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How to Start Fly Fishing — A Beginner’s Guide

How to Start Fly Fishing — A Beginner’s Guide
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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Fly fishing is one of the methods of catching fishes. In fly fishing, the bait which often looks like a fly is placed on top of the water to draw fishes to it. This method was designed to make the fish recognize the bait as an insect that landed on top of the water.

Fly fishing is quite different compared to traditional fishing methods. In traditional fishing methods, the bait is usually cast out and presented to the fish below the water.

With traditional fishing, the end of the line has a hook, a float, and some weights. Also, the fishing line used here is very thin and lightweight. The bait on the hook and the attached weights allow you to make a cast that gets to a very good distance; the float then holds the bait in the water.

If the fishing goes as planned, that means the fish would have seen or smelled the bait, bite into it and get caught on the hook.

However, fly fishing works differently. In fly fishing, you would be casting a lightweight ‘fly’ on the top of the water or just below the surface of the water. The fly itself has no weight and is delicately placed in the water to avoid scaring the fish.

Photo by Marsh Williams from Pexels

Fly fishing is a peaceful and amazing sport. It gets you up close with tranquility and the calmness of nature and still provides the best part of it, the fishing.

Fly fishing might seem extreme at first but you do not have to worry. We intend to guide you on the basics and give you the nitty-gritty of how to start fly fishing.

Learning about fly fishing is not difficult but it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Fly fishing is not the kind of sport you can learn in a day; you would need to be very patient as you would spend a few trips getting to know your gear, earning how to cast properly and lastly, learning on how to find the right spots to drop your bait.

One of the fastest ways to learn is to use a professional fly fishing guide or go fly fishing with an experienced fly fisher.

The whole essence of this is to enjoy your fly fishing experience. However, whatever you decide, do not pressure yourself and have a great time learning about fly fishing.

Basic Fly Fishing Equipment

First and foremost, get all the necessary fly fishing equipment. The basic fly fishing equipment is the gear you would absolutely need to go out and start fly fishing. A lot of fly fishing vendors carry various fly fishing gear.

The basic gear include: fly rod, fly reel, fly fishing line and the flies. Note that the fly fishing line consists of fly backing, fly line, leader and tippet.

These are the basic gear you would need to head out and start fly fishing!

Photo by Pablo Gutierrez from Pexels

It is very important to purchase good quality gear. And while it is understandable that as a fly fishing beginner, you might not want to put so much money into getting the gear, we should let you know that cheap fly fishing gear may likely break and not function properly. If the gear isn’t good enough, you might get frustrated and quit fly fishing. Fortunately, there are many manufacturers that make good quality gear at fair prices.

Fly Rod and Fly Reel

These two are the most important gear items. They are the basic items to have in fishing gear. You could get fly rods from $50 to over $1000. The prices differ based on the type of material the rod is made from and the quality of its production.

Fly rods come in various weights and lengths. The type of rod you will be using will depend on the type of fishing you will be doing. A graphite fly rod is highly recommendable as it is also in the medium price range.

As fly rods vary, fly reels vary as well. Plastic reels are usually on the low end but it is advisable to not purchase these as they are not durable, they don’t function properly and they break easily. Stick to a metal fly reel.

One important thing you should have at the back of mind when purchasing a fly rod and fly reel separately is that the weight of the fly rod should match the weight of the fly reel to enable them to function properly.

Note that fly rods and fly reels are available as combinations from many manufacturers. If you buy them together, you get a chance to be given a discount rate.

Click here to buy the MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch Graphite Fly Fishing Rod on Amazon

Fly Backing, Fly Line, Tippet and Leader

A standard fishing set-up has only one line that goes all the way from the rod to the hook. Fly fishing is quite different for the following reasons:

It doesn’t have any weight at the end of the line as there is only a lightweight fly. Without weight, it is not possible to make a distance cast which is why in fly fishing, the weight comes from the line itself and that is why the line is a lot thicker.

Fly fishing is mainly about placing the bait (the fly) on the water without the fish knowing that it is attached to anything. This is where the leader and the tippet come in.

Fly backing

Fly backing is used to fill up the reel. It mainly provides extra length for a longer fish run and it is the longest portion of the line. Fly backing is often thick and brightly colored so it can be easily seen in the water.

Fly Line

The fly line provides weight when fly fishing. The line is heavy and is also brightly colored just like the fly backing.

The Leader

The Leader is used to transition from the thick fly line to the thin tippet. Initially, the leader starts thick, to match the fly line and then goes down to a much smaller size. The work of the leader is to keep the thick fly line from slapping onto the water and scaring the fish.

It also functions as an almost invisible transition to the tippet and the fly. This will prevent the fly line from being seen by the fish. Leaders are generally about 9-10 feet.

Click here to buy the Piscifun Fly Fishing Tapered Leader on Amazon

The Tippet

The tippet joins the fly at one end and joins to the leader at the other end. It is usually almost invisible in the water. This makes the fly present without the line being seen by the fish. The secret is to find the strongest tippet that is the hardest to see.

All these items come in various sizes. So, the right size depends on your rod and the type of fishing you will be doing. If you buy the rod/reel combination I mentioned earlier, you do not have to worry about any of this as they all come ready to fish.


We have come to the real bait in a fly fishing set up – the fly. There are three basic types of flies:

Dry flies

Dry flies are the most commonly used flies. They are designed to look like flying insects that land on water and begin to float on it.


Nymphs look like aquatic creatures, often larvae, and generally float on the top of the water or just below the surface of the water.


Streamers are designed to be like aquatic creatures too but they are larger than nymphs, mainly leeches. Streamers are also referred to as lures.

If you are finding it difficult to make up your mind about the best fly to use, you could consult a local fishing shop or a fishing expert. You would be at a better advantage because they would find out what kind of fly works best in your area for the type of fish you are after.

Flies can also be purchased with either barbed or barbless hooks but barbless is better preferred.

Click here to buy this assortment of Wet Fly, Dry Fly, Streamer Fly, and Nymph on Amazon

Other Fly Fishing Equipment

Asides the rod and reel set-up, there are other equipment that are highly recommendable to make your fly fishing experience more fun:

Fly Fishing Net

Fly fishing net helps to protect the fish and it makes it easier to grab the fish.

Polarizing Sunglasses 

These sunglasses are to be worn to protect your eyes from the sun and cut the glare from the water so you can see better and also see the fish below the waterline.

Fly Fishing Vest

Fishing vests are very useful when it comes to holding your gear and keeping it close to you in case you need an item in it while fishing.

Click here to check out the Bassdash Fishing Vest for Men and Women on Amazon

How to Set-up Fly Fishing Equipment

We have talked about fly rods and reels, fly backing, fly line, leaders, tippets and flies. Now, how does one put all of this together?

Luckily, putting them together is not difficult. All you would need is practice and some basic knot tying skills. You can check out our article on how to tie a fishing knot.

Remember that if you got the recommended rod/reel combination, this has already been done for you.

  • Following the manufacturer’s instructions, attach the reel to the rod. Generally, the reel slides on the rod and locks in place.
  • Retrieve your backing and pull off about a hundred feet. The amount varies based on the weight of the reel. The reel manufacturer will give an amount on the amount of backing to use.
  • Also, pull off about 2-3 feet of your fly line and tie it to your backing using one of the knots. Then, pull off another 30 yards of the fly line and clip it.
  • Make sure the line is taut as you spool it and make it go evenly across the spool. The line should spool from below the reel.
  • Continue spooling the line until it gets close but should not touch the outer rim. If it gets close, trim off the extra backing. Remove the backing and fly line.
  • Tie the backing to the arbor using a knot. Do not forget to keep the line taut. Spool it evenly so it spreads the line across the reel. Spool from the bottom.
  • Make a loop at the end of the fly line using another knot. This loop will help you attach the leader loop to the fly line easily.
  • Using a loop, attach the leader to a loop knot.
  • To join the tippet to the leader, use a double surgeon’s knot.
  • Lastly, use an improved clinch knot to attach a fly to the tippet and there, you are all set-up.

It looks like a lot but as long as you do not change the line weights, you’ll only need to change out your leader to replace the flies.

The Basic Fly Fishing Cast

Having discussed the set-up for a fly fishing gear, it is time to look at the casting. There are different types of casts with their advantages and disadvantages. The kind of cast you pick should be driven by the following:

  • The location
  • The cast distance you are looking to achieve
  • The type of fish you want

The type of cast we’ll be looking at is the overhead cast because it is the most basic cast and also a base for other fly fishing casts. If you learn the overhead cast, other casting techniques will be much easier to learn.

How to start fly fishing
Image by Udo Schroeter from Pixabay

How to Make the Overhead Cast

The main reason this is called an overhead cast is that you would need to bring the fly line overhead and behind you and the cast it in front of you to get your desired target area.

Here’s how to make an overhead cast:

  • Hold the rod as if you’re shaking hands with someone, your thumb should be on top and pointing towards the end of the rod. Make sure your hand is in the middle of the rod’s grip and hold the fly line between your index finger and the rod to prevent an extra line from coming out.
  • With the rod pointing slightly downward from the waist level, pull out ten yards of fly line and shake your rod up and down. This will bring the fly line out and down into the water.
  • Take a step back so the line stretches out before you.
  • Do not bend your wrist, slowly lift your arm until the line is tight.
  • Revolve your arm backward to bring the line behind you; this will make the rod bend. Place the rod in a 1 o’clock position and wait for the line to form a loop behind you –this is very important.
  • Once the line is behind you, bring the rod forward to a 10 o’clock position. This will cast the line in front of you. Where you point the rod at this point will determine where the line ends up.
  • As the line stretches out into the water, lower your arm slowly to lay the line out on the water. Make sure the line is tight as this will prevent it from slapping against the water thereby scaring the fish.

You can also check out this video for a tutorial on how to make an overhead cast:

We recommend that you practice this for a while before going out to begin the actual fishing. One of the best places to practice is open water. After a few practices, you would have gotten the hang of it. Then, you can now pick your fishing spot.

Picking Your Fishing Spot

One of the ways to find a good fly fishing spot is to ask the local fishing shop around you. Your fishing spot might be based on these:

  • A place that is not too far from your home.
  • A place where you can cast without fear of your line getting caught up in trees.
  • A place with nice scenery that you would enjoy being in.


To enjoy fly fishing a lot more, pick out a whole day for it. That way, you’ll spend enough time fishing without pressure to finish up quickly as a result of work or something else. It also helps to take a friend along because you’ll be sharing your fun with someone.

It is quite true that fly fishing takes time to master and as I said earlier, it can get you frustrated. However, do not rush it. Just enjoy the experience as you learn how to fly fish. Once you have your fly fishing gear and have learned what you need to know about fly fishing, then you are ready to start. Remember to have fun and challenge the fishes!

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