Fly Fishing Basics

February 2, 2009 by  

Our Outdoors
Nick Simonson


Smallmouth are one of the authors favorite species to pursue on a fly

Smallmouth are one of the author's favorite species to pursue on a fly

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; at the most it is a minute part of it. Just like walleye fishing isn’t all $35,000 Warrior boats powered by three different motors and tracked with GPS-true color depth finders, fly fishing is just another spin on the same old game of man-versus-fish.

The fly fishing basics

If you know how to fish, 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 50 feet? 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 a number of 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 straight-forward; from assembling the rod to practicing the cast.

Another great resource results from the gathering of some of the best fly fishing gurus in the world at Fly Anglers Online ( This network of experienced, intermediate, and beginning fly anglers helps put a many-eyed-view on a variety of questions that inquisitive anglers need answers to. If you’re interested in learning about fly fishing, this site should be number one on your favorites list regardless of what you fish for.

Not all about trout

Even walleye can be taken on a fly - despite its stereotype as a bottom feeder

Even walleye can be taken on a fly - despite it's stereotype as a bottom feeder

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 crappie 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 fly fishing basics, fly fishing is an enjoyable activity. It is a great way to experience a challenge and puts a new spin on the enduring pastime of angling in…our outdoors.


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