Fly Fishing A Quick Guide for Beginners


It is estimated that more than 52 million Americans went fishing in 2021, a rise of more than 4.5% compared to the previous year.

Recently released statistics also show that among different demographics, the number of people who went fishing in 2019 in the United States grew. For example, the number of children who went fishing rose by 14% from the previous year, while the number of women who went fishing rose by 8%.

The most common reason for recreational fishing in the United States is to escape the usual demands of life while enjoying the splendor of nature. If you are interested in fishing or are looking to make a start, this blog post on fly fishing is for you.

Here, we will highlight everything you need to know about the basics of fly fishing. This includes how it differs from “regular” fishing, the basic equipment that is needed, the basic fly fishing cast, how to choose a suitable fly fishing location, and much more.

Let’s get started with this guide to the basics of fly fishing.

Fly Fishing vs Regular Fishing

Whether you are new to fly fishing or fishing in general, it’s important to make a distinction between fly fishing and “regular” spin fishing. Let’s highlight some of the differences.

The technical difference between the two is that fly fishing uses a weighted line (known as a fly line) to cast an unweighted object (i.e. a fly). With regular fishing, a weightless line is used to present a weighted object (i.e. bait) to a fish. This is the fundamental difference between the two and, as such, different equipment is required for both types.

Fly fishing gets its name from the use of the almost-weightless fly that is used to lure fish. This fly may be an imitation of a fly or indeed another insect. The shape and size of the fly will differ depending on the type of fish that the person is hoping to catch.

You can learn more about fly fishing with this Kenai River Fly Fishing Guide.

Basic Equipment for Fly Fishing

When you are first starting out with fly fishing, it’s important to prepare all of the necessary fly fishing equipment that you will need. For first-timers, it’s not necessary to go beyond the basic equipment which will give them a good start. Once a person becomes more experienced, they will have the opportunity to upgrade their equipment, but that’s not essential right now.

Put simply, the basic gear that a fly fisher will need include a fly rod, a fly reel, a fly fishing line (consisting of a fly line, backing, a tippet, and a leader), and a few flies. We’ll highlight what all of this means below and also mention some other useful equipment to buy in order to make your experiences of fly fishing more enjoyable.

Main Types of Fly Fishing Flies

Generally, fly fishing flies are composed of a mixture of world, feathers, fur, tinsel, and/or synthetic materials. These materials are tied to a hook with specialty threads. The idea with fly fishing flies is that they resemble a terrestrial or winged insect or some other creature that a fish likes to eat.

Here is a quick breakdown of some of the main types of fly fishing flies that can be used:

  • Dry flies: these flies float on the surface of the water much like winged insects
  • Streamers: these flies are abstract representations of baitfish
  • Terrestrials: these flies resemble grasshoppers, beetles, ants, etc.
  • Wet flies: these flies go below the surface of the water and feature patterns that resemble drowned mayflies or salmon flies
  • Saltwater flies: these flies imitate a variety of small fish such as crabs, eels, and shrimp
  • Nymphs: these flies imitate nymphal forms of aquatic insects

As a beginner, there isn’t any right or wrong type of fly fishing fly to choose from. If you are fishing with someone more experienced, it’s beneficial to copy them and use the same type of fly.

Fly Rod and Fly Reel

Outside of the flies that give fly fishing its name, the two most important pieces of fly fishing equipment are fly rods and fly reels. When you are shopping for a fly rod, you’ll find something for every budget (with prices starting at around $50 and up to well over $1,000).

As a beginner, there is no need to blow your budget. Fly rods are available in a range of different lengths and weights. When it comes to fly fishing, a graphite fly rod is recommended.

When choosing a fly reel, there are similarly many different options to choose from and at different price points. It’s recommended that you avoid the most inexpensive plastic reels which tend to break easily and don’t stand the test of time. Instead, opt for a metal fly reel.

Note that it’s necessary that your fly rod and fly reel are matched (in terms of weight) so that they perform properly together. From most manufacturers, you will be able to buy fly rods and fly reels that are already matched, which is handy for beginners.

Fly Line, Fly Backing, Leader, and Tippet

If you are a beginner to fly fishing, these words look a bit strange! But don’t worry, as we are going to explain what each one means and what it does.

The purpose of the fly backing is to fill up the reel. Effectively, it is used to provide extra length for a longer fish run. The backing is typically thick and brightly colored, which makes it easy to spot on the water.

The purpose of the fly line is to provide weight when fly fishing. Therefore, the line is heavy and is also typically brightly colored.

The purpose of the leader is to transition from the thick fly line to the thin tippet (more on that below). The leader will start out thick (matching the fly line) and then gradually taper down to a smaller size. It’s used to prevent the fly line from slapping onto the water, which risks scaring the fish.

Finally, the tippet is used to attach the fly to the leader. It attaches to the leader on one end and the fly on the other. It allows the fly to be presented without the fish seeing any line at all.

Other Useful Fly Fishing Equipment

In order to make your fly fishing experience more enjoyable, there are some other basic accessories that we recommend you invest in. For example, waders will allow you to walk into the water and go wherever you want. Otherwise, you will be restricted to staying on the bank or rocks.

A fly fishing net is another useful piece of equipment, given that it makes it easier to grab fish (as well as help to protect them). Polarizing sunglasses help to protect the eyes from the sun as well as reduce glare from the water, making it easier to spot fish.

Learning the Basic Fly Fishing Cast

Once you have all of your equipment, it’s time to start learning the basics of casting. There are a number of different types of casts and each has its own benefits. A number of factors typically come into play when choosing a cast, including the location, the cast distance that you wish to achieve, the type of fish you are after, and your personal preference.

Here, we will highlight one type of cast: the basic overhead cast. This type of cast is perfect for beginners and also serves as the foundation for other types of casts. Having learned this method, moving on to different casts will be easy.

Learning the Overhead Cast Method

Simply put, the concept for this method is to raise the fly line over your head and then behind you, before casting it out in front of you towards your desired target area. There is a step-by-step process you should follow here.

Firstly, take the fishing rod in your hand similar to how you would shake hands with someone. This means putting your thumb on top, pointed towards the end of the rod. Hold the fly line between the rod and your index finger (this prevents any additional line from coming out).

Pull out around 10 yards of the fly line and wiggle it up and down so that the fly line is on the water/ground in front of you. Next, take a small step back so that the line extends out in front of you (you don’t want it to fall straight down toward the ground).  As you lift your arm slowly until the line is tight, avoid bending your wrist.

Next, rotate your arms backward quickly, bringing the line behind you (a step known as “loading the rod”). Once the rod is at a 2 o’clock position, pause until the line forms a loop behind you, and then quickly bring the rod forward until a 10 o’clock position. This movement casts the line forward and out in front of you (the more force you put into this movement, the more distance the line will travel).

This may seem a little complicated but once you start to practice this motion, you will quickly get the hang of it. It’s always recommended that you partner with an experienced fisherman when starting out, as they will show you the ropes in person.

Choosing a Suitable Fishing Location

Once you have spent some time practicing how to cast your fishing rod, it’s time to get out onto the water properly and start fishing. That means finding the perfect spot. Generally speaking, the perfect spot is a personal preference for fishermen but there are a number of tips that you should follow.

For example, choose a location that is convenient to you, somewhere that you can travel to on the weekends or in the evenings without too much hassle. It’s also important to choose an area that has enough open area where you don’t have to worry about your line getting caught up in brush and trees.

As we have highlighted in the introduction, many fishermen enjoy the act of fishing as it allows them to spend quality time in the beautiful surroundings of nature. Therefore, choose somewhere that has nice scenery.

Tips for Beginner Fly Fishers

Let’s finish out with some top tips for beginners. Again, it’s worth repeating how important it is to fish with a friend who has experience. They will be able to help you as required and make the overall experience of spending time by the water all the more enjoyable.

Avoid getting frustrated, which is something that many beginner fishermen tend to do. The art of fly fishing can be tricky at the start, so don’t expect to be an expert from day one. Focus on enjoying the experience as a whole.

We also recommend, as noted above, that you avoid breaking the bank with equipment as a beginner. Once you start to get the hang of things, then you can make the decision to invest more money in your equipment.

Finally, remember that fishing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s worth carving out a good few hours for fishing, rather than giving yourself only a short window. Fishing while feeling rushed is never fun!

A Quick Guide to Fly Fishing for Beginners

Undoubtedly, fly fishing is one of the very best hobbies a person can have. The above tips will help you to make a start with fly fishing and understand the basics. Over time, you can focus on mastering fly fishing.

Like this blog post on the basics of fly fishing? Be sure to check out our other informative articles on a wide range of interesting topics.

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