Your Complete Introduction to Fly Fishing

Man With Dog Fly Fishing in a River

Looking for a new hobby that will help you to get outdoors, spend time outdoors and develop your skills in a highly addictive manner? A hobby that can also serve as a survival skill? That requires precision, timing and patience? But that also gives you time to enjoy a little peace and quiet, perhaps read a book?

Then fly fishing might just be the answer!

Fly fishing can be considered a hobby but to others it is a sport or an art. Like the very best activities, fly fishing will give back what you put into it and can become a lifelong passion. In this comprehensive post, we are going to break fly fishing down and examine exactly what it is and what makes it such a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

What is Fly Fishing?

Perhaps a good place to start with this comprehensive introduction, would be to look at precisely what fly fishing is, how it is different from other kinds of fishing and what makes it such an excellent choice of activity.

Fish Caught on a Fly

Fly fishing is simply a method of angling that is fundamentally the same as other types of fishing. What sets it apart, as the name might suggest, is the use of the ‘fly’. A fly is an artificial lure that you can use to catch fish. Learn more about the history and specifics of fly fishing on Wikipedia.

Thus, fly fishing will begin with fly ‘casting’, wherein you cast out the fly allowing it to travel great distances and reach the deepest and most populous points in any given body of water. What’s more important about the fly is that it is designed to move like a real organism and to resemble a natural invertebrate or bait fish. This encourages the fish to strike at the fly and thus enables you to – theoretically – catch more fish.

A fly then is aimed to look like a an animal and the way you accomplish this will often be by using real animal pieces – feathers, hair etc. (of course you can also buy a ready made fly!). The aim of fly fishing is often to challenge yourself and to use the fly to lure bigger and more exotic fish.

To do this, you might have to create flies intended to look like numerous specific creatures. For example, a trout will generally prefer an insect imitation. This kind of nuance and creativity is not available to conventional fishing techniques.

Barnsley Fly Box + 100 Assorted Fly Fishing Fly Kit Flies

Fly fishing will involve using a fly rod and in turn will greatly influence every aspect of the way you fish from the fly fishing kit to the approach you take.

Types of Fly Fishing


Fly fishing can be done in either fresh or salt water. It can also be done in colder or warmer waters, which will impact on the type of fish that you are likely to catch. Game fishing often involves fishing for trout in colder water, whereas coarse fishing involves fishing for various other types of fish.

The precise techniques used for fly fishing can vary depending on the type of fish and the body of water. The way you approach fly fishing in a lake or large river will be different from the way you approach fishing in an estuary or ocean.

Sometimes fly fishing might mean heading out on a boat, other times it can mean wading into the water yourself wearing large boots!

Benefits of Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is just one angling technique and there are actually many others. Largely though, you can divide most fishing activities into fishing and fly fishing. ‘Fishing’, minus the ‘fly’, will generally mean ‘spin fishing’ where you use a spin, rather than a fly.

The idea of fly fishing is to fool fish using the artificial fly and this in turn means you can create specific lures to attract specific fish. It was once often claimed that fly fishing was mainly for trout but today you can catch anything and everything on a fly rod.

Stunning Nymph Fly

Many people feel that fly fishing is actually a more ‘pure’ way of catching fish. By creating the lure and then waiting, this feels more like a sport that requires craftsmanship, practice, patience and strategy.

Spin fishing on the other hand is intended to catch a lot of fish. It is thought to be a little more versatile in terms of catching lots of different types of fish at once and it will allow you to use carnkbaits and other types of lures that can only be used on spin rods. This gives spin fishing an edge and usually results in more fish being caught.

This post explains the differences between fly and spin fishing in more detail.

If you were to place an equally matched fly fisherman and spin fisherman in the same river, then in all likelihood, the fly fishing technique would result in greater yield. Thus spin fishing is perhaps more functional and better at aiming for quantity. However, this doesn’t make it the ‘better’ form of fishing – as a lot of people will prefer to practice their craft by increasing the challenge and crafting their own fly.

When you decide whether you want to learn to fly fish or learn to spin fish, the answer will probably come down to your aim. If you want to get closer to nature, develop your craft and feel like a true huntsman surviving on the land; then fly fishing is probably going to bring you more joy and fulfilment. Conversely though, if your aim is to catch dinner in a functional and fast manner, then you will likely be better suited to spin fishing!

Why Fish?

But why fish at all? Before we get into our fly fishing guide, the question is why you might want to fish at all?

fly fishing sunset nature river

Here are some great reasons to give it a go…

Beat Stress

Fly fishing is an excellent way to beat stress. You’ll need to learn the basics and how to keep the line in the air but after that you’ll find that it can be incredibly calming. The motion of the water is naturally soporific and being so closely connected to nature is a fantastic chance to get away from technology for a while and to let your mind unwind.

There are countless studies that illustrate just how good for us it is to spend some time in nature and it has even been shown to make people more creative.

It’s Cool

Let’s face it, fly fishing is just cool. When you’re lying in wait and silently blending in with your natural surroundings, you’ll feel like Rambo or like predator. There is a ton of cool gear you can add to your fly fishing kit and you’ll find that it’s incredibly rewarding to build up your arsenal.

It’s a Great Survival Skill

One of the reasons that fly fishing feels so right, is that it’s something that has real survival value and that we would have been doing in some form or other for many thousands of years during our evolution.

Like all animals, we are predators. We are designed to prey on other animals and when you start to learn to fly fish, you’ll find your brain comes alive. You become more switched on to your environment and you realize that all of the skills and abilities that were given to you were aimed at helping you thrive in activities just like these.

bahamas fly fishing

Fly fishing gets you closer to the action. It is rawer than other types of fishing. And it is not that far removed from grabbing a stick and crafting a lure and catching fish in the wild. One day, these skills could save your life.

More likely, fly fishing will give you a great way to bring home dinner occasionally and to bring down your shopping bill! It’s a skill that’s actually useful and that makes it incredibly rewarding.

It’s Addictive

Fishing is one of those activities – just like golf – that you can’t really appreciate until you try it. And when you do try fishing, you’ll discover just how incredibly addictive and compelling it is. It’s addictive first and foremost simply because you’ll be eager to get back to the wilderness and get back to that sense of calm and that quiet place.

But at the same time, it’s highly addictive seeing your skills improve. The technique involved in casting out when fly fishing is incredibly fun and something you can hone over time. Moreover, you’ll find that catching bigger and more exotic fish, building up your tools and generally becoming much more adept at what you do is what keeps you coming back.

This highly rewarding gradual improvement is the hook of mnay of the best activities and is something that can give you a real sense of accomplishment and personal development.

It’s Humane

Fly fishing is one of the most animal friendly forms of hunting and one of the most eco-friendly. Because fly fishing is about skill and patience (moreso than spin fishing), you are not going to risk depleting any local populations of fish.

Fly Fisherman Returning Catch into River

What’s more, is that most people will throw back the majority of fish they catch (despite the fact that you could eat them, as mentioned earlier).

While some people enjoy hunting and actually getting to eat what they kill, fly fishing is an ideal choice for those who are keen to protect the environment rather than place any strain on it.

It’s Affordable

While there is a ton of gear to add to your fly fishing kit, getting started is actually very affordable. You can even buy ready made fly fishing ‘start packs’ and only spend a couple of hundred dollars on it.

It’s an Excuse to be Outdoors

Not only that but the very best fly fishing spots happen to be particularly incredible beauty spots. You’ll have a great reason to head out and look for lush forest and countryside and every time you visit a new place, you’ll be itching to get out there and be a part of it. This is a much better way to explore and to see the world, versus watching the world fly by through your car window!

Flies Are Stunning

It’s not just the beauty spots that are great to look at when you’re fly fishing! Actually, the flies themselves can be considered as tiny works of art. If you’ve never seen a fly tied before, then it’s great to watch.

Stunning Blue Fly

You can try and make your own flies and extend your hobby into the evening, developing new skills. Otherwise, you can buy them ready made for just $1. It’s amazing when you think about the craftsmanship that goes into these things!

It Can be Solitary

Most of us don’t spend much time alone. Most of our time is spent in a busy office, with people calling us every few minutes with a different crisis to solve. We then commute home in busy traffic and deal with the various different crises at home.

When you fly fish though, you have a chance to be alone and to reflect. You can get outside and be surrounded by incredibly lush countryside while at the same time listening to the sound of flowing water, crashing over stones and rocks and rushing around you. It’s wholly absorbing and it’s a great place to think and to get some calm.

It Can be Social

Fly fishing can also be very social though! You’ll find that there’s an amazing sense of camaraderie with other fly fishers and a huge, thriving community on the web.

Two Men Fly Fishing in a River

What’s more though, is that this can be a great day out with friends, or better yet, a chance to bond with a parent or a child. Many people who love fly fishing do so because they were introduced to it by a parent. This is a fantastic way to bond with your own kids or parents and it’s a perfect opportunity to spend quality time without necessarily needing to say a word.

Here are some more reasons to fly fish.

Your Beginner Fly Fishing Kit

*Notice: On mobile devices, scroll right to see entire table

Hopefully, I’ve done enough to get you excited for fly fishing and hopefully you now can’t wait to get stuck in and start to learn to fly fish.

But before you can do all that, you’re first going to need some basic equipment. This is what you’ll be using to fly fish and what you’ll be needing to get started. If you want to learn to fly fish, then start by reading through this list and stocking up where appropriate. This will also serve as your basic introduction to each tool you’ll be using to catch fish and what their roles are…

Fly Rod

The fly rod is the most basic and obvious tool you’re going to need to start catching fish. Essentially, this is what you will use to cast out and keep your fly in the right spot and it is what you will use to reel in your fish once you catch them.

We’ll go into detail regarding the different types of fly rod and how to choose them in a future article but for now, suffice to say that you will want something basic that isn’t too expensive but that also won’t be a limiting factor in what you can catch or how much you can catch.

Set of different fly fishing rods

As a beginner, you will also want a fly rod that is not too expensive (in case you don’t take to the sport) and you will want a fly rod that will be relatively easy to handle. Avoid making the mistake of spending thousands on a pristine fly rod and then using it just once before giving up!

A great choice for a starting fly rod will be one that is around 9 foot long and with a 4 or 5 weight fly line. Fly lines can have weights starting from 0 and going up. The lower the weight, the smaller the fish and the smaller the body of water the rod will be suitable for. However, low weight rods will make it much harder to catch bigger fish and they’re going to start feeling a lot heavier.

Fly rods will also often come in sections. These can be 2, 3, 4 or 5 piece rods and this will allow you to break your rod down for easier transport. If you are a backpacker and your aim is to travel with your rod, then look for one that you can disassemble and store in a backpack!

Check out our article on fly fishing rods for more on choosing the best rods.

Fly Reel

Your fly reel is just as important as your fly rod and again, there are a few choices to be made here. The cost of a fly reel can vary from a miniscule $20 all the way up to $1K! For fresh water fishing, the main job of the fly reel is going to be to hold the fly line.

Two Piscifun Aluminum Fly Fishing Reels in Sand

You’ll only need to think about the reel more if you are planning on fishing for bigger fish, probably in the ocean. In that case, you’ll want to find something big and strong enough to bring in the bigger, heavier fish. Note that your fly reel should always match the weight of your fly rod!

Fly Line

You’re going to need a fly line too of course, which is what the fly rod and reel will be holding. The line is what will let you cast out and it’s what will allow you to lure fish without dipping your great big rod into the water (no giggling please).

Again, there are many different lines and the main differentiating factors here are the material and the way the material causes the line to behave. For example, some lines will float on top of the water, while others will sink and this will help you to attract different types of fish.

When starting out, a good option is the Weight Forward Line. This is a good choice because it makes casting easier. The bulk of the line weight will be built into the front of the line and this allows you to more easily generate some momentum to get your line out nice and far. Another good option for beginners is the Double Taper, which is also suitable for beginners and should seem fairly similar to launch.

Different Colored Fly Lines

Again, you need to make sure that you choose a line where the weight will match the weight of the rod. If you have a five-weight rod, you need a five-weight line.

Backing

Backing is like your ‘back-up’ line. Your typical fly line should be approximately 80-90 feet long and when it runs out from the fish pulling it, you then want your backing to kick in. This will give you an extra 200+ yards of line that can be life saving when you’re battling with a huge fish. Backing also wraps around the hard spool easily without spinning and this can provide more advantages.

The good news is that backing is pretty easy to choose and most products will do practically the same job.

Leader And Tippet

It sounds like a lot of equipment before we’re getting into our fly fishing 101 but you will need this for your fly fishing kit if you’re going to have any luck! Once it’s all there in front of you, it’s fairly easy to understand, so just stick with it a little longer!
The leader and tippet is what is going to connect from the end of your fly line to your fly. As you can imagine, this is fairly important!

The reason you get two parts, is that you need your line to straighten out when it is travelling through the air and when it is in the water. The leader and tippet are tapered which allows this to work.

For beginners, you’ll want to look for tapered leaders that are ready made and that can be used straight out of the package. These should include the tippet. If you are fishing for trout, then look for a 7.5 or 9 foot tapered leader, ending in a 5X tippet.

For different types of fish, you’ll want slightly different flies and slightly different leaders. This is something you can discuss in store, or why not check out our guide to fly fishing gear.

Flies

And now come the flies themselves. Of course this is kind of important for fly fishing!

You can try and make your own flies but for most beginners, you’ll probably find it easier and have more luck by buying a ready-made fly. These shouldn’t cost much at all and as we mentioned, they’re really rather beautiful with a lot of stunning craftsmanship on display (just watch this!).

What’s smart starting out, is to get yourself a good selection of different flies for different types of fish. You can get starter kits for a good price and this will ensure you’re ready to fish in a variety of situations – and you have spares for when things go missing. Remember, trout love insect-like flies!

For more on the most essential fly gear, check out our post or this great guide. You can also check our post on how to tie flies.

Fly Fishing 101 – How to Get Started

Now you have your gear and you know what fly fishing is all about, the next step is to get out there and start casting out and catching fish! So the question is: how do you get started for the first time?

The first thing you’re going to need to learn is how to cast… These fly fishing instructions will help you out.

1

How to Cast

To start with, you’re going to load up your fly rod. Fly rods are more flexible than spinning rods and so you’re going to need to make sure it stays this way. You need to ‘feel the load’ meaning that you should be able to feel the rod bend and unbend in your hand. This should eventually act like a spring board and it’s partly the potential energy ‘snapping back’ into place that will help you get a really good cast out.

Once you’ve loaded your gear on and you can feel that flex, let some line out into your hand. This is a little thicker and heavier than monofilament lines you may be used to but the plastic sheathing keeps it afloat. The more line you let out, the more you can load on. Think of it like a whip and try to imagine how much swing you’re going to be able to get from the rod and the line itself from the amount of weight you’ve added!

Casting Motion Explanation

Remember, we’ve already seen that you need to get the right line for your rod and the right reel and hopefully you’re now starting to see why!

As a very general rule though, the length of the line you let out should be approximately three times the length of the rod.

Beginning The Cast Motion

Now, grip the rod as though you were shaking hands. That means your thumb should be on top and your four fingers should be wrapped around it. You’ll want a grip that is firm enough that you’re not going to let go and sling your rod but it shouldn’t be too tight so as to remove flex from the rod. This is a firm, yet relaxed grip. It’s also quite similar to the manner in which you might grip a golf club.

Keep the butt under your wrist and in line with your forearms. You want your line to get cast in a straight line (it’s called a line… not a curve!) so making sure everything lines up in this way is a good strategy to accomplish that.

Now begins your ‘back cast’. You’re going to start with the line in front of you and then you’re going to cast it back. You might have a personal preference between a sidearm, 45 degree or overhead cast – and anything is fine depending your personal choice and your surrounds. Of course it’s very important to be aware of the people around you, any trees that might be overhead etc.

Man Fly Fishing in River Casting

Pull the rod back to your 10 o’clock position and have a slight bend in the elbow.

Pause once your line has fully left the surface. When you see that, the momentum will travel down the line and the line and fly will then whip upwards. The amount of line and rod load will determine the precise amount of time that you need to pause before you cast out. It should unfurl behind you and from there, you can begin your forward cast.

Start the motion in a smooth and straight line, pointing at the point where you want the line and the fly to land. As with your back cast, you need to ensure you are keeping this straight and that will help you to land on target. Stop the hand abruptly as the line is still pointing slightly up and watch as the momentum travels further down the line and then unloads.

Don’t bend your wrist. As the fly reaches the air, turn your thumb slightly downward about 1’’ or 2.5cm. Leave your hand and arm where they are and let the line fly!

If you have done this properly, then you should find the line travels a great distance and the whole thing looks rather spectacular from an un-initiated bystander’s perspective!

WikiHow provides some detailed instructions on helping you to cast out using different types of motion. You can learn everything here from the roll cast, to the back cast.

Catching Fish

The next part of our fly fishing guide is going to look at how to actually catch fish.

Partly, this will come down to your ability to cast out, your patience and your ability to ‘set’ the hook and reel in.

Man in Shallow Waters Casting Line

But it also comes down to choosing the right spot to fish and choosing the right fly. That’s part of the fun of fly fishing: so many elements will come together in order to dictate the success and your outcome and this means there are plenty of elements to choose from.

You can have the perfect technique but if you go where the fish aren’t biting… you’re just not going to have much luck!

Choosing Where to Fish And Creating The Right Circumstances

Fly fishing 101 is choosing the best location. The aim is to increase the odds in your favour by heading where there are lots of fish and they are more likely to bite. Look for boulders, submerged trees and debris and sheltered patches under trees. These provide shelters and plenty of food, which will encourage the fish to gather there. But of course, you’re also trying to avoid snagging – so this is a balancing act!

The time of day can also impact on where the best place to fish is. In the early morning, you’ll find that fish can be found in shallower water. Later on, they’re likely to be in deeper patches.

Try casting downstream too – to patches where the current may have brought the fish. Undercut banks, pools where streams widen and heads of pools are also all good spots. If you stick around one area for a while and don’t get a bite, try moving to another spot!

fly fishing in patagonia argentina

You also need to make sure that your fly looks attractive on the water. You need to aim to imitate and actual insect remember and you can do this by letting it drift naturally or by applying slight movement to get the fly to jerk left and right like a pond skater or similar.

Setting The Hook

If you’ve done all this well, then with any luck a fish will be attracted by your fly and will bite. You still need to hook them though and this part is called ‘setting the hook’. You want to securely embed the hook in your fish and you’re going to accomplish this by pulling sharply down on the line using your hand. You’re this way applying a sudden force toward you, which should pull the hook in your direction and catch it into the mouth of the fish.

Try to think about the angle of the hook in relation to the fish and move the line accordingly. You should feel if you manage to set the hook. You also need to think about how the angle you have created is going to make keeping the line taut harder or easier.

You might feel the urge to pull the line upward in order to set the hook but if you do so, it’s going to be harder to keep the line from becoming slack when the fish swims toward you. So try to accomplish this by leaving the line on the water and pulling to the side, rather than straight up. You can learn more about why this is important in this post.

The Fight Begins

Now the fight begins and you’re going to need to pull the fish back. This is called ‘playing’. If you are fishing for small fish, then you shouldn’t often have the line taken out to the backing.

Man in Shallow Waters Pulling Fish

In this case, you can hold the rod at roughly a 45 degree angle to your body, point the rod tip toward the line coming off the water (not at the fish) and use your forefinger on your rod hand to press the line against the rod handle. You should be aiming to keep a constant bend in your rod by holding onto the line. This should keep tension and ensure that you are making progress and not allowing the fish to regain control of its trajectory.

Each time you get the opportunity to retrieve a little line, do so by using your line hand to pull line in through your rod hand. This is called ‘stripping’ the line and as you reach the end of each strip, you can grip the line with your rod hand and slide the line hand up to grip the line again.

As you gradually strip and slip the line, the fish should start to tire. You want to get the fish to tire before you attempt to land it. Try to avoid having loose coils of line floating around on the water or on the ground. Remember, you don’t want the line to tangle around things or its game over!

For bigger fish of 2KG and more, you’ll start to see the backing fly off the reel. Now your job is to get the fish onto the reel as quickly as you can. Let the loose line slip through your fingers until the line is tight to the reel and maintain pressure while starting to wind it in. Once the line is on the reel, the drag system should release the line evenly and you can start getting close to line again.

Once the fish is ready to land, you can lift the rod tip higher to reduce the angle between the fish and your net and slip it underneath. This can be tricky in itself and in some cases you might prefer to beach your fish by pulling it onto a bank or sliding it through shallow water.

Fly Fishing Catch Held in Hands in Water

And there you have it – your first fish!

Conclusions

Hopefully this guide has given you a good introduction to fly fishing and you now feel confident enough to get out there and start giving it a go. Hopefully it has also inspired you and shown you just what an amazingly rewarding and exciting activity fly fishing really is.

But for much more on how to fly fish, fly fishing tips, fly fishing gear and more, check out the rest of the site.

The best way to learn though? That’s to slip on your waders, pick up your rod and head out into the wide waters! This is a skill you learn on the job!

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