Fly fishing is fun–I’m sure you’ll agree with me. But the thing is, there are so many things you have to know, learn and practice to be somewhat good in it especially if you are just starting out. What are the most important aspects to focus on? Do you need a fly fishing mentor? (Hint: yes)
While learning from failure is great, I always believe in learning from others’ past experiences. In hopes of helping you to focus only on the things that are important, I asked over 90+ fly fishing experts this question: What are the 3 most important things you wish you knew when you started fly fishing?
And as the title points out, 50 of them took the effort to come up with useful insights which I listed down below. But before that, I would like to thank them for their time and passion for the fly fishing community. Others wanted to contribute as well, but they are just too caught up with their personal matters which I can relate to myself.
Is this relevant for beginners only? Absolutely not! I had gone through each and every answer and I have to say, they were nothing short of amazing.
Also, being curious myself, I did a quick summary on some of the common things they wished they knew or did when they first got started.
Note: One of the most famous advice is to be able to find fish. You can definitely use the best fish finder to help you.
|Importance of Presentation||18|
|Learn to read the water||13|
|Find a fly fishing guide/mentor||11|
|Don't be afraid to ask for advise||9|
|Learn to read the fish||4|
|Proper planning is important||3|
|Importance of Flies||5|
|Any fly fishing gear will do||2|
|Don't rush, be patient||2|
Tom B. – Orvis
“I’m giving you three from my own experience since I cannot speak for the company on this one.”
1. I wish someone had explained both presentation and matching the hatch as two parts of approaching trout that must work together rather than as separate strategies around which two camps had formed.
2. That someone had instructed me in the nuances of approaching fish. How to move up and down the stream without spooking the fish and that on small streams I should stay out of the water wherever possible.
3. I think the most important lesson I could have learned was not to take anything I was told by more experienced anglers as the “right” way to do things. That there is no one perfect fly, technique, or way to approach any piece of water or fish.
Check out Orvis’ Fly Fishing Learning Center. It provides a good general bases for learning about the sport.
Myles Kelly, Shane O’Reilly, Paul O’Reilly, Markus Muller and Kevin Crowley – Inland Fisheries Ireland
1. I wish I knew that muddling on was not the way to catch more fish. Should have gone out with a good guide or instructor as a kid and leap frogged up the learning curve.
2. I wish knew how much I’d regret not making the most of every season. Don’t wait to pick up a fly rod for the first time–it’s not half as complicated as people make out and never turn down an invitation to go fishing.
3. Don’t ever be afraid to buy the best–but remember that’s not the same as the most expensive!
Ian Davis – Yellow Dog Fly Fishing
I started fly fishing when I was around ten years old, but really got hooked after college when I packed up my truck, and moved out west from the east coast. I spent three months driving around Montana, Wyoming and Colorado fishing, camping, and trying to figure out where to hang my hat. I had no interest in jumping to the New York City job market as my dad had done.
As I traveled and fished throughout the West, I kept running into problems tying on my fly after a few fly changes with my tapered leader. The line would no longer fit through the eye of the hook after a day or so on the water. The diameter of the leader was too thick to fit through those tiny PMDs or caddis.
I would go into the local fly shop in various mountain towns, ask them how to solve this problem, and all the shop folks told me to buy a new leader. Man, this sport was getting very expensive. Back then a new leader was around three bucks. I was spending around ten bucks a day now on tapered leaders, because I spent a lot of time getting my fly out of the bushes and trees, and having to re-tie. One wind knot and I had to tie on a new leader.
I really wish just one of those dozens of western shop guys had taken the time to educate me about freaking TIPPET. I have to say that I never really got any good advise or help during that whole summer. Maybe it was my Red Ball rubber waders and aluminum net? They could’ve really helped me out, sell me lots of tackle, thus saving me tons of much needed money on leaders? I took copious notes on where I fished and shopped, and could name every single shop that had the “attitude“. Needless to say I now avoid those retailers.
When I got my first job in a fly shop in Colorado, I made sure we helped everyone with all their needs, and more. I always kept a close eye out for the beginner anglers and took lots of time with them to discuss leader configurations among any other topics. Eventually, I became one of the owners of Breckenridge Outfitters and we were awarded “Orvis Endorsed Outfitter of the Year” three times. Besides having an awesome team of guides, I like to think we helped many people learn how to be properly tackled in the shop, and that is why the shop was so decorated. I never wanted to be like those crusty fly shop snobs that never helped out a kid thirsting for knowledge all those years ago. I will say that most fly shops I visit now are excellent of taking care of their customers. There has been a positive shift in how fly shops treat their anglers.
In the world of saltwater, I “turned the corner” on being a better angler when I could start seeing dem bones, mon. The first few days I could not see what the heck the Bahamian guides were looking for on the vast flats of Andros. I had caught a few fish blind casting in the general area the guides steered me towards (10 O’clock 50 feet!). I remember driving back to our cottage after fishing and seeing bonefish in the road. My mind was playing tricks on me. I had been looking so hard for fish that any pot hole in the road (And there were tons of them on Andros back then) was a fish. Charlie Neymour and Andy Smith taught me how to scan the water for bones and relax your eyes. Look for moving color change, nervous water, and tails. I remember Charlie Smith (Crazy Charlie) saying how he could hear the bones in the mangroves thrashing about, and to get ready. He was always right! Now, when I’m fishing the flats I relax and take it all in. I really think not counting fish increases your fish count. I’m writing this from Andros right now, and it is wonderful to spend time with the people I have now know for twenty years. My favorite aspect of traveling and fishing is the culture, and reconnecting with all the guides we have been sending Yellow Dog anglers to for many years. It is so rewarding to watch the communities benefit financially from Yellow Dog’s bookings.
Then last week at the NJ Fly Fishing Show this guy walks into the Yellow Dog booth to show us a new crab fly he tied. It is pretty rare for a truly original fly to be invented nowadays. There are tons of new concepts applied to existing patterns, but it has been a long time since I was blown away from something totally new. Well, this guy had tied a nice version of a rag head crab, but with tiny minnow in it’s claws. That permit could now get a quick “two for one” meal! The fly should be called the “Twofer“. What fish could resist?
This is what is so unique about fishing; you just never stop learning, and it is so important to be a sponge. I always like to be the “listener” when around other fly anglers.
Joe Rotter – Red’s Fly Shop
I would say planning. Anglers constantly forget about the little things like, where will I park? Anglers willing to invest time into reconnaissance both driving and walking will be able to spend more time in the right spots.
Too often anglers arrive at a destination and due to sheer excitement, wind up spending too much time in water that isn’t productive. Get yourself a $5 coffee and a breakfast burrito and spend your first couple hours scouting the river and isolating spots that not only look productive, but you will enjoy the wading and fishing experience as well.
Jason Neuswanger – Troutnut/Research Homepage
“I can imagine you’ll get great answers about fly fishing fundamentals from the other people you’re asking, so I’ll try to give you a few unique ones that come from my scientific research on trout feeding behavior. None of them are new to the fly fishing world, but the science at least provides a different perspective on them.”
1. Because trout do most of their feeding subsurface, the angling literature sometimes gives off the impression that you’re missing out on the best fishing anytime you’re not nymphing. However, trout will typically move much farther to take a prey item on the surface than they will below the surface. This makes dry fly fishing ideal in many situations, especially when you’re searching a lot of water quickly and don’t know exactly where the fish are.
2. When you stick a video camera in a trout stream, or a net to catch drifting insects, you’ll notice there are almost always far more items of debris than prey. The job of a drift-feeding trout is to pick out the rare items of prey amidst the usually more abundant debris. Your first job as an angler is to catch the fish’s attention in the first place, despite all the distracting debris. Your second job is to “seal the deal” with a fly the fish views as realistic enough for a taste test. Anglers tend to pay a lot of attention to the second job, sometimes at the expense of the first. The less sure you are about the exact location and feeding preferences of each fish, the more important it is to use attention-grabbing strategies such as fishing highly visible attractor flies or adding lively motion.
3. When fishing subsurface, and especially when dead-drifting small, realistic flies, it’s extremely important to get the fly down on the fish’s level and drift fairly close to its nose. This might be the first thing you read in any book or article on nymphing, but it still should be tattooed on both hands and the forehead of every new angler. To demonstrate this principle and point 1 above, check out the positions of prey items when a large Arctic grayling first reacted to them in one of our studies:
The fish rarely moves more than about one body-length for subsurface prey, so it’s important either to have very accurate presentation or to use some of the attention-grabbing strategies from points 1-2.
Andy McKinley – Duranglers
“The 3 most important things I wish I knew when I started fishing are…”
1. Fish with people who are better than you and always ask questions. Better anglers have a way of showing you how much you don’t know… but they also push you and teach you how to be a better angler. I also suggest hiring a guide for the water you are wanting to learn. A fly fishing guide will reduce the learning curve by a ton. You can learn more in one day with a guide than you could learn in a whole month (or year) fishing on your own.
2. Always, always, always consider presentation above everything else. How you present your fly is the most important thing. Presentation is more important than the fly you have tied on, more important than your gear you are using, and more important than the trout on your Instagram feed. Presentation is how you present the fly, and it does not just start as you make the cast. Presentation is a series of tactics that begin before you even tie your fly on. Presentation is how you approach the water that puts you in a good position to make a cast without spooking the fish. Presentation is how you make the cast. Presentation is the action, or lack of action, that you impart on your fly that entices a fish to eat it.
Note: Having a good reel can be everything when it comes to successful presentation. Learn more about our top picks for the best baitcasting reels in the market in 2017.
3. Go slow. Don’t try to rush the process, and master the basics. What are the basics? Casting, line management, and presentation. Don’t buy every piece of gear right out of the gate, but buy quality gear that will last you a long time. When you really break it down, all you really need is a fly rod and a few flies to catch fish. However, waders are very nice when you want to fish colder waters, and a net is very important for quickly and safely landing and releasing fish.
4. Bonus: explore water unknown and foreign to you. Just because it isn’t in a magazine or guide book does not mean it isn’t incredible. You never know what it will hold until you get there. You may find a new secret spot.
Bill Latham – Aardvark McLeod
“Here are my musings on the subject.”
1. When I started fishing the chalkstreams of southern England at the age of 10 I was fortunate to have 3 very good mentors, Frank Sawyer of Pheasant Tail Nymph fame being one, I was so shy at that age I did not ask enough questions as I thought I was being a nuisance, Looking back I wish I had the confidence at that age to ask, it is too late now as all these good fellows have gone to fishy heaven. Most guys in fly fishing are only too happy to give advice, then it is just a matter of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Never be afraid to ask.
2. I wish I had started a diary and log at that young age. It was not until I was in my mid 20’s that I started doing this and now it is such a valuable document as with advancing years the memory starts to fade. Where, what, how big, what fly, what country, weather and what buddies I was fishing with.
3. I wish I had learnt the art of standing still and watching, time spent in observation is never wasted especially when you are by the waterside.
“Maybe not quite what you were expecting?”
Mark Raisler – Headhunters
1. Find a fly fishing mentor. This person could be your dad, your uncle, your neighbor, or a co-worker. Someone to show you a few tricks of the game. This will help you enjoy fly fishing right away. Then if you want to accelerate your success you can find a casting instructor, take a guide trip, join a fly club.
2. Any rod, any reel, any hat, any vest, any pond or river… Just have a great fly line. The fly line is the #1 product you should be concerned with. Just like good tires on your car or nice shoes on your feet. The fly line is the vehicle that delivers the fly to the target! And, don’t forget to clean your fly line often. Daily if you wish. Takes just seconds get your line back to slick and floaty!
3. The learning curve is long. Stay with it. Fly Fishing offers an entire life’s worth of fun, challenges, and learning opportunities. It is a lifelong sport that continues to give back!
Vince Puzick – Angler’s Covey
Presentation: Whether getting a natural drift with a dry fly or getting the right depth and speed with a nymph rig, the right presentation is at the top of my “important to know” list. It’s not just a matter of getting the fly on the surface or in the water, but how it behaves once it’s there.
Reading the River: Fish hang out where there are food sources and oxygen! No surprise there, but what does that mean in a river ecological system? Pools, riffles, structures, banks. There’s a lot to learn. And, then, how do you present the imitation to the fish?
Line management: Mending your line. Stripping. When to go to the reel … how to manage the fly line, leader, tippet can get to be a mess!
We reviewed different fishing lines, you can check it out here:
Josh – Gates Au Sable Lodge
1. Don’t walk into a trout stream unless you’ve studied it first. Anglers tend to forget they are hunters.
2. Don’t look for where the big trout live, look for where they feed. I used to always try to find the deepest pool with the biggest log jam, and then I’d try to make some hard cast into it all for what I presumed would be the biggest fish in the river. I’ve since learned big trout might live there, but they don’t feed there. You have to look at tail-outs, and the soft edges of the upstream riffle.
3. Be patient with a good rising trout. If fish keep refusing your parachute fly, cut the post off. If fish keep refusing your standard fly, cut the hackle off the bottom. Always try to land your fly just short of the fish instead of going to long.
Harry Murray – Murray’s Fly Shop
“This is a great idea and actually the most important aspects we teach each year in our 40 Fly Fishing Schools.”
1. Learning to read the water properly to identifying the feeding stations for trout and smallmouth bass is the most important thing an angler can master. As I teach this, it is a three step procedure. (A) Where do I suspect the fish will be holding?, (B) Where should I present the fly, (C) Where do I position myself? With a complete understanding of this out students progress quickly on all types of water.
2. The most misunderstood part of fly fishing is the leader. This is also the one feature that gives both beginning and experienced anglers in our schools the greatest amount of trouble. I like only Compound Tapers Hand Tied Knotted Leaders which are built specific for the size flies being used. These Leaders present the flies very accurately and delicately. I sell great numbers of these in my fly shop. I cover these leader formulas in three of my books, Trout Fishing in the Shenandoah National Park, Trout Stream Fly Fishing and Fly Fishing Techniques for Smallmouth Bass.
3. Choosing the correct Fly Rod for the fishing one plans to is critical for successful and pleasant angling. And when this is properly selected I can teach anyone to cast in 15 minutes. Basically the fly size one plans to use governs the fly line size. The fly line size governs the rod weight to be used and the overhead canopy governs the length of the rod needed.
From March until October we conduct 40 “On The Stream Fly Fishing Schools” for both trout and smallmouth bass. These dates are listed on our website.
Bjorn Stromsness – Bonefish on the Brain
1. Most of the fish you are going to catch are going to be in close… within 15 feet. Look there first. Fish there first.
2. Trout gear does not need to be expensive. There is very, very little a $1,000 rod can do that a $250 rod can’t, and for trout fishing, that number might even be lower.
3. It is better to have a lot of a limited number of patterns in different sizes than it is to have a large number of different patterns in a few sizes. Presentation trumps fly selection, a lot.
4. California bonus… I once heard the difference between a good and a great California fly fisher was an extra split shot. That is some distilled truth right there for most of the rivers in CA.
For the salt:
1. Work on your double haul before you get on the water. Work on it over grass, where you won’t be distracted.
2. The strip set is hard to get into your head if you are a trout guy, but you should be saying “strip set, strip set, strip set“ in your head constantly when you have a fish in front of you, until your body learns that is what it is supposed to do.
3. When you catch a bonefish and let it go, watch it for as long as possible as it swims away. Great practice in training you eyes.
Hamish Webb – Flick and Fly Journal
“As a keen amateur that only took up fly fishing five years ago, I can still remember what it was like early on having no idea what I was doing. The biggest most important lessons I learnt when I was starting out weren’t earth shattering revelations, instead they were moments where I started to practically understand why all the things I had read were important, really were important. Reading about the importance of casting accuracy, drag free drifts or the depth of your flies was great, but for me at least, those lessons really only stuck through personal experience and time on the water. If I had the opportunity to start again, I am not sure I would change much, the constant journey is a big part of why I love fly fishing so much. That said, if I could have learnt a few of the most basic lessons faster and avoided the worst frustrations of the first 6 months, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
1. The importance of the fundamentals. When I started fly fishing I focussed way too much time thinking about whether I had the right gear or the right fly and dreaming about expensive fly rods that would improve my casting. I wish I’d spent more time focussing on and improving line management, casting, mending and technique. I wish I’d got some casting lessons. I wish I’d spent more time focussing on improving how my flies were being presented (depth, drag, drift, streamcraft). If I’d done that I would have progressed a lot faster and caught a lot more fish.
Don’t get me wrong, fly choice matters, it’s just that often it only matters when you are getting the basic right. The result of presenting the right fly at the wrong depth is same as presenting the wrong fly at the wrong depth. So I wish I’d properly understood how much the fundamentals matter and that there is no silver fly rod that will progress those skills. That 99% of it is on you. Luckily for me, that journey never stops, there are always things to work on 🙂
2. The importance of practice, practice, practice. I made the biggest leaps early on when I started chasing the local carp population (at the time a 5 minute ride from home). It meant rather than fishing every couple of weeks, I was fishing after work every couple of days. I improved more in that first month chasing carp than I had in the previous 6 months of fortnightly trips. Fly fishing involves a lot of moving parts and when learning regular practice is really important for getting the fundamentals down to a point where all those things can start to just “flow“. Getting to that point for me was when I knew I was hooked for good.
3. All fish species are fun to catch on fly, so don’t be too fussy 🙂
Hale Harris – Bighorn Trout Shop
Becoming an accomplished fly caster solves a multitude of problems. You may think your skills are adequate, even advanced, then a year or two later you realize how many more fish you’re able to catch because of an increased ability to present the fly. This may involve putting a hopper close to an undercut bank, placing a trico spinner above a sipping fish again and again until the timing is right, or casting streamers into a stiff wind. Also, while it’s not always important to make a long cast, there is a time and place for it. There’s a bumper sticker you can buy in Montana that was obviously created by a guide. It reads, “It’s Not the Fly – You Suck!” Kind of blunt, but the message usually holds true.
As a fly fishing guide, few of my customers are at an advanced level. Of course, if everybody was an expert, they might not need to book me as a guide. However, to make the most of your guided fishing trip, learning to fly cast well will make your trip that much more fun and productive.
2. How to Mend and Get a Drag Free Drift, i.e., Line Management
Growing up in rural Montana and pursuing unsophisticated trout in small streams, the fish initially gave me a break. My fly didn’t need to achieve the perfect “drift” in order for me to be successful. It was only later that I learned the importance of line management. Here on the Bighorn River, having the ability to mend (throw slack in the line without moving the fly) and lengthen a dead drift is all important. Rivers with significant fishing pressure hold fish that do not suffer fools. Most aquatic organisms drift downstream at the same speed as the current, with little perceptible lateral movement. Anglers who can manipulate their lines to imitate this “natural drift” will be consistently successful.
3. How to relax, accept others, and have fun.
Human nature is such that we like to feel superior to others, or if we can’t feel superior, we like to drag others down to our perceived level. This aspect of human nature manifests itself in fly fishing when people criticize or belittle others for their lack of skill or fishing preferences. Granted, there are unsporting things that are harmful to the fishery or ecosystem, and these should always be condemned, albeit in a tactful way. But I’m talking about issues such as dry fly purists who look down their noses at nymph fisherman, or wade fisherman who criticize float anglers. Some people denigrate various rivers and the anglers who fish them, or what kind of tackle they use. The list goes on and on and it is silly. We all like to do certain things and we have personal preferences regarding equipment and techniques. Be kind and relax. It’s supposed to be FUN. Don’t take this too seriously. Enjoy yourself and let others do the same.
Mat Wagner – The Driftless Angler
I wish I spent more time practicing casting. Not being able to make some of the technical casts that I should have really hindered me when I first started. The more I fish, the more I find myself using the small ‘trick; casts to get into tight quarters or even be able to present a fly to a really nice fish. Avoiding lining the fish or getting drag at the last second and spooking a really nice fish stinks! Spend some time in the yard doing curve casts, reach mends, and other non straight line casts.
I wish I spent more time watching and less time casting. Like most anglers, my focus was on catching fish. Take a few cats, stomp on up to the next spot, take a few casts….. Slowing down and observing fish for a few minutes can really open the door to being a better angler. How are they rising, are the aggressively feeding subsurface or just barely moving. Are they even looking like they are doing anything at all? Being able to read fish behavior is a really important skill that is easily forgotten about when you are on the water.
I wish I knew to fish at my feet instead of making the cast to the obvious spot. Again, slow down! Yes, there will be a fish holding under the cut bank, yes there will be fish feeding in the current seam, but what about that tiny pocket in the riffle you just crossed to get to your casting position? What about that rock just downstream of where everybody crosses to get to the named run? Especially on highly pressured water, being able to find fish where other anglers do not bother to fish can save a trip!
Marcus Weiner – Fish Alaska Magazine
1. Correct leader recipes – I stumbled around concocting leaders that didn’t work, especially on the Kenai and when I got it right, success rates increased a lot.
2. Putting the fly in zone – I think I spent a lot of time gliding my flies over fish’s heads. When I learned to mend the fly line immediately to get the fly to sink and then had better line management particularly to create a drag-free drift, then I caught more fish.
3. Spend more money on the reel, seek those out with sealed, high quality drag systems – The initial thought was to buy an expensive fly rod because that’s what launches the line. What I soon found out is that super long casts are rarely necessary and that a better use of money is to get quality reels which do much of the work in slowing down powerful fish. The right rod–meaning correct length and action–are important to the technique and fishery–but a reel that fails will cause you to stop fishing.
“Hope this helps. I’ve got 22 years of fly fishing experience in Alaska and started Fish Alaska magazine in 2001.”
Gene Rea, Jeremy Hamilton & Ben Helgeson – 5280 Angler
Gene Rea – Lead Guide
“The three most important things I wish I knew when I first started–keep in mind I was 9 years old when I first started so I’ll approach this from the point of view that I am an adult getting started.”
First, Proper rig set up. This is critical as I have seen a lot of folks on the river with improper set up. Incorrect weight for the type of water being fished and weights either too close, or too far away from the point fly (12 to 15 inches above the point fly). Indicators (if you use them) not properly adjusted for depth of water – 1 to 1.5 times the depth of the water above the weights. Proper leader size and length for the type of water being fished as well as size of fish being pursued. I typically use 7.5 to 9 ft monofilament leaders – then run about a 12″ to 15″ section off the end of the leader either using a blood knot, or a surgeon’s knot. It is above this knot that I place my weights if using them. I tie off my point fly at the end of that section of tippet. From that point on I run fluorocarbon tippet between the flies on a multi-fly rig. There are some very good tutorials out there and also a guide can help the new angler with this.
Second, fly selection. I don’t know how many times I’ve witnessed folks presenting flies that were inappropriate for that time of the year or the wrong size. A basic understanding of stream entomology is essential in helping make the correct fly choice when fishing any water. This is something every new fly fisherman should learn. Again, this is where a guide, or classroom instruction, can be very helpful.
Third, and probably most important, presentation of the flies. It does no good to set your rig up, have the correct flies, then make poor presentations to the fish. You can get all the other factors correct but if you aren’t making good accurate presentations (drifts) you won’t be hooking fish, or you will hook fewer. You must always compensate for drag that is where mending and high sticking are very critical on each and every drift. I tell my clients that “If you are not high sticking you are mending, if you aren’t mending you are high sticking, if you do nothing you will catch nothing“.
“Tight lines fellas!”
Jeremy Hamilton – Senior Guide
“When I first started fly fishing I was about 9 or 10 years old. It wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I really started trout fishing and there are definitely a few things I wish I had known to shorten the learning curve.”
The first is that there are several techniques to fly fishing, not just dry flies. Of course, everyone wants to be like Brad Pitt and stand on a big rock making an amazing cast with a dry fly to a monster fish. That’s the romantic view anyway. The reality is that you can catch a lot more fish subsurface than you can on the surface, and usually within a few feet of your rod tip. It’s not sexy, but it’s effective. It took me several years before I understood just how effective subsurface flies can be. Had I started out with that knowledge I could have eliminated a lot of fishless days.
Second, I wish I would have realized that the number of fish caught is not necessarily the measuring stick for a good day of fishing. As a teenager I’d get skunked and think it was a bad day. I failed to recognize that the beauty that surrounded me was infinitely more rewarding than just catching fish. Additionally, it took me a while to realize there were a lot of lessons to be learned when I wasn’t getting the fish to bite.
Lastly, I wish I would have latched on to a fly fishing mentor a bit more. There’s no quicker way to gain knowledge than to absorb someone else’s. I never really sought out help when I should have. I always tried to figure things out on my own, with lots of failure. My father and I fished together a lot, but he was learning fly fishing at the same time as me. It was fun and a lot of great memories were made, but it wasn’t great for my development as a fly angler. Had I known that there a lot of people out there just aching to share their knowledge, again, it would have shortened my learning curve. Once I became a guide and became exposed to lots of great ideas and knowledge, from a lot of great people along the way, I really started to develop skills as well.
Ben Helgeson – Guide
“You’re right there are lots of confusing variables to consider when chasing trout with a fly rod!
The hurdle then, really, for beginning anglers is to navigate all the variables with CONFIDENCE. So, in answering your question, I’m going to place my emphasis on three tips that would help any angler to approach the river with more confidence.”
1. Read the water/find the fish – I think, for beginning anglers, even a small stream can feel like a vast ocean – creating a general bewilderment over the very question: “Where the heck are the trout?” Although there are lots of web articles and YouTube videos related to the topic of “reading water” to find fish. I believe there is no substitute for going out with a professional guide hands on instruction in reading water to find fish. Looking at a photograph, video, or illustration of a current seam, structure, riffle, pool, or run just isn’t the same as experiencing it for real with a professional interpreter (guide). In connection with that, I always recommend purchasing the best pair (both in fit and lens quality) of polarized fishing glasses you can buy.
2. Build a quality nymph rig – I see a lot of frustration and confusion around building a quality nymph fishing rig. I think, at the core of the frustration is not fully understanding where fish are in the river and how they feed (see tip#1), but there is also questions around leader length/diameter, knots, weight, indicator positioning, and spacing between flies. There are a lot of excellent YouTube videos, articles, and diagrams available on this topic. 5280 Angler Senior Guide and friend of mine, Ron Pecore posted this on our blog: 5280 ANGLER GUIDE HACKS – Ron’s Rigs
3. Focus on quality presentation – Entomology for the beginning fly angler can be HUGELY overwhelming–combined with the dizzying array of fly patterns available in local shops. As a result, beginning anglers can develop an almost paralyzing insecurity regarding their fly selection. This lack of confidence causes frequent changing of fly patterns, which is time–consuming and frustrating as beginners are often not quite as quick or proficient with their knots. Instead of all the muss and fuss over fly selection–beginning anglers should instead focus on developing an ability to present their fly to the fish, rather than worrying so much about whether or not they have the perfect fly pattern on the end of their leader.
Jason Tucker – Fontinalis Rising
First, I wish I had taken a casting class before going out fishing. I wasted years thrashing around frustrated, not knowing what a loop was. The day a friend showed me how to cast a loop, fly fishing became a friendly place.
Second, I wish I understood bugs better, but that comes with time and study, and it takes equal parts book study and on the water experience.
Third, I wish I would have taken up night fishing sooner. Mousing convinced me that rivers are full of big fish, but you have to fish on their terms. Catching those big fish gave me the confidence to always keep fishing.
Those fish are there, you just have to keep trying.
Tony Bishop (Bish) – Bish & Fish
Fish your feet. The first lesson I learned was the cardinal sin of wading out way too far before doing a detailed survey of the water from the bank outward. Only when I learnt to ‘read the water’ with my boots dry, did I realise how many fish I spooked when wading out.
Rules are for the obedience of fools, merely guides for the wise. Trout fishing is one sport where a short-sighted, blinkered view of how things could and should be done is rife amongst a self-appointed ‘elite’. When it all boils down, there is no single answer to any fishing problem or situation. There is an old saying that goes like this, ‘even a fool must be right now and then, even if by chance.’ Try the new, try the experimental, try the exploratory, they will all add to your skills. And when you are starting out if someone tries to convert you to the ‘one way’, run away.
Practice, practice and practice some more. Trying to increase casting skills on the water, on a fishing trip, is a waste of catching time. Toss a small plate on the grass and use it as a target. Work your way around the target, so you have the wind coming at you from many angles. Use different weights of split shot on the leader. Vary the distance from close in, to the limit of your skills, (that distance will grow), and put accuracy over distance.
Kirk Werner – Unaccomplished Angler/Olive The Woolly Bugger
“Let me start by saying that I wish I’d have stuck with fly fishing right from the start, because I was first indoctrinated at age 11 or 12. However, after doing it sporadically for a couple of years, I strayed and didn’t get back into it until 30 years later. During my decades-long hiatus I would often tell myself, “You should really get back into fly fishing.” I should have listened to myself but I just kept putting it off. Looking back, I missed out on a lot of years of having a heck of a lot of fun. So I suppose a good piece of advice to start with would be this: If you’ve been contemplating it, don’t delay. Do it today. Now, more specifically…”
1. While I was fortunate to have some solid instruction when I first started (and restarted), I see a lot of beginners who don’t know where to begin. They peruse web forums, which can be a great source of information, but it can also a daunting endeavor because there is SO much information available and much of it is opinion-based. Visit a local fly shop. Sign up for beginner lessons before buying a rod and reel or any other gear. A good instructor will help with gear selection and allow you to sample cast different rods, which is important because one person’s opinion about a particular rod doesn’t equate to that rod being right for you. In a beginning fly fishing class you will learn about the gear, casting, knots, basic entomology, fish activity and feeding habits, etc: all of which will greatly enhance your education. Then, after you’ve completed a course, hire a guide to take you out for a day and apply what you learned in class. This will reduce your learning curve exponentially. Through this you will learn that nymphing should be something you learn to do effectively if you want to increase your odds of catching fish. Dry fly fishing may be more fun, but nymphing will net you more fish. Oh, and learn to fish streamers right away, too. After all that, get out as much as you can and practice.
2. Local fly shops need your support. The internet provides many opportunities to take your money, but your local brick and mortar shop really needs your business. This is true now more than ever before. Prices on most equipment will be the same whether online or in a shop. Get to know the folks behind the counter. They’ll be willing to share all sorts of free information that you won’t get when you’re solely an internet shopper. Your patronage will pay dividends.
3. Don’t be in a rush to buy every piece of gear that you think you will need. Pace yourself. Fly fishing can become an all-consuming activity, and it’s easy to get caught up in the acquisition game (which, in turn, can lead to financial demise). You will readily hear that no one rod can do it all, and that’s true. But one rod can do an awful lot. Once you’ve determined that fly fishing is your thing, then you can add to your quiver. Word of advice on that: your spouse doesn’t necessarily need to know how many rods you actually have. And they certainly do not need to know that it’s important to have more than one rod of the same weight (‘backup rods’ are essential in the unfortunate event that you should break your first string rod). Check out the best baitcasting reel reivews in 2017.
Rick Kovacs – Packbasket Adventures
1. How ever long it takes for one’s front cast to straighten is exactly how long you have to wait for the back cast to do the same.
2. There are only 6 flies needed to consistently catch fish….. the other 199,994 are tied to catch fishermen and women.
3. The number of false casts you make is directly related to the number of fish you are not catching.
Alberto Rey – AlbertoRey.com
1. I see a lot written about fly fishing but I rarely see anything mentioned about one of the most important and fundamental elements of fishing ….”finding the fish“. You can be the best caster with the most effective flies using the best presentation but it is not going to help you if there are no fish in the water. As a guide, I spend a great deal of time scouting water for unpressured fish. Since I mostly fish and guide for migrating steelhead from the Great Lakes, the fish are moving in and out of various streams throughout the year. Nature provides us a complicated puzzle to figure out but the rewards can be very memorable. I suggest finding a nearby body of water that reportedly holds fish. Then study as much as you can about the body of water and fish it through the year under all conditions. Knowing a stream very well can also be very a spiritually-enlightening experience. Soon you’ll discover where the fish are most likely to be and will consequently catch more fish.
2. The second suggestion is to walk a half hour or more from the nearest parking area when possible. Again it is not only spiritually rewarding to get away from other anglers so you can experience nature by yourself but you will also find less pressured fish which are generally more aggressive.
3. Last suggestion is to “slow down“. Slow everything way down. Get into the right frame of mind when you leave your car. Start looking at the creek before you slowly walk to it. Minimize vibrations on the ground. Stand or crouch down along the stream and slowly look around before you cast. Watch quietly without moving, you will be amazed at how much of nature and of the stream will unfold in front of you the longer you wait. Many anglers are continually spooking everything around them and in the water before they take their first cast. Slowly construct your game plan. Carefully look for bugs in the air, on the water and in the trees. Figure out where your back cast is going to go and where you want to the fly to land. Slowly position yourself in the right location to cast and create the least amount of disturbance in the water. Once you are in position, wait for the water and everything to settle back down. Slowly cast and slowly retrieve the fly once it has passes through the strike zone. You will also find that, like suggestions 1. and 2., that slowing down will increase your spiritual connection to the stream, increase your enjoyment of the process and make your efforts more productive.
Chris Dore – Fly Fishing with Chris Dore
Disregard aspirations to have the latest and greatest of gear, and instead invest in a lesson. Don’t stop there: practise what you have learnt, regularly to make quick fire, accurate presentations second nature… the best rod and fly in the world won’t catch that fish if you dump the line on his head…
2. Don’t believe everything you hear.
I once read a quote that said “the best thing about tradition is the knowledge it passes down, and the worst thing about tradition is the knowledge it passes down“.
Listen, watch, read and absorb everything you can, however do not take it as a golden rule. There is more than one way to skin a cat… Experiment with flies, rigging and technique and you may just hit on the next big thing.
3. “Dad, when I grow up I want to be a professional fly fisherman…”
“Don’t be silly, Son.”
Chad J. Allen – Three Rivers Ranch/TRR Outfitters Fly Shop
#1: Keep it simple. As you mentioned, there are so many moving parts to remember. To further complicate things there is endless amounts of gear you could have, knots you could tie, places you should fish, and flies you need to know. It can be mind boggling. Keeping it simple means stripping down fly fishing to the necessities. This goes from the choice of gear to the fly you use. In reality, all you need is a stick, line, and a fly. If you worry about all the gadgets and tools, you start forgetting why you’re even there in the first place, to have fun!
#2: Presentation, Presentation, Presentation. The one thing that is more important than fly selection is your presentation. This is true whether you’re casting a dry-fly, nymph, or a streamer. If you present your fly to the fish poorly, they’re not going to eat it.
#3: Sometimes it’s not about the fishing. Start with taking 15 minutes out of your day to sit back and watch what the fish and the bugs are doing. You’ll get more in tune with your surroundings and you will also have a better idea of what’s happening on the water.
Reba Brinkman – The River’s Edge
1. It’s not just about learning how to cast or how to tie on your fly. Emphasis on reading the water and understanding where fish hold is crucial to knowing where to catch them.
2. Buy the best gear you can afford. Maximum comfort and safety while in the elements will sustain your interest in the sport.
3. Make friends with the local fly shop. They want you to succeed! The staff’s combined knowledge will help you along the way and save you from many hours of frustration.
Ken Tutalo – Baxter House Fly Fishing Outfitters
1. How much more vulnerable large trout are to being caught during rainy weather and high water conditions.
2. How the different Trout stream insects emerge from the different water types and bottom rocks, gravel and silts.
3. To slow down and watch the water before wading and fishing.
Aileen Lane – MKFlies/KYPE Magazine
“I know for sure there are way more than 3 important things I wish I knew when I started fly fishing and it did take some time for me to stop and ponder that the top three were in the order of importance. Like many of us, my biggest goal was to catch fish… lots of fish.
And if you asked me this same question back when I first started fly fishing, I know that my answers would be very different. After spending many days on the river I would conclude that these are the 3 most important things I wish I knew when I started fly fishing.”
1. Breath and enjoy your surroundings. If you keep focusing on ‘that fish’ you will end up missing out on the beauty of the outdoors.
2. Take time to learn about entomology and fish behavior. This will make fly fishing even more fascinating! Understanding the cycle of bugs and the behavior of fish will help you create and or choose the correct fly.
3. Learn about fly fishing etiquette. I have been amazed at the lack of etiquette on the waters lately and perhaps these fellow fly fishers were never taught what it means. Having good etiquette makes a great day of fishing for all.
Steven Brutger & Matthew Copeland – Stalking the Seam
1. You can only catch a fish when your fly is in the water: This was the first piece of advice I was given when I began fly fishing, but it took awhile to set in. Anglers can easily get way too caught up with casting and forget the goal… catching fish. Casting is simply a means to get your bug on the water. Cast less fish more.
2. Keep moving to find fish: It’s easy to get caught up in the cast, presentation, and your drift, but if fish are not there you won’t catch any. Spend time learning to read water and where to find fish. Don’t be afraid to use your feet and cover ground, moving upstream or down after you’ve made a few casts in one spot.
3. Expensive rods are not required: Sure the high end rods are nice but today’s low to mid range rods are really good as well. I own a number of high end rods, but have a sub $100 dollar rod that has become my go to for winter trout. I break lots of rods and like fishing one that doesn’t require its own mortgage, plus it happens to be very durable.
“Here’s a quick and dirty for you. Hope they help…”
It’s not about the fly — I recall being nearly paralyzed by the list of variables that I thought required attention when I started out. The biggest offender, by far, was (and in many ways still is) the infinite number of flies to choose from. How are you supposed to know which one’s “right”? You can’t, and at this stage it’s less important than you might think. Limit yourself to a couple of dries (perhaps an elk hair caddis and a parachute adams), a couple of nymphs (maybe a pheasant tail and a hare’s ear) and a utility bug, like a wooly bugger. Then you can take the attention and energy you would have spent on fly selection and direct it at broader categories such as are the fish eating on top or below the water? Big things or small things?
It is about the fish — It’s really hard to catch fish where they aren’t. The learning curve for fly-fishing is infinite. That’s one big reason so many of us love it. It’s also a real hurdle to most newcomers. Of all the lessons you have ahead of you, focus first on learning to read water and determine where the fish likely to be. Being in the right stretch of water is more than half of the battle.
Ask dumb questions — Newcomers to fly fishing face a real language barrier and an unfamiliar culture that can seem more insular and intimidating than it should. If you’re respectful of people’s time and space, you’ll find that most are more than willing to share a little valuable info. Where are the fish biting? What bugs are hot right now down at the pond? Why do I keep getting these damn knots in my leader? Don’t be afraid of revealing your ignorance. I’ve found that asking dumb questions remains the best way of dispelling it.
Mark Kautz – Northern California Trout
“100 words is quick for someone that has written more than 200 articles for the local newspaper and published a book. So here are three things I wished I knew when I started. I could write a lot more, but kept it short and sweet.”
In order of importance, I wish I knew that fly fishing was like gold mining (been there, done that). It is very addictive.
Next in line is entomology. Match the hatch and that sort of thing. To this day, I’m entomology stupid. I put on a fly and hope something hits it. I’ve been pretty successful at guessing what fly to use. After all, a 9+ pound Rainbow on a fly I “invented” seems like a good start.
The last is fly tying. You spend a lot of money on gear only to find you have fat fingers and can only tie BIG flies. Buying would be better for someone like me.
Scott Smith – Grand Teton Fly Fishing
“When I reflect back on my early years or beginning stages of fly fishing a few things do stand out and as a guide I try to convey these tactics daily to my novice clients.”
First tip is to practice casting, preferably on water but a lawn is fine and master a delicate 20’ to 25’ cast with one stroke. Most novice casters spend too much time waving the fly rod in the air not allowing the rod to load. Simplify the cast and most importantly minimize false casts and slow down. Smooth, deliberate strokes generate more power and accuracy.
Second tip is to fish less and hunt more. What I mean by this is to blind fish less and, if water clarity allows, sight fish more. Armed with good polarized eyewear this elevates your activity to more of a hunt, in my opinion the pinnacle of fly fishing and thus realizing it is less about how many or how big but more about the hunt, the stalk and the presentation. Keep in mind this technique is not only limited to trout. I have fond memories of stalking sunfish and bass with a fly rod in farm ponds across Georgia and Alabama.
Lastly, when it comes to playing a fish, getting them on the reel can be a true detriment. I have witnessed so many lost fish due to an angler reaching for the reel handle when he or she should be stripping the line to get tight. A truly big fish will get you on the reel and that certainly gives you an advantage. Also using lower rod tip angles and good pressure will help turn nice fish and allow you to land them quicker.
In general keeping things simple and efficient can help keep you fly in the strike zone longer and over time this will produce results. Remember to always use barbless hooks and handle your catch with respect.
Good Luck and Tight Lines!
John M. Sweeney – John’s Guide Services
“These three or four recommendations, which I knew nothing about when I started to fly fish fifty-nine years ago, will make anyone a better fly fisher and increase their catch rate immensely.”
1. Don’t splash the water with your cast. It will spook the fish. I have seen clients put down pod after pod of rising fish with sloppy casts!
2. You must put the fly where the fish are rising. This is usually a 6 inch to one foot window and most rising fish will not move much more than that to sip a fly. If you only put your fly over the fish once in every ten or twenty casts,your chances of fooling that fish before you spook him are greatly reduced.
3. You usually need a drag-free float with a dry fly, so learn the reach cast. it is much more efficient and effective than trying to mend line that is already on the water, and it will give you a drag-free float.
4. I would be remiss if I did not add this fourth consideration, which is line control. You must manage your fly line by taking in slack and being ready to set the hook when a fish strikes.Too much slack and you will not strike in time. Keeping your rod tip up lifts line from the water and gives you better line control!
Walt Geryk – Spey Doctor
“The question is: What are the 3 most important things you wish you knew when you started fly fishing?
An interesting question that I believe can only be answered with age and wisdom. Unfortunately, the age part is what allows for wisdom which I feel has blessed me in both. I hope these suggestions can help others enjoy this special sport to its fullest.”
Relaxation through Patience: I find with patience, the art of casting and presenting the fly are achieved quicker and easier than finding yourself on a rushed and hurry up mission. With relaxation and a calm mindset I find that every day on the water fly fishing offers new rewards as well as allowing me to become a better student of the sport.
Respect the Catch: Fly fishing is for the inner soul. Enjoy each time you are able to fool of fish with your fly, as you never know when it could be your last. After a safe release of your quarry, pause a moment, run through you mind just what you did to outsmart that catch and enjoy each moment. Take the time to comprehend what you have just accomplished.
Appreciate the Environment: Take the blinders of fishing off. Be relaxed and absorb your surroundings. See on the water and into the water. Listen to the water is telling you. Nature is all around us, see it, hear it and feel it as it always talking to us and we must be listening. Mother Nature is always trying to tell us something very important, whether it may be for your inner peace, calming the sole, for life’s enjoyment and yes for better fishing opportunities.
I have found that learning to cast is the easiest part for this sport.
Finding that special someone with this life experience and a passion of the sport may be a challenge.
Jason Ostrander – Grey Reef Anglers
“I started fly fishing at the very young age of 6 years old, my grandfather took the time to walk me to the Laramie River and find a feeding trout, rising. He then put hip waders on me and him and I over the next hour began to sneak within 10 ft. of this rising rainbow… as I watched this fish feed I was immediately captivated by what he was feeding on and how the fish worked the surface back and forth, never exposing himself too long in the sun. Well my grandpa and I slowly retreated from the riser and then my grandpa showed me how to match with the fly what the fish was feeding on, he tied the fly on and then on the first cast we hooked and landed the rainbow.”
So the first of 3 most important things that I wished I knew before I began fly fishing would have to start with “patience“. Being such a young lad I just couldn’t wait to cast my line and get the rising fish, thanks to my grandfather I had a glimpse of what patience means when it come to fly fishing. However it’s taking a lifetime to learn what patience is and I think its still one of the major mistakes flyfishers make when fishing… not enough patience, more study time before the fly hits the water.
The second thing I wish I knew before fly fishing was “How long it would take to get real good at fly fishing, casting, bug selection, oh and then more patience with my lack of skill at first getting snagged on everything“. The first time I went on my own fly fishing the fish were rising right at dark and I was so excited I couldn’t cast, buck fever set in and I snagged everything but the fish.
Third, I wished I would have known NOT to tell strangers about my honey holes… shortly after learning to fly fish I met a stranger on the river and I had just been fishing a hole and hooked a monster brown trout but he only was on for a few seconds… this stranger was spin fishing with a lure, being quite naive I told him of the fish… well he walked right in and hooked a 24 inch brown, killed it and took it home for supper… lesson learned.
John McClure – The Slide Inn
1. Where trout live. Probably the most important aspect of fly fishing for trout is knowing where to target them. You can make a perfect presentation with all the right flies, but if you aren’t fishing high percentage holding water then you aren’t making the most of your time out there. Most of my knowledge came from trial and error in my teenage years, and it wasn’t until I started reading Whitlock, Lafontaine, and a host of other authors that I began to understand all the various places you can find fish depending on the time of year, water temperatures, and flows.
2. Runoff is where it’s at. I never thought that fishing raging currents that more accurately resembled a river of chocolate milk was worth my time, and most of the people I talked to in shops would assure me that it wasn’t missing anything until it started to clear up. It wasn’t until I started working in Montana in 2003 that I realized how much I had been missing. I remember heading out with a couple guys from the shop when the Madison was running at 2,500 cfs with about 4 inches of visibility, and watching them pull fish after fish out of every run. Most people are still put off by stained water and heavy flows, but the truth is that the trout are usually gorging on the incredible amount of food being dislodged just below the surface. I found out very quickly that if you can find slow moving water, there are a pile of fish holding there and all you have to do is get the right fly in front of them.
3. There is more to streamer fishing than swinging a confidence fly. I’ve started throwing Rapalas shortly after I began to walk, so the allure of having anything violently attack whatever was on the end of my line has always been one of my favorite things on the planet. I was introduced to streamer fishing at the age of 12 by my mentor Doctor John Miller, who showed me how to strip wooly buggers and muddler minnows for bass, panfish, and trout. I followed the down and across presentation religiously and tended to fish one or two patterns depending on the species. For Smallmouth it was always a red and white Clouser Minnow or a black or olive Wooly Bugger, and for trout I threw a Jack Gartside pattern called the Soft Hackle Streamer that I used to order from Blue Ribbon Flies out of West Yellowstone, Montana.
While this technique certainly worked for a number of years, it wasn’t until I read Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout in 2002 that I realized how much I had to learn. As fate would have it, I started working for Kelly Galloup the following Summer and got a crash course in a more systematic approach to streamer fishing. I quickly changed my down and across approach to up and across and eventually started working some areas completely upstream. If I didn’t elicit a response in 5-10 minutes I would change my color until I found one that worked, and I remember thinking that I had literally flipped a switch when I dialed in the right color and pattern. What I couldn’t believe was how many more fish I saw coming to the fly than I had ever done fishing one color with the same down and across retrieve, and how quickly it could change if that sun went behind the clouds. I was hooked for life and still am. I cannot emphasize enough how important color choice, fly profile, and retrieve is when fishing streamers, and it has given me and my clients more opportunities at trophy fish then I would have ever had without the knowledge I learned from Kelly and the book itself.
Anni Yli-Lonttinen – Kajana Club–FlyFishing
“As I grew into fly fishing on family trips I never paid attention to “the correct way”. I was too busy catching fish to ever learn the right casting technique for example. I don’t regret it, because I got to live all those awesome experiences. Most important thing for me in fly fishing is to get to enjoy the outdoors.
The 3 things, that comes to my mind when you are starting from zero.”
1. Have some kind of fly fishing goal. Whether it’s catching your first fish or a specific location or country you want to fish in. With a goal the learning will be way more fun and effective.
2. Handle fish with care. Especially when C&R fishing and taking photos of your live catch.
3. Read small pieces of information about the hobby and then test that little detail in action. Don’t get overwhelmed with all the information out there. Step by Step.
For further help, download your Fly Fishing Cheat Sheet with 4 Lessons for free: Fly Fishing Mini Academy.
David Ellerstein – Jackson Hole Anglers
“That’s a tough question. Three things I wish I’d known at the start. Here’s my poke at it.”
First, I wish I’d been quicker to change things up when I’m not getting action. Change your fly, change the water you’re fishing, change your tippet size, change your technique, change something. I often see beginners standing on the same water, fishing the same fly, doing the same thing, without any strikes. Switch it up. I know tying knots is a pain in the ass, but do it. Even if it takes you 5 minutes just to tie on a new fly, it is a better spent 5 minutes than pounding water with no result. Be open to change!
Secondly, Ask Questions. When I first started I felt that fly fishing had this mystique where people were hush hush and wouldn’t share knowledge. This couldn’t be further from the truth. People love telling their fish tales and you can learn so much from them. Ask the kid in the fly shop, the old timer at the bar, or the guide in the parking lot. They may not give away their best kept secrets, but they’ll certainly share something. Be friendly!
Lastly, Look Around. Fly fishing brings you to some of the most beautiful places on earth. Snow capped mountains, deep rocky gorges, dense lush forests. Don’t spend your entire day staring at the water. Take the time to breathe in the air, gaze at the scenery, hell, you can even take a nap on the bank with the sound of the river rushing past. Enjoy the experience as a whole.
Tim Wade – North Fork Anglers
I began fly fishing when I was 14, now a long time ago. Back when I began fly fishing, it would have been very helpful to know the names of the casts we used back then with bamboo or fiberglass fly rods.
The second thing that I could have used was a source of information–hatches, entomology, etc.–in other words, good reading material back before the Internet, Google and YouTube.
I grew up in the West and learned to fly fish on the Kern, Little Kern and Kings Rivers, but all the books on fly fishing had Eastern fly patterns and techniques recommended for those waters. The same for fly tying books and materials. Unless one had a peer to guide and instruct you, it was learn by luck and necessity.
It would have been nice to have the catch and release ethics of the latter 20th century back in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. I believe there would still be wild steelhead, trout and salmon in the Western rivers had we, again, all the information available in today’s media markets.
The one thing I would tell budding fly fishers is this. Fly shops were virtually non-existent when I first became a fly fisherman in the early 60’s. My advise is to visit your local fly shop or shops. Many of the owners have vast experience with fresh or saltwater environs and are decent (if not expert) fly casters and fly tyers. Fly shops are good sources of information, plus they generally offer classes to improve one’s fly fishing skills.
Glenn Brackett – Sweetgrass Rods
There is one book and one book only that I refer people to, to get them started and that is: Sheridan Anderson’s “Curtis Creek Manifesto”. It is the first and last word and only word by my opinion and I bet you are not aware of it as are 99% of others?
Otherwise, link up with a mentor, clubs, school, or neighbor or relative. There are less and less people coming into the sport at all levels. My business suffers because of it as does humankind. Fewer people are showing up at my door to learn the craft as are fewer people to the sport. 10,000 people are building bamboo rods compared to 100, forty years ago when I first started with Winston and the size of the pie we are all vying for is shrinking. A sure sign of the times that makes me weep… we all need to take a child under wing and introduce them to fishing.
That is the only answer to your question. The only answer that matters. Sorry for the rant but I am impassioned by what this sport and craft means to me. What it has brought to my life and being.
Josh Mann – Something’s Fishy/Surf Fishing for Beginners
Most of it can be applied to fishing in general, across all styles. I must say, you’ve a fine idea here, and I wish you the best in turning out a stellar piece of content that will draw traffic for many years to come! I’ll apologize in advance for my wordiness, it is a side effect of years spent producing content for on-and off-line media! Here goes:
Back when I first started fly fishing, and indeed fishing in general, resources were scarce at best and certainly nothing like the wealth of information readily available to today’s angler. Regardless of whether he or she is a seasoned pro or a newly minted angler, a few swipes of a fingertip on a cellphone or tablet or a quick perusal of a page or two worth of search results will usually be enough to sate your curiosity or, even better, set in motion the chain of events that will lead him or her to the catch of a lifetime. If only things had always been so easy…. but as the saying goes, we are standing on the shoulders of giants…
The first thing I wish I had known or done differently involves our obsession with matching the hatch. It would be foolish to say that it’s a waste of time, because it does indeed produce results, and darn good ones at that, but as a beginner, I think I would have been a far more successful angler, and sooner too, had I spent more time honing my presentation and technique for fishing the old standbys, the classics-the minnow patterns, the wooly buggers, and a small handful of others. These are staples, the meat and potatoes of my flybox for sure, because with the right presentation they will work across a wide variety of conditions, species and bodies of water.
As I was learning the ropes, one of the bigger issues I faced was the learning curve when switching between fly gear and spinning/casting gear. Playing fish is very different with older fly gear, and honestly the drag systems still haven’t caught up to what you see with good conventional gear. I really wish I had learned earlier on to trust my instincts when playing a fish using a softer rod and hand braking with the palm of my hand. I’m also guilty of the reverse, and have burnt my thumbs up on conventional reels trying to turn big fish.
The last thing I wish I had kept in mind over the years I spent chasing one species or another is to avoid pigeonholing yourself, being too dedicated to one style of fishing to try new techniques or gear. Fish caught on the fly are indeed special , and the extra work that goes into it makes them all the more worthwhile , but this old dog likes to learn new tricks , and if I’m standing on the water striking out with my fly rod while my neighbor keeps bringing fish to hand using the latest , greatest neon green pumpkin spice flavored worm , I’ll run straight to a tackle shop and buy a dozen so I can get in on the action!
Tight lines , my friend!
Joe S. Moore – Big Sky Anglers
1. Take an intro to fly fishing class or an instructional guide trip. There is so much to learn at the beginning and a lesson or class will shorten the learning curve significantly. Along the same lines, there are so many intro to fly fishing videos out there right now one can learn quite a bit without taking a class. For example, Rio has a section on their web site called Rio TV and offer some great videos on casting and fishing techniques, Orvis has a bunch of great videos out there as well.
Taking a class or instructional guide trip is extremely helpful as a professional teaching guide is hard to beat. Our guide service at Big Sky Anglers has offered 101 classes for years and incorporates that into instructional guide trips. We want folks to enjoy their first day on the water and we take the time to get anglers off on the right foot. We want to build a foundation for anglers so they can move in the right direction and not get frustrated. Fly fishing is fun, breaking it down for a novice angler so they can enjoy it is what it’s all about.
2. You don’t need the most expensive outfit to get started with fly fishing. Echo makes some great products that won’t break the bank. The Carbon XL is a great rod that one could use for the rest of your life. They also have the Base Kit, which is a full outfit for $170. While high end rods are generally a better tool in the end, one needs not to go out and spend a $700-1500 just to get started. I will say that Winston’s WT series is a rod I fell in love with a long time ago. I put the 6 wt in lots of people’s hands and they instantly love this rod for just about every type of fly fishing.
3. Just go fishing. Time on water is the most important part of fly fishing; tie on a fly, whatever fly it may be and fish it. The more time one spends actually fishing, the better one will get. Time on the water will also teach you to observe your surroundings before stomping right into the river or creek. You’ll make that mistake a few time before you sit back and watch for a few minutes. Whether it’s bass or bluegill fishing or hitting the local trout stream, one can never go wrong with spending time on the water. If you don’t have water close by, then practicing your cast helpful as well.
When I first started fly fishing, at age 6, I would go out in the yard and “cast” for hours. I’ve watched both of my partners teach their kids at 3 and 5 years old to cast a line and catch fish. When I worked in a fly shop on the Missouri River in my late teens, we couldn’t just leave the shop unattended and walk over to the Prickly Pear. So we lined up our favorite rods and threw line on the grass outside the shop. Make sure to practice that 10-15 foot cast as that’s the most difficult trout cast one can make. More trout are caught around West Yellowstone with a 10-15 footer than any other cast, period.
Hope this is helpful!
Ken Kalil – Kalil’s Upstate Outfitters
The importance of short cast. From presentation of flies, to getting a good hook set, understanding that many fish are not far from the bank side that you’re approaching from can create many great fishy memories.
The importance of covering lots of water. Many times anglers take the first few casts in a spot and hook a fish right away. They continue to cast in the same location for a while even though they don’t catch more fish. This situation happens far to often to be discounted and reinforces the importance of covering lots of water.
The importance of getting the fly to the fish’s level. Often while nymph fishing you will find anglers who resist putting the necessary weight on their rigs to keep from losing flies on the bottom. This can easily keep you one split out of the strike zone. I often say putting the necessary weight on keeps the fly shops in business and you in to fish.
Biography: Ken owns and operates Kalil’s Upstate Outfitters and is an Orvis endorsed fly fishing guide in the Adirondack region of New York State. He is a contributor to the Orvis River Reports for the Ausable and Saranac Rivers and a member of the Dogtra Company’s field staff. He has been fishing since he could walk, and brings 40 years of experience to his resume. As a founding board member of the Tri-Lakes Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Chairperson of the Adirondack Chapter of Ducks Unlimited, Ken considers it his obligation to promote watershed conservation for many generations to come. He was recently recognized by Ducks Unlimited for his dedication and tireless drive toward the DU mission. On the rare times he is not in the water, he can be found training retrievers for hunting and retriever field events or on snow coaching cross country skiing in the Olympic region of Upstate New York.
Links: Ausable River Report; Saranac River Report; My Orvis Company Web Page
You Tube Drone Video
Feel free to use any of the above info you find useful.
Mark Erdosy – This River is Wild
“I began fly fishing as a twelve year old in the summer of 1998 with one of my best friends. Both of us had never touched a fly rod before but grew up spin fishing with our families. Needless to say, but we were very intrigued with this new form of fishing and it helped to have an obsessed Middle School Teacher named Mr. Mauser who had Dave Whitlock brown trout paintings on his classroom walls. This curiosity slowly developed into a passion and that still defines our lifestyles and friendship until this day. Looking back over the past eighteen years, there are many things that I wish I knew about the sport but most of my recommendations will come from the perspective of my development as a teenager.”
For one, I would seek out a mentor or join a local group of fly fishers to expedite the learning curve for both fishing and fly tying. My development was almost entirely self taught and I struggled initially through a process of trial and error. No lessons, no guides, and I didn’t have anyone to ask for help. Nowadays, the Internet has a wealth of resources but nothing can beat a lesson with an instructor, a guided trip, or the ability to bounce ideas off other anglers that have experienced the same problems.
I would also recommend breaking your development into sections. Pick an accessible species and a technique and spend time on the water learning. Once you are comfortable, move onto another technique and later to a new species. Depending on location, budget, and skill everyone will follow a different trajectory. I started with trout and bass before transitioning to steelhead, carp, the salt, and now to musky. You’ll find that the skills acquired in one area are easily transferable to the next.
Lastly, consider fly fishing when making important life decisions. If you want to be a fly fishing guide that travels the world, it may not be the best decision to accrue years of student loans before deciding to become a guide. When choosing a college or a job, research what type of fishing opportunities exist in the areas around your school or work. It will be hard to top leaving class or work and being able to hit your favorite waterway to knock of some stress and recharge for the next day.
Matthew Grobert – Caddis Chronicles
“What are the 3 most important things you wish you knew when you started fly fishing?”
1. How to cast properly; if there is anything i’ve learned over the last 45+ years of fly fishing, knowing how to cast properly is critical to a high level of success.
Knowing the proper mechanics and the timing of the basic cast (and false casting) in order to allow the rod to do the work in an efficient manner in turning over the line, leader and tippet and deliver a dry fly accurately and with enough slack to get a drag-free drift is essential to the successful progression of the fly angler.
2. The importance of knowing what knots to use for certain situations, and how to tie each properly for maximum strength.
You can have the best equipment in the world, but if one of the knots holding your leader together, your tippet to your leader, or the fly to the end of the tippet is weak, it can ruin an otherwise perfect outing.
3. How important checking and sharpening your hook is.
It literally takes only seconds to check a hook to see if it’s dull or compromised, and then maybe another 10 seconds to sharpen it, yet very few anglers do this when on water. Over 25 years ago on the Madison River in Montana I spent the day nymphing the boulder strewn fast water below Quake Lake, although I caught many fish, I lost quite a few after setting the hook. I started to check the hook points and found they had dulled, not much, but enough that the point slid across my thumbnail when i slid it across my thumbnail. Before I went out the next day, I bought a small, diamond dust hook sharpener, and put it to use that day and everyday for the rest of the trip. It definitely made a difference, my hook ups were solid and more fish came to net. I also found that with the very sharp hook point, I often hook fish before the take can register in my head. I’ve carried and used a hook sharpener ever since and i can say without reservation, it is one of the most important tools on my vest.
Joe Belohorec – Superfly International Inc.
1. I wish I had known that getting started in fly fishing wasn’t crazy expensive or I might’ve picked up the sport sooner. The impression I had was that fly fishing was costly and required an initial outlay of hundreds of dollars for equipment. The reality is that there are lots of great choices in rod and reel combos for the new fly fisher. You can spend a lot of money but you don’t have to. A well-matched rod, reel and line, a couple of leaders and some flies and you’re good to go.
2. I wish I had known that I didn’t have to master a 60’ cast before I could catch a fish on a fly. The TV shows and movies all showed guys standing in the river bombing casts to the far bank. And these guys caught fish! The truth is I have probably caught more fish to date on casts in the 20’ range. That’s something someone new to the sport can usually manage after half a day of moderate practice. Just getting the fly to the water is the most important thing.
3. I wish I had known you could fish for more than just trout with a fly rod. It wasn’t until after I’d been fly fishing for 10 years that I heard about fly fishing for pike. There were pike opportunities all over where I lived but I only made trips further away to chase trout. Knowing that a fly rod could be used for a variety of species would have broadened my opportunities greatly. A good rule of thumb is that “If it swims…you can catch it on a fly”.
Mike Bachman – Mountain Standard Media
3. I wish someone would have told me how important it is to make sure there is no small gravel in your boots. Sure way to ruin a pair of waders quickly.
2. I think my first years of fishing would have been much more successful if I would have been shown the importance of covering the water. In my youth I would charge in and put my first cast at the top of a run spooking any fish lying anywhere below that. Now a days I slowly start at the bottom of a run and slowly working my way up picking up one fish after another until I have covered all the water.
1. Enjoy it all, from the process of keeping your gear organized, to the truck ride to the river with a good friend, a good dog, or if you are lucky enough a loved one. Take the time to finish that coffee on the tailgate having a good chat. Take an extra five minutes to watch the river here and there. Put your rod down every once and awhile and spot fish for your buddy. For heaven’s sake enjoy that beer back at the truck sharing stories and tall tales. As life goes on you may miss the fishing you can’t get in, but I guarantee you will miss the time with all the amazing folks you have fished with.
Brian McGeehan – Montana Angler
1. Trim down your fly box to as few patterns as possible
“What are they eating?”. If I had a nickel for every for every time I asked that question as a kid or have been asked that question as a guide I would be soaking up the sun on some Caribbean bonefish infested flats right now. When you take up the sport of fly fishing you have this knee jerk reaction to instantly assume you are fishing the wrong fly when you go 10 minutes without action. The reality is that success on a trout stream is a function of numerous different variables. We read about “selective” trout and it is true that at times trout key in on specific insects of food sources such as during a hatch or when trout are feeding on eggs in Alaska as the follow spawning salmon. Most of the time, however, trout are somewhat opportunistic and will eat a variety of food sources. Even when trout are looking for one type of food supply, such as pale morning duns, you don’t need 20 different versions of a PMD dun. The problem with having too many patterns in your box is that you never have time to build confidence in them. Fly fishing is basically a “head game” and once you lose your confidence you are toast. You need to have flies that you trust and have a lot of time on the water with. It really doesn’t make sense to have 8 different patterns of stonefly nymphs in your box, if they aren’t eating a brown rubber legs they won’t eat a Kaufman’s stone either so you are just wasting time cycling through your fly box. If they aren’t eating your most trusted stonefly nymph pattern then switch to another genre like caddis emerger, mayfly nymph, etc. If it is a “hatchy” time of year you may need to find what bug they are focused on, but if not you are better sticking with trusted patterns and start hunting for different holding water. Don’t get caught spending your day changing fly after fly; eventually you end up fishing the worst patterns in your box that you have zero faith in. When in doubt go with your go to bugs and fish harder to figure out where trout are holding.
2. Pay close attention to the reason you are succeeding AND failing
Trout are one of the most challenging species to target simply because there are so many different variables that effect where and how they feed: water temperature, time of day, water speed and depth, hatch cycles, fly patterns, etc. You might crack the code one day and then a few days later it seems that you can’t move a fish. While it is true that there are times that trout simply are not feeding, often a lack of action for an angler occurs when fish are feeding but you are fishing the wrong water, wrong flies, etc. Trout fishing essentially boils down to pattern recognition and while there are many different scenarios that are possible they are not limitless. Once you have fished in enough different scenarios: different rivers, different times of year, different parts of the world; eventually patterns begin to repeat themselves. Great fly fisherman are like scientists that are continuously making observations, building hypothesis and testing to see if they are valid. Certain trends occur over an over again: in cold water trout move to slow water, in warm water they move to fast water, when there are hatches they key in on specific bugs, when there aren’t hatches they are opportunistic, when it is a peak feeding time of day they move to feeding water, when it isn’t peak feeding time they move to holding water. Get in the habit of constantly asking yourself why you caught at trout (where it was located, how it was feeding, techniques used) and also why you DIDN’T catch trout (water was too warm, too cold, too slow, too fast, etc). When you find success try to search out similar water and spend more time in it and when you fail start skipping that same type of water or scenario.
3. Pay close attention to where experienced anglers are fishing (and are NOT fishing)
Fly fishing for wild trout is an information game. The most important decision of the day is where you choose to fish. Keep your ears open in fly shops, with locals and with friends and ask a lot of questions. If there are guides in your area then pay attention to where they are fishing and why. Sometimes experienced anglers and guides are following a specific hatch such as the salmonfly, or the river they are targeting is just the right flow or water temperature. Knowing where experienced anglers are can help you learn the ropes and find active fish. The flip side is that you should also look for water that other anglers are ignoring. Trout get smart when they see too many flies and always running with the pack means you are always playing with educated trout. Sometimes there is great water with active fish that is not highly targeted, especially when it is difficult to get to either by terrain or permitting. Start looking for off the beaten path waters, private access waters or try to draw special permits to float a river that has limits. At Montana Angler we focus a lot of effort on acquiring special permits such as Smith River launches or work to gain permission to fish waters on big ranches where trout rarely see a fly.
Tim Harden – The Venturing Angler
If I ever cross paths with Doc and Marty, I would go back and give myself some advice that would’ve changed my entire experience as an angler.
1. Get the fundamentals of casting dialed in.
I spent many years getting away with poor casting practices. Although this was a long time ago, those bad habits formed my character as an angler. It’s one thing to incorrectly learn facts about fly fishing that can be easily corrected with new information. But with casting, hours upon hours and days upon days become months and years of muscle memory and habit that is tough to break. Get it right early on.
2. Think about everything you are doing.
Being methodical allows for quick growth. If you are attentive to everything that you are doing on the water, you will be aware of what is working or what is not. For example, if you find a pool and think about how exactly you want to fish it then execute a game plan, you will not only be more thoughtful about what you are doing, but you will be hyper aware of how to fish a pool like that in the future or be more clear about what to modify when it comes to approach.
3. Find a fishing friend.
I’ve only recently been fishing with friends. Most of my time on the water has been alone. While I enjoy the solitude, having friends to learn with will help you grow rapidly as an angler
There are tons of great fly fishing tips to take away from this massive post – 15000+ words of content from 50 amazing experts. If you know anyone that could benefit from these advices here, don’t hesitate to share it with them.
Also, I am pretty sure that there are some experience fly fishers reading this post and I have the same question for you, what are the three things you wish you knew when you first got started? See you in the comment area below!
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