Thinking about learning how to fly fish? Great!
This fly fishing for beginners guide will explain the basic equipment you need and how to get started.
Fly fishing is a wonderful hobby that can help you relax, enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise. One of the great things about fly fishing is that you can do it almost anywhere. You can fly fish from the shore of a lake or river. You can do it from the deck of a boat.
That’s not all…
Think of all the benefits that you’ll gain from taking this new hobby up. Studies show that spending time outdoors can have many health benefits too. Improvements in memory, lower stress levels, reduced blood pressure, eyesight and ability to focus can all be benefits of spending time outdoors.
Introduction To Fly Fishing
While fly fishing may seem complicated at first, is very easy to get started. And while the equipment used is very different than what you would need for regular fishing styles, don’t worry, I’ll give an explanation on how to set it all up.
Fly casting does require some practice to get the basics down. It’s not something you can master in a couple of days. But becoming proficient at it can be a reward all on its own.
Learning how to fly fish doesn’t have to be something you do on your own. Having a friend join you can be a great way to learn the sport. Either way, getting out there and getting some practice fly casting can be part of the fun. Before you know it, you’ll be able to cast a fly right in front of a nice trout, bass, or even a school of tarpon.
What Makes Casting a Fly Different?
One key thing to understand about fly fishing is that you’re not casting a lure or bait like you do in more conventional fishing styles. In those types of fishing, you use the weight of the lure to pull the line out of a reel.
Fly fishing is different. You are using a fly line that is covered with a polyurethane rubber-like coating. The added weight of this coating makes the fly line castable. Basically, you’re casting the line and not the lure.
Basic Fly Fishing Gear.
Below you’ll find a description of the basic setup that you’ll need to get started and an explanation of the words used to describe some of the gear and techniques. Keep in mind that you will find a wide variety of prices for gear. Don’t get discouraged. When you’re starting out, you can get a perfectly decent kit for a less than you may think.
Fly rods, reels and lines come in different weights. For example, when someone mentions a fly rod weight, they’re not actually talking about how much the rod weighs. The weight is a classification of the size and capabilities of the set up.
The weight also applies to the fly reel and fly line. So, you want to have matching weights for your all three.
Why does this matter?
You’ll want to make sure that you get the right weight kit based on the type of fish you’ll be going after.
Here is a quick breakdown of weights.
One to Four weight kits:
These are smaller kits. Rods in this range are usually around 6 – 8 ft long. These kits are intended to fish for smaller targets such as panfish, bluegill or crappie. They can also be used for small trout. They’re meant to cast dry flies or smaller streamers.
Four to Six weight kits:
These are your mid-range kits and are the most versatile. Most people start off with kits in this weight range. These will be adequate for going after bass, larger trout and some small inshore saltwater species. However, if you’re going after saltwater species like bonefish, you’ll need something heavier.
Seven to Nine weight kits:
Steelhead, muskie, snook, bonefish. These are some of the species you could target with this category. These weights can cast larger flies and poppers needed to attract big fish. You probably won’t start with this type of setup. But if you fall in love with fly fishing, one of these may be in your future.
Ten to Twelve weight kits
Giant tarpon, trevally, sailfish. These are the types of fish you would target in this category. They’re meant for going after the largest species.
So now that you understand fly fishing weights, you should be able to decide what size kit you want to start with.
Most starting fly anglers will opt for a five weight setup. This size will provide the versatility needs to go after most species found in rivers, lakes and even some smaller saltwater gamefish.
Breaking down the individual gear components
To get started with Fly Fishing, you’ll need the following:
The Fly Rod.
The rod is one of the key components to your fly fishing kit. Today you can get a very good graphite fly rod for less than one hundred dollars.
Fly rods come in single- or multi-piece rods that can be broken down into 2, 4 or even 5 pieces. This is something to take into consideration if you plan on doing lots of traveling with your setup.
As mentioned before, graphite is a popular choice for rod material. This is true for fly rods and regular spinning and casting rods too. A graphite rod will normally be strong and light.
A graphite rod will help you place the right amount of leverage on a fish, reduce the chance of snapping the rod and also be lightweight so that your casting arm lasts longer.
The reel seat is also an important part of the rod. This is where the reel will be placed and screwed down in place so that it’s secure.
I’ve used rods with plastic reel seats or reel seats made with soft metals that can deform or come loose. I recommend you avoid these types of rods and opt for one that has a metal reel seat, threads and locking nut.
Most decent rods come equipped with cork handles. EVA foam is also a popular material for rod handles. This is really just a matter of preference. There are also rod grip wraps that you can buy and add to your rod.
What’s the reel story?
Fly reels come in tons of different styles and price ranges. You can buy a fly reel alone for over $500. But in the end when you think about it, a fly reel is one of the simpler types of fishing reels.
The part of a fly reel that holds the line and is most of the time detachable from the rest of the reel is called the arbor.
You want a reel that can hold your line, have a smooth action and a smooth drag as well. Don’t get a reel made of plastic. You can get an aluminum reel for a reasonable price. Also remember that the reel weight should be the same as you rod and line.
It’s also important that the reel have a smooth drag. Make sure to read reviews and know if this is the case.
The backing line is a longer length of line (usually 50 to 100 yards) that’s a braided type of line. Once a fish has pulled all your fly line away, you then get to the backing line. It allows for fighting larger fish that may take a longer run or two. These lines are usually brightly colored so they can be seen in the water. They usually come in 20 to 30 lb. test.
Remember that when you’re fly fishing, it’s the line that you’re actually casting. The weight of the fly line is what apply force to. Fly Fishing Lines usually come in weights from 0 – 14 and in lengths that are usually around 100ft. Keep in mind that when you place line on a reel you put the backing line on first.
Fly lines also come with different tapers. You can get:
Weight Forward Line
The forward part of the line is thicker. The back end of the line is of uniform thickness. The front end near the tip also tapers down quickly.
With the fly lines weight moved forward, you can get longer casts. But there’s a catch, too much forward weight can have a negative impact on accuracy. You’ll want a line that has the right level of forward weight shift.
For a beginning fly angler, a moderate forward taper would be fine.
A double taper line has the thicker part more evenly distributed along the middle of the lines length. The advantages to double tapered lines are, you can roll cast and mend more easily. You can also reverse the line when the front end wears out.
This type of line is the same thickness throughout its length. It is not very common so we won’t cover it.
Floating vs Sinking Fly Lines
Floating fly lines are the most common type. They float on the water and this allows you to see the movement of the line.
Sinking fly lines sink at rates indicated by “Inches Per Second” or IPS. They can sink evenly throughout their length or be sinking tip lines.
Sinking tip lines only sink along the first 10 feet or so. This helps when you want your fly or streamer to get deep but you don’t what you whole fly line to continue sinking. The remaining line that still floats can also make it easier to re-cast the line.
As you can imagine if all the line is sinking, then you would have to reel most of it back in before you could re-cast. With just a sinking tip, you can re-cast without having to reel or strip most of the line in.
The leader is tied or connected directly to the fly line. It helps start to taper the line down from the thick fly line to the thin tippet at the end. It’s a clear line and this helps avoid spooking fish.
The taper of the leader is critical as it helps to transfer the power of the cast in a way that will help the line unfurl in a line and drop the fly at the end of the cast.
If while casting, you line and fly fall into a tangled heap, one cause could be an incorrect or non existent taper on your leader.
One way to achieve this taper is to tie together various size monofilament lines together. For example, you could start with 20 pound test and connect that directly to the fly line. Then, you could connect 15 pound test line to the 20 pound test and so on.
Another option that can save time is to buy pre-build knotless leaders that taper to a given size and strength. These pre-made leaders normally come in lengths of around 9 feet.
The tippet is tied to the end of the leader. It is the thinnest part of line. Like the leader, it is usually clear and is meant to be invisible to the fish. You tie your fly directly to the tippet. The tippet should also be very flexible and have low line memory so that your flies can move realistically.
Tippet is measured by a number then the letter X. The larger the number, the thinner the tippet. So, 8X tippet will be much thinner than 1X tippet. This also means that 8X tippet will have a lower breaking point than 1X. 8X tippet will break at around 1.5 pounds test. 1X tippet will break at around 8 pounds test. So as you can see, the X number and the pounds test are almost reversed. Don’t blame me, not my idea. I guess you can think of it like electrical wiring. The smaller the gauge the larger the wire.
Tippet can also be made from different materials. Nylon and fluorocarbon are the most commonly used tippets. Nylon tippets are normally more buoyant. So, if you want to use floating flies, then nylon may be the way to go. Fluorocarbon is is harder to see underwater and it also sinks. You can expect better knot strength and abrasion resistance with fluorocarbon.
How to Set up a Fly Rod and Reel.
How can you actually use this information?
Let’s discuss how you set up all this gear so you can go fishing!
You can buy a reel that has backing and fly line already spooled. But if you want to understand how to do this yourself read on.
A note on fishing knots.
Fishing knots, can be a point of contention. You can ready many articles online about how some knots do not come close to 100% breaking strength of the line being used.
There are many tests done many differing opinions.
I have used the uniknot the albright knot
and the surgeon’s knot for many years in many different conditions I can tell you that these knots will do the job.
You can go with these 2 knots or do your own research and find your favorites.Either way, you should practice the knots you choose and make sure that you can tie them in the field and in less than optimal conditions.
If tying too many knots does not seem like something you want to do, take a look at the loop connectors section below.
Spooling your fly reel.
Normally, guides tell you to tie the backing on to your reel and then start reeling it in until you gotten to the suggested length of backing for your reel. This is normally 50 or 100 yards.
However, you might not know how much backing you you need to put on your reel so that when you add the fly line it will properly fill your reel.
Imagine if you add too much backing and then you add the fly line and it overflows the reel.
Here is a trick you can use to make sure you get the perfect amount of backing and fly line on your reel. You’re going to spool your reel in reverse by spooling the fly line first and then the backing.
Before you start, make sure your reel is set up with the handle on the side you will be using.
- Wrap the front end of the fly line around the spool a few times.
- Reel the fly line in until you get near the end.
- Tie the fly line to the backing using a albright knot.
- Start reeling the rest of the fly line and backing on. Make sure to keep tension on the line and that is spools evenly across the arbor.
- Once you fill the arbor, you can cut the backing line.
- Now you need to removed all the line from the reel. Make sure you can lay it somewhere where it won’t get tangled. Do not lay the line on top of itself as you remove it. This will increase the chances of a tangle.
- Once the line is removed take the end of the backing line that you cut off and attach it to the reel using a uniknot.
- Now you can start reeling in the backing and fly line into the reel and know that you have the right amount of line.
Attach the reel to the rod.
To attach the reel to the rod, you simply place the reel in the rod’s reel seat and then turn down the reels lock nuts onto the reel so that the clamps press on the reel and secure it.
Fly Leader and Tippet Setup
Some leaders come with a loop connector. This is a loop at the end of the leader that connects to the fly line. These are meant to connect to fly lines that also have loop connectors.
f your fly line does not have a loop connector and you want to use them, you can buy pre-made loop connectors that you can attach to your fly line.
The best part?
If you have loop connectors on your fly line and leader, you can attach them to each other without tying a knot. Also, when you want to change your leader, you don’t have to cut or otherwise try to undo a knot.
If you’re not using loop connectors, then you’ll need to tie the fly line and leader together. A popular knot for this task is the nail knot. However, I prefer to use the albright for this. It’s not as neat as the nail knot, but I think it is less likely to pull apart.
Types of Flies.
The Dry Fly
As you may have guessed, dry flies float. They’re usually meant to simulate a floating insect.
The nymph is a type of wet fly. It is meant to simulate immature insects that live underwater. Nymphs are popular with trout anglers.
The Wet Fly
Wet flies sink and simulate all sorts of creatures including bait fish, crustaceans and worms.
Streamers are a type of wet fly that usually is meant to simulate a baitfish. Pulling on your fly line in short bursts or stripping creates a darting action that can stimulate predatory instincts in fish and draw a strike.
Poppers are dry flies that have a plastic body with a concave front. This allows them to create a popping action when quickly pulled on the water’s surface.
Basics of Fly Casting.
WARNING: When you’re learning how to cast or even after you become an “expert”, there is a chance you will hit yourself with either the fly line of the fly itself. Also beware of people around you as you could hit them as well.
Normally anglers joke about hooking themselves in the back while forward casting. Also beware that when back casting you could inadvertently hook yourself.
Wear eye protection.
Learning the overhead cast.
There’s alot of guidance out there on how to properly fly cast.
Some experts make definitive comments about how you should move your arm.
For example, many say “never bend your wrist.”
However, it’s not hard to find videos of experts making perfect fly casts using nothing but wrist.
In the end it’s all about getting the right timing when moving your rod through the air.
The path and speed of your rod also matters.
Normally, you want your rod to travel in a smooth and straight path with gradual acceleration.
Hold the rod by the grip and start with the rod tip pointed low almost towards the water. Move the rod up and back with a smooth motion. Try to watch the fly line as it travels back. Ideally you want to pause and not start your forward cast until the leader is almost completely unfurled behind you.
As you back cast, you should feel something called “rod loading.” This refers to the weight of the line bending the rod forward a bit as you pull it back. This will help your back cast. As the rod straightens itself and unloads it will pull the line backwards.
After the pause, when you are ready to start the forward cast, do not flick the rod forward with too much acceleration. This could lead to a whip cracking. You want to avoid this as it could cause your fly to break off the line as well as a tailing loop.
Start the forward cast with a smooth straight motion. When you finish the forward cast, your rod tip should be pointing just above the horizon line. This is a rough estimate.
Ideally, you should see the line, leader and tippet all unfurl neatly in front of you in the direction of your intended target.
You’ll need to practice this technique in order to get good and hitting a target. You’ll need to focus in both direction and distance.
Too short a cast and the fish will never see your fly. Too long a cast and you may spook the fish away with your fly line.
The Roll Cast
The roll cast is a fundamental cast that will come in handy when you have limited room behind you for a backcast. When learning how to fly fish, it should be one of the first casts that you practice.
What’s so great about it?
Well, when used, it will reduce the need for false casting and thus reduce the probability of line tangles. It can quickly get your fly out of the water and back into on target quickly. It’s also a great cast for lifting heavy shooting head lines.
To roll cast, you need to start with about 15 feet of line already out. Then, pull the rod back. You don’t want to use too much force here. You want to create a D-Loop. This means that the rod and line will form a backwards capital letter D. About half the line will remain on the water in front of you.
Next, you want to forward cast and create a loop in the line as it flies forward. The unwinding of this loop will pick up your fly and send it forward in the direction of your cast.
Remember that it’s key to avoid applying too much force on the cast. You only need enough force to get the fly up just off the water and have it roll over.