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Fly-fishing 101: How to get hooked on the sport in Minnesota

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Shawn Perich holds a brook trout he caught.
Shawn Perich holds a brook trout he caught in a creek off of the Gunflint Trail outside of Grand Marais, Minn. on June 25.
Evan Frost | MPR News

It was easy to see why Shawn Perich has been an angler for more than 50 years.

Beneath a clear blue sky, a small lake near the Gunflint Trail was placid. A small river flowed softly into the lake, which is why we were there. It was a perfect fly-fishing spot.

Perich swore me to secrecy on this spot’s exact location, but I will say we were no more than 50 feet off a dirt road coming off the Gunflint.

He has good reason to keep this knowledge private — Perich pulled out a half dozen brook trout within 30 minutes of casting.

But there are plenty of places like this on the North Shore, he said, and he encourages anyone to come try.

“Virtually every river from Duluth to the border has populations of brook trout,” he said. “It’s easy to find places to fish.”

Minnesota has fly-fishing across the state, too. It’s a simple sport with few financial barriers to entry. Perhaps its appeal is in the simplicity and the inherent connection with nature. While fly-fishing can be done from a boat or canoe, many anglers find themselves walking down streams or alongside them.

Shawn Perich casts his line while fly fishing.
Shawn Perich casts his line while fly-fishing in a creek off of Gunflint Trail outside of Grand Marais, Minn. on Tuesday, June 25, 2019.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Perich has some pointers and encouragement for anyone interested in the sport.

He wrote a book on fly-fishing Minnesota’s North Shore. He showed MPR News photojournalist Evan Frost and me the basics of fly-fishing one morning last month. His tips had me pulling in a brook trout within a few casts. Frost was so hooked, he bought a fly rod of his own that night. A new rod and reel combo can go for as little as about $40, and Craigslist often has used listings, too.

Here are some pointers from Perich and others on how to get into fly-fishing:

  • The gear: A fly rod, reel and some small flies is all you’d need to start, Perich said — some waders or waterproof boots help, too. The two main types of flies, wet and dry, mimic different critters that fish would want to eat. The difference: wet flies sink, dry flies float. Also, when it comes to flies, some people recommend barbless hooks. They’re easier on the fish and are less likely to hurt the angler.

Shawn Perich ties a fly onto his line.
Perich ties a fly onto his line while fishing in a creek off of the Gunflint Trail.
Evan Frost | MPR News
  • Casting: Perhaps the most intimidating part of fly-fishing, casting looks difficult and can be tough to do, especially in wind. But Perich said being an expert isn’t necessary.

    “You don’t really have to be a good caster … you just have to be able to get the line out in front of you,” he said while nabbing fish with just 15 feet of line, loosely tossed into the water. ’

    If you live near the Twin Cities, Perich recommends attending the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo, an event every March where people can learn to cast in a gymnasium and a pool. But he said beginners can practice casting in their yards before hitting the streams. Minnesota Trout Unlimited has events in the metro area too.

  • Where to fish: On the North Shore, Perich said the streams flowing to Lake Superior are great for trout. The trick is going inland about two to three miles so you’re on top of the ridge.

    There are plenty of fly-fishing destinations outside from the North Shore. A staffer at Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop in St. Paul recommended the Trout Routes app, which helps anglers access good, legal fishing spots.

    The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources keeps maps of its trout streams, too.