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The Complete Fly Fishing Guide For Beginners

The Complete Fly Fishing Guide For Beginners

Are you worried that you won’t be able to learn all the techniques and become a successful fly fisherman? With a little patience and practice, and a bit more patience, you can become a Pro fly angler in no time! This fly fishing guide will teach you everything you need to know about this popular sport, from the basics of casting to getting setup with the right equipment without breaking the bank.

In no time, you’ll be enjoying the peacefulness and satisfaction that comes with catching your own fish. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even discover a new hobby that you can enjoy for years to come. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s get started!

Fly Fishing As A Beginner

Fly fishing can be a daunting task for beginners, but with a little patience and practice, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. One of the most important things to keep in mind when starting out is that fly fishing is all about presentation. The goal is to present the fly in such a way that it looks natural and enticing to the fish. This can be difficult to achieve at first, but with time and practice, it will become second nature.

Another important consideration for beginners is choosing the right equipment. There are many different types of rods, reels, and lines available, and it can be overwhelming trying to select the right ones. However, most fly fishing shop employees are more than happy to help new anglers choose the best gear for their needs. It is important to have realistic expectations when starting out. Fly fishing is a challenging sport, and it can take years to master the techniques. However, the journey can be just as rewarding as the destination. Personally, we feel there is always more to learn and that fly fishing is truly a lifelong learning endeavor.  One of the single best methods for advancing quickly is getting connected with experienced anglers (which by the way, the FlyFishFinder app is the only app on the market that allows you to connect with other anglers and go experience new places.

Necessary Fly Fishing Equipment

Now that we’ve covered the basics let’s take a look at the necessary equipment for fly fishing. The good news is that you don’t need a ton of gear to get started; a few key pieces will do the trick. Let’s break it down:

Fly Rod And Fly Reel

The most important pieces of equipment are the fly rod and fly reel. The fly rod is incredibly important because it provides the angler with the necessary power to cast the line. The fly reel is also important because it helps to keep the line from tangling.

It’s important to choose a rod and reel that are the right size for you; and based on the situations you’ll likely be encountering. There is everything from 1wt (weight) rods all the way up to 14wt rods and reels. Be sure to pair them together with the same weight. 3-6wt rods are an excellent option for Trout, with a 5wt being the most common beginner rod. If you prefer warm-water fishing for bass, pike, carp and bigger fish, then opt for 8wt or above in most cases. Because fly fishing is a bit more delicate than other types of fishing, it’s important to have a rod and reel that are up to the task. For a bit more info on basic gear to get started, check out this article.

fly fishing rod and reel
The right rod, reel and line lead to more success!

Fly Line, Leader And Tippet

The most important piece of equipment is the fly line. Fly lines are available in different weights, thicknesses, and lengths to match the type of fish being targeted and the conditions of the water. You’ll need a good fly line. The type of line you choose will depend on the size and type of fish you’re targeting, as well as the conditions of the water you’re fishing in. For example, if you’re fishing in shallow water for small fish, you might want to use a lighter line.

Alternatively, if you’re fishing in deep water for large fish, you might opt for a heavier line. There are also lines specifically designed for different types of casts, so be sure to do your research before making a purchase.

In addition to a fly line, you’ll also need a leader and tippet. Leaders are typically made of monofilament or fluorocarbon, and tippets are usually made of monofilament. The leader is the section of line that connects your fly line to your tippet, which is the section of line that attaches to your flies. Like fly lines, leaders and tippets come in a variety of weights and sizes, so be sure to choose one that’s appropriate for the type of fish you’re targeting. Keep in mind its essentially reversed compared to rods, reels and fly line weights, but the smaller the number in tippet and leader, the heavier/bigger the size.  0x and negative are larger than say 6x.

Waders And Boots

In addition to a rod and reel, there are a few other essential pieces of gear that every fly fisherman should have. One of these is a good pair of waders. Waders help to keep you dry and comfortable while you’re standing in the river, and they also provide a bit of extra insulation from the cold water. A good pair of boots is also essential.

Boots help to keep your feet warm and dry, and they provide traction on slippery rocks. We recommend rubber sole boots as they are the preferred choice by conservation organizations due to their ease of cleaning, which helps you avoid transporting invasive species from stream to stream (which many felt bottoms fail at).Try to consult with a shop professional before making your purchase to ensure you’re getting the right size. Like SIMMS stockingfoot waders or Orvis bootfoot waders, there are a variety of brands and styles to choose from. SIMMS is relatively expensive, but their waders are of high quality and will last for years. Orvis also has a ton of options and personally I can recommend this Orvis Ultralight boot to pair with a set of stockingfoot waders of your choice (there are typically mens and womens options available so be sure to check that before paying).  One of the keys is to get a light boot because it will be easier to trek all those miles along the water and keep you feeling great.

Orvis Ultralight boot mens

Recommended Fly Fishing Flies For New Anglers

If you’re just getting started in fly fishing, you might be wondering what kind of flies you should use. Here are a few recommendations:

Dries

Dries are designed to float on the water’s surface and are often used to imitate insects. They’re a good choice for new anglers because they’re easy to see and cast. It’s also easy to see when a fish is taking a dry fly. The reason? When a fish takes a dry, it creates a big splash on the water’s surface. Then, all you have to do is set the hook.

Some popular dry flies include:

  • Parachute Adams: One of the most popular and effective dry flies, the Parachute Adams is a great choice for anglers just starting out. Named for fly fishing pioneer Ralph W.A. Adams, this pattern imitates a variety of mayfly species and can be fished in a number of ways to match the hatch. It’s also a good choice for fishing in faster water.
  • Blue Winged Olive: The Blue Winged Olive is another versatile dry fly that can be used to imitate a number of mayfly species. It’s a good choice for fishing in slower water and can be effective even when the hatch is sparse. The key to fishing this fly is to fish it slowly and steadily.
  • Elk Hair Caddis: This classic dry fly is easy to see on the water and even easier to fish. It’s a good choice for imitating caddisflies and can also be used to imitate other insects. The key to fishing this fly is to use short, quick casts to keep it on the water’s surface. Simply cast it upstream and let the current carry it downstream. As it drifts, watch for trout to rise up and take a sip.
  • Griffiths Gnat: The Griffiths Gnat is a small, delicate fly that imitates midges. Midges are tiny insects that hatch in large numbers and are a major food source for trout. This fly is best fished with a light tippet and leader to avoid spooking the fish. It’s also important to fish it slowly and steadily so as not to drag it through the water.

These are just a few of the many flies available to anglers. When choosing flies, it’s important to match the hatch. In other words, select a fly that imitates the type of insect the fish are feeding on. If you’re not sure what kind of insects are hatching, ask a local fly shop or create a profile for Free on the FlyFishFinder app and upgrade to Premium to communicate with anyone in the app. Get info about local hatches and top fly patterns from anglers who fish those local watersheds.

The FlyFishFinder fly fishing app can help you find some hidden gems.

Nymphs

Nymphs are immature insects that live in water. They are a key part of the fly fishing diet and are often used as bait by anglers. Nymphs can be difficult to fish with, but they are definitely worth the effort. Here are some tips on how to fish with nymphs:

  • Getting the fly down in the water column to put it on the fish’s nose is key. Sometimes adding a small amount of split shot or heavier tippet helps.
  • Use a slow, steady retrieve when fishing with nymphs (dead drift is preferred). This will help keep the nymph in the strike zone longer.
  • Pay close attention to your line when fishing with nymphs. Detecting strikes can be challenging, so you need to be able to feel the slightest change in your line. Give it a second and be ready to set the hook.
  • Using foam, rubber or strike indicators like the Thingamabobber can be helpful.
  • Be patient when fishing with nymphs. Move from downstream to upstream working each section, run and pocket of water meticulously.  Fish will hold in the bubble lines and at the tail end of runs so be on the lookout for those areas.

When fishing streams, try to fish downstream of where you think the fish are and make your casts upstream (45 degrees or straight across from you). This will help your nymph stay in the strike zone longer. There are many different types of nymphs, so it’s important to experiment with different patterns and sizes until you find what works best in your area. Some of the most popular nymphs include:

  • Zebra Midge: A small, black fly that is very effective in streams. It imitates a small insect that is often found near the water’s surface.
  • Hare’s Ear: The hare’s ear is one of the most popular and versatile nymph patterns there is. It can be used to imitate a number of different aquatic insects, making it a great choice for many different fishing situations.
  • Prince Nymph: The Prince Nymph is a great choice for fly fishing beginners. It is easy to see and very effective in a variety of situations. The main body of the nymph is brown ,with a black thorax and red abdomen. The wings are clear with black stripes. This makes the nymph easy to spot in the water and also makes it look like a tasty morsel to trout. The Prince Nymph is effective in both still water and moving water. It can be fished near the surface or down deep in the water column.
  • Perdigon: Perdigon is a type of Spanish nymph that is gaining popularity among fly anglers. It is a very effective pattern for trout, especially in streams. The Perdigon is black and has a bead head. It can be fished near the surface or down deep in the water column.

Terrestrials

Terrestrials are land-dwelling insects that end up in the water. They are a key part of the trout diet and can be very effective bait for anglers. Terrestrials can be used as bait all year long, but they are especially effective in the summer and fall months when trout are actively feeding on them. Many anglers will use a dry fly that imitates a terrestrial to fish for trout. It is important to match the size and type of terrestrial to the insects that are present in the stream or river you are fishing.

When using a terrestrial as bait, it is important to remember that trout are not the only fish that will be interested in it. Bass, panfish, and even pike can all be caught on terrestrial baits. If you are fishing warm water, some imitations of grasshoppers and especially poppers work especially well for smallmouth bass.  Some of the most popular terrestrial flies include:

  • Yellow Belly Hopper: The yellow belly hopper is a popular terrestrial bait that imitates a grasshopper. It is a good choice for fishing in areas with lots of vegetation.
  • Parachute Ant: One of the most popular dry flies, the Parachute Ant is easy to see and usually floats high on the water. It’s a good choice for beginners because it’s easy to see and catch fish with.
  • Chubby Chernobyl: This is a good pattern for beginners because it is easy to see. It also works well in a variety of water types and fishing conditions. Add some bright high-vis color to the back and use it as a strike indicator as well.

These are just a few of the many terrestrial flies that are available to anglers. When choosing terrestrials, it is important to consider the size, color, and type of insect that is present in the water you are fishing.

Streamers

Streamers are baitfish imitations that are used to target trout. They are usually larger in size than other types of flies, and can be fished in a variety of ways. Streamers can be fished near the surface or down deep in the water column. They can be fished slowly or fast, depending on the situation. Streamers are versatile flies that every fly fisherman should have in their box. Some popular streamers include:

  • Wooly Bugger: The wooly bugger is a popular streamer that can be fished in many different ways. It is a versatile fly that is effective in a variety of situations. This fly can be fished near the surface or down deep in the water column. It can be fished slowly or fast, depending on the situation.  Try stripping and dead drifting to see what presentation the fish prefer that day.
  • Muddler Minnow: This is a pattern that imitates various aquatic insects and baitfish. These are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. It is also a good fly to use in fast-moving water with quick retrieves.

These are just a few of the many streamers that are available to fly fishermen. There are literally thousands of different patterns to choose from. The best way to learn about streamers is to experiment and find what works best in your local waters.

Check out our course on learning to Fish Streamers Like a Pro for an all in one, online course to take you from beginner to mastery level quickly. The course is taught by fly guide and well known names like Adam of Blue Line Co/Shortbus Diaries and Brady with River Ambassadors, as well as biologist and lifetime angler, Quincy Milton.

Fly Fish Finder fly tying tutorials
Lots of streamer options to choose from

Additional Fly Fishing Gear

There is a lot of additional gear that fly anglers can use to help them be successful. Some of this gear is essential, while other items are simply a matter of personal preference. It’s important to remember that not all of this gear is necessary, and in fact, many experienced fly anglers choose to use only a limited selection of gear. The most important thing for beginners is to start with the essentials and then add on as needed. Some essential pieces of additional fly fishing gear include:

1. ODDSPRO Fly Fishing Landing Rubber Net

If you’re serious about fly fishing, then you need a net that can help you land fish safely. The ODDSPRO Fly Fishing Landing Rubber Net is made with clear, smooth rubber mesh, so it’s perfect for trout fishing. The special design reduces the risk of tangling and hooks snares, and the comfortable non-slip grip makes it easy to hold onto.

The 360 degree copper swivel at the end of the handle ensures that your net is always handy, and the top quality materials make this net a durable choice that will last for seasons to come. 

Key Features

  • Made with clear, smooth rubber mesh
  • Safer for fish than non rubber alternatives
  • Reduces the risk of tangling and hooks snares
  • Comfortable non-slip grip
  • 360 degree copper swivel at the end of the handle

2. Rincon Polarized Sunglasses

Rincon polarized sunglasses are designed to offer a more secure and comfortable fit with a medium lens front. The frame and lens come in a variety of colors, depending on which option you go with. The copper base provides 10% light transmission, and the sunglasses are ideal for sight fishing in full sun.

The high contrast lenses absorb harmful high-energy blue light (HEV), enhance reds, greens, and blues, and filter out harsh yellow light for increased clarity and color perception. The result is reduced eye fatigue and strain, making Rincon sunglasses perfect for long days on the water.

Key Features

  • Copper base provides 10% light transmission
  • High contrast lenses reduce eye fatigue and strain
  • Lenses are green mirror polarized glass
  • Frame color is matte smoke crystal
  • Most importantly, polarized glasses (whether plastic or glass frames) help you spot fish on both sunny and overcast days

Vail Valley Anglers has a nice article on some of the key takeaways when deciding on polarized glasses. 

3. REALLINK REALLINK Nippers and Forceps

At first glance, REALLINK’s nippers and forceps might not look like much. But don’t let their simple appearance fool you – these handy little tools are essential for any fisherman, whether they’re just starting out or are a seasoned pro. The nippers are made of stainless steel, so they can easily cut through fishing lines without rusting or corroding. The forceps have a curved tip that helps remove hooks from all types of fish, and the multifunction fly fishing tool is perfect for tying the knots, sharpening hooks, and cleaning hook eyes.

Best of all, the retractable reel has a built-in steel wire and TPU coating that makes it durable and long-lasting. So if you’re looking for high-quality, reliable fishing gear, be sure to check out REALLINK’s nippers and forceps.

Key Features

  • Stainless steel nippers with corrosion-resistant finish
  • Curved tip forceps for easy hook removal
  • Multifunction fly fishing tool with built-in sharpener, knot tier, and hook eye cleaner
  • Retractable reel with steel wire

4. O’Pros Rod Holder

The O’Pros Rod Holder is a great way to keep your fishing rod secure and within reach while you are on the move. The holder is made from durable materials that will stand up to the elements, and it features a new, improved locking design that securely attaches to any belt from 2″ to 1″. The holder also rotates 360 degrees for desired rod angle and features an unlock / lock button that easily allows the holder to rotate or lock into place.

In addition, the holder features an integrated elastic cord for additional rod support when mobile and comes with a 3 year warranty. This holder is a great option for beginner fly fisherman who wants to keep their gear close and secure while they are learning the ropes.

Key Features

  • Durable construction
  • Attaches to any belt
  • 360 degree rotation
  • Features an unlock / lock button
  • Integrated elastic cord for additional rod support
  • 3 year warranty

5. SIMMS Dry Creek Z Backpack

This backpack is 100% waterproof, thanks to its self-sealing zipper. It also has an integrated net sleeve on the front face, so you can easily attach and carry extra gear. The Dual stretch fabric water bottle pockets are perfect for holding water bottles, while the compression molded hydrophobic back panel ensures that your back stays dry and comfortable.

Plus, the breathable padded shoulder straps with a tool attachment port make it easy to carry all your gear. And if you need even more storage space, the roomy water-resistant exterior pocket is perfect for storing extra gear. This backpack is perfect for any angler who wants to keep their gear dry and organized.

Key Features

  • 100% waterproof
  • Self-healing zipper
  • Integrated net sleeve
  • Dual stretch fabric water bottle pockets
  • Compression molded hydrophobic back panel
  • Breathable padded shoulder straps
  • Tool attachment port

These are just a few examples of the great fly fishing gear that is available to help you enjoy your time on the water. With so many options to choose from, you’re sure to find the perfect gear for your needs.

Link to further blog by one of our gear experts who has thoroughly tested this pack on the water:

Simms Waterproof Pack Review by one of our gear Pros

The Basic Fly Fishing Setup – Putting It All Together

Now that you’ve gathered all the essential gear, it’s time to put it all together and start fly fishing! The first step is to attach the backing to your reel. Attaching your fly line to the backing with an albright knot like they show in this helpful video. Next, add a leader to the end of the line. If you’re using a tapered leader, simply tie it directly to the end of the line with the loop to loop connection (most fly lines come prebuilt with a loop at the end now).

If you’re using a level leader, you’ll need to first tie a loop in the end of the line using a Clinch knot or similar. Once the leader is attached, you can add tippet material to the end of the leader using a Double Surgeon’s knot or Triple Surgeon’s knot. Finally, attach your fly to the tippet using an Improved Clinch knot or Rapala knot. And that’s it! You’re now ready to start fly fishing.

Fly Fishing Beginner Casting Methods

Before you start casting, it’s important to understand the basic principles of fly fishing. The most important thing to remember is that fly fishing is all about accuracy, not distance. With that in mind, there are three main methods of casts that you’ll need to master:

1. Overhead Cast – Most Common

This is the standard fly fishing cast and will be the one you use most often. To execute an overhead cast, start by holding your rod at a 45 degree angle with your dominant hand. Then, use your other hand to bring the line behind your head. As you bring the line forward, release it and allow it to unroll behind you. Finally, snap your wrist forward to release the line and send your fly in the desired direction.

2. Roll Cast

This cast is often used when there’s something behind you that you don’t want to get tangled in, like a tree or bush. To execute a roll cast, start by holding your rod at a 45 degree angle with the tip pointing behind you and the line in front of you. Then, use your non-casting hand to pick up a bit of slack line and bring it towards your casting hand. As you do this, allow the rod to roll forward so that the tip is pointing in front of you. When the tip is at a 10 o’clock position, stop and forcefully snap the rod back so that the line is released and flies in front of you.

3. Water Haul Casting And Double Haul Casting

Water haul casting is a bit more advanced but can be very useful when you need to get your fly out of the water. To execute a water haul, simply lift your rod tip out of the water and then, using your stripping hand, pull the line back towards you. As the line comes towards you, it will cause the fly to “shoot” forward and out of the water.

And double haul casting is an advanced casting technique that allows you to cast further and with more accuracy. To execute a double haul, you first need to make a regular backcast. As the line starts to unroll behind you, quickly pull the line back towards you with your stripping hand. This will cause the fly to change direction and shoot forward.

Then, as the fly starts to unroll in front of you, quickly pull the line back towards you again with your stripping hand. This will cause the fly to shoot forward again and hopefully land where you want it to. Here is a great video by Lefty Kreh on the double haul technique.

These three casts are the most important ones for fly fishing beginners to master. With a little practice, you’ll be a pro in no time!

Identifying The Best Spots To Fish

Now that you know how to cast, it’s time to start thinking about where to fish. When it comes to fly fishing, location is everything. The best spots to fish are typically those with lots of cover for the fish, like weeds, logs, or rocks. They also tend to have areas of deep water nearby, so the fish can rest in cooler temperatures and evade predators.

The FlyFishFinder app is designed to help you identify the best spots to fish.  With over 250,000 warm water and cold water streams across the US mapped, and thousands of designated trout streams, there is no shortage of opportunities for fishing. Our team is meticulous and vets as many places as we can to be sure our data is the most reliable on the market. Whether looking close to home, or planning your next cross country trip the FlyFishFinder app will help you save time and money. Come join our angling community and start making key connections today!

Final Thoughts

After reading this fly fishing guide for beginners, we hope you have a better understanding of what fly fishing is and how to get started. Fly fishing is, in our opinion, one of the greatest sports there is. It can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. With a little practice, you’ll be able to master the basics and start enjoying this wonderful sport in no time.

With the right instruction and mentors, you’ll be able to progress much more quickly and enjoy success on the water. Just remember to have patience, take your time, and enjoy the process. Soon enough, you’ll be a full fledged fly angler.