do. Practice will help to allow enough slack to get a natural drift, without there being too much slack to make it difficult to set the hook.
We can take up to 6-10 feet of slack quickly if we need to, but choosing the right flies will make it easier to set the hook, so….
Use barbless flies
Pick flies that have been manufactured without a barb. Fly fishing gear has advanced considerably in recent years and modern fly hooks are extremely sharp. Setting one of these “sticky sharp” barbless hooks requires less effort, and is safer for both you and the fish.
Once the hook is set, keep your line tight by orienting your reel perpendicular to the line, and slowly rotate your wrist to work the fish in.
Wet-wade those secluded streams
There’s perhaps no more perfect situation for the Daggerfish than a high summer wet-wade with a downstream drift. After a long, hot hike deep into the wilderness, perhaps we come across a cold stream with just enough cover to conceal our approach. We walk across the cool stones of the riverbed, casting downstream and letting our nymphs drift towards pockets of fat trout.
The water flowing downstream quiets the sound of our feet in the water, and moving stealthily and in the cover of shadow, we sneak towards our prey, adjusting our approach as needed for the clarity of the water. Our line freespools off the end of our Daggerfish, drifting gently downstream, until…bam!
Experiment and Share
As fly fishing has grown in popularity and developed a reputation for haughtiness, it’s easy to think that there’s only one “right way” to fly fish. But that’s not the case. Even without a traditional fly fishing rod and reel, we can still make use of fly fishing equipment and techniques to enjoy the tranquility of the sport, and catch ourselves a fish.
By choosing the best subsurface flies, rigging for effective casting, and using the features of the Daggerfish to our advantage, we can effectively go fly fishing for trout, bass, and other fish.
But these are just starting points - experiment in your local waters and with your favorite tackle, find what works for you, and share with us what you’ve discovered.
If you’d like to contribute and help other members of our backcountry community find the calm and confidence of simple fly fishing, please share your Daggerfish fly fishing tips with us on Facebook and Instagram, or email us with your ideas. We’ll collect the best suggestions and publish them in a future article.
See also: Choosing the Right Handline
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