With its roots in Japan, Fly fishing became a really popular form of fishing in Europe, over the last 400 years. All those fancy techniques you might have seen fisherman do on the river can seem deterrent to beginners. Although it takes some time to get used to, it is actually easy to learn fly fishing, if you know how to start. This beginner’s guide will cover all the basics, such as equipment, knots and lures, so your first experience in this awesome sport will only be the start of a great and addictive hobby.
Begin Fly Fishing With No Prior Knowledge
To put it simply, fly fishing is an angling technique to catch fish. It has been in practice since the ninth century BCE to catch food thanks to its effectiveness. Today it has transformed into a very competitive sport. While in normal fishing you rely on the weight of your lure to cast, in fly fishing, the lure is too light, forcing you to use heavier and castable line. The fly is supposed to imitate a variety of aquatic creatures including leeches, fish, and crayfish, and by slowly pulling it back to you, you mimic the movements of said creature on top or in the water.
Casting is a more integral part of fly fishing than it is for spin fishing because of the importance of casting techniques and the variety of approaches. While there is pretty much only one way to cast a spinning rod there are dozens of different techniques to present your fly in the most natural looking way.
While casual anglers often just go to their local lake and take what they get, fly fishers are known to always chase the next exclusive and awesome spot. This usually means rivers and streams where there are plenty of salmon and trout. Since the good fishing spots are rare in fly fishing, traveling is a big part of the sport. There are plenty of interesting locations around the world and people spend thousands of dollars to catch the fish of a lifetime, in the deep rainforest of the west coast or on remote streams on Iceland.
Understanding What The Experts Are Saying
To a beginner, chatting with the “pros” can seem a bit intimidating, especially in fly fishing where constant casting makes you always look busy. Here are the simplest terms used in fly fishing. And below is linked a better guide for complete terminology.
- Back-cast: Means casting the line by throwing it backward first, then letting it unfurl and casting it forward after that.
- Buzzer: Refers to flies or insects which fly over the water.
- Cover: Casting towards a spot with plenty of fish.
- Cast: The motion of “throwing” the fly rod.
- Drag: Is the unnatural motion of the fly, that’s caused by the current on line and leader.
- Fly: Artificial lure that attracts fish by mimicking a native insect or getting their attention with bright colors.
- Leader: Line that’s usually made of synthetic material, to which the hook is attached.
- Fly Reel: Is the object that holds the line. It comes in different types depending on the material and function.
- Fly Rod: Rod that is used for fly fishing, usually made of graphite, bamboo or fiberglass.
These are the most basic words, for a more in-depth guide on the fly fishing lingo:
Safety First: What You Have To Know
Fly fishing is exciting and an addictive sport but without proper gear and preparation, it can be very dangerous. The following safety practices should always be followed when going to fly fishing:
- Always familiarize yourself with the waters you are planning to go fishing on.
- When going into unfamiliar waters, it’s wise to wear a good pair of boots and bring a wading staff with you. This greatly improves your traction and standing.
- Check the weather forecast before setting out on a fly fishing trip. That way you will prevent setting out on an extremely bad weather.
- Wade only when necessary. Not only can wading impact the small creatures living in the river, it also is a safety risk.
- Wear sunglasses during fishing. This is not a fashion statement, it can prevent serious injuries caused by flying hooks, that might impact you for rest of your life.
TL;DR = Think about your actions and act mindful, as in any other outdoor activity.
Casting- Learning The Right Technique
Casting is the core skill of fly fishing. Since it is the foundation of the whole sport, it is really important to learn the proper technique right from the beginning. Without a good technique, you will never achieve the results you want. Here are few things you should consider when fly fishing for the first time.
- Everything starts from the grip. A firm grip, timing and keeping your elbow close to your body are the first things you should put your attention on.
- Before you cast, remove any slack from the line. This allows a smooth motion going forward and backward.
- The line should fly to the direction where you are pointing your rod during the cast.
- You can change the size of the loop by alternating how fast you move the rod while casting.
- The typical distance of a cast is normally some meters away from the caster. Longer distance casts are only achieved by rigorous practice.
It may seem hard to get on your first tries, so having a more experienced friend to teach you would be optimal. However hard work will always pay of and sooner or later, you will get the hang of it, just don’t give up. Optimally you should practice the casting technique at least 15 minutes every day. This will fast track your progress as a beginner.
You do not have to practice the technique right at the river. Every open field like grassland will be suitable as well.
Make sure you have enough space around you to practice. Avoid trees or bush and by all means, keep your distance to other people!
Learning To Tie Knots Like A Professional
When fly fishing, knots can really make or break your game. In other words: proper knots can make the difference between landing a good fish or losing it when the line breaks. You have to choose the right type of knot, as well as tie it in a proper way. Tying the knots poorly can result in lost fish, so it’s self-explanatory how important it is.
The first thing to consider, even before tightening the knot, you should moisten it with water or your own saliva. This will make the knot slide and seat in the right way. The lubrication will decrease excess heat which might weaken the monofilament. This heat is generated by friction when tying the knots tight, so moistening the knot will reduce it, making the knot stronger overall.
You should always use a continuous and steady pull movement when tying knots (called seating). To check that the knot is tight and secure, pull the leader and line. It is better to check the knot properly before casting, so it doesn’t break once you get your first hook.
Here are some of the most common knots:
- Albright Knot, used to attach backing to the fly reel.
- Nail Knot, used to join two lines with equal or different diameter
- Surgeon’s Knot, used when securing leader to the tippet.
- Barrel Knot, same as above.
- Clinch Knot, used to secure tippet to the fly.
- Duncan’s Loop, same as above.
- Constrictor Knot, used to tie lines together.
When you are fighting a worthy fish, every link between you and it will be tested. If by chance even one of those links is found lacking, you will lose the fight. Anyone would rather tell a story about their biggest catch instead of the one that got away. Besides that, imagine a fish that has to live with a hook in his mouth attached to meters of line. There is a good chance that it will die soon. This should give you an idea how important part of fly fishing tying knots really is.
Different knots take different levels of proficiency to execute, but as with everything else, practice makes perfect. Just be sure to practice diligently and learn how to tie the knots even in low light, and under tough conditions.
Again, no need to only practice knot tying on the river. Practice at home a few minutes every day and save time on the water.
How To Choose Your Gear
As in any sport, equipment can and will make a big difference in your fly fishing game. Here are the most important things you should have and consider when purchasing your fly fishing gear.
Rods are ranked by their net weight capabilities (wt). This has nothing to do with the actual weight of the rod! It tells you which line you will be able to cast with it e.g. a 7 weight line, will need a rod of wt 7. Some rods are multi-rated, meaning you their wt has a range, which can be good to catch a variety of fish.
Fly fishing rods are mostly made from three different materials: graphite, fiberglass, carbon fiber or classic bamboo. Fiberglass rods are the best choice for beginners. They are durable, less expensive and can be used in different situations. Fiberglass rods have an ultimate breaking point higher than a carbon fiber rod. Graphite rods weigh less and will give you more fighting weight when catching a fish. Bamboo rods are usually more expensive but they are really strong and are made for a more laid-back style of casting. Carbon rods tend to cost more but they are stiffer than aluminum or steel (but are also more prone to breaking) and weigh less, causing less fatigue on your arms. All of them are corrosion resistant. Each rod has its purpose and you should choose one that fits your style and situation.
As mentioned above, the weight of the line tells you what weight rod it can be used with. Other than weight, there are many differences in types of lines. Some lines are meant for seawater fishing, and some for extremely cold temperatures. Choosing the right type of line for the intended environment is important.
Aside from the line itself, something to consider is the taper. Some lines have taper at one end when others have in both. Double tapered lines are easier to control and rollcast greater distances.
Also the heavier the taper, the easier it is to cast. That is why heavier tapers are recommended for beginners.
The reel is used to store and control the line. When you need more or less line, it is the reel that you use to adjust it to the desired length. The reels are made of variety of materials, but when fly fishing in saltwater, you should always use aluminum reels. The reason being that salt water is highly corrosive and aluminum is rust-proof.
Usually, the fly reel is one-sided, however nowadays the reels have interchangeable retrievers. This means you can choose the spot of retriever, depending on which of your hands is stronger.
Aside from the rod, reel, and the line, a good net is always your trusted companion. If you plan on practicing catch and release make sure to use a net, that does not hurt the sensitive skin (scales) of the fish.
These are only a few things to consider when starting out and buying your first gear. When you gain more experience, you will understand the pros and cons of different equipment better. Since equipment can make or break your game you should be sure to buy the right gear right from the start. That does not mean you should get the most expensive stuff you can find, just be sure of what you buy and what you can expect from it.
Wadinglab provides buying guides for the most important equipment:
Waders For Fishing And Hunting – Buyers Guide
Wading Boots – Which Product Should You Buy – Buyers Guide
Fishing Gloves – Which Product Should You Buy – Buyers Guide
Polarized Fishing Sunglasses – Which Product Should You Buy – Buyers Guide
Choosing The Right Fly
As the name implies, you will use flies to catch fish in this sport. So when speaking of lures in fly fishing, we are speaking about flies. As stated before, in fly fishing you are trying to mimic flies or insects movements to trick the fish into going after them. The range of creatures you can mimic here is huge. Aquatic insects (mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, midges), terrestrial insects, bait fish, and aquatic foods. Flies also imitate the different stages of aquatic insects: nymph, pupa, emerger, dun, and spinner (the last one in the case of mayflies). The emerger stage is very important because the insects can’t swim or fly and are vulnerable. Fish know that and therefor love going after them.
When seeking a lure, you have two choices. Either get them in retail or make them yourself. For the beginning, you should start out with pre-tied flies. Once you know you love this sport, it is definitely worth checking out how to tie flies yourself. Wadinglab got you covered if you are looking for the right fly tying kit.
The first thing you should do when arriving at the stream or river is to observe the local insects around you. Take a few moments to just stroll around and observe. Maybe take a small net and skim the top of the water. See what type of bugs you catch and adjust accordingly. Whatever type of insect is most predominant in the area, is the one you should try to mimic. The fish are already used to that kind of fly, so you will catch more fish. Fly fishing will bring you closer to nature and understanding the environment you fish in is a big part of the game.
Regular fishing lures are usually fancy and have bright colors. They are meant to mimic food sources as well, however, in fly fishing, you are trying to catch fish using “natural food” that the fish are used to. This is why the flies should be kept simple and small. For the beginning, try to get a few classics. Although it might be hard, choose patterns that have proven to work in your area. Buying the prettiest fly won’t bring you the biggest fish.
Hopefully, this guide shines some light on the basics of fly fishing. Although it might seem complicated at first, if you start slow everything else will come over time. Keep in mind, there is no rush, just learn everything step by step. The feeling when you catch your first fish on a fly rod will be worth all the efforts.
One more thing I would like to add:
Always remember you are dealing with living creatures while fly fishing. Respect the fish, hold onto the limits and “Catch& Release” should be practiced as much as possible since it’s essential for the survival of recreational trout fishing.
Do you remember when you were a beginner? Remember that one advice that really stepped up your game? Please share your experiences on the comment field below!
10 thoughts on “How To Start Fly Fishing: Beginners Guide”
Great guide for beginners! A friend of mine wants to get into fly fishing and never even held a fishing rod in his hands before. I was looking for something that I can give him to read until I get a chance to go fishing with him.
Thanks for that and in return, here is my fly fishing advice for beginners:
Start in fast waters! Why? Trouts swimming in fast waters do not have the time to carefully observe their food before going for it. Every wasted second could mean losing track of their prey. As a result, they are way less picky than trout in slow currents and therefore great for practicing as a beginner!
Keep up the great work!
thanks a lot for your reply.
Great advice for beginners as well. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
Hope you two have a great time fishing!
I will give my beginner advice as well.
Do not underestimate how sensitive fish are to sound and vibration. If you have to wade, wade slowly and without pushing too much water around. Try to actually sneak up on those fish for best success. If you fish with a buddy, screaming across the river is obviously a no-go, if you want to catch something.
There is nothing funnier than watching someone stamping through the river, loudly complaining that the fish aren’t biting… Vicious cycle!
Another great advice Jake, thanks for that!
Thank you for covering all the basics I was too embarrassed to ask about somewhere! I really want to get into fly fishing but none of my friends or family has a clue about this sport, so these beginner guides are much appreciated.
I also checked your guide for buying waders and wading boots and since I already decided on a rod, I am excited to start a new hobby next week!
Thanks for covering the basic. I will start a little fly fishing class for kids in my community and I think I will print and hand this one out, would that be alright? Should give them an idea and bring everyone on the same level.
Print it out and have fun teaching!
This is a great introduction! great work. I would also say as a beginner pick a spot close to home you want to fish and focus on that ONE spot…if it is a lake, creek, river, pond, or flat learn the ins and outs of that spot. All the different type of flyfishing, gear, flies, techniques, etc can be overwhelming if an angler tries to take it all in at ounce.
Thanks a lot for visiting my page Hogan! Great advice you shared there!
Check out Hogan’s website for more awesome fly fishing content and pictures.
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