Fly Fishing: What Is It and How Do I Get Started?
The gentle sways, the quick snaps, the unspeakable finesse. You’ve seen the glorious dance that is fly fishing and you’d like to hop in and try.
Only problem is, how can an angler, no matter the experience possibly master such an art form? And it is truly an art form.
With a completely different set of rules and tackle than traditional “Spin Fishing”, fly fishing can seem a bit intimidating at first. Worry not my fellow monofilament friends!
After reading this article you’ll have the confidence to hit the water, shoreline or kayak armed with the knowledge of techniques and equipment to get you well on your way to becoming the Lord of the Flies.
What exactly is fly fishing and where did it come from?
Fly fishing has enjoyed a wild ride with roots stretching as far back as ancient Roman times. Claudius Aelianus wrote about fisherman in Macedonia in the 2nd Century AD:
“They fasten red wool… round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers… Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length.
Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the color, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fly_fishing).
Separately, the Japanese also developed some very unique styles of fly fishing such as the traditional, “Tenkara”, which we will discuss later in this article.
Over the centuries fly fishing became increasingly more popular in Great Britain and other parts of Europe.
In 1496, The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle was published, giving some of the first recorded instructions of rod, reel and fly for the Renaissance Era Do-It-Yourselfer.
In 1836, came a huge milestone, when Alfred Ronalds published The Fly-fisher’s Entomology. This was a full color work that explained, in great detail, how certain lures or “flies” mimic specific insects.
Previously, there were tips and tricks passed down from angler to angler but no scientific, account. He also explained proper water conditions and seasons for different flies.
Nowadays, as with anything, fly fishing has evolved into a worldwide modern sensation with high tech gear and cutting edge techniques.
So now that you’ve had your history lesson for the day, you’re wondering: what is a fly, what is a fly rod, and how is it different from “Spin” fishing?
First thing’s first…here are some terms you should be familiar with:
A hand-tied lure meant to mimic insects or baitfish to entice fish. Flies use natural and synthetic materials attached to hooks.
Special line designed for fly fishing. As opposed to monofilament line, fly line is heavier and has a plastic coating.
A rod that is specifically designed for fly fishing. Along with the reel being placed behind the grip, the rod is also typically longer and has more guide holes than a traditional rod.
A section of monofilament line between the fly line and the fly. Honestly, there’s a hundred other terms that are useful to learn but not necessary to get started.
For further information, a quick internet search of “Fly Fishing Terms” should get you going in the right direction.
Fly vs Spin
Fly fishing is considered by many to be a more pure form of fishing. More about the challenge of learning the proper casts and truly tricking the fish with flies that you may have even made yourself.
Spin fishing, on the other hand was developed as a more efficient means of catching fish. In addition, fly fishing can be an advantage in streams and tight locations.
If you love tackle, then you’ll love fly fishing. There are enough options for line, rods and flies to make your head spin and your mouth drool. Not to mention the allure of making your own lures.
First, the Flies…
There are two basic types of flies that are meant to mimic different insects at different life stages.
Dry Fly – adult stage; used on top of the water
Wet Fly – earlier life stages; used under the surface of the water
Wet Flies can further be broken down into nymphs, streamers, emergers and more. These are all useful for different fish, in different regions, in different parts of the year. Don’t get too worked up about the types and become overwhelmed. Here’s a few suggestions.
It’s always a good idea to purchase a starter kit with an assortment of flies.
The Barnsley Fly Box + 100 Assorted Fly Fishing Fly Kit
It has 50 dry and 50 wet flies. This is a great kit as it has everything you need to start getting a feel for what flies work when and where.
- Mid-level quality flies at a great price. Great for beginners
- Although some of the included flies are for bass and other lake fish, most of the included flies are for trout and salmon. Also, the case is metal and can sink
After that you may decide to start buying individual flies. “The Fly Shack” and “Orvis” are two great brands that can be found on Amazon for purchasing just the right fly.
Or maybe it’s time to step it up to the next level and begin tying flies. This is where it really gets exciting.
Scientific Anglers Deluxe Fly Tying Kit
Includes deluxe fly-tying vise, bobbin and threader, bodkin, hackle pliers and scissors, hooks, thread, tinsel, wire, dubbing, hackle feathers and Marabou.
- Great price for a starter kit. This kit comes with enough material to make over 30 flies
- Because of the low cost, the quality of the tools are not the highest grade.If you think that this will be a long lasting hobby, then consider an upgrade.
It has everything you need to get started, but….
Wooden Fly Tying Station
With the built-in rotary vice stand, the magic really starts to happen.
- Having the rotary vice is a great quality along with a nice space to organize your tools and work
- To be honest, products like this are often better when custom made from local shops and this one is no exception
- The station is not as high of quality as if a real craftsman builds you a real work station. But this does at least give you an idea of what to look for
When choosing your first rod, it is wise to get a versatile one. Different weighted rods are better for different sized fish.
Too light weight f a rod will make a panfish feel like a tuna. A 9 ft, 4 or 5 weight is a great start.
Orvis Clearwater Frequent Flyer 5-weight 9′ Fly Rod
- This is a quality rod from a trusted brand. It is quite easy to assemble and break down for travel
- This rod can be prone to some breaks, but the 25 year guarantee will take care of that
Another Option is to go the route of the Tenkara Rod. This is a Japanese form of fly fishing that uses a much longer rod and eliminates the reel and much of the line.
It’s great for true traditionalists or minimalists trekking along mountain streams.
Maxcatch Tenkara Rod
This rod is telescopic, allowing you to truly shrink it down for travel.
- This Tenkara rod is made from high quality materials and works great in tight or windy conditions
- You will have to separately purchase special Tenkara line for this rod
One last thing to consider when purchasing a fly rod is its ability to break down into segments.
The more segments, the easier it may be to pack in you backpack. Four to six segments works great for most travel needs.
Depending on your species of choice, the rod can either be an essential part of your set-up or simply a glorified line holder attached to your rod.
Things to consider when selecting a reel for your fly rod include:
– Matching the backing weight the reel is made for the to your rod weight
– Selecting a reel with the appropriate amount of drag for the species you are fishing.
A lower cost reel will typically not have the drag features, but should be sufficient for small stream trout. For larger fish, do yourself a favor and spend a little extra and pay attention to the drag.
Piscifun Sword Fly Fishing Reel
- This is a lesser known name brand product that is meant to perform but for a much prettier price tag
- The drag adjustments are not the best which can be a hassel for one that fighting
Orvis Access Mid Arbor Fly Reel
- This reel is lightweight and has some of the best ergonomic features in its class. The drag system has the quality that one should expect from orvis
- Mid Arbor style reels are quickly being replaced by Large Arbor reels which make pulling in your line much easier
Choosing a line as a beginner fly fisherman can be a daunting experience. There are so many different styles that are specifically engineered for different casts and situations.
It is a good idea for beginners to start of a Weight Forward line as it will be the easiest to learn basic cast techniques.
RIO Trout LT WF Fly Line
- Rio is one of the most trusted brands in fly fishing line. This product can be trusted
- While a weight forward line is great for beginners, after you master the craft, you may want to look into a Double Tapered line with a bit more finesse
So What Now?
GO FISH! You are now armed with the complete rundown of “Everything Fly Fishing”. Yes, there is plenty more to learn but that only comes with time and casts.
Get the gear, grab an experienced friend (or if you are fresh out of friends, then watch a few YouTube tutorials on beginner casting techniques) and hit the river!