Fly Fishing Guide Part 1 Featured Image

Fly fishing can be traced back all the way to the Roman empire. That’s a long time for a sport. Although fly fishing wasn’t always a sport, for some cultures, such as the Japanese it was a way of life.

Fly fishing became popular in America during the 19th and 20th centuries and remains popular today among many anglers. If you are wanting to get involved in this incredible sport there are a few key basics you will need to know.

Fly Fishing Equipment

If you start searching for fly fishing articles, you will likely come across a wealth of information. The amount of information on the web can and will send your brain into an overload. How many rods do you need? What fly options do you use? Thankfully if you are a beginner there are only a few things you need to get started.

The average beginner will need a Rod and reel, fly line, leader, and tippet, and of course, flies.

Fly Fishing Rods and Fly Line

Fly rods differ from spinning and baitcasting rods. Fly rods are designed to bend in a way that allows you to put your fly exactly where you want it. So the question is, how do you choose a rod?

According to Orvis, you should pick your line size first. So your next question might be how do I pick a line size? Well, there are a few determining factors.

First, you need to think about what type of fish you will be fishing for. The fly line used for Crappie or Bluegill is going to be completely different from the fly line you would use if you are planning on fishing for something like Tarpon.

The system we use to measure line size is in weight. A 1 weight will allow you to catch small panfish while on the other end of the fly rod spectrum, a 15 weight rod is used for very large fish such as Tuna and even sharks.

Weight Action Species
1 - 2 Ultra Light Small Trout and small panfish
3 - 4 Light Basic Trout fishing, panfish
5 Light basic Trout, panfish, small Bass
6 - 7 Medium Large Trout, Bass, Bonefish, small Steelhead, and Salmon
8 - 9 Heavy Carp, Bass, Bonefish, baby Tarpon, Snook, Redfish, Sea Trout, Striped Bass
10 Extreme Heavy Freshwater - Medium Saltwater Tarpon, Salmon, Bluefish, Barracuda
11 - 12 Heavy Saltwater - species up to 200lbs Tarpon, small Tuna, small sharks, sailfish
13 - 14 Heavy Saltwater Marlin, Sailfish, Large open ocean sharks, large Tuna
15 Extreme heavy Saltwater Large Tuna, large sharks.

As you can see there a lot of options to choose from. Most experienced fly fisherman suggest picking a 5 or 6 weight rod. A 5 weight rod will allow you to fish for most freshwater fish and also allow you to do some inshore saltwater fishing as well.

The last thing you need to consider when picking a fly rod is the height. Typically a 9 foot rod is great for beginners. But you can pick any size you feel comfortable with. If you plan to fish places with a lot of cover or tight spaces a smaller fly rod may be the better choice. But 9 foot will work for most beginners. Check with your local fly shop if you’re unsure.

Fly Fishing Reels

So now you’ve got your fly rod and line picked out, time to pick a reel. Many people will say that the fly reel isn’t very important. I disagree with those people. The reel is one of the most important parts of any fishing set up.

While the fly reel doesn’t help much with casting unlike spinning and baitcasting reels, the fly reel is still a major player in fighting the fish you hook into.

There are a few considerations to make when picking a reel.

Line rating

The first thing you need to consider is the line rating. Line ratings match your rod weight. If you picked a 4 weight rod, you will want to pick a reel that supports 4 - 6 line weight for example.

Backing and Fly line

The next thing you need to make sure of is, that the reel will hold an adequate amount of backing and fly line.

If you’re wondering what backing is, backing is the material that goes on to your fly reel first. Backing helps to fill up the reel and allows you to retrieve faster. For your average Trout reel, you will need backing in 20-pound test. Backing is typically sold in 50 and 100yd spools. Most fly reels will hold 50 - 100yds.

Drag System

The last thing you need to consider when picking out a fly reel is the drag system. This is pretty much what will distinguish your high dollar reels from your budget reels. The drag system on a fly reel is your brake. It is what keeps the fish from running away with all of your line.

When choosing a reel, it is crucial to consider what kind of fish you’ll be trying to catch. If you’re planning on catching trout a more budget-friendly drag system is fine. But that budget drag system may not work for a saltwater species like Bonefish.

On the market today there are two primary types of drag systems. There are the click and pawl system and the disk drag. The click and pawl system is more budget-friendly, But it has less adjustability and stopping power compared to a disk drag system.

Disk drag systems have the smoothest and most stopping power of the drag systems available today. The disk drag is the kind of system you want if you’ll be chasing large saltwater fish. Bear in mind though that this system will come at a higher price point usually.

Leader and Tippet

So now you have your fly rod picked out, your reel, and your fly line. That’s it right? Not so, you need leader and tippet to connect your flies to your fly line.

The leader and tippet setup allow you to cast more straight and also makes your line harder for the fish to see. Thus giving your cast a more natural appearance.

Leader

Leader material in fly fishing is typically monofilament, but the leader is usually tapered. The leader has a thick end called the butt. This is the end that will attach to your fly line. Most fly fisherman that fish for Trout start with a 20lb test butt end and taper down to a 4-pound test.

The taper of the leader allows it to move through the air more efficiently and land more softly on the water. This is what allows for the realistic presentation all fly fishermen are trying to achieve. Leader length is typically in the neighborhood of 9 feet.

Fly fish leaders use an “X” scale to rate the strength and size of the leader. The scale ranges from 03X all the way down to 8X. 03X is the largest leader and 8x is the smallest respectively. The leader size you choose to use is largely determined by the size of fly you will be using.

Leader Size Pound Test Species
03X 25 lb Big game species
02X 20lb Large Salmon
01X 18.5 lb Stiped Bass
0X 15.5 lb Salmon, Steelhead
1X 13.5 lb Bonefish
2X 11.5 lb Large and Smallmouth bass
3X 8.5 lb Bass and Large Trout
4X 6lb Trout
5X 4.75 lb Trout and Panfish
6X 3.5 lb Trout and Panfish
7X 2.5 lb Trout and Panfish
8X 1.75 lb Trout and Panfish - Small flies

Tippet

So by now, you’re most likely wondering, what the heck is tippet? Tippet is specific gauge monofilament line that is attached to the end of your leader and attaches to the fly on the other end.

Typical Tippet length is roughly 2 - 4 ft and is usually a smaller diameter than the end of the leader. One of the biggest advantages cited by active.com is the fact that having a tippet will save your leader.

As you remove and attach new flies, your leader becomes shorter and shorter. But if you have a tippet tied to your leader, you only need to add more tippet, thus saving your leader line.

Flies For Fly Fishing

We’re finally on to one of the more exciting pieces of fly fishing equipment. The fly. Flies, are designed to attract or lure fish just like regular lures you would use with a spinning or baitcasting rod. The difference between flies and traditional lures is that flies are very light and need the specially designed fly rod to be able to cast them.

The use of artificial flies has a long history. The first recorded use of artificial flies came in Izaak Walton’s 1653 book The Compleat Angler. The fly fishing information included in the book were added by Charles Cotton.

Cotton was a long time friend of Walton’s and an excellent angler. Walton chose Cotton to write the parts pertaining to fly fishing as Cotton was a more accomplished fly angler than Walton was. Cotton’s contribution includes how to fly fish for trout and grayling. Along with instructions for making artificial flies for trout.

When fly fishing, it pays to know a little etymology. Artificial flies are designed to imitate real insects. When fly fishing was first being developed, aquatic insects such as mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies were the most imitated. However, the need to imitate prey isn’t the only school of thought.

In general, there are 3 main types of flies you will need to be familiar with. Dry flies, Nymphs, and Streamers. There are other types of flies outside of these three, but they are beyond the scope of this guide.

Example of a dry fly used in fly fishing

Dry Flies

Dry flies are a type of fly that is designed to sit on the water. This type of fly can be super exciting to fish. With dry flies, a fish has to rise to the surface to take your fly. It is quite a sight to watch a fish rise to the surface and strike your fly.

Dry flies come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and patterns. The most common patterns for dry flies are ones that are designed to “match the hatch”. These types of flies will resemble mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. You can also find dry flies in terrestrial bug patterns such as grasshoppers or crickets.

One of the major downsides to this type of fly is it will not always be productive. Some fish such as trout will be very untrusting of a dry fly.

Depending on where you are fishing and the amount of pressure fish have received, will determine how effective this fly type will be. Even with the downside, this is still an incredibly fun type of fly to fish and I highly recommend you do so.

Example of a nymph fly used in fly fishing

Nymphs

Nymph flies are flies that are designed to imitate insects during the nymphal stage of an aquatic insect's life cycle. Some insects that have nymphal stages include those we have talked about previously. The mayfly, caddisfly, and stonefly all have a nymphal stage in their life cycle.

Nymph flies are a type of wet fly. While there are some variations between a traditional wet fly and a nymph, the terms are mostly used interchangeably. Because they are a wet fly that imitates a life cycle stage of aquatic insects, nymph flies are meant to be fished under the water's surface.

This type of fly is particularly great for trout for two reasons.

The first being trout do most of their feeding under the water rather than above the surface.

Secondly, nymphs are closer to what a trout would normally eat and thus will be more trusting of the bait.

Example of a streamer fly used in fly fishing

Streamers

Streamers are designed to imitate larger prey such as minnows, crayfish, leeches, and larger aquatic insects such as hellgrammites. Because the strikes on these flies can be so powerful, they are one of the most fun fly types to fish.

When the water you’re fishing is unfamiliar, dirty, or you just don’t know what the fish are eating streamers can be a good go to.

Streamers are also a great way to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time and will allow you to hopefully find active fish. These type of flies are fished with an active retrieve known as stripping. Stripping involves pulling your line in short or long bursts.

The stripping technique resembles fishing with a spinner or spoon in regular fishing methods. However, instead of the lure creating the action, the act of pulling your line in bursts creates the action in the fly.

Wrapping Up

As you can see fly fishing isn't that complicated. The equipment needed to get started is fairly simple and straightforward. Where fly fishing begins to get difficult is when you actually start fishing. There are a number of nuances that go into a great cast.

In part two of this guide, we will cover setting up your fly fishing gear and go over a few basic casting methods to get you started fly fishing. So be on the lookout for that. 

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If you found this article helpful be sure to share it on social media and with your friends and family so we can get more people involved in the great art of fly fishing. 

As always thanks for reading and remember.....adventure is waiting. 

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