Learn the Basics of Fly Fishing

I have fished for bass, crappie, catfish and others since I was able to walk. However, fly fishing always intrigued but intimidated me. We figure we aren’t along, so in this article, we try to break it down so it isn’t that scary.

We encourage anglers of all skill levels to participate in one of our new loves: fly fishing. In an effort to motivate members to get out there and fish, we’ve created this guide as a quick reference tool to help introductory fly anglers navigate the complex and misleadingly intimidating learning curve associated with the sport.

Fly Fishing Gear

As with any fishing style, fly fishing has it’s own unique gear. It is very easy to feel like you jumped in way over your head. Don’t panic though, here you will learn about the minimum required equipment to start your fly fishing adventure.

fly fishing rod and reel

Rod & Reel

Obviously, the most important gear you need to fly fish is a fly fishing rod and reel. Fly rod and reel setups can range in price from $130 to well over $1500. When I just started, I didn’t want to break the bank and I started with a small kit. I’d recommend the same to make sure you like it first. Rods are typically sold based on a “weight” scale, the “weight” of a rod is based on the heaviness of the line it is capable of casting. The scale starts as low as double-zero and goes all the way up to 16 for big game saltwater fishing.

For anglers starting out fishing on trout streams or bass ponds, we recommend picking up a 9 ft. 5-weight rod and reel combo (like this Scientific Anlger Model), this will have enough power to cast heavier flies and rigs but is still light enough to make any fish fight exciting.

For those looking to explore the larger saltwater game species, we recommend looking at 9′ ft. 8-weight rod (like this Okuma Nomad Fly Combo unit). These rods are on the heavier side and are capable of casting large flies and heavier lines, as well as hold up to the power of a saltwater fish.

Fly Lines

Selecting a fly line is actually a relatively simple process as compared to other types of fishing. We’d recommend buying a weight forward floating line for your first line, regardless of whether you’re fishing in freshwater or salt. If there is one piece of your first fly fishing set-up that you splurge a little bit on, it should be your line. A solid fly line can turn even the most average fly fishing rod pretty accurate, so it’s worthwhile to spend a little extra money.

Wading Gear

Depending on where you live, you may want to invest in wading equipment like waders and wading boots. If you live somewhere on the sunny coast, you may be lucky enough to fish barefoot, but more than likely you’re going to want the added traction and protection of a pair of wading boots.
 

Fly Fishing Casting Basics

Casting a fly rod can seem overly complicated at first glance, however, if you are patient and master these two basic casts, you’ll be prepared to catch just about any fish species out there! We’ve found the best way to practice casting is to find area or a pond and just spend some time feeling out your how your rod’s action feels with a fly line and leader. This whole series from Ovris is a good intro into fly fishing casting techniques.
 

Standard Fly Cast


Other than the roll cast, the basic fly fishing cast takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it it will feel natural. The casting stroke with this cast is a simple 10 o’clock-to-2 o’clock motion with a hard stop at either end. With line on the water in front of you, pull your rod back to the 2 o’clock position. Once the line straightens out behind you, bring the rod to the 10 o’clock position and give the rod a hard stop.
 
The line will form a loop as it comes forward and propel your flies forward. You can repeat this process and let more line out on each cast, but while you’re learning, it’s best to practice with a fixed amount of line. Every rod has a slightly different action and may require the casting to be sped up or slowed down, depending on your rod and line weight, so play around with that as you practice casting.
 

Roll Cast


The Roll Cast is the simplest cast that fly angler will do. This cast allows you to get your line out over the water when you don’t have open area behind you to do an overhand cast. First, picture a clock face, your feet are the 6 o’clock position and straight above your head is the 12 o’clock position, this will help us better explain how to move the rod during your cast.
 
In order to do a Roll Cast, first, you create a D-shaped loop of fly line by lifting your rod tip to the 1 o’clock position, once the loop is there, bring the rod quickly back to the 10 o’clock and stop with a flick. When done correctly, the rod will pull the line through the water, bending (some call it loading) your rod, and that propels the loop of line, along with your leader and fly out onto the water.
 

Where to Go Fly Fishing

My first thought on fly fishing was that you had to do this in a cold stream somewhere. Probably because of all the Field and Stream issues I saw at my Grandpa’s house. However, after talking with a few fly folks, just about any body of water with fish will suffice.

Ponds & Lakes

Actually, a small pond is where I caught my first fish on the fly. Bluegill and bass will eagerly take flies throughout most of the year and tend to not be as challenging as a finicky trout. If you’re looking for a way to catch a few fish and practice casting, ponds and other still waters are the place to go!

Rivers, Streams & Creeks

Moving streams is where modern fly fishing truly began. Depending on the temperature and type of running water, you will find numerous fish who are eager to eat a fly drifting past in the water. Trout, salmon, bass, and panfish are all on the menu in many North American streams, and they make for some of the most fun you can have with a fly rod in your hands.

Saltwater

If you’re lucky enough to live on or near the coast, odds are you’ve a large amazing fishery at your front door. Many saltwater game fish are more than happy to take a swipe at a properly presented fly and, most of the time, they fight harder than many fish you will find in freshwater.
 

Choosing Your Fly

Your first thought when choosing a fly should be the species of fish you are pursuing and what they typically like to eat. Also, insects native to that area can provide a great deal of information as well. Let’s break down the 3 basic categories of fly patterns out there: dry flies, nymphs and streamers.
Fly Fishing Flies

Dry Flies

Dry flies land softly and then float on the surface of the water. They mimic insects in various stages of their life cycle. Trout and other species like to sip off the surface of the water. Some of these flies can be rather small in size, or even mimic larger flying insects like cicadas, depending on what flies are active at the time.

The floatability of dry flies depends on the fly tying materials used and on the size of the fly. If required, floatability can increased by greasing or adding a water repellent.

Dry fly target fish: Trout, Panfish.

Nymphs

Nymph flies mimic instects in the nymph or larval stage and are designed to sink just below the surface. Nymph and shrimp flies basically imitate immature (usually aquatic) insects in their pre-adult or larval stage.

Because these flies are fished entirely beneath the surface of the water, they are typically weighted with strands of copper/lead wire or use of beads of brass, copper, or tungsten as heads on nymph flies. Nymphs are bit more difficult, I feel, because the addition of the presentation technique is important because of the varied nature of sub-aquatic insect behavior and fish know what it should be. Nymph bodies often incorporate natural and synthetic dubbing material and soft, webby feathers to produce the underwater movement and action characteristic of real larval insects.

While most nymph flies are designed to entice trout in cold streams, nymphs can also be incredibly effective on several warm water species!

Nymph fly target fish: Trout, panfish, carp.

Streamers

Streamers are bigger fly patterns designed to mimic baitfish, leeches, hellgrammites, and other large creepy-crawlies that live in the water. Streamers are the fly-fishing equivalent of conventional fishing lures.

Streamers are a great way to cover a lot of water for an impatient angler and if the species of fish you are after likes to eat other fish, these are the patterns for you. When fishing streamers, typically you move the fly through the water by stripping in fly line. Retrieve speed will vary depending on the fish you are trying to get to eat your fly.

Streamer fly target fish: Trout, Bass, Pike/Muskie, and most Saltwater Species.

Conclusion

This is just a start but gives you the basics of fly fishing and fly fishing gear. One of the things I like the most about fly fishing is it is never the same things twice and doesn’t really require lots of gear. The best thing to do is to just get out there and try. Don’t be afraid and just go and have fun!