I remember going fly fishing with my best friend when I was a kid. His dad was a dedicated fly fisherman and that passed down to my friend.
When we fished, my friend would be fly casting and I would be using my spinning setup. He would be working his casts and perfecting his presentation, while I would simply flick my bait out into the river.
I remembered wishing that I had the talent it took to use a fly pole. It looked so graceful and my friend always looked like he was having fun with the challenge.
I never got good at fly fishing when I was younger. I tried it with my friend a couple times, and each time it seemed to end in disaster. Either I would snap the fly off on the back cast, or not be able to land the fly much further than the end of my borrowed pole.
I would quickly get frustrated and quit.
My age changed my perspective
It wasn’t until I was a bit older that I understood the challenge and excitement that comes with fly fishing. Getting that perfect cast to land softly on the surface just the way I wanted, and in just the right spot, became a driving passion.
I felt like a member of an exclusive club of fly fishermen. A club that only those with true fishing talent could join. A talent that seemed to be unattainable to most and held onto by that exclusive group, not wanting to share the secrets of what only this special minority of anglers knew.
The older I got the more I realized that was total hogwash. I found even more joy in seeing young people learning to fly fish, and I realized that it’s a talent that anyone can acquire.
That’s right! Anyone can learn the basics of fly fishing with just a little bit of guidance, patience and the proper gear.
Having the right gear is important. However, in order to have a good understand of fly fishing gear you must first have an understanding of fly fishing.
This article is aimed at creating a guide to fly fishing basics, and to get you started on your fly fishing journey.
This introduction to fly fishing is for somebody who wants to learn basic skills for their first time in the water. The article will also serve well for somebody who has already started fly fishing, but is looking for a deeper understanding.
What is Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing is a method of fishing that uses just the weight of your line to present, or cast, a lightweight bait to fish. This is usually done by casting a dry fly on the surface of the water, but also includes sinking a bait below the surface.
In other methods of fishing, weight is attached to the fishing line to cast the bait. That weight may be in the form of the bait itself, a bobber, or actual weights.
When fly fishing you have only the weight of a lightweight “fly” attached to the end of the line. Sometimes there may more weight than just the fly for different methods within the fly fishing realm, but not traditionally.
How is this different than normal fishing?
Having only the weight of the fly would present a number of problems using normal fishing line with a spinning, casting or bait reel.
Fly fishing gear is uniquely designed to use the weight of special fly fishing line to cast. Line is pulled from the reel before the cast is made. As the rod is moved back and forth in a casting motion the line is pulled through the eyelets of the rod.
As the line comes out of the tip of the pole, the weight of the line pulls out additional line that has already been unspooled.
This is different that using a “normal” spinning reel that is spooled with lightweight line that stays spooled on the reel and comes off the spool during the cast by the weight of the bait.
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Fly fishing is noted as being a more difficult way of catching fish that requires the angler to be more interactive. Some sportsman have compared the sport of fly fishing to archery hunting.
If anyone knows about archery hunting you would agree that it takes more practice, patience and love for the sport to be successful, and we agree.
And, just like with archery hunting, the feeling you get from being successful is undeniably worth the work and extra effort.
What Kind of Gear is Needed for Fly Fishing?
The gear used for fly fishing is pretty specific for fly fishing. A great way to learn about gear is to go to your local fly shop and buy your own equipment.
The people who work at such shops are usually the biggest enthusiasts around and love sharing information on gear.
You can get great recommendations for your first fly rod while checking out a variety of fly fishing reels and fly tackle.
(If you would like to compare a couple great reels, the check out this article. Lamson Liquid vs Redington Behemouth)
Fly fishing tackle can get pretty specific. Fly fishing poles come in different weights to match your line weight.
The rod length can also be an important factor. Most fly fishers have a variety of different fishing rods they will match with lighter or heavier fly line.
Many local shops also offer a beginners fly fishing class that includes an introduction to fly fishing. These classes will provides training on the necessary skills for success.
The classes should also include fundamentals of casting along with the proper fly selection and how to tie some essential knots.
You can skip the private lessons but having an understanding of basic casting technique is critical. Once you have a basic understanding of technique you can hit your favorite spot and start casting dry flies.
The best way to get better is to just practice.
Fly Fishing with a Standard Rod
Also, you can use a normal fishing pole to cast flies, but it’s not the same as “fly fishing.” It’s really just fishing with flies.
To fish with flies using a normal pole with normal line on a spinning reel, you would tie on a casting bobber for casting weight. Then, tie on an appropriate length piece of leader between the bobber and the fly.
This method works best in rivers with a swifter current, due to how the bobber disturbs the surface of the water, which will spook the fish in calmer water.
Take into consideration that using a normal fishing pole with a spinning or bait reel is not considered fly fishing when it comes to most state regulations.
If the regulations for a body of water state “Fly Fishing Only” then you must use a fly fishing pole and a fly reel.
Learning How to Cast
There are a lot of different ways to cast. From a standard overhead cast, a roll cast to a two handed cast.
Your first session in a fly-fishing program my include work in a classroom setting. The instructor will discuss gear, casting skills and stream etiquette.
A great place for your first experience casting a fly rod is your own back yard. You can also go to your local park where there is plenty of open space to build your skills.
Then find a local pond or area where a river runs through an open area to begin casting into a body of water.
The Orvis Fly Fishing Company is a household name when it comes to fly fishing. They have invested a significant amount of resources to promote their products, and thereby promoting fly fishing.
They have a lot of really good professional videos that will teach you how to cast and give you an introduction to fly fishing basics.
Here is a video from Orvis on a standard overhead cast:
Here is a link to the Orvis YouTube Page. They have a video on just about any sort of fly fishing you want to learn.
The number one piece of advise I can give you is to PRACTICE!!
Just get out there in the water and practice, practice, practice. With a little devotion it really won’t take long to learn, especially if you are actually at the water. Not just in your back yard.
What Types of Fish Can You Catch Fly Fishing?
So, what kind of fish can you catch by fly fishing? Most any, really. Traditionally fly fishing was primarily used to target trout in rivers and streams. However, you can catch everything from Largemouth Bass and Brown Trout to Atlantic Salmon.
As fly fishing has developed, so has the number of species targeted in different bodies of water. From brook trout in small streams, bass in lakes and ponds, to salt water fish in the ocean, anyone can find a place to fish and a species to catch.
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Remember, there are different ways to fly fish. Many times the “fly” is not representing a fly at all. It really depends on the species of fish that you are targeting, what they are feeding on, and what depth they are feeding.
Sometimes the “fly” is representing a nymph or aquatic insect. A nymph is just a juvenile form of some species of flies that live in the water before they change into their adult form.
Sometimes the “fly” is designed to represent a minnow or even a frog. Don’t limit yourself and your level of creativity. If the fish aren’t taking your fly, then change it up.
The fish you are targeting are eating something. The trick is to present the right fly that looks like something they are eating.
Where Should I go Fly Fishing?
There are epic areas to fly fish all over the world. You can find a local pond with blue gill or cast a fly into the ocean. There really is no limit.
The area around Jackson Hole, Wyoming and The Yellowstone National Park offers excellent fishing opportunities. The Rocky Mountains are full of stream and rivers that provide next level fishing for anglers of all different skill levels.
10 Tips for Fly Fishing Beginners
- Practice casting technique. Use a heavier fly to help keep your line and leader straight. Also, cut off or flatten the hook if you aren’t casting into water.
- Wear polarized glasses to help you see the fish in the water.
- Fish in places where fish are hiding or hanging out to save their energy, like the undercut of a bank, the side of the current, behind or in front of large rocks.
- Fish from downstream to upstream. This will keep debris that you kick up as you wade in the current from scaring the fish away.
- The time of year and weather conditions have a lot to do with what fish are feeding on. Watch the surface of the water to see what kind of flies are landing on the surface on the water. If there aren’t any, then fish may be feeding on aquatic bugs or nymphs. If that is then case, then use weighted flied that are dark in color.
- The color of the fly matters. Your fly has to appear to the fish like what they are eating or they won’t bite.
- If nothing else is working, try a Woolly Bugger with some flash. If that doesn’t work, then try a Pheasant Tail that sinks head down.
- Ask locals. Don’t underestimate this tip, and you should probably try it first as you are preparing to go out. Hit up your local fly shop. Buy something from them and ask question. The people working there want you to continue being their customer, and will usually steer you in the right direction.
- Fish can see shadows in the water and can be easily spooked, especially if they aren’t very hungry. Find a way to approach the water without casting a shadow.
- Don’t get frustrated. Fly Fishing is a patient sport and more of an art. Just like an artist, you will fine tune your technique and get better every time you hit the water!
Fly fishing poses unique challenges. Because of this more bodies of water are open to fly fishing than other forms of fishing. This includes national parks that would otherwise be closed to fishing.
Fly fishing gear can be pretty extensive, but it doesn’t have to be. All you really need to get started is a fly pole, a fly reel that spooled with fly line and flies.
Other basic gear that would be good to have is waders and a landing net.
As you acquire more experience you should begin to fill you fly box with a variety of flies. These flies should resemble your local flies and nymphs.
The art of fly fishing includes having a good time while maintaining an ethical approach to handling fish and being in the water.
I hope this introduction to fly fishing has been useful. Now, get out there, relax and have fun!