Once you’ve got a fish to eat, hooking, landing, and releasing the fish is next, and it can all happen in a few seconds. It is overwhelming!
Having been a fly fishing guide for the majority of my life, I have a few fly fishing tips for beginners that will help you a lot on the water, here they are.
1. Be Prepared
There is nothing worse than having to do gear prep when you’re down by the river as it wastes valuable fly fishing time that you’ll only get frustrated about.
Make sure you have built your leaders the day before, that the line on your reel is ready to go and not tangled, and that you have a good selection of flies. Also, think about clothing such as waterproofs and waders, as the last thing you want is to leave your fly fishing behind because you got too cold or too hot.
By being prepared, you’ll be able to set up next to the river in a few minutes and be fishing in no time.
2. Fly Tips
It’s a fact that if you don’t cast the right fly on the water your chances of catching a rather selective fish such as a trout is quite minimal. Trout are fussy creatures and you’re going to need a range of different flies to match the insects hatching and catch them.
Your fly box should have a dry fly or 150 dry flies like mine, a lot of nymphs, wet flies, and some streamers. When matching the hatch occurring around the river, you need to first match the size of the insects the trout are eating and then the color. See our post here on What do Trout Eat for more information
This means you’ll want dry flies in sizes 12 through to 22 in lots of different shapes and colors, and the same goes for the nymphs. You want a selection of nymph flies with different weight heads too from bead head to tungsten head flies so that you have the extra weight to fish deeper or faster pools when you need to.
In regards to streamers, a range of size and color is also important but you’ll start with flies in size 2 and go bigger from there.
3. When To Use Which Techniques
When it comes to fly fishing on a river, there are 3 main techniques you can employ including nymphing, dry fly fishing, and fishing a streamer. They are all very effective techniques but you need to know when to use them, and this is one of the most key fly fishing tips.
Rainbow and brown trout consume 90% of their food below the surface of a stream, river, or lake, which means fishing a nymph is going to be more effective than dry fly fishing most of the time. I always arrive at a river or stream and start with a nymph until I see a change.
You must watch what is hatching on the rivers and streams, and when you start seeing brown trout rising to dry flies, something like a caddis, consistently, it’s time to switch to a dry fly. Remember, the water will show you what you need to do a lot of the time.
Streamer flies are best fished in deeper sections of a river or stream, or when you only want to catch big trout. Don’t be scared to use them, I love throwing them into a deep spot on a river around dusk as it seems to bring out the bigger trout from hiding.
By picking the right technique at the right moment, you will see your fly fishing success go sky high. If you’re really struggling on the water, start fishing wet flies. They are incredibly easy to fish and they are very effective too.
4. Practise Basic Casting At Home
When you walk up to the bank of a river to fish a fresh undisturbed pool, you have to make your first cast count. It’s the best chance you have of convincing a wily trout to eat your fly as it hasn’t had a chance to notice you or see your fly line yet.
This means you need to be ready to make that and every cast after it counts, which involves practicing at home first. The two basic casts you need to be able to do well before fly fishing on a river are a roll cast and a simple overhead cast. If you can master each technique at home with a tight loop, you’ll quickly get better and better in the rivers and streams.
You can also check out our How to Cast a Fly Rod post here for a more in-depth guide.
5. Leader Length & Tippet
The length of your leader is important as it’s the only thing standing between your floating line and your fly and the key to ensuring trout don’t see your line and get spooked. I always fish the longest leaders I can cast effectively with, usually around 12 feet in length with the tippet.
When it comes to tippet, I always tie on 5x to start with and move very cautiously towards 7x depending on the size of the trout in the river. A huge trout bit off my dry fly on 7x the other evening, so I’m sticking with 4x for now when fly fishing on that river.
You should also learn a double uni knot, and a double surgeons knot as these are what you use to tie your own leaders. They are also useful when tying on a tippet or tying a dropper rig for nymphs.
If you want to know the difference between a tippet and a leader, see our post here on Fly Fishing Leader and Tippet Explained.
6. Get Your Drift Right
Presentation of your dry fly or any fly is key and when fishing moving water. The current literally brings food drifting down to the brown trout and your imitation needs to look just a natural to fool them, which means zero drag. Here are is a tip or two on how to achieve this.
The first tip is to get your position right. Look at the water you’re about to fish and think about where the fish are feeding, then make sure you’re downstream of the spot, casting upstream with an easy casting angle, usually about 45 degrees for most techniques.
Now you’ll want to make sure to cast about 8-10 feet above where you think the trout are feeding, making sure your fly line lands behind the eating trout so as not to spook them, and let you fly drift downstream towards you and the feeding fish on or below the surface of the water.
If your fly or strike indicator beings to drag on the surface due to different currents, then mend your line up or downstream to correct it so it drifts drag free again. Always watch your fly or indictor on the surface so you can correct it quickly.
7. Get Close & Wade Quiet
The best fly angler will never throw long casts if they don’t have to. If you have the stealth skills to creep up to near within inches of a trout and can show it your fly, you should do it.
A fisherman who is casting long is going to spook all the trout casts over, have a load of line to manage and without a drag-free drift, and is disturbing the water more than anything else.
An angler will who isn’t the best caster who gets closer to fish with outfish a casting pro angler who doesn’t move their feet. Remember to walk quietly near the water so no to spook the fish and you’ll catch more.
If you are really into wading, then you have to see our posts below of the best wading gears in the market today:
8. Keep Your Rod Tip Down On The Water
Something I always see beginner anglers do is holding their rod tip high when fly fishing. All this does is create slack in the line and when you go to hook a fish, your hook isn’t going to penetrate into the mouth of the fish, and chances are you will not hook or catch it.
Always keep your rod tip at the surface of the water, in all techniques, as this provides the most direct connection to the hook and therefore hooking and hopefully catching any fish that eats your fly.
9. Feeding Times
All fish and trout in a river, in particular, have their own feeding lanes and particular feeling times. Anglers should always have their rod in hand early in the morning and late in the evening, as trout prefer the cooler part of the day and will go deep if it’s hot over lunchtime.
Also, more flies tend to hatch in the evenings and the evening rise isn’t a myth, it happens on pretty much every bit of trout water on the planet, and anglers should not miss out on it.
Another great feeding time is dusk and into the first few hours of darkness. This is the best time for anglers to use a streamer fly and try to catch the big trout that will have moved out of deep water into the shallower sections to start feeding.
10. Have Fun
I know far too many anglers who take it all too seriously. Fly fishing is still about having fun and just enjoying the outdoors, no matter your gear or skills, or if you can cast within inches of where you intended to.
Anglers who keep it light, have a smile on their face, and just enjoy being there always catch more fish.