Justin Dickerson | Submitted On August 18, 2015By
I’m often asked how to get started in fly fishing. While our sport is often considered spiritual by the experienced fly angler, it can be daunting for the newbie. Many new fly fishermen have fishing experience, but are unprepared for the intricacies unique to fly fishing. In short, while a well placed cast of a spinner lure retrieved at a steady pulsed interval can attract a nice fish in that pond, lake, or reservoir; the fly fisherman is reliant on subtleties such as insect hatches, migration patterns, and river dynamics. These are important differences, but often times the complexity of all the variables interferes with the enjoyment and ultimate success of a first-time fly fisherman. As such, I’ve come up with my top 10 do’s and dont’s a beginning fly fisherman should follow when starting out.
#10 – Don’t buy an expensive fly rod. In golf, expensive clubs can sometimes provide an extra few yards off the tee simply due to better composite materials. With a 460cc clubhead on a driver, you’re bound to find some success just by taking a big swing. Nothing could be further from the truth when fly fishing. An expensive fly rod made by Sage (or other higher-end manufacturers), might look nice, but the feel and action of the rod is made for someone who has been fly fishing for a while. Why spend the money if you’re not going to get the benefits? There are plenty of good inexpensive rods sold as kits at major retailers.
#9 – You don’t have to be an Entomologist. True, the more you can learn about insects, the better. But you’d be amazed how much you can catch by dumb luck and just fishing at the right time of day. In general, if you see bugs on the water, something under the water is either going to rise up and eat it, or eat it underwater before it hatches.
#8 – Matching the hatch guarantees nothing. Similar to #9 above, trying to perfectly match that caddis hatch isn’t going to guarantee you a catch. First, the fly could be a poor match anyway. Second, if river and weather conditions aren’t right, matching the hatch isn’t going to get you a lunker. This is more of a subtlety to be mastered as you become more experienced.
#7 – Don’t fish with newbies. There is a good saying in tennis. If you want to get better, play against better players. You can learn a lot by just watching an experienced fly fisherman at work.
#6 – Learn about river flows, currents, and conditions. While you might not need to be an insect expert, you will do yourself a world of good by learning what is meant by CFS measurements (cubic feet per second which measures speed of the river current), and whether the forecast is for wind, overcast skies, sun, etc. This will prevent you from showing up on a bright sunny hot day only to find out the river is drying up and fish aren’t to be caught.
#5 – Learn about responsible fishing practices. As stated in #6 above, if it’s a hot sunny day, you should measure the water temperature. If you’re fishing for trout and the water temperature is in the 70’s, you need to stop fishing. Trout don’t survive long in such conditions and shouldn’t be harvested. Similarly, if rivers in your area have regulations against felt-soled wading shoes, then don’t wear them, period. If they are allowed, I love them! And obviously, don’t harvest a fish you aren’t going to eat. Most states have laws against wasted game meat, and in some states that means fish too.
#4 – It only takes one fly pattern. Let’s be honest. You went to that big box store and bought one of everything. You just dumped $500 on a small bag of flies. While I’d love your business at my fly shop, I have to be honest and say you’re wasting your money. I’ve used a single well-made fly for an entire day of fishing. If I’m going out to dry fly fish when I know a certain bug is in season, I’ll pick one pattern and stick with it. Sure, I’ll change now and then as conditions warrant. But my point is that successful fly fishermen know how to fish, not just how to tie a new lure on every 15 minutes.
#3 – Buy good waders, clothing, and packs. You don’t need that $500 fly rod set-up, but you do need comfortable clothes that dry quickly and are made for fishing. Shirts with built in UV protection are great. And a shirt with a high-rise collar is even better. Make no mistake, you are in harms way from the sun. It will blaze off the water and cook you. Unless you want Melanoma later in life, please spend the $50 now to protect yourself. And of course, use good sunscreen, at least a waterproof one with an SPF of 50+. Along with the shirt, a good hat pays dividends. My favorite is the Canadian made Tilly hat. It has a strap to prevent it from blowing off and it’s made of organic material and has a cooling system built in for your head. Wonderful. As for pants, you need to match your weather conditions. If it’s unbearably cold and you still want to fish, then you’ll probably want chest neoprene waders. But for the summer months, I generally advise wading pants unless you think you’re going to be in water deeper than about 4 feet. When given the option, I’d always advise wading boots and stocking foot waders versus booted waders. This allows you to find a comfortable fitting boot without being at the mercy of the built-in boot found in booted waders.
Finally, there are numerous fly vests and packs out there. Having one with easy access to your materials in front of you is key. A fly patch on the vest is also nice because you can move flies around without having to constantly go back to your box. Just as handy as a fly vest is a pack. There are chest packs, hip packs, backpacks, and a lot of others. I always recommend a sling pack to new fly anglers. They are easy to maneuver in front of you when needed, and behind you and out of the way when not needed. They also hold something like a rain jacket, bottles of water, and your favorite sandwich!
My point is you will not enjoy any sport if you aren’t comfortable. Don’t go out and buy all Simms clothing, unless you have big bucks. But do invest the requisite amount to be comfortable and ready for the weather. It’s worth the money.
#2 – Not every day is a fishing day. We all see the bumper sticker, “any day fishing is better than a day working.” I may be a heritic for saying this, but I disagree. If your favorite stream is nearly dry, or that favorite river is raging fast, you’re not going to have fun. Many of my friends love to fish in the rain for a variety of reasons. I’d rather be dry and sipping my favorite drink at Starbucks. Don’t feel you have to be fishing every single day to be getting better. Some of my best trips came on perfect days where I leveraged a lot of knowledge I gained reading fly fishing books on rainy days. Ultimately, it’s personal preference. But I remember being on the Encampment River in southern Wyoming once during the biggest mosquito hatch I’ve ever seen in my life. You could barely see the water. I went back into town for beer and pizza instead of getting bit to death. The next morning was beautiful and one of the most memorable days of my fishing life.
#1 – Learn where the fish are located and how to cast to them!!! It pains me to see so many new fly fishermen casting into a flat current of stagnant water just waiting for that lunker. Here are a few basics. First, trout like oxygenated water. If you had a choice to breathe abundant clean air versus stale thin air, what would you choose? Water breaking over those rocks and forming foam pools at the bottom are actually oxygenating the water and luring fish. While the fish don’t want to waste energy fighting the might of that rapid, they will hold at the back of that pool taking in the oxygen without the effort of fighting the current. Another good idea is to watch the water temperature and whether it’s overcast or sunny. If it’s hot and sunny (but still cool enough to ethically fish), look for those fish in shady spots like under logs. Go with beaded lures that sink as fish will go deeper to find cooler water. Most of it is just common sense. Equally as important, practice your casting technique. Keep the line off the water as much as possible, and practice landing the fly first. If your cast to that awesome pool is a massive splash of fly line, all the fish will shut their mouths. A good way to practice is in your backyard with a small weight in place of a fly. This way you can practice your casting motion without snagging grass, trees, or your neighbors! And watch the abundance of videos on casting. You Tube is your friend!
I hope these tips help the beginning fly fisherman get excited about the sport and start landing lunkers early in their fly fishing careers. Once you get that first lunker in the net, you’ll never want to do anything else. Tight lines!
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