Fly Fishing: Things to Know for Beginners

April 14, 2017

Fly Fishing: Things to Know for Beginners

Have you entertained the idea of trying fly fishing but let some common misconceptions prevent you from starting? Let me try to put some of those erroneous ideas to rest and tempt you to give fly fishing a try.

From the outside looking in, fly fishing seems like an entirely different world. How many know the difference between ephemerellidae and a hydropsychidae? It’s easy to relate to pound-test in the spin-fishing world, but what’s with five-weight or eight-weight line, weight forward or double taper, 3X or 5X leaders? Ever see someone’s fly box and wonder how they can cram what seems to be hundreds of flies in a small container? Or how they choose one fly to fish with? Some anglers conclude fly fishing is only for trout fisherman. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is financial. It's not hard to push four figures with a premium fly rod, reel and line.

Let's take these issues one at a time.

You don’t have to speak Latin to fly fish! You may one day ascend to those intellectual heights, but it’s not necessary to enjoy productive fly fishing. Most flies imitate one of two things – insects or minnows. You can build an efficient multi-species fly box that is simple, economic and catches fish.

Start with Wooly Buggers. Both the weighted bead-head and unweighted varieties in a size eight should do. Some would argue that with a collection of white, black and olive Wooly Buggers, you would be prepared to fish for most species of fish anywhere in North America. Nobody knows for sure what food Wooly Buggers represent, but one thing is certain, all kinds of fish are fooled by them!

Add some streamers. These minnow imitations are deadly. White and black marabou streamers will get you started. Clouser Minnows, which are basically a small jig, are good to have when you need to fish deep. If you fish inland creeks or rivers, Muddler Minnows, a sculpin imitation, are deadly.

Round out your fly box with a few basic nymph patterns and you’ll be good to go. Nymphs are immature insects that live underwater. In time, they “hatch” and fly away. I recommend patterns with lots of peacock in them, such as size 12 Zug Bugs and Prince nymphs. These two patterns catch trout year round in most waters and double their value in their effectiveness on panfish.

Fly line terminology is simple. The lower the number, the lighter the line. Leave the lighter weights to the experienced fly fisherman and start out in the middle with a five or six-weight outfit. If you know you’re only likely to fish for bass, you’ll want a heavier eight or nine-weight rig. Weight-forward lines make casting a bit easier, and most made today can be laid down gently on the water with just a little practice.

Leaders are the opposite. The lower the number, the heavier the leader. 0X or 1X would be the choice for larger fish with 4X or 5X for finer presentations. Until you learn to tie your own leaders, tapered leaders are plentiful on the market. I have started many people on the road to fly fishing with a simple straight or untapered leader about half the length of your fly rod. This is easy to cast and gets you on the water quicker.

That leaves us with choosing a rod and reel. You can be frugal with an eye to upgrading your equipment later or jump in with an open wallet.

Cortland offers a complete outfit – rod, reel and line – with a choice between a 5/6-weight or 8/9-weight rod and line, all for well under $100.

Redington Crosswater Fly Fishing Outfits are a step up in quality and options. There are 10 variations to choose from in both two piece and four piece, and available in four through eight-weight. Each combo comes with a protective case and prices range from $119 to $139.

You can climb the price ladder from here, but after a season or two of fly fishing with a Cortland or Redington outfit, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of investment you might want to make in upgrading your equipment.

Give fly fishing a try. It won’t take long to experience the magic of hooking and retrieving a fish on a thumping fly rod, and you could be “hooked” for life!

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