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So, you’ve tried worms and minnows and spin casting lures and every other technique and method you can think of for catching fish, with varying degrees of success. Now it’s time to consider fly fishing, but it’s such an art and such an esoteric set of skills that it’s hard to know where to start.
There are fly fishing for beginners videos that are really useful and helpful, but in this blog, we’re going to discuss some of the particulars of how fly fishing is done.
Beginning Fly Fishing
Let’s just start by defining some terms. The hand-tied flies that fly fishermen use are designed to resemble insects, baitfish and other foods for fish. Since the flies themselves weigh almost nothing, it’s necessary for the fisherman to use a special weighted line to be able to cast the fly. This requires a different type of reel and rod as well as casting techniques that are quite a bit different from other fishing methods.
Fly fishing can be used for either saltwater or freshwater fish, with a distinction between cold-water species like salmon, steelhead or trout and warm-water species such as bass. Regardless of the fish you’re after, the flies are made by tying feathers, fur, hair or other materials onto a hook.
In earlier days, fly fishermen used nothing but natural materials, but today, synthetic materials are a popular choice as well. The flies are designed to resemble the insects, baitfish or other prey that are common to the area and are attractive to the intended fish.
For fresh-water fish, fly fishing is a favorite method for catching pike, bass, various panfish and carp as well as salmon or steelhead. Saltwater fishermen love it for going after tarpon, bonefish, redfish, tarpon, and snook.
The advent of stronger-test rods and lines have made it possible for saltwater fly fishermen to target marlin, wahoo, tuna and even shark in recent years. The truth is, though, a fly fisherman can catch about any species of fish as long as the fly resembles that fish’s natural prey.
Watch: Getting the Right Gear
How to Get Your Fly Fishing Gear on a (Really, Really) Tight Budget
Twig ‘N’ Timbers Outdoors explains how to get started for less than $100. And here’s the bonus: Once you get used to fishing with cheaper gear, your technique will be amazing when you upgrade to the good stuff.
Watch: Intro to Fly Fishing
Watch: How to Attach Your Fly Reel
A History of Fly Fishing
Here’s some fly fishing lore that you’re not likely to find on any fly casting videos for beginners…
One of the earliest documents on fly fishing is The Treatyse on Fysshynge with an Angle, written by Dame Juliana Berners back in 1496. This book included instructions on how to make rods, lines, and hooks, as well as ideas on how to tie different flies for use at different times of the year and in different locations.
By the late 15th century, it’s believed that rods of about 14 feet in length were in use in Britain.
In 1613, John Dennys (believed to have been a friend and fishing buddy of Shakespeare) wrote The Secrets of Angling, with the first known reference to “casting a fly”:
“The trout gives the most gentlemanly and readiest sport of all, if you fish with an artificial fly, a line twice your rod’s length of three hairs’ thickness… and if you have learnt the cast of the fly.”
The first fly fishing reels were developed in the late 18th century, and improvements in rods, lines, flies, and tackle continued through the 19th century.
Interestingly, a fly fishing rig from 150 years ago would not look a lot different from the gear that fly fishermen use today.
Watch: History of Fly Fishing (via Orvis)
Basic Fly Fishing Techniques
Perhaps the most basic fly fishing skill to learn is how to cast properly. There are two techniques: the overhead cast, and the roll cast.
Overhead casts are done by lifting the fly off of the water, bringing it overhead and behind you, then casting forward again to your target spot. This should be done gracefully and with little wasted effort.
The alternative is the roll cast, a shorter motion where the rod is raised up almost upright, then quickly snapped forward. The line will make a loop and land the fly in your target area. This is a useful cast on a windy day, or when you have brush or overhead tree branches to contend with.
Of all the skills a fly fisherman needs to know, casting is one of the most important. Best of all, it doesn’t have to be perfected in the water. Just clip the hook off a fly, tie the fly on and practice in the park, in your backyard or even in a parking lot.
Watch: How to Cast
Watch: Stripping-in-Fly Fishing Technique
Watch: Orvis’ Guide to Safe Wading
Watch: A Guide to Basic Fly Fishing Knots
Despite technological improvements in gear and tackle, the principles of fly fishing remain the same.
Author Izaak Walton called it “the contemplative man’s recreation” – it gives the fish more of a fighting chance, and connects the fisherman with the elements in a way that other fishing methods can’t.