Fly Fishing For Beginners
If the thought of a fishing trip appeals, but you have never really picked up a rod, then why not give fly fishing a go? Fly fishing is widely considered to be one of the best ways to get started in fishing and you don’t really need lots of flash expensive gear or travel too far. You can cast a fly reel into most fresh as well as salt water, from streams and creeks to fast running rivers and open ocean. And, as a way to get out into the wild and spend the day with your buddies, fly fishing really does package up the best of nature with a good sporting challenge. Hooked on the idea of fly fishing? Then let our beginner’s guide help you to cast off and get started!
What Is Fly Fishing?
Ah, the lure of the fly…quite literally. Fly fishing is an angling technique which differs from other methods of fishing in that an artificial bait (or lure) is used to entice your aquatic prey. Typically made from a thin hook, with a variety of feathers and synthetics to recreate an artificial fly or fish food critter, the lure is often handmade and can either be designed to sink or swim. The aim is to create a colorful artificial fly that can sit on or just below the surface and is tasty looking enough to catch the attention of the fish you want to catch.
The other main difference between fly and fresh bait fishing is the fact that the fly does not actually propel the cast and so won’t pull out your line. This means you will also need to have a special weighted line as well as a good casting technique to get your fly fishing just right.
Where Can You Do It?
Fly fishing can be done in both fresh and salt water, making it a really accessible way to go fishing, particularly for the beginner. Rivers, lakes and estuaries are amongst the most popular fly fishermen’s casting grounds, who will go where their preferred fish will be. Fly fishing is mostly used to catch trout, grayling and salmon, but can also be used for catching a wide variety of other species including pike, bass and carp, as well as sea species, such as tarpon and striped bass.
Typically done on the waterside (or with waders, on the water’s edge or in standing depths), fly fishing also brings all the benefits of a beautiful location. Picture a fast running mountain river or sedate rural lake and you get the gist. It is often as much about being in the great outdoors and enjoying nature as it is about putting a hand-caught fish supper on the table.
The perfect fishing spot is also deeply personal, and many fly fishers are protective of their favorite place to cast. But, by spending some time with more experienced anglers, you will soon learn what to look for in the water and where the best places to lure a fish are. And, as you build up your experience and fine-tune your ‘fly fisherman’s eye’, you could well find yourself choosing more challenging and faster paced water to cast your line.
Check Your Permits
When starting out in fly fishing, making sure you are allowed to fish where you plan to cast is a good habit to get into from the get-go. Similar to laws on hunting, each US state has slightly different variations on fishing permits for their waterways so do your homework if you plan to take your fly fishing wild. Most states will require anyone fishing on publicly accessible land to buy a fishing permit. Check out takemefishing.org to see if you need a license for your next fishing trip.
What Fly Fishing Gear You Need
You don’t need a massive amount of kit to get started in fly fishing but there are some must-haves you need to get you casting and catching. Here’s our quick lowdown on the fly fishing essentials:
Basic Fly Fishing Equipment
Knowing the essential kit you need to get you started is the sure-fire way to get your new fishing skills to really fly. The trick is to buy the best you can afford, without busting the bank as you can always add to your fishing gear as you progress. As well as your lures, to get you lined up as a fly fisherman, you will need:
A Fly Rod – The type of fly fishing rod you want depends on where you want to fish and the type of fish you are looking to catch. To get this right, you need to think about the weight, length and action of the rod.
The weight of a rod refers to the weight of line it will carry – so a weight of 2 carries a much lighter line than a weight of 7. The weight also indicates the type of fish the rod and line are best suited to (small river trout for example, can be caught with a rod and line weight of 2-4 while larger fish such as a striped bass will need at least an 8). When it comes to length, longer rods are good for wide, unobstructed spaces where you want to cast a decent distance, whereas shorter rods are best suited to areas where there are lots of nearby trees and bushes. Meanwhile, the action of the rod is how it casts, and typically come in slow, medium or fast.
As a fly fishing beginner, it is best to go for a multi-purpose rod which will typically be around 9ft in length and has a middle weight of around 5. Beginners also tend to go for a fast action rod as they are easier to cast as you work to perfect your technique. If in any doubt, chat to the sales assistant in the fishing tackle store to get what you need.
Fly Reel – When it comes to your fishing reel, go for the best quality you can afford as this is the hardworking part of your rod and it needs to be able to stand up to some serious reel out and reel in action. Many entry-level reels are plastic but can be a false economy so wherever possible, opt for a metal one. Most fly rods and reels are offered as a combination, so speak to your dealer so you can get the best combination. Your rod’s weight must be matched with the reel to get the best performance.
Fly Fishing Line – As it’s not using the weight of the artificial lure to cast, then the fly fishing line needs to have some weight to be able to cast over a decent distance. The weight of your rod will tell you what weight of line it can hold; this weight can also tell you what type and maximum weight of fish it can be used to catch. A good starting weight for a beginner’s fly fishing line is 5. If you can, also opt for a floating line, as you can use it with both surface and sinking flies.
Tackle Box – Again, you don’t have to spend a lot, but a sturdy tackle box is a good investment for any fly fishing beginner. Go for a box or tackle bag (even a fishing backpack) with a main compartment and several smaller storage sections plus some external hooks for your rod and you’ll have all your reels, fishing anchors, fishing lures, fishing pliers, fishing bobbers and other accessories organized and ready to go. Get a tackle box that is easy to carry too, so you can get down to the waterside with ease.
What To Wear
You’ve got the essential fishing gear, now you will need the correct clothing and outdoor gear to keep you dry, warm/cool and comfortable when out for a day fly fishing on the river. Go for the layered approach – base, mid-layer and waterproof outer so you can keep the elements out, or remove layers depending on the weather. Sturdy and comfortable waterproof boots or fishing shoes are also essential and if you plan to get into the water’s edge, a pair of waders are a good idea. And don’t forget a fishing hat, sunglasses for fishing and sunscreen as even if the sun is weak, light will still bounce off the water’s surface.
A Guide To The Flies
Without the fly you can’t have fly fishing! You can buy your flies in your tackle shop or make like many other fly fishermen and have a go at fashioning your own!
There are three primary types of flies, but you can style them up or down and experiment, depending on the type of water and fish you are looking to catch. All flies can come as either barbless or with a barbed hook:
- Dry flies – these are the most common type and are designed to look like a flying insect that has just landed and is floating on top of the water.
- Nymph flies – these are made to look like aquatic insects and larvae that a fish would expect to find floating on or hovering just under the water’s surface.
- Streamers – built to be a little larger, streamers mimic other aquatic life such as leeches. Streamers are what fly fishermen most commonly refer to as ‘lures’.
When starting out in fly fishing, chat to your local fishing shop or an experience fishing buddy to work out which fly to use and when. The secret is to take too many flies with you in your tackle box, so you have a good selection at your fingertips. It also means you always have enough, as you will inevitably lose some, especially as a fly fishing beginner.
Starter Tips To Fly Fishing For Real
Ok, so you now have all your starter fly fishing gear, you have it nicely weighted, the flies have been bought and your waders are packed and ready to go. Here’s our five-step plan to reeling in those fish:
1. Practice casting in the garden. No, really! A dry run of your fly fishing casting technique will give you a head start as it helps you to get used to the rod’s weight and balance, and the technique needed to cast long and far without a heavy lure.
2. Start off with a stream. Now move to a slow-moving body of water, with minimal obstructions and take your casting technique to an easy outdoor setting. Settle down by the water and practice, practice, practice until you have your casting routine down pat and you are starting to read the water.
3. Up your game. Tag along with an experienced fly fishing pal and make a day of it. Play around with different flies and try to lengthen your cast. Research your chosen fishing spot beforehand, so you have an idea of the fish you may catch and their behavior in the water, then try and work out their patterns as you cast and fine-tune your technique and the way you work with your gear.
4. Pick the right flies. Take time to watch the water and observe. If you see fish rising to the surface, try out a couple of dry flies to see if they bite. Look for rings on the water surface and practice the accuracy of your cast to hit the target. If you have no joy, move to a nymph fly that sinks just below the surface and cast again.
5. Be natural. Fly fishing is about patience, so settle back and relax into your cast. Try to catch the movement of the water with your fly in as natural way as possible, and softly reel back surplus line so it is not dancing on the surface and creating a disturbance.
Make Your Casts Count
Honing your fly fishing cast is an ongoing process but cracking the basics as a beginner will move your fishing success on in leaps and bounds. The key is to make your casts count, and to do so, less is better than more. Many beginners throw out their casts like there’s no tomorrow, which often just serves to break up the surface and let the fish know you are coming! Make like a casting pro and bide your time, focusing on casting accuracy rather than quantity. One or two well-delivered casts where you want them to land is so much better than 20 scattergun shots.
And as there is no rush, you can relax back into your environment, soaking up nature and the company around you as you work on your precision casting shots. And by the end of the day, you will be suitably chilled out to enjoy savor the fruits of your labors – and hopefully, serve up a fresh fish supper to your friends or family.
- America’s Top 10 Fly Fishing States – Forbes