So you want to learn to fly fish? Wonderful! Fly fishing is an fun and amazing sport and hobby. It gets you up close and personal with the serenity and peace of nature, yet provides the sporting challenge of out smarting the fish.
Fly fishing seems quit overwhelming at first, but don’t worry, this Fly Fishing for Beginners guide is intended to teach you all the basics, and give you the basic knowledge and tools to get out there are start fly fishing!
This guide is intended to be a high level guide for new fly fishers. Be sure and check out our How To Fly Fish article as well, that goes into a little more depth on a few of the topics discussed at high level in this guide.
Let’s jump in! Please use the table to contents below to navigate through the article.
Learning about fly fishing can be a little overwhelming at first, as there are lots of new terms, the gear is real different than traditional fishing, and casting … well it’s not difficult, but getting it right takes lots of practice.
Unfortunately, many beginners get overwhelmed by the fly fishing basics, and decide to just not start at all, which is really unfortunate. Fly Fishing is certainly not a sport you can just jump into one day, and you’re coming home with loads of Rainbow Trout that evening. You’ll spend a few trips getting to know your gear, and learning how to cast properly, along with learning how to find the right spots.
Of course, heading out with an experienced fly fisher or using a professional fly fishing guide is the fastest way to learn, and if you have the money, a really great investment.
The bottom line is that fly fishing is all about enjoying the experience and becoming one with nature. Take your time, don’t pressure yourself, and enjoy the journey of learning. Fly fishing for beginners can be an experience of a lifetime if you just give it a chance.
The first thing you’ll need to take care of is getting all the necessary basic fly fishing equipment. When we say basic, we mean the gear that you absolutely need to get out there and start fishing. The various fly fishing vendors carry lots of fly fishing gear, and while many of these items are really nice, they aren’t needed.
What basic gear do you need? You’ll need:
That’s it. With these items, you can head out, fly fish, and be successful.
I want to touch a bit on each piece of equipment, and how to go about selecting decent gear. Far too many fly fishing beginners don’t want to put much money into the hobby at first, which we understand. The problem is when people buy cheap fly fishing gear, they get frustrated because it breaks or doesn’t perform well. Gear can be the deciding factor on whether someone continues fly fishing or quits.
Fortunately, there are lots of manufacturers making good quality gear at reasonable prices.
These two fly fishing gear items are the most important. They are the basis for all your other gear. Fly rods range in price from around $50 to well over $1000. The prices vary based on the material the rod is made from, and the quality of it’s construction.
Fly rod’s also come in different weights and lengths. The rod you need, depends on the type of fishing you’ll be doing. We recommend a graphite fly rod, in the medium price range.
As with fly rods, fly reel prices vary as well. On the low end are plastic reels. While inexpensive, we recommend you stay away from these. They don’t perform well, break easily, and don’t last. You want a metal fly reel.
One important thing when purchasing a rod and reel, is they must be matched. Meaning the Rod’s weight must be matched to the reel in order to perform properly.
Tip: Fly rods and reels are available as combinations from most manufacturers. If you buy them together, they are matched already AND you get a discount. Definitely the best way to to buy.
In a standard fishing set-up, there is only one line, and that line goes all the way from the rod to the hook. Flying fishing is a bit different for a couple of reasons:
Fly Backing is used to fill up the reel (called the Arbor). Backing is primarily used to provide extra length for a longer fish run. Backing is often thick, and brightly colored to make it easy to see on the water. The backing is the longest portion of the line.
Fly Line provides the weight when fly fishing. The line is heavy and and generally brightly colored.
The Leader is used to transition from the thick fly line to the thin Tippet. The leader starts thick, to match the fly line, but then tapers down to a much smaller size. The leader’s purpose is to keep the heavier fly line from “slapping” onto the water, and scaring the fish. It also serves to as a nearly invisible transition to the tippet and fly. This keeps the overall fly line from being seen by the fish. Leaders are generally about 9 – 10 feet.
The Tippet attaches the fly to the leader. The tippet attaches to the fly at one end, to the leader on the other and is nearly invisible in the water. This allows the fly to be presented without any line at all being seen by the fish. The trick is finding the strongest, yet hardest to see tippet.
As you shop around for these items, you’ll notice that they all come in many different sizes. The “right” size depends on your rod, and the type of fishing you will be doing. Assuming you purchased the general use Rod/Reel combination we recommended, you don’t have to worry about all this, as it comes ready to fish.
Dry Flies are the most common, and are designed to look like flying insects that land and float on top of the water.
Nymphs resemble aquatic creatures, often larvae, and generally float at or just below the surface.
Streamers are designed to mimc aquatic life as well, but larger than nymphs, typically leeches. Streamers are also referred to as lures.
To determine the best type of fly to use, consult with a local fishing shop or fishing expert. They’ll know what works best in your area, and for the type of fish you’re after. Flies can be purchased with either barbed or barbless hooks. We prefer barbless, but both have their sets of pros and cons.
In addition to your rod and reel set-up, there are a few other accessories we highly recommend, that will make your fly fishing adventures far more enjoyable:
At this point, we’ve discussed fly rods, reels, backing, fly line, leaders, tippets and flies. This all leads to the one of the most common questions from fly fishing beginners: How do you put it all together?
Fortunately, it’s not that hard, and just requires a bit of practice and some basic knot tying skills.
Remember, if you purchased our recommended general use Rod/Reel combination, all this has already been done for you.
Here’s how to put everything together, rod, reel, backing and line together:
That’s it, you’re all set-up! Seems like a lot to go through, but you won’t have to do this often. In fact, as long as you don’t change line weights, you’ll only need to change out your leader to replace your flies. If you find yourself fishing for different fish often, and require different fly line, we suggest getting a few extra rods and reels.
With our fly fishing gear all set-up and ready to go, it’s time to move on to casting. There are a number of different types of casts, all offering their own sets of pros and cons. Your choice of cast to use is generally driven by four things:
Since this is a beginners article, we’ll only be touching on the most basic cast in this article, the overhead cast.
The overhead cast is not only the most basic cast, but also a foundation cast for many other fly fishing casts. Once you’ve mastered the over head cast, learning additional casting techniques is much easier.
The Overhead Cast
The basic concept behind the overhead cast is to bring the fly line overhead and behind you, then cast it in front of you to the desired target area. Here are step by step instructions to the overhead cast:
The best way to learn the overhead cast is to watch it in action. This video shows you the overhead cast, however in this video he uses a more sideways motion, which is fine. Just an example of the many different variations of the basic overhead cast. The concepts are the same.
The best place to practice is either in open water or in a cut field of grass. We definitely recommend practicing for a while before heading out to actually begin fishing.
A few common problems:
You’ve got your gear, you’ve practiced your cast and have the basics down pat. Now it’s time to find the perfect spot and head out on your first fly fishing adventure.
The perfect spot is often personal preference, and most fisherman aren’t going to share their favorite spot anyway, as they don’t want lots of other fly fishers to show up. Chances are, you’ll have to find your own over time.
With that said though, one of the best ways to find the great spots to fly fish at in your area is to head over to a local fishing shop and ask them. There will often be other fly fishers there that will share their favorite spots too. You can also join local clubs, and Facebook has a number of fly fishing groups where you can learn about great fishing spots in various areas.
The perfect spot for you is:
Everyone has their own personal favorite spot, and part of the fly fishing journey is finding yours.
I think we’ve about covered all the basics. Of course there is far more to learn: many different casts, how to catch the many different fish, saltwater fly fishing, and much more. We’ll of course cover those topics in future articles. But you have the basics. Here are a few final tips we’ll share to make you fly fishing adventure more enjoyable:
Have fun and catch some fish!