It's the end of March and across the country the signs of the pending summer are multiplying. This is the time of the year that would-be fly fishers begin to think that this might be the year to take up fly fishing. However, where does a person start out? I offer the following advice and hope that it helps ease someone into the wonderful world of fly fishing.
Above all else remember that fly fishing is recreation. It should be something that you do because it is fun, it helps take your mind off from the everyday cares and concerns of life, and it leaves you with a feeling of well-being. If you never become a master fly caster, if you never hook and land a trophy fish, never have an article published in a national publication, or create a killer fly pattern; if, at the end of each day afield you can say I had a great time you will have received the best that this sport has to offer.
The first thing that the beginning fly fisher needs to consider is what type of fly fishing interests them. If small stream trout fishing pricks your interest you will need different equipment than if you are interested in fishing for bluegills and bass in a weedy lake. That is not to suggest that you can't use the same fly rod for bluegills that you use for trout, but you may find that a fly rod that handles the larger flies that you use for bass and bluegills a bit more challenging to use effectively when you attempt to present much smaller nymphs or dry flies on small, brushy trout streams.
Once you have decided what type of fly fishing you would like to do then the first decision you will need to make is what fly rod to purchase. Fly rods are sold by length and action. The graphite fly rod is the standard of the industry but fiberglass rods are beginning to make a resurgence. Rods are normally designated as slow, medium or fast, and for the beginning fly angler I would recommend a medium action rod as a first choice. A medium action rod is more forgiving than a fast action rod, and since most beginners have a tendency to hurry their back cast a slow action rod usually ends up frustrating a beginning fly caster.
Buying a fly rod today is a different proposition than when I started fly fishing. Even the less expensive rods offer great value and if you click on our sponsor page you will find a list of rod sellers that offer an excellent selection of fly rods for any fly fisher. Any of the fly rods these sellers offer will give the angler a good value for their dollar. They also offer compete outfits; rod, reel and line which is an economical way for a beginner to procure an outfit.
Again, beginners today have many options that were not available when I started fly fishing. The Internet is a veritable feast for beginning anglers. There are videos on casting that will get the beginner off on the right foot, and a plethora of other teaching tools from printed articles to chat rooms and fly fishing bulletin boards. However, as useful at the Internet may be I would recommend that, if possible, a beginner find a competent mentor that can provide hands on instruction. A local fly shop should have someone on staff that can provide basic instruction; a local community college may offer a class in fly fishing, and local chapters of Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers are excellent sources for instruction.
When it comes to learning how to use a fly rod I would recommend that the beginner concentrate on mastering the basic casts. Don't worry about learning how to double-haul, just learn how to consistently make a basic cast with good line and loop control. Once you have mastered this basic requirement you then can decide what other types of casts you need to master for the type of fly fishing you are doing.
Once you have mastered the basic casting stroke you should plan on using them as often as possible. Fly casting is all about muscle memory and that can only be accomplished through practice. Fly casting is like riding a bicycle, once you master it you will never forget how to do it, however you first need to learn how and practice is the way to accomplish it. Ideally you should practice on water, but if water is not available then any open area like a city park or even your own lawn will suffice. At first the beginner should just concentrate on mastering the basic casting stroke. Once they feel confident in making the basic cast they can start working on accuracy.
Next to being able to make a cast, accuracy is the most important part of learning to cast with a fly rod. Unless you can place your cast accurately the ability to make a perfect cast is meaningless. You should set up some targets; paper plates with a rock set on top of them to hold them in place make great casting targets. This can be a game. Put numbers on each of the plates and have someone call out a number and try to drop your fly on that plate. This is a great way to improve casting accuracy and it's fun too.
Once you understand the basic casting stroke and develop a degree of accuracy the next thing you need to do is go fishing. There is no substitute for actual getting out and fishing. The greatest learning times are when you are actually doing something and discovering, for yourself, what works and what does not. I think that today we are too worried about doing something that is not "orthodox" and that if we don't do it according to the book we are somehow outsiders. Some of the better fly fishers that I have known over my lifetime have been the most unorthodox.
Fly fishing is a great recreation. Although I have been chasing fish with a fly rod for almost half a century I still find myself learning something new almost every time I go out. There is always some little nuance, some fine detail that I have either not noticed before or I have forgotten. It can be as technical or as basic as you want, and you can still have one heck of a good time.