How to Start Fly Fishing – A Beginner’s Guide

How to Start Fly Fishing

If you are just starting out or have an interest in fly fishing, I’m sure you have a lot of questions. It can be daunting to get started, but well worth the effort. Fly fishing and all that entails is a passion that will hook you and may end up as a lifetime hobby.

If you want to learn how to start fly fishing, you are in the right place. This guide will take you through everything you need to know to enjoy the sport.

Basic Fly Fishing Gear

If you visit your local fly fishing outfitter, there are hundreds of pieces gear for available. While some of this gear is nice, you do not need all of it to get started. For a start, you need a fly rod, reel, fishing line, and a few flies.

Fly Rods in Rack

Fly rod and Reel

These are the most important gear for a beginner. Fly rods cost anywhere between $50 and $1000, and your budget will determine the rod you go for. The function of a rod is to cast with accuracy, control the line, and land the fish. When selecting a rod there are three main considerations: action, weight, and length.


Fly fishing rods fall in three categories – fast action for long casts and fishing on windy days, medium action for versatile fishing (best for beginners), and slow action rods for fishing in small streams.


The weight of the rod is selected to match the line weight that you need. This can start at 2-weight and go up to 12-weight rods. The weight selections are selected based on the size fly you are going to cast. Typically, you need a bigger fly when targeting larger fish. For someone just starting out, I’d recommend going middle of the road with a 5-weight rod.


For rod length, the standard universal size for both freshwater and saltwater is 9 feet. This is the happy medium that is good in most situations. They do make shorter and longer rods for exceptional circumstances. Shorter rods for tighter creeks that may not have a lot of room to cast and you need more accuracy. Also, there are longer rods for wider rivers where you may need to cast further distances and trade off a little accuracy.

Once you have the right rod, you will need to match everything – the line and the reel need to match the weight of the rod for the setup to perform optimally. For beginners, you don’t really have to worry about the reel too much. Just find one with the right weight. It’s only for holding your line.

It is easier to buy a fishing rod together with the reel, as most manufacturers sell them as a combo package. While you’re just starting out these combo rod and reels packages are a terrific value for someone just trying the sport. Also, you won’t have to struggle matching a rod and a reel from different manufacturers.

Fly fishing line

When shopping for a fly fishing line, you need a line, leader, and tippet. If you were doing ordinary fishing, you would only need a single line from the rod to the hook. However, when fly fishing, you need different lines because:

  • Only a fly is at the end of the line, and that fly is light. A lightweight line doesn’t cast well especially over long distances. To add weight, you need a thicker line.
  • Fly fishing involves casting the fly in water in a way that a fish doesn’t realize there is a line attached. So, you will need a leader and tippet lines.

Fly backing line fills the reel, also called the Arbor. Filling up the reel enhances strength and allows a fish to run longer distance. This line should be bright in color and thick so that you can see it in the water. It is also the longest line you will need.

Brightly colored fly line on reels

Like the backing, the fly line is also thick and brightly colored to provide the needed strength when fly fishing. It’s the weight of this fly line that is used to propel the fly as you cast. Fly lines also come in different types such as floating, sinking, and sinking tip. Most fishing can be done with a floating line and is the easiest to use. I would recommend this for beginners.

The Leader is a transition line between the thick fly line and the thin tippet. It is thick on one side (where it joins the fly line) and reduces in thickness along its length to join to a thin tippet. It ensures that the heavier fly line does not slap the water to scare the fish away. Because its thickness tapers towards one end, the line offers a smooth transition from the thick fly line to the thin tippet. This way, the fish doesn’t see the fly line. This line is between 9 and 10 feet.

The tippet is the thinnest line of all the fly fishing lines. On one end, it connects to the leader, and on the other, it connects to the fly. Its thinness ensures that the fish cannot see it. When shopping, you need the thinnest, yet the strongest. This line should also not be brightly colored.

Note: Prepackaged leaders include both the leader part and the tippet and typically come in 9-foot and 7.5-foot lengths. When you start cutting back the tippet for fly removal or because you got hung up in a tree additional tippet can be tied on.

When shopping for lines, you will realize they are available in varied sizes and thicknesses. The location of fly fishing and the fish you plan to catch will determine the lengths you choose. For instance, you do not need an long line for fly fishing in a stream.

A few flies

The fly is the bait attached to your fishing line. You can choose from three main types of flies, including dry flies, nymphs, and steamers. Dry flies are the most common, and they mimic flying insects that float on the surface of water. Nymphs mimic small insects that live in water. The insects can either float on the surface of water or sink below the surface of water.

Steamers are larger flies that imitate baitfish, leeches, crawfish, or large insects. They are actively retrieved to mimic the movements of these aquatic creatures.

You can pick up an assortment of these flies, depending on the location you fish and the type of fish you target. The easiest way to decide the best flies to buy is to ask at the local fishing outfitter that know what works in the area and what doesn’t.

How much should you invest in the gear above?

When I was starting out, I didn’t want to invest much in fly fishing as I didn’t know how it would go. However, purchasing cheap equipment turned out to be problematic. There are lots of manufacturers creating high quality fishing gear, and you only need to take your time and pick the best. As I mentioned before, selecting a reasonably priced rod and reel combo is your best bet.

Once you have the four items above, you are all set to start fly fishing.

Additional Fly Fishing Accessories

Although you can start fly fishing with the equipment above, there are other accessories that can make your fly fishing more enjoyable. These include:

  • Fly fishing net to grab and protect the fish.
  • Polarized sunglasses to counteract the glare from the sun so that you can see under the surface of the water clearly. In clear water, you can see the fish below the surface of the water. The glasses will make a huge different when you are fishing, and you need to see what you are doing on a sunny day.
  • A fly fishing vest, sling pack, or waist pack might also come in handy to hold your gear and make everything accessible when you need it. You do not necessarily need a fishing vest, but if you have it, you will be glad you brought it along.
  • Waders come in handy when you need to venture into the water and get the fish wherever you want. They ensure that you can fish further from the bank, and you never have to get wet. They also help you get away from trees, so you don’t get your fly stuck.

Learning to Cast

With your gear all set up, you are ready to start fly fishing. There are different casts you can learn, each with its advantages and disadvantages. The cast you choose will depend on the location, the fish you target, the distance you need to achieve, and your preferences. It is advisable that you choose the cast you are comfortable with, especially when you are just starting.

The overhead cast is the easiest for beginners, and the one we will look at in this article. It is not only the easiest, but also one that forms the basis for so many other types of casts. After learning the overhead cast, it will be easier for you to learn other casts.

How to do the Overhead Cast

True to its name, this casting process involves bring the fishing line overhead. With the long rod behind you, you can thrust it with as much power as you need to the target area. You can follow the steps below to execute the cast.

  1. Hold the rod firmly in your hand with your thumb at the top as if you are shaking hands with the rod. Ensure your hand holds the middle of the grip of the rod. Place the fishing line in between the rod and your index finger to ensure no more line reels out when you start casting.
  2. Hold the rod slanting a few inches away from you and reel out about ten yards of your fly line. Shake the rod up and down to feed out the fly line and into the water in front of you. Ensure the line extends in front of you instead of it falling on the ground. Hold your wrist position until the line is tight.
  3. Rotate your arm backwards as fast as you can to lift the line and place it behind you. This action causes the rod to bend (a process referred to as loading the rod). Raise the rod a little above your shoulder to ensure it stands at one or two o’clock. Allow the line to form a loop behind you before you cast.
  4. After the short pause, thrust the rod fast in front of you and hold it at 10 o’clock position. The energy you use and the direction you point the rod determines where the line and the bait land. If you need to achieve a longer distance, use more energy and a longer line.
  5. After the line casts in the water at your target spot, lower the rod slowly and ease your arms. This slow motion ensures that the heavy line does not slap on the water and disrupt the fish. Ensure that the cast line is tight so that you can feel any movements and avoid calling the fish to its attention.

You can practice overhead casting in the open water, or you can try it in your yard. It is as simple as pulling the line back and thrusting in front of you. There are variations of the overhead cast, but the concept doesn’t change. You can watch out the video below, which shows overhead casting in action, to help you understand it better.

What Might Make Overhead Casting Challenging?

The success of the overhead casting relies on how fast you start the cast and how fast you stop. Quickly starting and stopping the cast allows you to load on the rod successfully. At first, you might not know how fast to thrust the rod back and forth, but it becomes easier with time.

When you thrust the line overhead behind you, you need to pause until it forms a loop behind you. The pause is brief, and you need to know how to time it. The challenge with beginners is that they do not wait for long enough and end up not casting far enough.

You need to minimize wrist motions to the side. Once you lock on the target, your wrist should move along a single line from the back to the front. This allows the line to remain horizontal for an easy cast. Once you master overhead casting, you are ready to try other methods of casting.

How to Tie Fly Fishing Knots

As a fly fisherman, there are several knots you must learn, to be better at fishing. If you can’t tie any of the knots properly, you will end up frustrated as you will lose a lot of fish. Some of the main knots you need to learn how to start fly fishing include:

Improved Clinch Knot – This knot helps you connect the fly and the leader and is a popular choice among anglers. To tie, pass the tippet through the eye of the hook and double back along the standing line rotating around it five times. Bring the tag end through the loop closest to the eye of the hook and then through the big loop. Moisten the knot and cinch tight.

Nail Knot – A nail knot connect the fly line to the backing. It can also attach the leader to the fly line. You can use it when you need to connect monofilaments of different thicknesses. You do not have to necessarily use a nail. If you do not have a nail, use thin tube or anything else that looks like a nail.

To tie the nail knot, hold a nail along the backing and fly line. Hold all three between your thumb and forefinger. Make a loop around the nail, and then, wind the monofilament around the nail and loop. The free end of the leader and the extended line should pass through the wound line with the fly line passing in between the windings too. Hold the free end of the leader and the extended line and pull to tighten the knot.

Hold the coils on your hands careful not to spoil them, and carefully remove the nail. Tighten the knot again.

Arbor Knot – This is a simple knot that attaches the backing line to the spool. Here’s a video of how to tie this simple knot.

Finding the Perfect Fishing Spot

Before you find the perfect fishing spot, you need to practice casting, and then tying different knots. Once you have the gear and the skills, it is time to put the skills to action.

You can ask the local fishing shop where the perfect spot for fly fishing is, or you can discover the spot that you find comfortable. Most fly fishers keep their favorite spots a secret as they do not want a lot of other fly fishers to find the spot. You can ask around, but you will find your spot over time.

You can join local fly fishing clubs where other fly fishers share their tips and maybe their spots. Facebook has a host of fishermen groups that can help you find a perfect fishing spot. If you fish often, a good fishing spot should be:

  • A place you can rush to after work or on weekends
  • Wide fishing areas where you can choose a spot away from other fishers
  • Enough open area to cast the line without it getting caught up in bushes and trees

You can also look for a spot that allows you to enjoy the beauty your surroundings as you wait for the fish to bite the bait. Part of every fly fisher’s journey is looking for the perfect fishing spot – with time, you will find yours.

Final Tips

How to Fish Safely When Learning How To Start Fly Fishing

You can fish from the shores, but that will not allow you to cast the line as far as you need. To this end, you might need to wade deeper into the waters. While wading, do not belittle the force in moving water. Your waders should be worn with a snug belt to ensure that they do not fill up if you ever took an unexpected swim. Waders full of water get so heavy. Do not wade unnecessarily. To increase stability, you can wade with a wading stick to give you a third point of contact.

Rods conduct electricity. Because most rods are nine feet or longer, they can be spots for lightning strikes. Stop fishing the moment you note the first hint of lightning.

On sunny days, always have your polarized sunglasses on to protect your eyes.

If you fish in the cold or the evening, wear warm clothing to avoid catching a cold.

Choosing the Right Flies

If you already have a favorite spot, it is easy to choose the best flies to use for fly fishing. Visit your spot and check the common insects on or in the water. The insects that are most abundant in the river or lake are likely what the fish are eating. However, you also need to observe the seasons as there are times touts focus on small fish and not insects. Sometimes choosing an insect at a specific stage in life will help you get the fish you need.

Finding out what the fish are eating and mimic that will increase your chances of catching one fast.

Use Cover to Ensure Fish Do Not Spot You

When you are stalking fish, staying in the open will scare them. You can use long grass or bushes to stay out of sight and ensure that fish do not spot you and run. Fish close to the bottom of the stream can see you clearer than fish at the surface of the stream. Their vision allows them to escape predators and find food. When going out to fish, avoid wearing bright colored clothes. Instead, camouflage into the surrounding so as not to standout.


Fly fishing is simple once you have the right gear, the perfect fishing spot, and you know how to cast and tie a few knots. You will learn more once you start fishing. You need to learn diverse ways to cast, ways to attract varied species of fish, and how to fish in saltwater if you decide to go down that road. This article teaches the basics of fly fishing.

When you go fly fishing, ensure you set aside enough time. You can even bring a drink or two to enjoy as you wait. If you go there feeling rushed, you may not have the patience to wait for the fish. If time in the evening after work is not enough, fish on weekends when you have enough time. If you have a friend interested in fly fishing, you can bring them along. The wait can be long and lonely, and you need someone to chat up and laugh with.

You may not learn how to start fly fishing the first few weeks. The process might take time, and when it does, do not get frustrated. Instead, enjoy the experience of being outdoors, and keep honing your knotting and casting skills. If you do not find success in one spot for a long time, consider changing the spot, but do not give up on fly fishing.

When you are just starting out fly fishing, you do not need a lot of capital. You need so many accessories, but those can wait if you have the basics.

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