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Casting my lot with the Fly Fishers

We're standing near a Yorba Linda pond, practicing the art of casting a fishing rod, when it finally hits me:

I have no idea what I'm doing.

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Yes, I've just learned the basics of fly fishing from teacher Art Prangley, a vice president with the Fly Fishers of Orange County, who's standing with Doug Jones, a past president and avid fisherman.

They've taught me a lot.

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Like the secrets behind how to catch trout, bass and walleyes by floating a rod tied with an artificial fly just above the water surface.

But there's something that just makes me feel silly. And I'm not even dressed in waders.

"Pretend you answered a wall-mounted telephone and now you're snapping the receiver back on the hook," Prangley says, explaining the balance between power and finesse when casting.

Got it. Like what you do when hanging up on a telemarketer.

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One simply cannot pick up a rod and be instantly proficient, Prangley says reassuringly, but with the proper instruction and right equipment — sunglasses are key here — it is possible to cast the line reasonably well within a few hours.

The difference between fishing and fly fishing?

It's all in the intent. Fishing is meant to catch a lot of fish.

Fly fishing is a fascination with fooling fish into biting on a fly lure — basically an imitation of something edible that is made with animal pieces like feathers and hair — and then releasing the fish back into the water.

So what's the point if you can't eat what you caught?

It's a challenge, Prangley and Jones say.

Fly fishermen say their pastime takes a certain mastery because they have to do a lot of convincing to get trout to think that what is being dangled in front of them is as tasty as a real insect.

Though fly fishing can be quite contemplative and solitary, a big social aspect is to be had as well, with groups gathering and conversing on trout streams, Prangley and Jones add. It's mostly a male bonding experience, although a few of the club's 150 members are women.

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There is also a conservation aspect to the hobby. Basically, without clean water sources, there would be no fish.

"It takes a healthy river to make all this work," Prangley explains.

Orange County might be an odd place to base a fly-fishing club because it doesn't have the necessary waterways, though Prangley has tried to catch fish at the beach. He's still working on that one.

Instead, the members have fly-fishing outings to Hot Creek Ranch in Mammoth Lakes; the Owens River, which runs through Inyo and Mono counties; and Kern River in Bakersfield.

They are also on a mission — to introduce people to the wonders of fly fishing and build the club's membership.

Prangley and Jones are spreading the word about the club's half-day session on casting with a fly rod.

The free class, on Aug. 27, is specifically offered to people like me — novices who want to lean more about the outdoors.

The goal is to have fun and learn about basic fly casts, the best gear to get started with and what this 50-year-old club is all about.

Over the years, club members have sponsored clinics and workshops, participated in conservation projects and hosted field trips to the San Gabriel River two to three times a year to pick up trash in and around water and nearby parking lots.

But I remain stuck on this idea of standing, waiting, wading, catching and tossing back. Seems like a lot of wasted time.

Most fly fishing is catch and release, and much of the time, fly fishers use barbless hooks to minimize injury to the fish.

But most people fish barbed flies today, since it takes a pretty skilled fisherman to keep a fish locked in one spot sans jagged hooks, my instructors tell me.

There are many benefits of using barbless hooks though, Prangley and Jones add: a lower fish mortality rate and easier extraction of the lure that allows for quicker release of the fish.

After all, catching and releasing fish is the sharing component of the sport, Jones says. A good fly fisherman might be able to catch 20 to 40 fish on a good day, he says, and there's no sense in keeping such a great quantity.

"You put 'em back so someone else can catch them," Jones says. "Everyone should have a chance at the fun."

The Fly Fishers of Orange County Free Casting Clinic will be from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Mile Square Regional Park, 16801 Euclid St., Fountain Valley. For more information, call (714) 270-7090 or visit ffcoc.clubexpress.com.

Twitter: @KathleenLuppi

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