Getting Started Fly Fishing

Fishing the still water of lakes and ponds for bluegills and other panfish is a good way to master fly-fishing basics. (Keith Sutton photo)

There’s something incredibly beautiful in the way a well-cast fly line unfurls in the air, gently delivering a hook adorned with a few twists of thread and some feathers to a distant target. Romantic images of fly fishing have drawn many newcomers to the sport in recent years and caught the attention of many more who would like to learn the art of catching fish on a fly.

If you’ve been thinking about getting started fly fishing, you may wonder, how does one begin? Where can you learn the proper methods of casting? What equipment do you need? How do you choose from the hundreds of fly patterns available?

“The best way to start off fly fishing is to find a mentor,” says Anthony Acerrano, an ardent fly fisherman and field editor for Sports Afield magazine. “This might be a friend or acquaintance who is a competent fly fisherman, or perhaps an instructor at a fly fishing school or an expert who does seminars. Hands-on instruction from such people will allow you to learn the basics quickly. But if you can’t find someone to help, try the video store. There are many instructional fly-casting and fly-fishing videos on the market that can help beginners get started on the right track.”

Acerrano notes that basic fly casting isn’t as difficult as it sometimes looks. With a good teacher by your side, you should be able to learn the fundamentals in a single session.

“Don’t listen to too many different people, however,” Acerrano cautions. “If you take advice from someone who isn’t good, you’ll just learn their bad habits.”

Acerrano mentions a couple of things to be aware of when learning to fly-cast. “Most people make two mistakes,” he says. “First, they try to rush the cast, trying to go back and forth too fast. Second, they use too much muscle. The rod should do the work; the angler provides the rhythm and timing.”

When you begin your casting lessons, Acerrano suggests starting out on dry land or in a fishless pond. Don’t start fishing until you’ve mastered the basics. And when you’re ready to move to water, fish in still water such as ponds or lake edges first. Doing this will allow a smoother transition when you start fishing in a stream with current.

“Bluegills, which are abundant in many still waters, are great targets for beginning fly fisherman,” he says, noting that he learned to fly fish while targeting this species. “They aren’t very difficult to catch, especially in the morning or near dusk when they’re dimpling the surface as they feed on insects. All you need are a few flies: some surface poppers with rubber legs and a few sponge-bodied flies. Just cast the fly out there, twitch it and, bang, they’ll hit.”

It’s easy to get confused when you’re first learning about different weight rods, tippets of various sizes and flies that come in hundreds of patterns. A basic outfit that will get you started in the right direction for panfish and trout, says Acerrano, is “an 8- to 9-foot, 5- or 6-weight graphite rod, a serviceable reel with a simple drag and floating weight-forward fly line.”

Most fly fishermen also consider waders essential. Choose between neoprene models or lightweight, breathable waders, with or without built-in boots. Felt soles provide traction on slippery rocks, and a wading staff is a good investment for beginners and veterans.

Many fly fishermen adorn their fishing vests with gadgets the way war heroes collect medals on their chests, but beginners, Acerrano says, can get by with hemostats for removing hooks, clippers to cut line and knots, and a good hook sharpener. You’ll also benefit by wearing a good hat with a dark underbrim and polarized sunglasses that cut glare on the water.

When selecting flies, “Start simple,” Acerrano says. “Don’t try to buy everything in the shop. Talk to local experts, in a fly shop or on the water, and ask them to help you pick a few basic patterns, including some of the hot ones all the locals know will catch fish.”

Add some extra leaders and tippet material, some strike indicators and shot for weighting your leader, and you’re set to enjoy a wonderful outdoor pastime that will bring you many hours of enjoyment.

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