Fly Fishing 101: Everything You Need To Know

Fly fishing is an amazing outdoor sport that any angler can pick up. The calming sounds of running water and enjoying a beautiful day outdoors cannot be matched.

However, fly fishing is a bit different from its simple cousin. There are specific fishing techniques as well as equipment that you need in order to make sure you have the best fly fishing experience possible. In this article, we’ll go over all of the basics to help you get started on your fly fishing adventure! 

What Is Fly Fishing? 

Before we get started on specific techniques and necessary gear, let’s discuss what fly fishing actually is. To put things simply, it is a type of fishing where you use a lightweight lure to catch fish. This type of lure is called an artificial fly.

These artificial lures typically resemble the food sources of many of the larger types of fish found in rivers and lakes such as trout, salmon, steelhead, and bass. Another big difference between normal fishing and fly fishing is the casting methods.

Fisherman fly-fishing in river

Becoming an expert fly fisherman requires a lot of skill!

While we won’t go in-depth on these techniques right now, we will go over the basic principle of casting. With normal fishing, an angler will typically rely on the weight of the lure that’s at the end of their line to cast. With fly fishing, it’s more like you’re casting your line, than your lure. 

This is a very tricky process. During fly casting, you have to make the lure seem natural enough that a fish will go after it. There are also a variety of different casts that are appropriate for different situations. What’s more is that you also have to master the movement of your lure beneath the water, in order to properly attract fish. 

It can be a difficult process to learn at first. Many first-time fly fishers may get their lures and lines caught in the trees behind them, or fail to properly cast. While the learning curve may seem daunting at first, the sport is truly relaxing and rewarding once you’ve mastered it. 

Fly Fishing Equipment 

Now that you know a little bit more about the sport, let’s take a look at all of the essential gear you’ll need. We’ll start with arguably the most important part of fishing, the rod. 

Fly Fishing Rod

At first, you might think that any old fishing rod could be used to fly fish. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. These types of rods are specifically made for the sport and have more differences than similarities when compared to normal fishing rods. 

When compared to any run-of-the-mill fishing rod, a rod constructed for fly fishing will be much lighter and thinner. It has all of the other parts that are typical of a fishing rod: a handle, a reel seat, and line guides. Of course, even the line guides are different as they’re smaller and fixed closer to the rod itself. 

Another key difference is that the reel seat, or where the reel is actually mounted, is found lower on the end of the rod than a typical fishing reel. The main reason for this is to create a good balance in the rod. Something that’s pretty interesting is that fly rods are actually in the same classification as your average spinning reel rod.

However, the difference here is that the weight of a fly fishing rod comes mostly from the line, instead of the rod. There are a few types of fly fishing rods as well. They’re broken up into categories based on the length of the rod. The reason this is important is that the length of the rod will determine where it can be used most effectively and which casting methods you can use.

As an example, if you’re fishing on a smaller stream, you’ll want a 6-7 foot long rod. Like all other fishing rods, a fly rod is made from a carbon-fiber material. However, this is not the only thing they’re made of. Some rods are made using fiberglass, graphite, or even bamboo.

The different materials actually make a pretty big difference not just in the feel of the rod but in performance in a variety of situations. Because this is an article about the basics of fly fishing, we recommend looking into fly fishing rods that are made using graphite.

The reasoning behind this is how versatile this material is. It is very lightweight and strong, making it able to stand up to harsher conditions when compared to other rod materials. It’s excellent for beginners as you don’t have to get used to all of the nuances that come with rods made from other materials. 

Line

Next up in your fly fishing arsenal is the line. Like with the rods, you can’t use any old fishing line with your fly reel. You’ll need a special type which is an aptly labeled fly line. There are a lot of different types of fly lines out there featuring different styles and materials.

We’ll give you an overview of them and point you in the right direction. To name just a few different lines: full-floating lines, partial-float lines, sinking lines (which all have various sinking rates), and full-sinking lines. We cannot even begin to list all of the different fly lines out there which are specially made to catch a certain type of fish.

Ideally, fly anglers want to match the type of line with your environment as well as the fish species you’re going after. The most commonly used type of line, and the one we recommend for beginners, is the monofilament full-floating line.

The weight of the line allows the whole length of it to float comfortably on the surface of the water. This fly line is generally seen by anglers as the best choice for all-around fly fishing as it’s great for most situations and is perfect when utilizing typical techniques.  

Lures

Obviously, you can’t go fishing without a lure. As we said earlier, fly fishing requires a special type of lure known as an artificial fly. These lures either imitate a fish’s natural prey or attract a fish using a varying range of methods. There are three different types of artificial flies: floating flies, partially submerged, or underwater.

The underwater, or below surface flies are broken up into three sub-categories: nymphs, streamers, and wet flies. Floating flies are also known as dry flies. This type of lure is generally used in tandem with a floating line. These types of lures are generally supposed to represent prey that floats on the surface such as dragonflies, ants, grasshoppers, and even mice or frogs

Fisherman and trout, underwater view

Using dry flies to catch trout can be a lot of fun!

These flies are great for freshwater and trout fishing. Partially submerged flies are also known as emergers. This type of lure covers a wider variety of prey than a dry fly. They tend to mimic baitfish, crayfish, leeches, worms, and other different species of aquatic insect life.

These types of lures will sink just below the water line to perfectly mimic the appropriate prey. Wet flies tend to imitate minnows or leeches. These flies will sink a lot more below the surface than a partially submerged fly. The thinking behind this type of lure is that they imitate an aquatic insect during its growth stage, also known as “nymphing” hence the nickname given to this lure.

These lures do require a tippet, so be sure to get yourself one. An interesting fact about these lures is that you can actually make them yourself! Through a process called fly tying, people have been making these lures since at least the year 200!

Waders

This piece of fishing gear is essential if you want to go angling in deeper waters. They allow you to get into a better position so you can cast downriver, avoiding having to reset your cast often. You can find these for sale at most outdoor sports stores and even Amazon. 

Casting Methods

Now that you know about all of the necessary pieces of equipment you need to have a full fly fishing arsenal, we will move onto the more complicated part, casting. If you’re going to go fly fishing, you need to know a few different casting techniques. We’ll start by taking a look at the basic fly cast, the brickwork of every good caster. 

Basic Fly Cast

As the name suggests, this is an easy and straightforward cast. First, you’ll need to start with your rod pointing down, with some of your line laying in the water in front of you. Next, you’ll need to smoothly, but quickly, bring your rod tip behind you from the first position.

Pause for but a moment, to allow your line to unfurl a little bit behind you. Now, use your forearm to whip the rod forward, abruptly stopping your hand’s movement. This type of cast is not unlike how you would cast a normal fishing rod, but there are a few differences that you’ll need to not in order to master this technique.

For example, the pause as you bring the rod backward is important as you need to let the line out. You need to remember that the purpose of the technique is to bend the rod so that it has adequate power when brought forward. 

Roll Cast

There are some situations where you will just not have the room to make a proper, full-length cast. Perhaps there are too many trees or bushes behind you or maybe other anglers prevent you from casting over your shoulder. Whatever the case might be, this is when you should use what is called a roll cast. 

A roll cast is performed by first leaving some of your line in the water and start with the tip of your rod behind you and turned outward. Your hand should be next to your ear and across from your shoulder. Begin to bring your rod forward quickly and as your hand moves forward, stop it abruptly but give the rod a push with your thumb. It is essentially a flick of the wrist! 

Bow and Arrow Cast

This type of cast is pretty much exactly how it sounds. You are essentially trying to use your rod like a bow and arrow to fling your line as far out as you can. This is definitely one of the more difficult and technical casts that a fly fisherman can utilize.

However, the reward is being able to reach places in rivers or streams that a normal cast could never permit. To perform this cast, you’ll first need to grab the loose part of your fly line slightly above the cork grip. Now, point your rod tip at your desired target.

You’ll then want to pull back on your line to create a bend in the rod. We recommend pulling your hand back to your ear. Once you’re all lined up and your rod is nice and bent, release your grip on the fly line and watch it go soaring to your target.  

Double Haul Cast

Next up is the double haul cast. This is a type of cast that is really meant to be used when you’re using larger flies. These larger lures can sometimes be a bit cumbersome and can mess up a typical cast. When you find this happening to you, that is when you should be utilizing this type of cast.

Because of the extra distance and utility with heavier flies, this is an exceedingly popular casting method with saltwater fly fishermen. To execute a double haul cast you’ll need to first start your cast like any normal one by flicking your wrist back and forth.

As you’re flicking, you’ll need to create tension on your line. To do this, pull down on the slackline as your rod goes forward and backward. When you’re ready to send your fly into the water, flick your wrist back and pull your line just as the fly hits the water.

Then, flick forward and pull on your line but let go of it just as your rod comes forward. This is an extremely effective type of cast if you have a lot of line that you need to cast out. It takes a lot of the stress and effort of the cast out of your wrist and shoulder by utilizing the force and tension caused by pulling on the part of the fly line that’s slack. This is why you’ll see so many people use it for saltwater fly fishing.

Steeple Cast

Now we have the steeple cast. At first, this may seem like a very strange type of cast, because of the technique behind it. However, it shares the same type of usefulness found in the roll cast. It allows you to perform a cast while you’re in a tight space or while on smaller rivers and creeks. 

To effectively perform this cast, you’ll need to start with a very steep backcast. You’ll essentially want to bring the tip of your rod to an almost 90-degree angle above you in a quick motion. Then, bring your rod down quickly and cast forward, stopping abruptly when the tip of your rod is at about your eye level.

You’ll then want to slowly lower the tip of your rod to let the fly line out of your reel. Something to keep in mind while performing this cast is to make sure you don’t make it super powerful. Overpowering your cast, especially when the rod is coming down, can cause you to slap the water with your rod.

One of the worst things you can do as a fisherman is scaring all of the fish away!

Final Verdict

After reading this article, you should have enough knowledge of fly fishing to head out there on your own. Remember, it’s a game of patience and technique so don’t get discouraged if you don’t get bites immediately. Now, grab your favorite tackle box, your rod, and waders and catch some trophy fish! 

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Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.