Whether you are on a raging high mountain river, a lowland creek, local pond or on a boat casting into the trees, flyfishing enables you to truly understand and appreciate the different environments. You’ll learn how each environment functions and how the fish move, feed and live within them.
Our team has a combined experience of 50 years in fly fishing and have even contributed to some of the best fly fishing books on the market. Study the articles, videos and images on this page then put what you learn into practice.
Master this process and you will learn how to fish for trout and become a Fly Fisher Pro!
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History of Fly Fishing
Fly fishing originated in the middle ages as people studied fish eating insects off the surface of the water. However, these insects were almost impossible to secure to the hook. So they developed methods of imitating the insects by tying various materials to hooks that simulated the insects they were trying to represent.
This insect was then dangled on the surface of the water and the fish would take it. The first methods of fly fishing are similar to the modern Japanese method of fly fishing called Tenkara.
Over the years we developed fly rods, fly lines, fly reels and more high tech gear in order to cast further and catch bigger fish. As the sport became popularised, it developed from a method to catch only trout species to other freshwater species, like Pike and Bass and even saltwater fish like Bonefish and Tarpon.
Fly Fishing Gears for Beginners
It can look intimidating when you run into a fly fisherman on the river who seems more gear than man. The simple truth is that you don’t need the best fly fishing gear, especially at the start. Start simple and as you begin to master the fly fishing basics, you can add more gear to help you perfect your cast.
Best fly fishing Rods
To begin with, you are going to need to set up a fly fishing rod. You can start with the best beginner fly rod and fly reel. We recommend picking up a fly fishing combo that has all of the necessary elements to get started. This includes a rod and reel that are paired to work well together. The best fishing rod reel combo for the money, in our experience, is the Orvis Clearwater, the Fenwick Aetos or Orvis Helios 3.
You want to select a weight and rod action based on the type of water that you are going to be fishing. Fly fishing poles are weighted between 1 and 15 (see a guide on fly rod weights below. With 1 weight being for extreme ultralight freshwater fish and 15 weight being for large saltwater fish (like tuna). Most beginner fly fisherman, fishing on streams and rivers will likely need a 5 weight fly rod or 6 weight if you are fishing in medium-sized rivers.
If you want to have just one rod then we recommend a 6-weight. For fishing lakes you can look at getting a fishing kayak for under 600 or a fly fishing float tube for around $100 that will enable you to cast further, or cast from the lake back towards the shore!
The best fly fishing reel is less important in fly fishing. The majority of the time it is just used as a location to neatly store the line. You will find that your fly line more often in your hands. That is, up until the point that you catch a fish. Then your primary line of thought should be to get all excess fly line onto the reel so that you can fight the fish and utilise the mechanical drag to tire the fish.
How to Set up a Fly Rod [Infographic]
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Fly Rod Weights
The fly rod weight refers to the rod’s weight class determined by the standard classification system that is used for identifying fly rods. As such, a 5 weight rod means that it is typically used along with a 5 wt fly line.
When looking for a fly rod for beginners, the perfect weight will depend on the type of water you are fishing, the size of the fish and the fly, and the weather conditions. Large fish require a heavy fly, hence a heavyweight rating.
- 1-2 Weight – Small stream fishing for small fish.
- 3-4 Weight – Small stream fishing for trout
- 5 Weight – Most Trout and Panfish
- 6-7 Weight – Larger rivers (longer casts) for trout
- 8-10 Weight – Large rivers for Steelhead and Salmon
- 11+ Weight – Saltwater fishing, Lakes and Big Fish!
Fly Fishing Line
Next up is the backing, fly line and leader. If you get the combo above it includes a basic fly fishing line. Lighter lines are able to present tiny flies delicately on the surface of the water in order to make them as natural as possible. Larger (heavier) lines are used to cast larger flies further into lakes or for saltwater fishing.
For the best performance, the fly line weight should match that of the rod that it is paired with. A light rod will not cast a heavy line and vice versa. Fly lines come in two distinct categories, floating and sinking lines. With floating fly line being the most common.
The fly-fishing line is connected to a leader that is made of regular monofilament nylon. Fly line is often coloured in order for the angler to better see it and react mid-cast. If your fly line lands too close to the fish, you will spook it. Therefore we need a translucent and flexible way to connect the fly to the end of the fly line. This allows the fly to move more naturally on or under the water.
Leaders are tapered in order to transfer the energy of the rod, travelling through the fly line and transfer it to the fly at the end of the tippet. The better this energy transfer is, the better your ability to cast the flies further and in adverse conditions, like when it is windy.
You can purchase ready-made tapered leaders that begin around the same thickness as the fly line and taper down to a fine tippet. Or, you can hand tie a fly leader from a series of increasingly smaller weight monofilament nylon. This is my preferred method as it allows you to customise the leader for the water you are fishing.
Fly fishing tippet
The tippet is the final part of the connection from reel to fly. It needs to be as invisible as possible to the fish as we need it to believe that the fly we’re fishing with isn’t connected to a human. Tippet comes in two types, fluorocarbon and monofilament. Fluorocarbon tippet is much more expensive than monofilament but this doesn’t always mean it’s better.
Fluorocarbon tippet is much less visible in the water than monofilament and tends to sink better. It is also stronger than monofilament of you compare equal diameter strands. As part of this, it is much denser than water and therefore sinks very well. This is great for nymph fishing of the river, but if you’re trying to delicately present a dry fly on the surface of the water you’re going to run into problems.
Finally, the last and arguably most important piece of the puzzle is the fly itself. Each fly is used for a different purpose. Some flies imitate insects or other animals that fish eat. These make the perfect fly fishing gifts, just make sure you know what streams the recipient is fishing in. But, some are designed to stimulate the fish’s predatory instincts and it will attack it in order to protect its territory. The main types of flies are as follows:
What fly you fish with is ultimately decided (ultimately) by asking yourself what do trout eat in the area you’re about to fish. Are the fish sipping insects off the top of the water? If so then start looking along the edge of the river to identify what these insects are. In order to tie your own flies, you will need a vise. We reviewed the best fly tying kit on the market to find out whether you should get a kit, or make your own.
If they are feeding below the surface then you need to turn over rocks on the river bank to identify the subsurface insects. Match this up with a fly from your fly box and you’ll have the best chance at catching something. Here, we recommend the best trout flies.
That is all the essentials you need to set up a fly rod. From here we are going to look at the accessories you’ll need to start improving your success rate. We recommend checking out a fly fishing subscription box if you’re new to fly fishing. This way you can have an expert supply you with flies and help teach you how to fish them.
Fly Fishing Accessories
When beginning with the fly fishing basics we recommend starting with very few accessories. However, there are a couple of essential items that can greatly improve your success rate.
The best sunglasses for fishing are polarized, and allow you to see into the water by cutting the glare. This can be the difference between seeing (and catching) fish and walking away empty handed.
For night fishing it’s essential to look for a headlamp for fishing. This helps you get to the fishing locations safely, and tie that leader up in the dark!
If you’re going to become successful you need to know that nothing will hold you back. Getting the perfect rain gear for fishing will allow you to stay high an dry when you’re out up the river.
Finally, a trout net is an essential piece of kit to help you safely land your catch, before returning them to the water. Modern landing nets are designed to do as little harm to the fish as possible, so you can fish for tomorrow. We’ve also recommended the best fly fishing chest packs for you to hold your net with.
The Basic Fly Fishing Cast
Now we’re all prepared and ready to head out fly-fishing. The aim of the game is to cast the fly (or flies) to the fish. They need to be presented as carefully as possible, to allow them to move past the fish’s “feeding zone” where you can hopefully trick the fish into taking your fly. Easy right? Well in order to get there, you’re going to need to learn how to cast a fly rod.
See also our How To Cast A Fly Rod for an in-depth guide on casting a fly rod.
The overhead cast
There are many ways to cast a fly rod. Your selection of casting method depends on a number of factors such as location, target species, the distance required and just what you’re best at. Since we’re just looking at the basics then we’re just going to focus on the overhead cast.
Remember you can only catch fish when your line’s in the water. It’s called fly fishing, not fly casting.
As we touched on earlier a fly rod’s purpose is to transfer the energy of the rod into the fly. In order to do this, we need the rod to bend. This is called loading the rod. When the rod is at its maximum flex we say that the rod is “loaded”.
The rod then needs to cease movement and come to a very abrupt stop in order to transfer the energy of the rod into the line. When we cast this happens on the fore cast and the back cast. Bend and stop, then bend and stop.
You need to imagine a plane in which your rod is moving and keep it on that plane. If you move your rod left and right, as well as backwards and forwards, you’ll end up introducing a number of vectors in the cast that will ultimately end in you waving a bird’s nest of nylon above your head. Keep it locked on a plane and remember to load the rod.
Advanced Casting Techniques
Once you’ve taken the time to master the overhead cast, you’ll start to realise that fish never sit in the right place. There is more often than not a tree behind you, or an obstacle in the river to cast around.
The Roll Cast
The most common problem you’ll encounter is limited back casting space. In this situation, we’re unable to cast the line behind us without our flies being snagged in some trees or your fishing buddy! When you find yourself in this situation, use the roll cast.
The roll cast is essential to learn and luckily, it’s not that difficult. With the line on the water lift your arm and the rod vertically up and stop with your hand at ear level.
You begin by setting what’s called an “anchor point” on the water. As the line is drawn towards you, it will begin to form a D loop. With the anchor point being the last couple of feet of flyline on the water.
From this point flick your wrist forwards swiftly and abruptly stop the rod pointing it in the direction you want to cast. Remember to stop the rod quickly at around eye hight and pull the fly line in your hand to hasten the unrolling of the line. See the image below for an explanation of how the roll cast is set out.
If you’re looking to learn more advanced fly fishing techniques we have a series of fly fishing lessons where we discuss better ways to catch fish. You can start by reading our fly fishing lessons on drag, mending and dead drift. We also talk about barbed vs barbless hooks and other fly fishing tips if you are interested in catch and release fishing too.
Find The Perfect Spot
Now that you’ve overcome your tangles and you can cast the line out, you’ll need to find somewhere to fly fish. Fishermen are often cagey about sharing their favourite spots as there is nothing worse than fishing water that has been fished through earlier that day.
If you see wet boot prints on the rocks ahead of you (and you’re catching nothing) it’s often better to turn around and go home.
The best place to start is to head into a local fishing shop. Talk to the guys behind the counter and ask them where they think you should head. Most often than not these people are a wealth of local knowledge and can help you get your first fish.
Start with a local spot that is close to home so that you can get more practice casting and controlling the flies as they flow through the water. Look for places that have plenty of open space around them so your flies end up in the water more often than the trees.
Over time you will discover types of water that you prefer fishing in. As you explore further and meet more people on the water, you begin to uncover amazing places in which people have seldom stepped.
You can begin pouring over topographical maps to identify sections of the river that may be accessed from different farms or forestries and ask them for permission to access. This will get you ahead of other fisherman and better your chances of landing that trophy rainbow trout or trophy brown trout.
So that’s it, simple right? Once you catch that first fish on the fly you’ll be hooked! The principle is really the same as any other form of fishing, you need to put what the fish wants to eat in front of the fish as naturally as possible.
It’s not easy, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not hauling in Moby Dick on your first outing. It took me a long time, many tangles and dozens of flies donated to the tree gods before I landed my first fish. Once you understand the fundamental concept and can master the basic mechanics it is a highly effective way of catching fish.
Just keep practising and focusing on the basic technique. Don’t over complicate it with additional gear just yet. There will be time for that later. Fly fishing can be a lifelong hobby that is possible for people from all walks of life. So get out there to your local river, lake or pond and see what you can haul out.
Tight lines everybody!