Everyone has a different story about how they got into fly fishing. Many were fortunate enough to learn from a family member or friend, while others were self-taught. Regardless of your path, the learning curve tends to be steep. Also, check out the best fly fishing rods for beginners.
We typically refer to the first year of fly fishing as the “frustration period” because your days on the river usually consist of getting tangled, undoing knots, and not catching fish. Depending on an individual’s habits, anglers tend to progress through this period at varying speeds. While we don’t necessarily have a solution to avoid the challenges of learning fly fishing altogether, we do have some tips to help expedite the process.
It’s easy to give up when things don’t go as planned. More often than not, things won’t always go your way when you’re learning. Not getting discouraged and learning from your mistakes will make you a better angler. It usually takes catching one fish on a fly to get hooked, so if you haven’t done that yet, stick with it, we promise the thrill of catching your first fish will make it all worth it. Learn more about what weight fly rod for trout.
Be a student:
We’ve met a lot of anglers and have noticed that the ones who study the sport are far more successful. You’ll learn a lot on the river but the more effort you put in off the water, the faster you will progress. When I was learning, I became obsessed with watching fly fishing videos on Youtube and reading beginner blogs. I watched a ton of “how-to” videos from Orvis, Anglers All, and Red’s Fly Shop on Youtube, along with amateur videos. Blogs are also a great resource. At FlyCast, they frequently publish blogs on everything from Tips for Spring Fly Fishing to How to Land a Trout.
Ask for help:
Every angler was a beginner at one point in time and understands how hard it can be to learn, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many avenues to find help. Your local fly shop is a great place to start.
Fly shop employees have generally experienced anglers and are paid to help people like you. Take advantage of that and fire off as many questions as you can. At FlyCast, we make ourselves available to everyone via email, phone, and social media.
We’re happy to talk about anything from “what is a nymph rig?” to “what flies do I need for the South Platte River this weekend?” Another great resource is social media. There are hundreds of experienced anglers active on Facebook and Instagram and while it may be a bit uncomfortable at first, we encourage you to reach out and build relationships. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help strangers.
Take a class or clinic:
While it’s a more costly option, hiring a guide or attending a beginner clinic is one of the best ways to learn. If you have the means, hire a guide on your local river. Along with critical items such as fly fishing techniques, how to rig up your rod, and what flies to use, you’ll also learn how to read your river.
You’ll be able to take that knowledge and reapply it every time you fish. Clinics are awesome because they generally cost less (sometimes free) and you’ll learn in a group setting. One-on-one guidance is nice, but there’s something special about learning with other anglers who are in a similar position as you. Often you’ll walk away with a new fishing buddy that you can learn with.
Stock up on the essentials:
One mistake that we see a lot of beginner anglers make involves having the right tackle and gear. Having a rod, reel and line are obvious, but you don’t need to spend a fortune on those items right away.
I started with a $150 combo pack from Cabelas and it worked well for the first two years. What’s important is having the right tippet, indicator, and weight. In general, a 5x tippet is ideal for most streams and lakes in the Western US. Don’t worry about the other sizes until you start fishing during the winter or tossing streamers.
Indicators and weight are two important pieces of tackle that every angler should have. While it’s nice to be able to fish dry flies to rising trout, the truth is, most trout feeding occurs sub-surface and if you’re not able to effectively fish sub-surface, you’ll miss out on a lot of action. Buy a small and large thingamabobber indicator and a small pack of splitshot. Having these two things are critical when it comes to nymphing.
Have the Right Flies:
When it comes to flies, two things tend to happen to new anglers. Either they refuse to buy flies in addition to what came in their starter pack or they get sucked in and buy more random flies than they know what to do with. To be honest, I was the angler who bought way too many flies.
Years later, I still have some in my box and have no idea what they are. The best thing to do is to understand what the essential patterns are and learn which flies are critical for your local river/lake.
Reading local fishing reports or finding a shop you trust will help you understand the must-have flies. Whatever you do, don’t spend hours driving to a river and try to make do with what you have. Yes, it works once in a while, but more often than not, it’ll be a waste of time.
Learn on still water or creeks:
Not all bodies of water are created equal when it comes to beginners. Smaller creeks/rivers tend to be much more forgiving than highly pressured rivers such as tailwaters. Angling pressure is a big reason for this. Trout are smart and the more flies they have thrown at them, the better they are at spotting a fake fly.
Creeks tend to see fewer anglers and therefore, the trout are easier to catch. It’s tempting to want to fish rivers that are famous for big trout, but you’ll learn more and have more fun catching smaller trout on a less desirable creek/river. Similar to creeks, trout in ponds tend to be less selective and the geographic layout of most ponds makes for an ideal location to learn how to cast.