Fly Fishing for Beginners – A Fly Lords’ Guide
So you want to get started fly fishing? Congratulations you have come to the right place to join in on one of the coolest outdoor pastimes out there. Fly fishing is a great way to connect with the outdoors and recharge no matter your experience level. Now we know fly fishing can seem like quite the challenge to learn, but hopefully, after a read through this guide you’ll be well on your way to hooking into fish on the fly!
This guide is meant to be a very high-level view of fly fishing as a whole, and if you want to learn more about any of the subjects we mention, check out our library of how-to fly fishing articles, here.
Table of Contents
What is Fly Fishing
Fly fishing is a style of fishing that traces its roots back centuries and different styles developed simultaneously around the world as human tried to figure out ways to trick fish who ate lures too small and light to catch with normal hook and line methods. At its most basic, with fly fishing, you are using the weight of the line to cast your fly out into the water. Most commonly people associate fly fishing with trout, and while that is very true, countless species can be targeted around the globe using a fly rod and reel.
Basic Guide to Fly Fishing Equipment
Rod & Reel
The rod and reel are the most important parts of any fly fishing set up. With any style of fishing, there are multitudes of different rod styles and reel styles but for the purposes of this post, we will speak in more general terms. Fly rod size is designated by the term “weight”, rod weight is associated with the weight of the fly line. When you are matching a reel to your new fly rod, you want to make sure that it is designed to fit the weight line you
Fly Line & Backing
Fly lines are all designated by weight, either on a scale of 1-12 (1 being the lightest) or one a scale based on grain-weight, utilizing the same scale as gunpowder. Most lines are typically 90 feet in length and are made up of 3 main sections: the head, the taper, and the running line. The head is the heaviest and thickest part of the line and helps to turn over your leader and flies. The taper is the in-between section that tapers from the head to the running line. The running line is the thinnest and typically, the longest part of the line, during normal casting you will typically not interact with the running line except as it shoots out of the end of your rod. The fly line is the workhorse of any fly fishing setup as it is the main reason your rod is able to propel your flies forward in the air.
Backing is the line that goes on a reel before you put your fly line on. It fills the space in the reel and allows you to fight fish if they run farther than the length of your fly line. Most reels can hold 175 yds-250 yds of backing.
Leaders & Tippet
Your leader is the section of fluorocarbon or monofilament that connects your fly line to your fly. Like fly lines, leaders are tapers from the thickest section (the butt section) to the lighter and thinner tip section. Leaders vary in length depending on what fish you’re targetting but most are between 7.5 ft-12 ft. Pre-tied leaders are sold all around the fly fishing industry and are sized using a scale of 0x-8x, 0x being the strongest and stiffest, and 8x being feather-light. Many fly anglers choose to tie their own leaders which allows anglers to customize them. Typically a short strong leader will turn over flies easily, but you sacrifice stealthiness as it will be easier for fish to see. When targetting spookier fish, you will want to use a longer lighter leader to make it the most difficult for a wary trout to see!
Tippet is the name given to stretches of either monofilament or fluorocarbon that you tie to the end of your leader to lengthen it or repair sections that were cut off while rigging. Tippet is sold on spools that are based on break-strength and on the same 0x-8x scale as leaders. We recommend keeping a solid range of tippet in your fly fishing pack so you are as prepared as possible to repair any leader that starts wearing down.
To learn how to choose between Monofilament and Fluorocarbon, check out our in-depth article, here!
If you are going to be fly fishing year-round, you’re going to need some durable wading gear. Wading gear typically consists of a set of breathable chest waders and wading boots. Some anglers in colder climates prefer to use neoprene waders during the winters, but for the best all-around performance, you’re going to want breathables. Most modern waders are stockingfoot, which means your feet go into neoprene booties sealed to the wader material, which requires the purchase of a wading boot. Wading boots are constructed with thick stiff soles to aid while wading in current or on longer hikes.
As with any hobby, of course, there are countless accessories you can purchase to help you out on the water. The most basic accessories you’re going to really need is a fly pack or vest to help you haul your fly boxes out onto the creek and a landing net. These come in dozens of styles and designs so we really recommend testing a few out at your local fly shop and find which matches your fishing style and body shape best. Choosing a net to carry with you is really based on what type of fishing you’re going to be doing and how big the fish is that you plan on landing. Just make sure the basket of the net is rubber or rubber-coated which will protect the fish you are filling your net with!
Dry flies are probably what you may associate most with fly fishing. They are typically smaller in size and utilize various materials to float high on the surface of the water. Typically constructed of foam, hair or feathers, they rely on the surface tension to stay afloat. They are mainly designed to mimic different bugs resting on the surface of the water that make excellent snacks for fish.
These flies are designed to mimic exactly what their name suggests, nymphs (small macro-invertebrates) which float in the water column or cling to rocks in a river. Nymphs should reside in every fly angler’s fly box as trout tend to feed below the surface far more often than they do off the surface.
This is the basic cast that most other fly casting styles are based upon. Its a simple overhand cast using the weight of the line and line speed to deliver your fly to its intended target.
This is the second most used fly cast during any day on the water. It utilizes the action and flexibility of your rod to propel your line forward. This cast is perfect for any time there is no open space behind you to make an overhand cast.
Intro to Fly Fishing Lingo
As with any hobby or sport, fly fishing is replete with “lingo” and turns of phrase that really only make sense if you fly fish. Our good friends at Redington Fly Fishing have put together what might be the greatest “Fly Fishing Lingo Dictionary” we have ever read. So next time you get confused about what your guide, fly fishing buddy or fly shop employee is saying, give the dictionary a check!
Styles of Fly Fishing
Having been developed by different people groups all over the world, fly fishing has developed countless different styles and strategies. The big ones you will probably hear about first are 2-Handed Casting (Spey Rod Fishing), Nymphing, Dry Fly Fishing, Saltwater and Tenkara.
Two-handed casting utilizes longer, heavier rods and lines and is used to fish large rivers where long casts are needed to properly cover the water. Traditionally this style is used for targeting Salmon and Steelhead in large rivers, but smaller and lighter rods have been developed to target trout with the same strategy.
Nymphing, Euro-Nymphing or Tight-Line Nymphing is a style of fly fishing that utilizes a long (usually 10+ feet), lightweight rod and a long leader to precisely deliver nymphs to trout. This method can be highly effective in pocket water and fast-flowing streams and rivers. If you want to learn more about nymphing for trout, check out our in-depth article, here!
Dry Fly Fishing is probably the style of fly fishing that you are most familiar with. It simply involves fishing a dry fly to fool a trout that is feeding on insects on the surface of the water. This method is most effective during the warmer months but hatches do occur during the winter.
Saltwater fly fishing is a recent development as far as fly fishing history is concerned, especially in the Americas and tropics. It is almost entirely based in streamer fishing, delivering flies designed to look like baitfish, shrimp, crabs, etc… to hungry saltwater fish! If you don’t have good access to trout streams or bass ponds, the salt holds a plethora of fly fishing adventures!
Wading Vs. Floating
Fly fishing on foot and by boat, both have their pros-and-cons. Wade fishing allows you to move quieter and control the entire approach, however, you are limited by how deep you can or are willing to wade. Fishing from a boat opens up a lot of water that may be inaccessible on foot, but you then have to worry about boating logistics. One of the biggest benefits to fly fishing out of a boat is the ability to cover a large amount of water (be it in a river or lake) with ease and without the need to get in a car to move fishing spots. If you get the chance, give fly fishing from a boat a shot, and if you don’t have access to one, consider hiring a guide for a float to expand your fly fishing horizons!