Ultralight Fly Fishing: A Beginner’s Guide

You won’t regret giving ultralight fly fishing a go today! It might even change the way you fish from now on – or certainly give you more options and shake up your freshwater fly fishing a bit!

Ultralight fly fishing is an amazing trend that is growing rapidly in popularity. If you’re used to heading out with your trusty 5wt rod, giving ultralight fly fishing a go could take your fishing experience to the next level.

Fishing with ultra light gear is an exhilarating experience, allowing you to feel every little tug of the fish on your line. Even landing a little brookie can feel like a fierce fight when you’re fishing a 1 or 2 weight rod!

So if you’re eager to find out more about ultralight flyfishing, keep reading! Our guide to ultralight fly fishing has all the info you need to get started, from the must-have gear and best flies to use, and some tips and lessons too!

Why You Should Try Ultralight Fly Fishing

There are so many amazing reasons why you should give ultralight flyfishing a try! So I’m asking you to put your doubts to one side for a moment – let’s see if I can tempt you to try it out for yourself!

The Experience!

Firstly, ultra-light fly fishing just gives you such an exciting experience! You don’t have to chase after a trophy-size fish to have an amazing day on the river.

Fishing with an ultra-light rod means that you really can feel the fish on your line, even if it’s just a diddly little panfish. Each bite can turn into a heart-thumping fight that’s sure to get your adrenaline running.

It’s not surprising that so many anglers find ultralight fly fishing a bit addictive once they try it out!

Ideal For Small Streams

It’s also much easier to fish smaller streams and brooks with an ultralight fishing set-up. You’ll be able to maneuver and cast much more easily without getting tangled in the low undergrowth on the banks of the stream.

Check out this video to see how essential ultralight fly gear can be in tight situations!

Cast Without Scaring The Fish

You’re also less likely to spook the fish and scare them off when you’re fly fishing with a lighter line. Ultra-light fishing will translate to faster strikes and less fish lost, as it’s quicker and easier to detect when a fish has taken your fly.

Improvements in Ultralight Gear

Finally, ultra-light fly fishing gear has come a long way in recent times. Twenty years ago, it was tricky to find the right fly line to match with your 1wt, 2wt, or even 3wt rod. But that’s not the case anymore!

Even if you’re a more of a traditional spin fisher than a fly fisher, you shouldn’t rule out an ultralight fly rod. Read this fascinating discussion for more info about making the switch!

What Are The Origins of Ultralight Fly Fishing?

Lee Wulff pioneered ultra light fly fishing as far back as the 1940s, but Orvis really began to run with it in the 1970s by introducing ultralight graphite rods into their range.

Sage upped the game with their 1997 Sage WF1F Quiet Taper, revolutionizing light line fishing, and things have only improved from there.

Today, the movement continues to grow in popularity and gain momentum, offering fly fishermen something a bit different from the norm. Manufacturers are working on developing even more innovative ultra light fly fishing tackle.

What Gear Do You Need For Ultralight Fly Fishing?

The basic ultralight gear includes a good rod, line, and fly reel that will work perfectly together. Here’s what to look for when shopping for your fishing gear:

Fly Rod

fly rod

Although fly fishing without a fly rod is possible, it’s still important to to have one when you’re going for ultralight fly fishing. Fly rods for ultralight fly fishing range in weights from 000 through to 3wt rods, and they range from slow to fast action. If you’re fishing in tight spaces with bushes on either side, a slow action rod will serve you best for neat, accurate, short-distance casts.

On the other hand, if you’re fishing bigger waters and need to get some distance in your casts, you’d be better off with a faster action rod. It’s worth noting that stiffer, fast-action rods do increase the probability that your tippet will break off.

Medium action rods are the most versatile workhorses of the ultralight fly fishing world, and one of the best travel fly rods around. They’re a good bet if you’re just dipping your toes in the water (so to say!).

Fly Line

Once you’ve got your fly rod, it’s time to choose your fly line. You’ll want a line that matches your rod, loads well, and allows you to cast easily. For ultralight fishing, floating lines are ideal, as you’ll be fishing most often with dry flies.

A general rule to stick with is that you can go up or down one size for your line compared to your rod weight – any more than this and your fishing set-up won’t be optimal.

Another good thing to look for in a fly line is a taper that will allow you to cast gently, without spooking the fish.


When choosing a reel, weight is an important factor. Your reel needs to nicely balance your rod so that they work perfectly together. If your rod is tip heavy when you’ve got it loaded with your line and reel, your fishing hand and arm will tire quickly, which is no fun.

Other things to look for include a good, smooth disc drag system, which will make landing that fish so much easier, and an arbor size large enough to hold your line and backing.

The Best Flies for Ultralight Fly Fishing

Best Flies for Ultralight Fly Fishing

The best flies for ultralight fly fishing tend to be delicate, lighter dry flies that will work together with your tackle for a beautiful cast and presentation.

While you’ll want to have plenty of great dry flies in your fly box, that doesn’t mean there’s no place at all for lightly weighted nymphs and streamers if you’re using a 2 or 3 weighr rod.

If you’re aiming for bigger fish with your light tackle, there are some clever ways to make your smaller flies appear larger and more enticing.

My top tip includes tying on bucktail, marabou, or rubber legs to your baitfish type flies to make them more eye-catching without adding extra weight. You can use soft hackles as well.

If you want to find out even more about ultralight fly fishing, check out this awesome forum.  It’s one of our favorite resources for info on ultralight fishing.

Not only does it have sections just for discussing the best ultralight flies and how to tie them, but pretty much anything else related to ultralight fly fishing too! You’ll find articles, gear reviews, frugal fishing tips, tactics, techniques, tutorials, and more.

The Most Common Myths About Ultralight Fly Fishing

Even experienced fly anglers may not know the reality of ultralight fly fishing. Here are the most common myths you might hear about light line fishing – and the truths behind them!

You can only catch small fish when ultralight fishing

Have you previously dismissed using anything lighter than a 4wt because you’re not interested in fishing for tiny little things? Let me blow your mind right now: You can actually catch decent-sized fish on a lighter rod!

Using a lighter, more flexible rod can actually make it quicker to land fish if you have the know-how. Now, you won’t be catching any massive salmon or bass, but there are lots of fish you can catch.

You can only fish tiny dry flies

While it’s true that if you’re fishing with a 0wt or 1wt fly rod, you’ll be best off sticking to the smallest dry flies, but you can be more adventurous with your 2 or 3 wt fly fishing rod.

As mentioned earlier, you can land pretty big specimens with a 2 or 3wt rod, so it follows that you can use larger flies too. Some fly fishermen even use lightly weighted flies with no difficulties at all – so don’t be tricked into believing that ultralight fly fishing will limit your chance of success!

You can’t ultralight fly fish in windy conditions

This might sound surprising to you! But if you think about it, the smaller diameter of a fine line means you’ll actually experience less wind resistance than with a heavy line.

Also, when ultralight fly fishing on small streams, the wind tends to be less of a factor as you’ll often be sheltered by the stream banks and the tighter conditions.

If you’re battling strong winds over 15mph, you might want to use something else. However, don’t rule out ultralight fishing every time the wind picks up a little bit – it’s not as disruptive as you may think.

It’s harder to land a fish when ultralight fly fishing

With the right techniques and a good disc drag system on your reel that you can rely on, it’s actually no harder to land a fish with a lighter weight rod that has plenty of flexibility.

You might need to practice a few times before you get the knack of it, but it’s all about keeping your rod low and pointing at the fish instead of trying to snap-set it. Then you’ll have no problem hauling that fish in without breaking your light tippet, even if the trout puts up a fierce fight.

You don’t need a disc drag system for ultralight fly-fishing

Did you think that your reel is just there to hold your line when it comes to ultralight fly fishing? Think again!

Make sure that you invest in the best reel with a good, smooth disc drag system that your budget can afford, and don’t forget plenty of lighter backing too.

You’ll appreciate it when you hook a 10-pounder that just runs and runs: With a high-quality reel, you can take some of the pressure off your rod and successfully wind that fish in.

Our post here on fishing reel drag explained will give you more information on disc drag system.

Top Tips and Techniques for Ultralight Fly Fishing

Top Tips and Techniques for Ultralight Fly Fishing

When you’re getting started with ultralight fly fishing, there is a small learning curve at first. But with these helpful tips and a bit of practice, you’ll soon be landing more fish than ever with rod weights of 000 to 3wt!

If you’re looking to learn how to set up a fly rod then check out our article here.

Learn some new casts

You might be used to a standard back and forward cast, but when it comes to fly fishing, you’ll have more success by mastering the bow and arrow cast or the roll cast.

You’ll lose fewer flies in the undergrowth on small streambanks, as these casts do not involve a back cast at all. If you take some time to practice these casts, you shouldn’t lose any accuracy when using these new techniques. You can check out our post here on whether you should get a practice fly casting rod to help you learn the new casts.

Check out the great advice these guys have on casting with your ultralight rod so that you get the best success.

Master the drag to prevent break offs

Having a working understanding of drag and how to use it to your advantage is key if you want to be a successful ultralight angler. You won’t have the power of a heavier line and rod, but if you can adjust and use the drag cleverly, you will be able to land larger fish and prevent your tippet from break off.

The first step is to keep your drag as low as possible, and only rampt it up when you feel the tug of a fish on your line. This way, you won’t have all the pressure on your delicate tippet if you get a strike.

If you’re dealing with a running fish, you must keep pressure on it at all times whilst gradually increasing the drag resistance against it.

Understand the Limitations of Ultralight Fishing

While we’re huge fans of ultralight fly fishing here, there are times when it doesn’t make sense to grab your light tackle.

If you’re heading out to big waters and you’ve got your eye on some big ol’ trouts or bass, take your heavier rod. Likewise, if you fancy fishing your heavily weighted nymphs or a split shot rig, your ultralight tackle just won’t cut it.

If the winds are wild and strong, well above 15mph, it’s probably not the day for ultralight fly fishing.

Knowing when and where to use your ultralight gear will make your fly fishing experiences much more enjoyable, and save you some frustration or disappointment.

The Wrap Up!

Now you know all there is to know about ultralight fly fishing, and I bet you’re dying to give it a try! So what are you waiting for?

All you need to do is:

  • Choose the right ultralight fishing gear – 3 weight fly rod, reel, and line
  • Make sure you’ve stocked up on our recommended flies for light line fishing
  • Take a mental note of some of the best techniques mentioned above
  • Get yourself to your nearest little river or stream and hit the water!

You won’t regret giving ultralight fly fishing a go today! It might even change the way you fish from now on – or certainly give you more options and shake up your freshwater fly fishing a bit! There’s nothing so addictive as reeling in a decent-sized fish that’s putting up a hell of a fight on your 3 wt rod!

Let us know what you think about ultralight fly fishing! Is it for you, or will you be giving this a miss? As always, drop any questions you have in the comments and I’ll be sure to reply!

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Ben Kepka

Hey, I'm Ben, a fly fisherman for over 20 years and also an aspiring blogger. I've been into fly fishing since my graduation from spin fishing when I was 12 years old. I started flyfisherpro.com to help introduce as many people into this amazing sport. Tight lines everyone! You can read more on our about page here.

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