Getting Started in Fly Fishing

By Nick Simonson


With the turn of the calendar, many look to take on new pursuits, including those in the outdoors.  Among the many options to explore is fly fishing, a pastime which melds art, physics and biology into a passion on the water. When most people think of fly fishing, they think of the movie “A River Runs Through It,” pristine mountain streams and a glistening rainbow trout held aloft by the L. L. Bean-clad angler.  But that isn’t fly fishing and at the most is only a small part of it.  Just like walleye fishing isn’t all $35,000 fiberglass boats powered by three different motors and tracked with 12-inch touch-screen depth finders, fly fishing is just another twist on the same old game of man-versus-fish, that an angler can make as high-end or as simple as desired.

The Basics

While many folks fret at the idea of learning the cast, presenting a fly and the other intricacies of fly angling, if you know how to fish with standard tackle, you almost know how to fly fish.  The last part of the mystery of surrounding this hobby is the cast.  How do those experienced anglers drop a mosquito-sized fly on a trout’s nose, or put a fake shrimp in front of a bonefish at 30 yards?  The answer is practice.  They started from the exact same place you did, by not knowing how to cast.  If you know what fish eat and where they live you might even hold an advantage that the expert fly anglers didn’t have when they began fly fishing.

There are many resources available to help teach you the basic cast, but far and away the best is a mentor.  Find a person who is seasoned at casting the fly rod, knows how it works, and understands how it is used to catch fish.  Ask your mentor questions, have him or her help you learn the mechanics, and check in from time to time to have your instructor observe your progress.

Often there are not as many mentors available as there are those seeking them out, but hope is not lost.  Thanks to a great number of beginner’s books, and a multitude of websites, the learning curve is not as steep as it used to be.  For teaching the basics, a book may be a bit removed from a personal instructor, but it still provides a great basis for learning the cast.  Two of the best books for understanding this deceptively simple sport are “Fly Fishing for Dummies” by Peter Kaminsky and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fly Fishing” by Michael D. Shook.  Both reference books keep the lessons simple and straightforward; from assembling the rod to practicing the cast, and you won’t feel like an idiot or a dummy by the time you’re done with them.

Not All About Trout

Don’t have any of those pristine mountain streams nearby?  Don’t have any shimmering trout, slowly slurping insects off the surface available?  Don’t let that stop you!

Fly angling can be done anywhere there are fish.  From carp to crappies to creek chubs, bass to bluegills to bullheads, every fish that has to eat will take a fly of some sort.

When you have the cast down it’s as simple as taking it out onto the water.  Tie on a fly you know fish will consider eating, such as a minnow pattern, a marabou damselfly or a woolly bugger – because they all look like something edible.  You can even find flies that look similar to your favorite jig-and-twister combo or that preferred crankbait color, just to keep your confidence level up.

Fish where you know there are fish.  If you’ve landed bluegills hand over fist at the pond down the road on an ultra-light rod, that’s a good place to start with the fly rod.  If there’s an open stretch of water where, in your experience, the smallies can’t resist your spinning rod tactics, head back there with the fly rod.  Fly fishing where you know there are hungry fish will increase your enjoyment of the sport in the beginning phases and help alleviate some frustrations that are bound to come at that stage.

The important thing is to keep trying it. Every week or every day, set aside some time to cast, be it on the lawn or on the water. With time and practice the cast will come, and eventually so will the fish.  No matter where you are, what the water is like, and which species live there, even with just the basics, fly fishing is an enjoyable activity.  It is a great way to experience a challenge and with a little practice, learn a new way to catch your favorite fish, and those pristine mountain stream trout somewhere down the line!

Featured Photo: Small ponds stocked with panfish, like bluegills and crappies, are great places to learn the fly rod.  There are often no obstructions to impede your cast and the species are fast-biting. Simonson Photo. 


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