How to Start Fly Fishing: A Beginners Guide

If you’ve recently made the decision to start fly fishing, you’re in good company. Fly fishing is a sport that is growing rapidly in popularity; it is a challenging, exciting sport that will push you to new limits each day. It’s a great way to get outside and get some exercise, and while it may seem like an intimidating (even costly!) hobby to undertake, it doesn’t have to be complicated. If you’re just starting out on the water, consider our beginner’s guide of tips to help you get started.

The 10 Things You Should Do to Start Fly Fishing

  1. Educate Yourself!

While you can spend time puttering around on your own, you will be much more effective if someone shows you what to do first. While YouTube videos and virtual novice trainings are a good place to start, it’s better if you can find a guide or teacher who will take you right out on the water.  I actually hired a guide to teach my wife and sister.  I knew it would be alot more fun and cheaper.  I could just visualize my wife getting mad at me while I tried to teach her to cast.  That would just ruin a day that was intended to be fun and relaxing.

Many local fly shops offer free or inexpensive trainings. These are pretty straightforward and train you in the basics of fly fishing. While they won’t always get you out on the water (although the very best will), they will train you in everything from knot tying, fly selection, casting, and more. These classes will allow you to get feedback from a professional before you get out on the river.

Best yet, consider hiring a guide. This is especially helpful if you plan on fishing regularly in a specific area, as the guide will be more familiar with the flies, casts, and techniques necessary to land fish in that area. Many people are intimidated by the idea of hiring a guide, but they don’t have to break the bank. Many guides offer free or reduced excursions, especially if you’re a local or beginner.

  1. Select Your Rod, Reel and Line—Preferably All Together

You don’t need to break the bank, but invest in a good fly fishing rod, reel, and line package. This can be a daunting task, as there are hundreds of styles of each available, each with different features, sizes, and lengths. Consult your local fly shop or a seasoned guide for advice, or, if all else fails, purchase a nine-foot, five-weight rod. This is generally a safe bet for beginning fly fishermen.

Combo packages are also a wise choice for beginners, as they provide a full set-up for less than $100. Many offer lifetime warranties, and buying a combination package ensures that you will match your fly rod and lines—an absolutely must to make sure it works correctly. You should also invest in some sort of storage tube to help protect your equipment while you’re trekking back to a remote river.

  1. Get Some Leaders and Tippet (But Don’t Overthink It)

As you’ve likely deduced, the leader is what you use to connect your fly line to your fly. This tapered material straightens out so that your fly lands exactly where you want it to. It is thin and translucent and can vary in size depending on your needs. Tippet, on the other hand, extends your leader. You will need this if you’ve lost some of the length of the leader after breaking or cutting it. Whenever possible, try to get everything in the same brand so that everything works well together.

  1. Learn Some Casts—Then Practice, Practice, Practice

YouTube is a great place to check out some instructional videos on casting, but if you have access to a class or guide, that’s even better. There are hundreds of videos online about casting techniques, all of which will show you different perspectives on a cast to help you get a better handle on what you’re doing.

Five years ago I fly fished saltwater for the first time.  My true love is fishing on those quiet rivers with nobody around.  What I’ll say about fishing salt is you must learn to cast!  Captain Russ of Salty Fly Charters recommended Mel Kreiger’s casting instructions.  Mel was one of the founders of Fly Fishers International Casting Instructors Program.  Easily the most recognized fly rod casting instruction in the world.  His video’s completely changed my casting – FOR THE BETTER.  Check out his videos The Essence of Fly Casting V1 and The Essence of  Fly Casting V2 (LINKS TO AMAZON)  I can’t say enough good stuff about his natural ability to teach something he loves.

The more you practice casting, the more effective you will be. Practice outside in a wide, open area, and try to land your fly inside a particular area. Mark a section of your lawn using spray point or create some other sort of designated area. This will help you pinpoint your errors and see what you are doing wrong—or right! Remember, practice makes perfect, and the better you become at casting, the less often you’ll have to untangle your snagged line from a nearby bush.

Try to master a few basic casts so that you have a few techniques in your casting “toolbox.” The overhead cast and roll cast are some of the easiest and most effective casts you can master. The overhead cast is the quintessential cast, having evolved over years of use. It was designed for use before graphite rods, requiring you to bring the line overhead and then behind you, and then cast back out in front of you to your point of interest.

The roll cast is another great cast for beginners, and is optimal for use in small creeks or streams. The goal of the cast is to provide an effective landing when there are trees or bushes nearby—particularly, behind you. The motion is similar to that of chopping a log, making this a simple cast to master.

  1. Get a Handful of Flies and a Fly Box

Have a conversation with some local, seasoned fly fishermen to figure out what flies will work best in the area you are fishing. It’s also not a bad idea to do some reading up on the different types of flies you might encounter. There are several types of flies, including dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. Depending on what species of fish you plan on fishing, as well as the weather and water conditions, you’ll need to have a few trusty flies in your fly box to make sure you are prepared for whatever the river throws at you.

Flies for beginner

Flies for beginner

Depending on what and where you’re fishing, a few good beginner flies include the Pheasant Tail and the Parachute Adams. The Pheasant Tail is the very best mayfly imitator and is easy to tie at home, if that’s another hobby you’re exploring. IT mimics a variety of bait species, making it versatile for any conditions and species. The Parachute Adams dry fly is used throughout the world, and can be used in practically any lighting conditions. It can imitate several small flies and Caddis flies, making it a great choice for when you’re unsure of what the fish are feeding on.

Other popular options include the Zebra Midge, the Wooly Bugger, and others.

When you’re looking for a fly box, find one that is best suited for whatever type of flies you plan on using. Some are more designed for saltwater flies, while others are built for dry flies. The best bet is to get a multi-use, multi-compartment fly box that can carry multiple types of flies. A new, innovative type of fly box is a roll-box that is typically used for carrying big streamers. It rolls up into a tube the size of a water bottle, allowing you to stash it inside your vest, but provides the amount of storage space produced by two larger fly boxes combined.

  1. Learn Two Simple Knots

You’ll want to learn a few simple knots for fly fishing. This can be incredibly intimidating, but is easier if you just master a couple of handy knots for all-purpose use.

The double surgeon’s knot is essentially just an overhand knot done twice. It’s a quick, efficient way to connect similar-sized materials. It attaches tippet to a leader and can also be used to build a leader if you attach multiple sections of tippet together. It can provide a loop for tying on flies and streamers and add weight or a second fly. This fly is great when you’re in a hurry, but it’s important to note that it must be lubricated.

Another easy knot is the clinch knot. This incredibly strong knot is easy to tie, but even easier if you use scissor clamps. This makes it easier to see and also easier on cold fingers. This knot has been used since the 1940s and is a tried-and-true classic.

  1. Get Ready to Unhook Your Monster Catch

This task is one easily forgotten by many beginner fly fishermen—wait, we’re going to actually catch something? Be prepared to unload the fish you toiled so hard for. Bring along a set of scissor clamps and, ideally, a net to help you unhook your fish in a cinch.

Invest in a net with a rubber mesh pocket. These are softer, and don’t damage fish by stripping the protective slime from their scales. This is important if you’re fishing in a catch-and-release area.

You’ll also need a good pair of scissor clamps. Opt for a pair with a serrated scissor and straight clamp. The clamp section will help crush barbs or remove difficult hooks from fish. You should invest in a versatile pair that can be used on all streamside tasks, from cutting to unhooking fish.

Finally, consider buying a pack, vest, sling, or belt to hold all of your items. Get something that’s waterproof and allows you to manage all of your fly boxes, tippets, and cutting accessories. The best ones will also be adjustable for maximum comfort.

  1. Suit Up Appropriately

Invest in a good pair of waders, and always dress for the weather. If you’re fishing on a hot, sunny summer day, you might not need waders, especially fi you don’t plan on venturing out into deep waters. However, in most cases you’ll want a good pair of waders to keep you dry and warm Neoprene waders are a good bet as they are lightweight and inexpensive, but you can also explore rubber, nylon, or other synthetic materials. You will also need a pair of boots if your waders are not designed to be worn shoeless. Whatever you do or choose to wear, just make sure you check the weather and water conditions before you head out. This will keep you comfortable, as well as safe.

  1. Do Some Research

Explore as many bodies of water as possible in your first few years of fly fishing. This will help teach you to how read a river and figure out where fish are likely to hide. Usually, fish will remain well below the surface (unless they happen to be feeding on the surface, which is always nice). Make yourself familiar with fish behavior and water patterns. Stowing away a few helpful facts can be handy when you’re exploring new water. For example, fish tend to hang out more in slower waters, as well as behind boulders or rocks or where currents meet.

This will also help to familiarize you with the safety aspects of fly fishing in certain waters. Always wear a good pair of boots and consider carrying a wading staff in unfamiliar waters. Wade out only when necessary and check the weather forecast. Make sure someone knows where you are, and better yet—bring a buddy! Safety is absolutely crucial when you begin fly fishing, especially in cold or unknown areas.

  1. Get Out On the Water and Have Some Fun!

Fly fishing doesn’t have to be intimidating. The list of advice, checklists, to-dos, and to-not­-dos can sometimes seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t need to be. By familiarizing yourself with a few basic items you should bring, as well as a few techniques and strategies, you’ll be prepared to get out on the water. Most importantly, remember that the most exciting part of this hobby is learning new things. By getting out on the water frequently, you’ll become a better fly fisherman—or woman—in no time.

Fly fishing is a wonderful hobby that can help open the door to some exhilarating experiences. Even on the cloudiest, rainiest, most dismal days, the thrill of reeling in a huge fish just can’t be beat. Even if luck is not with you and you end up catching nothing, fly fishing is a great way to harness the great emotional and spiritual thrill of the great outdoors. This spring, make it your priority to get out on the water as much as possible, and you’ll be a professional faster than you can say tippet.