The lure of fly-fishing

September 15, 2007

Dr. Allingham has been fly-fishing for about 10 years. A friend, also a physician, talked him into trying it, telling him it was very different from "regular" fishing. He can fly-fish locally in North Carolina on the Eno River near home for bluegill and bass, in the Appalachian Mountains, or on the ocean for tarpon.

Keypoints:

R. Rand Allingham, MD, director of glaucoma service at Duke University Eye Center, Durham, NC, doesn't worry about how many fish he catches when fly-fishing. In fact, he says it's okay if he doesn't catch any.

Dr. Allingham explained, "It's respite, a response to the fast-paced day-to-day life we lead."

Ultimate fly-fishing

"Fly-fishing is the art of presenting a lure to a fish in the most natural way possible," Dr. Allingham explained. "You lay the line on the surface 10 to 30 yards away and it floats."

The flies used as lures imitate stages of bug life. "Mayflies are a good example," said Dr. Allingham. "Trout eat significant quantities of the nymphal form of mayflies that live for years of their lives within streambeds, but they eat other stages of life, too. Nymphs swim to the surface as an emerger. Then, as a dun, they lie on the surface of the water until they can fly. As an adult mayfly, they lay eggs in the water and then die, a stage called a spinner. Well-done flies imitate these stages of the mayfly's life cycle.

"You must match wits with the fish. The fly and its presentation to the fish must be lifelike. Fish are the result of millions of years of evolution; they are not fooled easily," he explained.

Fly-fishers often tie their own flies. That, said Dr. Allingham, exercises many of the skills required for ophthalmology. "It's a natural outlet for an ophthalmologist. You must be technically talented and artistic. There are neat tools to use and one uses the skills we learn under the microscope." Flies are made from multiple materials-some natural, some artificial-including elk hair, pheasant tail, yarn, and feathers.

"It's a rare joy to create your own fly based on your observations and experience and catch a fish with it. It's closing the loop," said Dr. Allingham.