A Complete Guide to Getting Started Fly Fishing

Don’t get me wrong. Any fishing is great!
But fly fishing is special. Out there, you can’t help but think this is the way it was meant to be.
Man and nature.
It is active. Perhaps more active than any other type of fishing. You could be wading through
water chest-deep to try and get to a fishing spot you can have all to yourself. Attempting to cast
the fly in just the right spot, to reel in just the right way.
Before you know it, you’re wrangling a fish in.
At times (especially in the beginning) it can be frustrating.
But hooking your first fish after putting in the effort makes it all worth it.
It’s when I fell in love with the sport.
What is Fly Fishing
At first, I thought (perhaps, rather naively) fly fishing was imitating a fly in the air through the
Now although the cast is important to get the fly where you need it to be, what really matters is
what the fly imitates as it hits the water.
However, we are already too far ahead.
Fly fishing is a hunt. You don’t use bait fly fishing. (Well you can… that takes the fun out of it
Your job as a fly fisherman is to imitate a tasty snack for the fish. To trick them into grabbing
your fly and then reeling them in.
What Type of Fish Can You Catch Fly Fishing?
Pretty much anything! It all really depends on where you are fishing.
You can catch:
● Striped Bass
● Largemouth Bass
● Carp
● Pike
● Muskie
● Tuna
● Sailfish
● And on and on it goes
But when most people think of “fly fishing” the two most common are:
● Trout (the most most common)
● Salmon
These two fish are broken down even further (rainbow trout, steelhead trout, brown trout,
chinook salmon, Atlantic salmon, etc.)
What you will fish for will be dependent on your location.
Where Can You Fly-fish?
Again, pretty much anywhere.
When people think fly fishing, they think of wading into rivers and streams to catch fish (in this
article, we will mostly stick to them as well). But people fly fish in ponds, in lakes, and in the
Google your state and “fly fishing” and you will quickly find where to fly fish and what type of fish
you can catch.
That being said, I figured I would add a few places that are world renown for the fly fishing
experiences they offer.
Bighorn River in Montana
The premier destination for trout fishing and for good reason.
You can find some big fish.
The average trout pulled out of this river is from 15-16 inches. The average. As in, you have a
shot of pulling one in that is much bigger.
However, given that this area is the premier destination for fly fishing, it attracts a lot of people
from all over. It may be a tough spot for a beginner fly fisherman who does not exactly know
what they are doing.
This one is definitely on the bucket list of a lot of fly fisherman.
Bristol Bay in Alaska
If salmon is what you are looking for, Bristol Bay is where it is at.
It is hard to come by a place that has the quantity and variety of fishing that Bristol Bay offers.
Here you can fish for:
● Rainbow trout
● King Salmon
● Sockeye Salmon
● Chum Salmon
● Pink Salmon
● Silver Salmon
Just to name a few.
Jupiter Inlet in Florida
If saltwater is more your style, you can try the Jupiter Inlet in Florida. A place where you are
almost guaranteed to nab all kinds of fish.
● Bonefish
● Redfish
● Snook
● Striped bass
And if you come during the right time of year (and are willing to) you can even attempt to catch
some sharks.
There are countless other places to fly fish
These are just a few of the “most popular” places to fly fish. And even if you live in an area that
is not the “most popular” place to fly fish, you can still find something and have plenty of fun
doing it.
In fact, there are so many places to fly fish, so many different fish to catch and so many
different methods and techniques to catch them, that it would be impossible to name
them all here.
This article can only give you an overview to get you started fly fishing. You must research your
specific fishing spot. What you fish for and the specific techniques you will use will be different
everywhere you fish.
And always remember, each state will most likely require you to purchase a fishing license. The
license will be less than the ticket, so just get it.
Equipment You Will Need
The world of fishing equipment has something for every tiny niche there is. The sheer variety of
equipment can be daunting to the first-timer.
For this article, we will be focusing on equipment for fishing in streams and rivers, as it is how
most people fly fish.
Fly Rod
When you are purchasing a fly rod, you want to keep three things in mind:
● Weight
● Length
● Rod Action
What you choose will be determined by where you are fishing and the type of fish you want to
The Weight
This is essentially how strong the rod is, making it easier to reel in bigger fish. Weights generally
vary from 1-14.
For trout fishing, you want to stay between 5-7. Even a 7-weight rod may be getting on the
heavier side of things for trout unless you are going for steelhead.
If you have a 3-weight rod, you are going to have a hard time reeling in anything larger than the
smallest of trout.
Conversely, if you have a 12-weight fly rod, you can reel in plenty of trout… but it’s not going to
be all that much fun.
The Length
This will depend on where you are fishing.
If you are fishing in tight areas with a lot of obstacles (trees and rocks) then you will want to
have a shorter rod. Think 6-8 feet.
For most, a rod from 8-10 feet will work. Still short enough that it is not a hassle in tight areas,
but long enough to cast longer casts if you need to reach farther out.
10 feet and up can be a pain to deal with in tight spots. However, if you are in an open area,
they are great when you need to chuck a fly far.
The Action
This is how much flex is in your rod. The three categories are appropriately named, and
therefore, easy to understand.
● Tip-flex: only flexes a little at the tip of the rod.
● Mid-flex: flexes halfway down the rod while the base stays stiff
● Full-flex: The entire rod flexes
For most fishing, mid-flex rods are perfectly fine.
Tip-flex rods are easier to cast farther but are harder to control on shorter casts.
Full-flex is easier to cast in general and particularly good at casting in smaller areas, but you
may be in trouble if you need that extra distance a mid-flex rod gets you.
For fly fishing, you will need four separate types of line:
● Fly Backing – takes up the majority of the reel and is used for extra room in case your
fish runs far
● Fly Line – The weighted part of the line. Usually a bright green (or something similar) so
you can see it in the water. (Weight matches rod weight)
● The Leader – Line that tapers off down towards the leader so the line does not splash
and spook the fish. (Weight matches rod weight)
● The Tippet – Extremely thin and invisible to the fish. The fly connects to the end of it.
As you can see, both the fly line’s weight and the leader’s weight matches the rod weight.
If you have a 5-weight rod, you have a 5-weight fly line and leader.
There is line sold for every rod weight, so be sure to check you are buying the right size.
When you are buying a reel you want to think about:
● Weight
● Drag
● Arbor Size
Just like the weight of your line, the weight of your reel should equal the weight of your
● If you have a 5-weight rod, you get a 5-weight reel and 5-weight line
● If you have a 7-weight rod, you get a 7-weight reel and 7-weight line
Get the picture?
There are a few different systems in regard to the drag of a reel. Obviously, the more expensive
you go, the better the drag system.
The drag essentially determines how much force it takes for the line to be pulled out. If you are
going for a larger fish, you will want a “disc drag system.”
It will provide the support you need when you hook that big fish.
Arbor Size
The arbor size is the diameter of the reel.
A large arbor is helpful when you need a lot of line (like if you are fishing in the ocean and catch
a sailfish) but a small to mid-size arbor is better for the trout fisherman. It’s more balanced
to have a mid-size arbor on a 6-weight rod. You won’t need all that extra reel when trout fishing
The fly is meant to imitate the fish’s food. It is what the fish attempts to eat before you set the
This article cannot tell you the exact type of fly you will need. It is something you will have to
figure out on your own through research, and trying different kinds.
You could try to go down to your fishing spot to observe the food sources your fish is feasting
on. Then purchase a fly that looks like that.
There are plenty of articles that explain how to do this! But this is not one of them.
This is because I have a much easier technique.
Go down to your local fish shop, tell them what fish you are looking for, and ask them
what flies work best. Then purchase the flies they recommend from that shop.
You have enough to worry about trying to learn the sport. As you become more adept, you can
start to look for food sources and try different flies.
You can even create your own flies! But this is another rabbit hole that you can fall down, only
for the most dedicated fly fishermen.
These keep you dry as you are trudging through rivers and streams. This is where things start to
get optional.
If you want to, you can stay on dry land and fly fish.
But to get where the fish are, sometimes through the water is the only option. Plus, wading
through the water is part of the fun.
The most popular waders are made out of neoprene.
They range in thickness. If you are fishing when it is below 30 degrees, you will want that
insulation. You won’t like that as much in the warmer weather, however. So pick wader
thickness based on the season you fish.
Waders vary in height, from waist high to chest high.
I would suggest chest waders, as it gives you more leeway into how deep of water you can go
into. (BE AWARE: If you fall down in chest waders in rough water, the water can fill up your
waders and drag you down with it. Always take precautions when traversing rough waters).
Wading Boots
If you purchase waders, you will want some wading boots.
These are boots that go over your waders.
When looking for a size, go a full size larger than you would with a normal shoe. This is
because you are shoving your feet and your waders in there.
Then there are the soles. Rubber soles and felt soles.
Rubber soles are like the soles in a hiking boot and feel more natural when trekking through the
Felt soles are cloth, and are really good at forming to wet rock so you can have a good grip as
you are walking across the water.
● Felt is better than Rubber in water
● Rubber is better than Felt on land
Choose depending on what you plan on walking more.
Other Helpful Items
These are some other items that you probably want and don’t really need much explaining.
● A Hemostat – helps you hold fishing line
● Toenail clippers (or something sharp) – to cut fishing line
● Pliers – helps you hold flies
● A rod and reel case – keeps your things organized
● A fly box – transports all your gear
● A landing net – Helps you bring in the fish
● Fly fishing vest – keeps your gear on you when you need to tie a new fly out in the
water (cause you are gonna lose some flies)
● Polarized sunglasses – helps you see fish in the water
● Fishing weights – to help bring your fly underwater
How to Set Up Your Equipment
Finally! We are actually starting to set up to fish here.
But right as we are about to do that, things are about to get more vague. These things are just
easier to see than explain.
Luckily for you, I have linked videos to guide you through each step of the process.
First, spool your reel.
You need:
● Your reel
● Your fly backing
● Your fly line
● Your leader
● Your tippet
Now you can follow the instructions in this video. It’s an easy to follow tutorial on how to set up
your reel.
Next up, is the rod.
You will need:
● Your rod
● Your reel (after it has been spooled)
Follow this simple instructional video to set up your rod. It’s simpler than all the knots you just
tied I promise.
Lastly, attach a fly.
You will need:
● Your fly
● Your rod
This video (although with poor resolution) shows the traditional way of tying a fly and a faster
way with a hemostat.
How To Cast
Learning how to cast is all about putting the time in.
If you are casting for your first time, I would suggest just finding an open area to cast before you
go out into the water. This way, you won’t have to deal with your fly getting caught in anything,
and you can just focus on casting.
This video will take you through the basics of fly casting.
The video says to “not bend your wrist,” and that it is all in the forearm. However, there are
plenty of people who cast with their wrist as well.
What is important, is that you are not using your full arm as you are casting. Think forearm
down. Your arm is not doing the work here, it is the rod’s momentum that is unspooling the line
and getting your fly where you want it to be.
Again, just take some time to practice, and you will be putting the fly exactly where you want it in
no time.
Catching the Fish
How you catch your fish is going to depend on what you are fishing for, and where you are
fishing. I know I sound like a broken record at this point, but that is the reality of it.
For example, if you are fishing a lake, you may want to drop your fly down towards the bottom
before starting to reel in.
If you are in a stream, you may want to cast and let the fly drift with the current.
If you are in a river and feel a bite, you may want to hook the fish by yanking the rod in the
direction of the current to avoid ripping the fly out of the trout’s mouth.
You could look for different water speeds and different areas that your specific fish likes to hang
out and eat.
Like with the whole sport of fishing, there are thousands of ways to do it.
This article just scratches the surface of fly fishing. There are many so aspects to dive into.
So I can tell you the basics.
● Cast your fly
● After you feel the fish bite, quickly pull the rod up to set the hook
● Tire and reel in the fish
What it cannot do is tell you the best techniques for your specific situation.
So if you get one thing from this article, it is to learn and try.
Google where you are fishing and what type of fish you are fishing for. What do they feed on,
and what the best techniques are to catch those fish.
Remember when I said to talk to your local fishing store earlier for flies? This is another great
thing to ask about!
They are probably some of the best fishermen in the area. Strike up a conversation and ask
them a few questions.
Most are happy to talk about the sport they love.
After that, go and practice.
Put in enough time and you will start to get the hang of it. You may not catch anything your first
time out, but that is what is great about fly fishing. You’re always hiking, casting and active.
Catching the fish is only part of the experience.
And don’t worry, if you put your time in you will get the hang of that too.