You have seen the videos, pictures and watched the television shows. You notice how relaxing it appears, how much fun it looks like, and dream of what a challenge it must be: Fly Fishing, that next step in angling experience and skill. So, you decide you want to learn. What's next?
Most people go online, maybe join a group on social media, and they start asking questions. What rod and reel should I buy? What fly line should I get? What flies should I use? How do I learn to cast? Where should I fish? Full of questions, but having limited knowledge, they accept every bit of information they are given, like a newborn child taking in the big world around them. The answers come from all directions, with such a wide variety of reasoning, that many begin to shut down. There is too much information and they all contradict each other. Maybe they visit a local tackle shop. Here, they ask someone behind the counter what they should buy and how they should learn; hopefully the person behind the counter is knowledgeable and experienced. Unfortunately, more times than not, they are neither. If they are lucky, the person looking for information has a professional fly fishing store near them and they visit. These shops, which are getting more and more difficult to find, are where you can get real information and learn from people that have experience; trust me, no one works at a fly shop to become rich, they do it because they have a passion for the sport. But, what if you don't have a true fly fishing store near you? Is all hope lost? No, there is ample information available, but you will still need some professional guidance from someone with a true understanding of fly fishing and the ability to share that knowledge in an easy to grasp method.
So, let's start with the first question everyone has: what rod/reel should I purchase. The answer: I have no idea at
this moment. No one can tell you what rod/reel they should buy without knowing some information: what are you going to fish for, where are you going to be fishing, what is your budget, and most importantly, what is your natural casting style. The first few questions can be answered easily or even looked up online without an issue. However, that last question is impossible to answer without witnessing you trying to cast. No, you may not have any idea of what a true fly cast looks like, the mechanics required for a successful cast, or anything else. But, you do have a natural movement in your arm, shoulder, wrist, and back that all translate into what style of rod will match your casting style best. Why is this important? Because if you select a rod that matches your natural style, it is one less thing that you will need to correct as you learn the actual mechanics of casting. Purchasing the wrong rod, especially in the beginning, can make learning even more frustrating than is needed. In fact, I have witnesses people quit because the rod they purchased was completely wrong for them; that can be an expensive mistake, but even worse, it can keep you from enjoying a wonderful sport. When I managed the fly shop, I had a simple rule for new people. First, I would take them outside and teach them a basic cast. Nothing fancy, just a simple task of picking up some line and putting it back down. Then, I brought out five or six rods. I would tell them to take two or three casts with each rod. As they cast, I watched. I watched how each rod reacted to their movements. Then, After they completed that, I took the three that matched them best, and had them do it again. Three casts with each one. Again, I watched and told them to focus on which one felt best. Then we rated those, 1-3. Then and only then did I allow them to look at the prices and discuss brands. The majority of the time, the rod selected was a mid-price range rod, with a range of acceptable casting strokes, and not one of the high priced, elite fly rods. Why? Simple, they did not have the knowledge, experience, or technical skill required to cast the elite fly rods; their timing wasn't there, their casting stroke did not accentuate the stop or acceleration enough, or their natural body mechanics just didn't match it. Most of the time they were surprised that I didn't try to push them into the expensive, elite rod. But, someone who is truly interested in teaching you and getting you into the sport will NEVER do that. They will get you the equipment that will help you be successful and nothing more or less. Yep, occasionally I even told customers that they would need to save a little more money, as the rod they needed wasn't within their budget; I also urged these same people to stop by as often as they could, while saving, and we would continue some casting practice. Okay, so we discussed the rod. What about the reel? A lot of people will tell you that the reel is nothing more than a line holder and that if you spend more than $50 or $75, you're a fool. That may be true in some fly fishing arenas, but there are a lot of fish that require good drag systems and a balanced reel. But the most important part: the reel should help balance the rod. When the reel is loaded with line and backing, you should put it on the rod, hold the rod by the grip and it should feel balanced in your hand. This is important because as you cast throughout a day, this will reduce fatigue and help keep you from developing poor casting habits due to fatigue in your wrist or forearm. You can do your own research on brands, drag styles, colors, and anything else you want to know about. Just remember the balance! Rod and reel covered, what about the fly line? Again, this is not an easy question to answer, as it depends on a lot of factors: casting distance, rod you are using, air temperature, water temperature, water depth, flies you are casting, and even what you are fishing from (boat, kayak, wading, etc). This is where a professional fly fishing shop comes into play. Fly lines can be ordered from these places and shipped to you without an issue. But, they will take this information and help you select the right line. Too many times I have seen this answer on forums: use one line weight higher than your rod and use and short, front taper. While that can be beneficial in some circumstances, it is completely false in most and can make it miserable to cast. If you cannot find a professional shop to help you, fly line manufacturer web sites can be helpful. I just urge you to visit a few of them, instead of just one.
Well, now we have discussed equipment, what does a person do after that? It is time to learn to cast. If you are fortunate, you will have a professional shop, with a great casting instructor in your area. If not, you may have a great instructor that lives in the area or a guide that also instructs and lives near you. Search! Search the internet for
someone near you that teaches. Yes, I am a certified casting instructor. I have been certified through the FFF as a casting instructor. What does that mean? It means I passed an examination that tested my ability to actually teach the casting stroke, recognize casting errors, and explain the mechanics of various casting types, along with knowledge of actual fly fishing on the water. Do you need a certified instructor? No, but it is a starting point to look for when trying to find an instructor. More important though is finding someone that can communicate casting in a way that you accept and understand. I am not a screamer when teaching or guiding. Some people want a screamer, so I point them to someone else. I tend to be more technical and lengthy in explanation; for some this works, for others it can be aggravating. I'm lucky though, teaching for more than than 20 years, and in every aspect from fly fishing to actual school (elementary through college), I tend to be able to adapt to everyone except those that need screaming; I gave that up when I left law enforcement. Overall, find an instructor and take a few lessons. Then, practice, practice, practice and practice. But, practice properly! Your instructor can help you with that and I give all of my students specific things I want them to practice; it involves actual movements, time limits and most important: what NOT to do.
This final section is the one where the majority of those wanting to learn fail. Once you have the basic casting ability down, have an understanding of presenting flies, retrieving flies, and maybe even fighting a fish, GO PUT IT TO USE! When I took it up at the age of 15, I spent a lot of time getting frustrated after a few fish, because I couldn't get the cast right and I wasn't accurate, so I would stop with the fly rod and go back to my conventional gear. Each day I fished, I would spend a few aggravating minutes trying to fly fish, give up, and go back to my old habits. Finally, I went back to the fly shop and spoke with one of their employees I met. I told them I was having difficulty actually catching fish. He simply asked me if I really wanted to catch a fish on fly. Yes, of course I do was my reply. Then came the best advice I got: leave your other damn rods at home and force yourself to use the
fly rod, you'll either catch a fish or fail and learn. I took the advice. For a long time I came home fishless; thank goodness I didn't have to catch fish to eat. Then, it finally happened. That first time I landed three redfish in a single morning, all on fly. I give that same advice to all of my clients now. If you truly want to learn how to catch fish on a fly rod, leave all of your other tackle at home. You will force yourself to learn from your mistakes, pay more attention to you casting and fishing technique, and learn more than you thought possible. There's an old adage in the armed forces: if you want to capture an island, burn the boats when you arrive. With no way to go back, you'll accomplish the goal. The same applies to fly fishing.
If you have any questions, feel free to email or call me. I am happy to discuss anything about fly fishing you want to discuss. I'll be honest and if I don't know, I can almost guarantee that I know someone that does and I will get an answer. Fly fishing is a wonderful sport, but like anything new, it takes some patience, understanding and practice to get good at it.
Great article John! After meeting you yesterday, it’s clear that you have a lot of passion for this sport and enthusiasm sharing that knowledge with others. Talk soon