I’ve always wanted to learn how to fly fish, so when Orvis invited us for a day on the water, I couldn’t say yes fast enough. Orvis was started as a fly fishing brand, and within their ranks is a fella named Tom Rosenbauer. He’s their resident expert, podcast host and merry prankster, has literally written the book on how to fly fish, and he was our coach for the day. In this video, he shows the basics and explains the minimum equipment you need to start fly fishing. It’s everything you’ll need to know to start casting!
How to start fly fishing
Here’s the basic info you need to know to get started:
What do the different types of flies do?
- Dry – also called Terrestrials, they mimic flying insects that don’t live in the water. These types of flies float on the water for when the fish are coming up to the surface to eat.
- Wet – also called Nymphs, these mimic larva and water bugs that sink or swim under water. These have a small weight in their “head” to get them underwater, and you’ll usually set a bobber (also called a floater) to control how deep they sink based on where the fish are sitting (and to keep it from dragging on the bottom and getting stuck.
- Streamers – Larger flies that mimic water creatures like crawfish or bigger bugs that fall into the water, like grasshoppers, that would float down the stream with the current.
How to choose the right fly
Knowing how to pick the right type of fly for the water and the fish is a little more advanced, but here’s a primer to get your started. First, the hard part. Flies are made to represent a bug’s different development stages, and wild fish sometimes know what’s “normal” based on the season and will ignore a fly that seems out of season. Fortunately, when the stream is rushing by and they see food, most likely they’ll bite first and think later. So, you might be able to get away with a basic set of flies, but it never hurts to ask your local shop what’s right for the region or the season and heed their advice. It’s easy to build a basic assortment since flies are inexpensive (usually only a few bucks each).
Tom’s advice? Keep trying different flies until the fish start biting. This is a bit easier if the water’s calm and you can see the fish ignoring your fly. But, in more turbulent waters, the fish are more opportunistic because it’s harder to find food, so they’re more likely to go after any type of fly.
What gear do I need to start fly fishing?
Besides flies, the basics are simple. You can get set up with a start kit for well under $200 at any Orvis shop. And check their website for a schedule of free beginner clinics offered most weekends. Take the class and you’ll get a discount on your purchase! Here’s a list of what you’ll need to get started fly fishing:
- Rod & Reel – The fly rod is designed to flex according to the weight of line, so you need to match the rod to the line you plan on using. The rod’s flex works with your arm movement to cast the line out into the water. The reel simply lets you reel it back in and take up slack while the fly is floating on the water.
- Line – The weighted line acts as the mass to carry the fly out onto the water. The flies are too light to throw, so the line is the weight that you’re flinging when you move the rod. Choose the weight based on the type of fish you’re going after and match it to the Rod.
- Leader – The soft, flexible string on the end of the line that connects the fly to the line.
- Snips – Small scissors or nail clippers to trim excess line off after tying your fly on to the leader.
- Accessories – Most photos, promo videos and movies show fly fishermen (and women) standing knee deep in the water, wearing waders to keep them dry. But casting from the shore is perfectly fine, too, so you don’t need to invest in waders until you really get into it or find that you need them. A small tray that closes over multiple compartments will help keep your flies organized, and a net will help you gather the fish when you catch it, especially if you’re planning to catch and release. Lastly, if you’re using a fly that sinks, consider a bobber/floater to help you keep track of its location under water.
What about Tenkara?
Tenkara is a traditional Japanese method of fly fishing that does without the reel. It’s just a rod and the line, which keeps it simple. TenkaraUSA is a top brand, and they make rods that pack down as short as 12″, making them very easy to stuff into a hydration pack and carry it virtually anywhere. Because there’s no reel, the line length is fixed, and generally limited to about 30 feet max (usually less).