How to Get Started With Fly Fishing

For fly fishing newbies, taking on the new method can be a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, my first fly fishing experience was pretty incredible. It was spent with my grandfather and a few of his buddies wading the flats of Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Florida Keys.

What I expected to be a pretty boring day, with all the waiting around for a tug on my line, turned out to be one of the most thrilling fishing experiences I’ve ever had. The tarpon exploding from the glittering surface was like fireworks in the air, and it was when my love for fishing ignited.

After that day, I wanted to go fly fishing any chance that I could get. And guess what? I did! Growing up in the vibrant city of Miami, FL, my weekends were spent fishing with my abuelo in the shallow flats of Biscayne Bay (accessed by the renowned Everglades). That was our spot, and the same spot I bring my kids to this day.

However, I’ve realized that not too many fly fishing rookies get the same experience that I had. If it’s your first time trying out the method, I recommend finding someone to teach you. My abuelo and his friends taught me everything I know – from different fly-casting techniques to tying strong knots and tippets. Once you get someone to teach you the ropes, everything else will fall into place.

I have a lot of my friends tell me they want to try fly fishing but don’t know where to start. While fly fishing can seem intimidating, don’t over think it. After all, we’re just catching fish here! Keep it simple and don’t fret the gear or mastering the “fine art form” your first time around. Here’s everything you need to know about getting started.

What is fly fishing?

Fly fishing is a technique where the bait used to catch fish imitates a bug or invertebrate and is presented on the top of the water or just below the surface. So, you’re basically tricking the fish into thinking that they are eating their natural food.

Now, there’s a lot that sets fly fishing apart from other fishing techniques, such as having particular types of line, rod and reel. One of the main things that makes fly fishing so unique is its casting technique. I’m sure you’ve heard many fishermen say that fly fishing is much more of an art form, and it certainly takes practice and skill.

Rather than sitting on a bank waiting for a fish to bite, fly fishing forces you to go out there and get your feet wet to find where the fish are hiding. And if there’s one thing I’ll tell you, is that there’s no better way to be connected with nature than standing in the middle of a rushing stream hunting for trout or salmon.

You cast and cast and cast until your fly hits the right spot where a fish will come up and grab it. So you can expect more of an arm workout, but the challenge is definitely much more rewarding. Luckily, there are many different types of casting techniques, so finding one you like is easy.

If you’re interested in learning more about fishing basics, download our beginner’s fishing guide.

Basic Fly Fishing Gear

If you’re a rookie, then you’ve probably noticed that fly fishing comes with a hefty price tag. Compared to conventional shore fishing, the gear can get pretty expensive. However, before you throw down hundreds of dollars on a rod and reel combo, you may want to hold off and learn how to fish from the shore first.

Really, all you need is the right pole, some line and some flies to start. Once you’ve mastered the basics with a cheap setup, you can upgrade to the more luxurious kind of stuff.

Now, there are a few things that make fly fishing gear different from your basic rod and reel leaning up against the wall in your garage. For one, the rods are lightweight, longer and more flexible.

Unlike traditional fishing, which involves a heavier bait to get a good cast, flies are extremely lightweight and delicate to avoid scaring the fish. Instead, the line itself provides the weight in order to make distance casts.

Flies 101

When it comes to flies, they can imitate just about any type of insect from caddis and mayflies to young little grasshoppers. These are called dry flies. Then, you have your nymphs and streamers, which resemble other aquatic life.

The type of fly you use will depend on your environment and the type of fish you are trying to catch. So you’ll definitely want to do some research on what certain fish eat during specific seasons and what those bugs may look like.

Some of the fun in fly fishing is making your own fly. Many fishermen call this “fly tying” (giving you the rundown on the proper lingo!). For example, you can be bold and flashy by creating an elaborate type of fly to entice fish. These can be made from beads, foams, feathers – you name it!

However, keep in mind that this is a whole other ball game. Before you get crafty, you should get the hang of fly fishing first. Besides, your main focus should be having flies that look like the foods that fish eat. It’s not always about show!

Finding the Perfect Fly Fishing Spot

Now that you’re all set up, you will need to find a location to start casting. I find that the best fly fishing spots are quiet and secluded from other people (my kind of environment, to be honest). Fish can be really sensitive to their surroundings, so any bit of noise can really hurt your chances of catching a solid one.

Deciding on the location where you’re going to fly fish ultimately depends on the type of fish you’re trying to catch. For instance, in order to catch sunfish, bluegill and crappie, warm-water lakes and ponds are your best bet. These guys like shallow weedy areas (I don’t).

Trout love colder temperatures, so you can find them aplenty in cold water rivers, lakes and ponds. As for bass and pickerel, you can typically find them prowling around weedbeds, boat docks, overhanging trees and lilypads. They also tend to swim around rocks, jetties, headlands, reefs or along the shoreline – which is pretty much everywhere. Also, bonefish and tarpon are easy to spot in saltwater flats.

Another important tip to keep in mind is fishing at the right time of the day. Most fish feed in the morning around sunrise, so make sure to get a good night’s rest. But if you are a not-so-morning person, you’re good! Fish also tend to feed around sunset.

If it’s you first time fly fishing, you may not be so worried about catching fish, but more focused on getting the form down. If that is the case, I find that midday is the best time for practice.

Casting and Catching

Now, here’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for… It’s time to cast! I can sit here all day and write out for you the different ways to cast, outlining every subtle motion and arm movement. But you’ll probably leave more confused than you came here. Plus, there’s so many different techniques – far too many to cover!

So, here’s the 101: the basic casting techniques include overhead casting, forward casting, back casting and roll casting. In order to learn how to cast, you’re going to have to practice a lot. Again, I cannot stress to you enough how important it is to practice.

There’s no way you can master fly fishing in a day (heck, even I haven’t fully mastered it yet, and it’s been years!). Which that in mind, make sure that you repeat the movements and techniques as much as possible. You don’t even have to hit the water to practice. You can swing your rod back in your backyard! Just make sure your fishing line doesn’t get caught in any trees.

Want to learn even more about how to fish? Download our beginner’s guide on fishing today.