Fly Fishing for Beginners: EVERYTHING you need to know to get started
This is a complete guide to fly fishing for beginners.
Here is an overview of what you’ll learn in this new guide:
- What is fly fishing?
- Basic gear
- Leader & knots
- Fly casting basics
- Techniques & rigging
- Trout habitat / reading the water
- Catching & releasing fish
- FAQ & Fly fishing terminology
Let’s do this!
Fly Fishing Overview
The fly fishing for beginners guide below was generated by fly anglers with decades of experience—fishing water all over the country.
Introduction: Getting Started
The fact that you have landed on this page is a total delight—GOOD FOR YOU! We are excited for you and want to not only equip you with the knowledge you need to get started with fly fishing but inspire you to take the next steps on your fly fishing journey.
Fly fishing is often seen as challenging, confusing, and otherwise intimidating. Our main goal is to deconstruct fly fishing as simple and detailed as possible, which is why we have created this fly fishing for beginners guide.
Our fly fishing for beginners guide is a growing resource and was created with the intention to be a one-stop-shop for new fly anglers. If you have suggested additions or questions about this page we highly encourage you to leave them in the comments section below.
Why fly fish?
Fly fishing is a community and a culture. It is difficult to express in words the almost mystifying qualities of the sport, but one thing is certain—people from all around the world and all walks of life are drawn to fly fishing and have been for ages.
Benefits of fly fishing
Fly fishing serves as an outlet for creativity, exercise, a sense of belonging, relaxation, fun, and excitement and can be very therapeutic. Moreover, getting out and fishing different areas allows for the exploration of beautiful and secluded areas one might not normally visit.
To find oneself out in nature – experiencing its vast and peaceful qualities, while simultaneously active and focused is a blessing. We believe the duality of silence and dynamism, or rest and activity is necessary for the soul. One does not truly know this gift until they actually experience it directly.
If there is one point to get across early on it is this:
Fly fishing does not have to be difficult or expensive, nor is it exclusively geared toward any one type of person or mindset.
With a few basic tools and some key tips, you can be successful at this beautiful sport in a relatively short amount of time.
KEY POINT: Fly fishing does not have to be difficult or expensive, nor is it exclusively geared toward anyone type of person or mindset.
What is Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing is the art of presenting an imitated food source to a fish using a rod, reel, weighted line, and leader. The imitated food source is what fly anglers commonly call “the fly” or “bug” and represents natural food organisms that are commonly found in the environment one is fishing. These flies are typically very small and light, which is why the fly line itself must be weighted. This weighted line and how you cast is the biggest differentiation in fly fishing vs other angling methods.
Fly fishing vs other angling methods
There are several other ways fly fishing is different from other styles of angling, such as the rod, flies, and cast. The fly rod is typically lighter and longer than other types of fishing rods. Rods are designed longer to provide needed accuracy when casting the fly. Additionally, the extra length helps the angler feel soft, gentle strikes.
As we mentioned above, the flies or “bait” are another component that separates fly fishing from the others. The flies are generally made out of natural materials such as feathers furs, and hair. The flies are small to imitate actual aquatic insects and will be fished under the water surface like most fishing styles or floating on top of the water.
Lastly, the line and cast create a strong separation between other styles of fishing. We noted earlier that the fly line is weighted, and actually what propels the fly to its target. Fly line is made out of nylon coated in thick and sturdy plastic.
Although we talked about a few major differences between fly fishing and other forms of fishing, there are more subtle distinctions that will hopefully become clear as you continue reading through our guide.
Please note: Fly rods and flies are major subjects in fly fishing and the links in the paragraph above will take you directly to an elaboration of these topics. At any time if you wish to quickly come back to the top of the page—the arrow in the bottom right will immediately take you back to the top of the article.
KEY POINT: The weighted Fly line is the biggest differentiation in fly fishing vs other angling methods.
Fly fishing gear (for beginners)
We wanted to preface this section with an overview of fly fishing gear for beginners. Because this is a resource specifically geared toward helping the new fly angler get started with fly fishing—this is an important caveat.
Fly fishing gear can be expensive, AND there is a myriad of accessories and other technical components that can leave the new angler feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Our intention here is to make the barrier of entry into fly fishing as streamlined as possible. Also, if you have a birthday or holiday coming up asking for fly fishing gear as gifts can be a great way to start getting outfitted.
What does the beginner fly fisher actually need?
To initially get started fly fishing you need the same equipment as other angling methods, with a couple of others unique to fly fishing.
Fly fishing gear for beginners, essential:
Additional gear | not essential, but very much worth considering:
- Polarized sunglasses
- Forceps (remove hook from fish, or pinch split shot onto the line)
- Nippers, to cut line
Angler Tip: Most fly anglers would consider waders and wading boots essential, but if one is just starting out to gauge interest an individual could fish from shore or “wet wade.” Wet wading is simply navigating the water in shorts and boots. This method is usually less cumbersome than waders, however, most of the time the rivers and lakes you’re fishing in will be very cold.
Attaining the essential gear to get started:
There are a good number of fly fishing companies that sell fly rod and reel combos, which are great for beginners. The prices for these fly fishing outfits can range from about $80 (Cabelas) to about $300 (Orvis). Though we would recommend using an actual fly fishing company vs getting a rod, and reel combo from somewhere like Walmart—there is nothing wrong with starting at that lower price point. We think that it’s easier to start with a rod and reel combo and do some looking around to find what fits you best. Click here for our review of the best rod and reel combo outfits for starters.
Fly fishing gear for beginners, tips:
To help select the appropriate gear – It would be helpful for one to gauge the amount of interest and enthusiasm for fly fishing. If a beginner realizes their passion for the sport early on, they may want to invest in some nicer gear to last a few more years. Moreover, with the popularity of fly fishing and outlets for second-hand gear sales like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, someone could find really good deals on used gear.
The Fly Rod
A fly rod is typically longer and lighter than other fishing rods. The longer, lighter rod is crafted to easily place your fly at its designated target. The rod design also makes casting smoother; and with the weighted line, casting and mending can be done with less effort than a shorter or heavier rod. There are a few main components to understand when purchasing a fly rod.
Fly rod lengths
The first component of a fly rod is the length. In general fly rods range from 6 to 12 feet.
- 6′ to 8′ – is used for smaller streams and creeks; can be helpful in navigating tight quarters and casting around obstructions.
- 8′ to 10′ – is used for typical size rivers or lakes; casting medium/average distances.
- 10′ to 12′ – large bodies of water and big fish; casting very far distances.
Fly rod weights
Another important factor when choosing a fly rod is the weight. This does not mean the actual weight measurement of the rod; but a number is given, which denotes its strength or sturdiness.
- 1 – 3 weight – small streams and sunfish
- 4 – 6 weight – larger streams or rivers, and average trout or smaller bass
- 7 – 9 weight – most salmon, steelhead, bass, and pike; or very large rivers and saltwater.
- 10 weight and up – very big fish; large rivers, saltwater
A common beginner fly rod weight and length is 9′ 5-weight, as this rod is not too small for larger fish and not too large for small fish/streams.
Fly rod action
The last component to be aware of when choosing a fly rod is their action. A rod’s action is basically the stiffness and amount it bends when casting. A fast action rod will bend the least but loads the rod and cast very quickly. On the other hand, a slow action rod will bend the most, but load the line and cast very slowly. There are benefits and unique uses for each fly rod action.
- Slow – easier to cast and control line accuracy. Best for slow easy casts on creeks and small rivers.
- Medium – pretty standard for most rivers and trout fishing. Medium action rods are great for the beginner angler.
- Fast – much faster line speed and ability to cast further, but requires exceptional timing. Typically used on large rivers and lakes; or casting heavier flies.
Purchase Note: The fly rod’s weight should match the weight of the reel and line. Some anglers intentionally use gear that is mismatched in weight as a personal preference. However, as a beginner, we recommend keeping the rod, reel, and fly line all the same weight.
Angler Tip, “High Sticking”
A longer lighter rod also helps the angler to attain a “drag-free drift” through a very simple technique called “high sticking.” High sticking is simply getting and keeping your fly on the bottom of the stream and your fly line off of the water.
The fly reel
Fly fishing reels are another component that contrasts with other forms of angling. All fishing reels serve the same functions; with the primary responsibility of managing the line. Click here for more detail/information on different types of fishing reels. If you are looking for reel purchase tips/buyers guide check out our resource, Best Fly Fishing Reels for the Money (2020, Complete Guide).
The main functions of the fly reel are to:
- Manage your fly line
- Balance out your fly rod
- Mechanical drag to help land larger fish
Fly reel Quality
Fly reels can be pricy! Why? The biggest reason for the price difference in reels is how they are made. There are two main types of manufacturing when it comes to creating a fly reel.
- Computer Numerical Control (CNC). The more expensive reels on the market are created with this process. CNC is a process of manufacturing whereby the manufacturer creates the reel out of one piece of aluminum. This significantly increases the strength, durability, and longevity of the reel.
- Die-Cast reels are made using molds. These are less costly to create but are not as strong as a reel made using CNC. Also, worth noting; that Die-Cast reels cannot be anodized. Anodizing the reel creates a layer of protection, which helps with corrosion. This is especially helpful when fishing in saltwater.
The reel arbor is the inside of a spool or core inside the spool. The size of the arbor is important as it determines the line retrieval rate. The larger the arbor the more quickly you can retrieve your fly line.
- Large arbor reel. Larger profile reels are cutting edge in the world of fly fishing gear. These reels will retrieve much faster than any other reel.
- Medium arbor. A mixture of size and function between large and small.
- Small arbor. Smaller profile reels will typically be lighter in weight and do affect the balance of your rod. These classic reels will retrieve much slower than large and medium arbor reels
A lot of modern reel manufacturers make it easy to purchase extra spools for swapping out of your reel. Because of this, there can be separate spools with different fly lines; making it possible to quickly change things up on the river. It is also more cost-effective – rather than purchasing a completely new reel, one can simply buy an extra spool to fit their needs.
Purchase Note: The fly reel’s weight should match the weight of the rod and line. Some anglers intentionally use gear that is mismatched in weight as a personal preference. However, as a beginner, we recommend keeping the rod, reel, and fly line all the same weight.
As opposed to a bait-cast or spin reel—a fly reel is not necessary to land your fish. Oftentimes (especially with smaller fish) the fly angler will bring the fish in by stripping the fly line by hand, instead of reeling.
As stated above the fly line is another component that makes fly fishing unique. It is weighted and is what allows the angler to cast longer distances without a weighted lure. There are several different characteristics of fly fishing lines; type of line, taper, and weight. Each of these factors will serve a unique purpose for the angler.
1. Floating line
Most river and stream trout fishing will be done using a floating line. A floating line is used while fishing dry flies; this allows the angler to present their fly without the line pulling them underwater. A floating line is also used in many nymph rigs; making it possible for the caster to easily mend their line, and create the perfect dead drift.
2. Sinking line
Sinking fly line can be broken into two categories – sink tip lines, and full sink lines. Sink tip lines have 5-25 ft of the heavy line at the end followed by a floating midsection. With full sinking lines, the entire line sinks. Most sinking lines will be used when fishing lakes, ponds, and large rivers.
Fly Line Tapers
The Fly line is tapered, which simply means there are changes in thickness throughout the line. There are a few specific fly line tapers that are most commonly used, and each type serves a specific purpose.
- Double taper lines – each end of the line is tapered. Useful for short accurate casts, and great for beginners.
- Weight forward lines – the first 30 feet are thicker. Great for longer casts but not as accurate.
- Shooting head tapers – a short but heavy tip that attaches to the end of the basic running line. Can cast very far with little effort; not very accurate.
- Running line – uniform thickness throughout the entire line. The part of the line that is not tapered.
Line weights correlate to the same rod and reels weights. Like rods/reels, a line’s weight is based on its overall sturdiness.
- 1 – 3 weight – small streams and sunfish
- 4 – 6 weight – larger streams or rivers, and average trout or smaller bass
- 7 – 9 weight – most salmon, steelhead, bass, and pike; or very large rivers and saltwater.
- 10 weight and up – very big fish; large rivers, saltwater
What is Backing?
The backing is dacron or braided polyester fishing line, which connects the arbor of your reel to the fly line. Most of the time an angler will attach at least 50 yards of backing to the reel. The backing is important in that it attaches the fly line to the reel, but it also serves as a valuable,” back-up” when a big fish runs you out of your fly line.
Different types of flies for fly fishing
The most obvious difference between fly fishing and other types of fishing is the tackle you use. As the name suggests, you’re using artificial “flies” as the tackle. No these aren’t the typical house fly you’re imitating, but a wide array of aquatic insects. Getting started it will be important to understand 4 main types of aquatic insects.
Note: The size and type of flies you are using are important and vary throughout the year. If you call or go to a local fly shop you can ask them what flies to use for a specific river.
4 main types of aquatic insects
These 4 types of insects include both immature and adult stages, and for simplicity can be broken into 2 separate categories.
- Dry flies
- Wet flies
These consist of the winged adult insects that emerge from their nymph or pupal stage. The fish will eat these insects while they ride on top of the surface hatching and drying their wings. Many adult insects can be clumsy flyers – oftentimes accidentally flying into the water or being pushed by a gust of wind. The final time when dry flies are used is after the insects’ mate and lay their eggs. The exhausted (spinner stage) bugs fall to the water and die; once again becoming food for trout.
For the most part, wet flies imitate the younger stages of the insects. Depending on the type of insect the bugs will go through a few changes underwater. For Mayflies and Stoneflies, the life cycle starts with an egg, nymph, emerger, dun (adult), and finally spinner. The life cycles for Caddis and midges are slightly different; for these bugs, they move from egg, larvae, pupal, and then adult. For a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of an insect’s life cycle and behaviors please keep an eye out for our page on “Insect Etymology.”
KEY POINT: To select appropriate gear; It would be helpful for one to gauge the amount of interest and enthusiasm for fly fishing. If a beginner realizes their passion for fly fishing early on, they may want to invest in some nicer gear to last a few more years.
Leader & knots
What are leaders and Tippet?
connects your heavy fly line to your fly. Leaders are tapered and because of this, they transfer energy from the fly line to the fly as smoothly as possible. Leaders are made from nylon monofilament. Monofilament leaders are inexpensive, durable, and almost invisible.
Alternatively, Fluorocarbon leaders are becoming more popular. Although more expensive than monofilament, these leaders are less visible underwater and can refract light more similar to water. These leaders are more resistant to abrasion but do not stretch as well as mono.
Leaders can be bought or tied in lengths ranging from 7 -12 ft. Generally when fishing with dry flies using a longer leader is preferred to avoid spooking the fish with the fly line.
Leaders consist of 3 sections
Leaders consist of 3 sections; butt, midsection, and tippet. The butt section is the thickest part and connects to the fly line; making up 35 percent of the leader. The midsection follows utilizing the majority of the leader with 50 percent. The thinnest and remaining 10 percent is called the tippet, which is tied directly to the fly.
Through changing flies or breaking your leader you will need to occasionally add or remove tippet to achieve the appropriate level of taper, and for tying on different size flies.
Tippet and leaders
Tippet and leaders are both sold using an X scale which measures the tippet’s diameter. The lower the number the larger the diameter. Thus, making 0X the largest size tippet and 8X the smallest. An average trout tippet size is 5X.
Fly FishinKnots you must know
For this fly fishing for beginner’s guide, we will feature 3 easy and essential knots to get you out on the water.
The Trilene knot
This is the perfect knot for tying you’re fly to your tippet. See an in-depth Anchor Fly study on the most popular knots tippet to fly!
Knot Tying Tips:
- If you’re using a thicker tippet use fewer wraps, and alternatively, use more wraps with a smaller tippet.
- Make sure to moisten the knot, as this does help to strengthen the knot.
- Most fly lines and leaders come with a perfection loop built-in. We recommend removing this and using a nail knot as the perfection loop typically can get caught on the guide
The Surgeons Knot
This knot is useful in tying tippet to your leader or other pieces of monofilament.
- To start, place the end of a piece of a line parallel with each end facing opposite directions.
- Make a loop using both pieces of line and pass each end of the line through the loop to create an overhand knot.
- Next, pass the ends of the line through the loop a second time to create a double overhand knot.
- Lastly, pull each end tight to secure the knot.
The Nail Knot
This knot can be tied to connect your fly line to your leader; along with tying the tippet to your leader.
- Start by placing a nail or small twig parallel and next to the fly line, while also placing the butt end of the leader next to the nail, creating a loop at the end.
- Wrap the end of the leader around the fly line and leader 6 times.
- Next, carefully remove the nail or twig from in between the wraps and run the end of the leader back through the loops where the nail was.
- Lastly pull the ends tight, being careful to position the knot with your fingernails as you close the knot.
KEY POINT: If you’re using thicker tippet use less wraps, and alternatively, use more wraps with smaller tippet.
Fly casting basics
Fly casting is one aspect that sets fly fishing apart from other forms of fishing. The cast becomes even more important in fly fishing as you’re attempting to delicately lay the fly in a way that mimics the insect and doesn’t spook the fish.
In fly casting the fly line not the lure is what propels the fly to its designated target. Practice and patience are key to learning how to fly cast, and you will not master this tricky skill right away. We recommend practicing fly casting in a yard or other open areas before hitting the water.
As a beginner you will need to become familiar with 3 different kinds of casts; basic overhead, false overhead, and roll cast.
4 main casts for beginners to Practice
1. Basic overhead cast
This will be the primary cast you will use with some variations. The overhead cast was originally practiced with the fly rod representing a clock hand. The caster would make casts in a 10 to 2 motion. The modern overhead cast is not as constricted to the 10 and 2 motion and using different size lines and lengths of the cast will determine the size of motion.
- To begin the cast, face the direction of your target.
- Start by lifting the rod backward pivoting at your elbow.
- Continue lifting until the fly line is out of the water – slowly accelerating the rod until you propel the fly line and fly backward.
- Stop your rod sharply and wait for the end of the fly line to form a “J,’ allowing you to move your arm and rod forward again towards your target.
We recommend trying to practice several different ways to find out what feels the most comfortable.
The video below covers: The pickup, lay down as well as the false cast mentioned in the next section
2. The False cast
Starts the same as the overhead cast, but instead of settling the fly in the water following the forward cast, you make another backcast. This is used primarily to change the direction of the fly or else to let out more fly lines. It can be tempting to make several false casts, especially as beginners but try to limit the number of false casts to 1-2, and ideally as little as possible.
The video above covers: The pickup, lay down as well as the false cast mentioned in this section
3. The Roll cast
is an advanced type of cast that allows the angler to cast distances without using the backward movement to “load” the rod and project the fly line. Instead, the roll cast uses the friction of the water to load the rod.
- Start with the line in the water in front of you.
- Lift your rod back and pause to allow the line to settle back on the water, which creates friction to load the rod.
- Next, slowly accelerate the rod forward forming a loop in the line in front of you before settling to the water.
This cast is tricky to master but will allow you to cast in areas where you can’t backcast.
4. The Water Haul
As mentioned above, try to limit the number of false casts to 1-2. This will help prevent spooking fish, but also reduce leader tangles or brush snags. The water haul is a great cast for the beginner to know. It utilizes the friction from the water to load the rod and get your flies out for your next cast.
- In a nutshell, all you do is follow your fly down to the end of its drift.
- When you are ready to cast again, you simply lift your rod tip up and (fairly aggressively) flip your fly line to your intended target.
KEY POINT: Fly casting is is one aspect that sets fly fishing apart from other forms of fishing. The cast becomes even more important in fly fishing as you’re attempting to delicately lay the fly in a way that mimics the insect without spooking the fish.
Techniques & Rigging
Fly fishing for beginners | styles & Techniques
In the techniques chapter below we will look at a few types of fly fishing styles and the appropriate set-up for your rod. You may need to change your fishing style depending on the fish your searching for, the type of stream, and the time of year.
In this beginner fly fishing guide we will briefly discuss:
- Basic dry fly fishing
- Dry –dropper method
- Weighted Nymph method
- Euro-nymphing or Czech Nymphing
Before getting into the section below I want to flag, pinpoint and highlight right up front what fly anglers call the drift. The idea here is to let your fly float as naturally as possible through the current –just like a natural bug would do. This is incredibly important as if something is getting into the way of your drift –typically your fly line–the fish are not likely to take your fly.
Mending the line–talked about below–is a key factor in a successful dead drift.
Dry Fly Fishing
Dry fly fishing—This type of fishing is using only dry flies and is also the easiest setup. All you need is to tie your tippet directly to the fly and add floatant if you want. One thing to keep in mind is keeping your leader long, there’s nothing worse than perfectly placing your fly to a trout and then spooking them with your fly line.
Dry fly fishing can some of the most exciting styles of fishing. Watching a trout gently sip your fly or explode up in a burst of energy is equally rewarding. There is more emphasis on the presentation of the fly compared to nymphing (described below).
Seeing the fly—Sometimes the hardest part about fishing with drys is being able to spot them on top of the water. To make things easier try attaching a small yarn strike indicator a couple of feet up from your fly. This technique can make spotting your fly much easier as you need to look down from the indicator.
Although this is useful on very slow-moving and clear streams, the indicator could potentially spook a nervous trout.
Polarized sunglasses for fishing—We mentioned sunglasses earlier and having a pair of well-polarized sunglasses could make a difference in spotting your fly and seeing a take. Polarized sunglasses block the sun’s reflection on the water allowing the angler to better see his or her fly in the sun. It can also make seeing through the water much easier, especially when sight fishing.
Casting—When dry fly fishing accurate casting is key—you want to make sure you can reach your target with as few false casts as possible. Furthermore, after the fly has drifted be gentle in lifting your fly line off of the water. When you rip the line up you can disturb the water surface and spook fish.
Dead drift—You will want your dry fly to float as naturally as possible. When dead drifting a dry fly has enough slack out on the water to form an “S” curve with the fly line. This will help ensure your fly is not getting dragged down current. To achieve the s curve you will need to mend your line either downstream or upstream depending on the cross currents.
Dead drifting can be done by casting upstream while standing directly downstream from the flies. Alternatively, many anglers choose to fish upstream and let their flies drift downstream. By fishing downstream your flies are in the lead and will reach a trout’s plane of vision before the fly line.
Dry Dropper Fishing
This type of fishing is also fairly easy to set up and is the preferred method by many trout anglers. For this style, you will attach a dry fly directly to the tippet. This is followed by attaching a piece of tippet 18-30 inches long to the hook bend of your dry fly. On the tag end, you will attach your wet fly.
With this method, your dry fly acts as a real target for fish, as well as a strike indicator for your wet fly.
Weighted Nymph Rig
This rig requires a few more pieces of equipment and is slightly longer to set up. The weighted nymph method can be very effective, especially during times in spring and fall when there are minimal bugs on the water surface. For this set up you will attach your nymph to the tippet, and fasten your weight about 5-8 inches above the fly; directly to the tippet.
You may also want or need a strike indicator to place higher up on the leader. The height you place your indicator at depends on the depth of the river you are fishing and the speed of the current. The deeper and faster the river, the higher you will place your strike indicator and the more weight you will use.
This method also lends itself well to equipping two flies. Attach the second nymph the same way as the dry dropper method.
Angler Tip: When fishing with nymphs keep them as close to the bottom as possible since that is where these little insects live.
The most important factor is to make sure you get your flies on the bottom of the river. In shallower waters, your standard 14-18 bead head will be enough weight. However, if fishing in fast or deep rivers you will need to add weight. You can add a split shot or malleable weight which hardens when exposed to cold water.
Essentially a bobber for fly fisherman, strike indicators are useful in most nymph rigs and will make noticing fish takes much easier. Strike indicators come in a variety of materials, shapes, and colors.
Angler Tip: Always lean to the smaller size when determining what strike indicator to use.
This is the most common way to fish nymphs. While standing perpendicular to the river you will cast upstream and in front of you to the desired location—simply mend and take in slack as your indicator floats down current. Once your indicator floats down the river and you’re out of slack take another cast.
Most mayflies and caddisflies will swim to the surface when they’re about to hatch from their nymph or pupae stage. A common way to represent this in the water is to start by dead drifting your fly down current—instead of casting back upstream when you’re out of slack; let the tight fly line and current “swing” your fly across the river and up towards the surface.
Euro Nymphing or Czech Nymphing
Fly fishing with a Euro nymph rig has been around for a very long time but has been increasing in popularity over the last few years. Euro nymphing is a style of tight line nymph fishing that utilizes longer rods, heavy flies, and a “sighter” (discolored leader section) rather than a traditional strike indicator. This method can be deadly when fishing as it allows the angler to feel the changes in depths to make crucial adjustments to keep the flies on the bottom of the river. Moreover, the entire setup is super sensitive and makes it easy to detect fish.
A longer rod is often used when Euro nymphing. The added length of the rod creates more sensitivity to notice very gentle strikes. Rod length also gives the angler more distance and stretch, to cover and reach more water.
As mentioned previously the Euro nymphing method does not include a strike indicator but instead uses a special leader with a sighter and the leaders for euro nymphing are longer which prevents any fly line from resting on the water.
The leader will have a portion brightly colored; called a sighter—the sighter acts in lieu of an indicator because it lets the angler see where their flies are at in relation to the river.
Because the leader is kept tight and there isn’t an indicator, it is easy to adjust the depth of the flies but simply moving the rod up or down. Euro/Czech nymphs are usually very heavy; making it possible to feel the bottom of the river and keep them there.
Euro nymphing setup
The euro nymph setup will consist of a special euro nymph leader that includes a sighter. You can also make one–and if you really get into euro nymphing this is highly suggested.
The formula I use is:
- 8-10′ of 20lb Maxima Chameleon
- 3′ of 15lb Suffix Elite
- 18″ of .012 to 0.14 Cortland Bicolor
- Tippet ring
- 2-4′ of 4x – 7x
- 6 to 8″ tag with for a 2nd fly
- 20-24″ of 4x to 7x with anchor fly
Mending your line
This is a very useful and necessary skill to start practicing now as you begin fly fishing. Most often when you’re fishing a river you will be casting over sections of differing speeds and currents. When your fly line lands on these different currents it will pull your leader and fly either faster or slower than their current drift. This unnatural presentation will keep even the most naive trout at bay.
As your fly or indicator is floating in the water downstream; gently flip your rod to move the slackline upstream or downstream.
- If your fly line is moving faster than your fly or indicator, you will mend upstream.
- If your fly line is moving slower than your fly or indicator, you will mend downstream.
KEY POINT: If your fly line is moving faster than your fly or indicator you will mend upstream, and if your fly line is moving slower than your fly or indicator you will mend downstream.
Trout habitat and reading the water
Introduction to Trout, the Basics
How do trout interact with their environment?
Trout are often seen as the premier game fish often due to their beauty and fighting skills. There are a few ways that trout differ from other game fish. The primary reason is trout prefer cold water. Depending on the species; trout flourish in water temps below 65 degrees.
Moreover, trout can live in a wide array of rivers and lakes— most of the time you will find trout near the bottom searching for insects or looking upwards to eat surface bugs.
Trout is also thought of to possess superior vision to other fish—a myth that has yet to be proved. However, trout could be seen as having better vision due to the crystal clear waters where they often live. Whether it’s the trout’s advanced vision or because their waters are often clear; spooking fish is easy to do.
Trout are naturally finicky creatures due to a healthy fear of predators; this requires a careful approach by the angler.
- When selecting gear and clothes to wear, stick to dull and neutral colors.
- Additionally, keep a low profile and do your best to stay in the shadows or behind the structure to break up your outline.
- If possible avoid getting in the water at all and fish from the bank.
- If you cannot fish from the bank, move slowly and gently through the water to prevent causing unnatural water movement.
Trout’s field of vision
A trout’s vision is cone-shaped; with the point of the cone at the eyes and the circle on the surface of the water. This surface circle is called the Snell circle. The Snell circle diameter is said to be measured by twice the depth of the fish—so a trout 3 ft deep would have a Snell circle and vision range 6 ft in diameter. Keep this in mind when fishing and adjust your positioning to stay out of the trout’s Snell circle.
Trout will take a position in certain areas referred to as lies. Trout need certain elements to make lies desirable; with the priority being protected from predators. This can be achieved by staying close to undercut banks and near boulders or other stream obstructions.
Another element that determines a trout lie, is the speed of the current. Trout are known for their strength making it possible to swim in heavy currents. However, trout are pragmatic and will avoid wasting energy to gain a few calories from a small insect. With this being said trout will stay away from really powerful currents unless during a big hatch.
Types of trout lies
- Deep holes—provide protection from predators and the current—look for darker areas in the stream or river.
- Eddies—these trout lies are areas of slack water and often cause reverse currents. Eddies can be found behind boulders, logs, and around river bends.
- Pocket water—small pockets created by boulders and shallow water. Here trout will hide behind or around these boulders waiting for insects to drift by.
- Seams—the edges next to a stronger run will create slower currents where insects will often get pushed into. It is also helpful to focus on foam lines through medium currents which will often hold trout.
- Undercut banks—these hiding spots provide protection from predators and slower water for trout to expend minimal energy looking for food.
KEY POINT: Approaching trout – trout are naturally finicky creatures due to their fear of predator. This requires a careful approach by the angler.
Catch & Release
Tips for landing & Releasing fish
Catching fish is typically the main reason we get on the water, and there is a lot of care and attention needed when handling these delicate creatures. We outlined a few tips when catching and releasing fish.
Don’t play the fish too much—this is definitely a fun aspect of catching trout but don’t “play” a trout for fun. It is safer to bring them in as fast as possible.
Use a net—Nets can be extremely helpful in corralling the fish—and allowing for a quick and easy release.
- Small trout can be managed easier by simply retrieving the fly line by hand.
- If you do use a net make sure it is rubberized netting. The rubberized netting is gentler on their protective “slime coat,” which prevents bacteria and infection.
How to net a trout
Netting a fish by yourself using a fly rod can actually be fairly challenging.
- As the fish gets close enough to you hold your rod in your dominant hand behind your back.
- With the rod hand behind your back, pivot the rod so the tip extends perpendicular to the water.
- Use your other hand to scoop the fish up from underneath.
- Once netted remember to keep the net and fish in the water as much as possible.
Wet your hands—wet your hands before handling the fish. This will also help prevent any removal of their slime coat due to dry hands.
Limit the amount of time handling the fish—We get it, you catch a nice fish and need a picture. If this is the case make sure to keep the fish in the water right until the picture gets taken.
- When you do hold the fish, grab them from underneath and behind the dorsal fins.
- Do not touch their face or gills.
- It is also recommended and in many areas required to use barbless hooks. This makes unhooking easy and limits the amount of time handling the fish.
Revive if Necessary—being caught by an angler is an exhausting experience and many fish will be fatigued.
- Make sure the fish is capable enough to be released back into the stream.
- If the fish doesn’t swim off after a second or two unhinged; you can give them gentle rocking motions back and forth in the current to enhance the amount of oxygen running through their gills. This is usually enough to get a sluggish exhausted fish darting back into the depths.
If you are interested in more on Catch & Release/Environmental Impact feel free to explore our social initiative #RespectTrout.
KEY POINT: Revive if Necessary – being caught by an angler is an exhausting experience and many fish will be fatigued. Make sure the Fish is capable enough to be released back into the stream.
Common questions | Fly fishing for beginners
This section is constantly being improved and added to. If you have questions please leave them in the comments section below and we will add them to this section for future visitors.
- Do you have to wear waders?
Not necessarily. As waders offer more versatile and comfortable fishing, an angler could get away with fishing from the bank or wet wading.
- What do you do when I get snagged?
If you get snagged subsurface on a river give a few tugs to see if it pulls out easily. If not then move upstream from the snag and tug in different directions until the fly becomes free. If you get snagged in a tree or brush you will most likely be breaking your line unless you can retrieve the fly by hand.
- What type of pack should I get?
There are many different types of fly packs and vests. Ultimately, choose something that is comfortable and practical for the type of fishing you’ll be doing. For instance, you wouldn’t need an extra-large and bulky sling pack when fishing small spring creeks.
Fly fishing Terms
Common fly fishing language & Terminology
This section is constantly being improved and added to. If you have questions on fly fishing terminology please leave them in the comments section below and we will add them to this section for future visitors.
- Arbor—The inside core of the reel spool. It is where the backing attaches to the reel, and determines how fast or slow the line is retrieved.
- Break off – When a fish (usually very large) breaks your line.
- Butt section – The section of your leader that is largest in diameter.
- Beadhead – A bead that is tied in with your fly to help it sink faster.
- Dead drift – A natural drag-free presentation to the fish you are targeting.
- Fluorocarbon – Tippet and leader material that is very strong, and doesn’t reflect light as much
- Spooking fish – The process of scaring fish, whether it be your physical presence, your casting motion or your line hitting the water, etc.
- Strike – The action of a fish taking your fly
- Strip – Retrieving your fly line by hand. Often to create a natural presentation of the fly or to entice fish when using a streamer.
- Sweeper – A downed log or branch.
- Tailwater – A type of river or stream which flows out of a lake or dam.
- Foul hook – To snag a fish with your fly on the fish’s body or fin.
- Hatch – When bugs are born on the water. e.g. mayfly hatch, caddis hatch.
- Fish rising – When fish are feeding on the surface of the water.
We would love to hear from you below!
What did you find most useful? What could we change, add or do better?
Please think about this post on your next fishing outing and come back—let us know what worked and what didn’t… AND of course, we want to hear about all of the fish you caught!
If you enjoyed this resource, “Fly Fishing for Beginners” please feel free to check out our fly tying 101 guide, “Fly Tying for Beginners.“