This might surprise you but, fly fishing is not only for experienced anglers. I know this is a common misconception but it’s true! Fly fishing is available to everyone, even if you’ve never done any fishing before.
I’m here to walk you through the process of getting started in this AMAZING sport, and some of the best fly fishing techniques for beginners. By the time you’ve finished reading this article, I’m confident that you will have the knowledge necessary to start catching fish!
It’s So Expensive! – Best Beginner Fly Fishing Rod Reel Combo
Here’s the deal, high-end fly rods and reels are very expensive, this is true. However, you DO NOT need to purchase the best of everything when you’re starting out. Let me explain why.
I like to think of it like a car, when you are first learning to drive what kind of car do you get? A Bugatti of course, right? NO! That would be a terrible idea! When you’re taking driver’s ed they have you drive a car that is reliable and does everything that you need it to right? Fly fishing is the same way.
There are definitely “Bugatti” level rods and reels but you don’t need all the fancy gizmos when you’re starting out. I would go into a large department-style store like Cabelas or Bass Pro and look at their starter kits. You’ll probably want to talk to someone there but I would try to stick with an 8′ or 9′ rod preferably a 4-6 wt.
This will save you trying to decide what kind of backing line, fly line, tippet, and leader you’ll need. These are the crucial components that make up your fishing line. You can pick up a rod and reel combo like this for around the cost to fill your gas tank twice, or in the case of my truck once. Cabelas sells their “Bighorn Fly Outfit” for around this much.
Another option would be Amazon. They offer many options, but one that I would recommend is the TOPFORT Rod and Reel Combo. This offers more than Cabela’s option as it includes EVERYTHING you would need to get started! It comes with several flies, nippers (used to cut tippet), hemostat-style pliers, and a carry case for the rod. On top of what it offers there are also 444 verified reviews and 4.5 stars making it a great buy for almost $15 less than the Cabela’s option. Because of this, I believe that this is one of the best beginner fly fishing rod reel combo kits.
While it isn’t necessary I would strongly recommend purchasing a decent landing net. A net that I would recommend is the Freestone Outfitters Rubber Mesh Net. This net on Amazon has two different options. One is just the net, while the other is the net with a quick release magnet. I use the magnets on my landing net and they are a must have for me! They allow you to hang your net out-of-the-way while your fishing then when you need your net, just pull and the magnets will release allowing you to use the net. Once you are done you simply hold the magnets back together and they reconnect.
Keep in mind that landing nets help to prevent fish from getting hurt and or dropped. It’s crucial that we are respectful towards the fish and try to preserve them so that many more anglers can enjoy fishing them for years to come.
How Do I Cast A Fly Rod?
Here we go, this is arguably the “hardest” part of fly fishing but you can learn it. When you go on google and search “how to cast a fly rod” there will be millions of search results. This is in part because of so many people wanting to share their knowledge but also because there is more than one way to cast a rod.
Today, I only want to talk about one cast, the overhead cast. This cast will be the foundation of any other cast. Before I explain how you should go about learning to cast, I would strongly advise you to wear sunglasses or safety glasses when you are casting. The last thing you want to do is throw a bad cast and catch an eye!
Polarized sunglasses are definitely preferred as they will protect your eyes from stray flies but also they will cut down on glare for the water and allow you to see fish better underwater. Here are a pair of polarized sunglasses that won’t break the bank but will offer you ample protection and visibility in the water. They also have 3611 verified reviews and 4.5 stars.
The first thing I would recommend once you have your new rod and reel would be to connect your reel to the rod, then feed your line through the guides so that you can tie on a medium-sized fly. Once your fly is tied on, I would find an open field or a large open space with nothing for the hook to catch on. This will be a good place to practice your casts.
Pull enough line out to load the rod and lay it straight out in front of you. Loading the rod is when you pull back on the rod and effectively turn the rod into a spring. Many fly lines will be marked to indicate an appropriate length to load the rod but if it doesn’t, I would use approximately 2 or 3 times the length of your rod.
Starting with your tip low, and with your rod hand holding the fly line in between the grip and your index finger, smoothly and quickly pull the rod back to roughly 2 o’clock and pause. This step is crucial. I often see beginners bring the rod back to 2 o’clock and immediately power the rod back to where it started and this will not work. You must pause in order for the fly and line to make it back to you.
Look at the image above, you can see the man in blue is in mid-cast. He is pausing at 2 o’clock waiting for his “loop” to increase in size. The loop is the section of line coming from the tip of the rod going to the fly. It carries the energy of the rod to the fly line and the fly.
Once you have let have paused long enough for the loop to increase, about 1 second, then you smoothly bring the rod forward until you reach 10 o’clock. At which point you will come to an abrupt stop and wait for the line to roll out of the loop. You should wait at 10 o’clock for approximately 1 second before lowing the rod down, guiding the line to the water. Your goal every time is that your fly land on the water slightly before your line does.You also want as little disturbance on the water as possible.
You will repeat these three steps each time you cast! Use these same steps when casting in the water. You can use the current to pull the line straight before casting. Keep in mind that less pressure will be needed to load the rod when casting into water because the water will offer more friction resistance.
Where Can I Fish?
This is exciting! You have your first fly rod and you know the basics of an overhead cast, what now? You need to find somewhere to test your new skills and gear! We live in an age where you can look up anything and within less than 1 second you will be presented with millions results. This is definitely how you could decide where to fish but I’m going to suggest another option.
Instead of looking for places to fish on google, look up local fly shops! Most people will have either a fly shop nearby or a department store that sells fishing gear. In either case, I strongly recommend driving to your local fly shop to talk to the guys and gals there. Once you’re there, the VERY first thing I would ask about is getting a fishing license. It is very important to fish with a license since the consequences are often quite harsh for fishing without one. They will be able to guide you through the process of getting a license.
Once a license is procured, explain to them that you are new to fly fishing and you want to get out on the water to gain some experience. They will know the best places nearby to fish. They will also have a fish report for the area telling you the best times to fish and what flies to use. This information will save you HOURS of frustration and searching. It’s okay if you don’t have any of the flies that the fish are currently eating, you can pick some up from the shop for a couple of dollars.
What Do I Do Once I’m On The Water?
This is the fun part! All your hard work, and your fly fishing gear investments are finally about to bring a reward. However, before you tie a fly onto your rod and go barging into the water, scope out the water a little. Often times, fish will hunt along the bank and if you go tearing out there, you’ll likely spook the fish and they’ll swim away. This is part of the fun. You have to be sneaking and “stalk your prey” before you cast.
I believe that it’s a good habit to get into when you got fishing to just take a second to look over the water and see what the fish are doing. Are they eating? Are they sitting by the bank soaking up the sun? This habit will make more sense as you become more experienced with fly fishing as you’ll use it to decide what flies to fish with and where to fish. For now, just trust your local fly shop on what flies to use and what parts to fish in.
Once you have scouted out the area, set up your rod and reel and tie on your chosen fly. Then repeat the steps we discussed for casting! Once the line is in you will have to be attentive to your line and rod. You are watching for an “eat” or a bite. When you’re fishing dry flies, you will see the fly disappear. When using wet flies, I like to watch my line and rod tip for sudden jerks or movements. If you think you have a bite, you need to set the hook! To set the hook, firmly pull the rod up. You will know if you hooked it or not.
When you manage to get a fish on your line, try to keep tension on the line. If you allow the line to go slack, the fish might take off and consequently break the tippet. Maintain tension and use your left hand, whichever hand is not on the rod, to strip out line to pull in the fish. Stripping line is that act of pulling out line by hand while pinching the fly line with the index finger of your rod hand. Once you have stripped enough of the line so that the fish is within reaching distance, scoop up the fish with the landing net.
At this point you’ve done it! You’ve caught your first fish on a fly rod and the addiction has started! Feel free to grab a picture with your first catch but keep the fish in the water as much as possible and release as soon as you have your picture. The longer the fish is out of the water, the more damage the fish could receive.
The fly fishing techniques I have taught you today are very elementary. There are many more techniques you will want to learn through the years to progress your skill and knowledge. These will act as a solid foundation to your career as a fly angler. Continue to meet new people you are more experienced anglers to soak up some of their knowledge, but most importantly, continue to fish!
If what you read was enjoyable, you learned something useful, or want to say hi please don’t hesitate to reach out! If you are interested in or want to learn more about Tenkara style fly fishing, check out my article, “Tenkara Fly Fishing – A More Affordable Option”.