How To Fly Fish For Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide
Fly fishing is a type of fishing where anglers use artificial lures called “flies” to imitate real insects. Fly fishing flies are commonly made out of natural materials such as hair, feathers, and fur to represent any insect found on the bottom of the stream to bugs flying in the air. They can also be made to look like mice, frogs, minnows, crayfish, and just about anything that fish eat.
As a beginner to fly fishing, it can seem overwhelming on where to start with terms like a dry fly, wet fly, wooly bugger, nymphs, leader, tippet, fly reels, fly rods, and so on and so forth. There is a ton of fly fishing lingo that can seem daunting. While fly fishing requires some new knowledge and angling skill, getting started is the hardest part.
Walking into your local fly shop can be intimidating; however, fly shops are an excellent place to gain knowledge from avid fly fishermen. They are a great place for beginner anglers to find helpful resources. YouTube and videos online are helpful too. While I could write a multi-volume book on fly fishing for beginners, my goal here is to create a straightforward beginner’s guide to demystify fly fishing for beginners and to encourage you to start fly fishing.
- What Fly Fishing Gear Do Beginners Need?
- What Are The Best Sunglasses For Fly Fishing?
- What Size Fly Rod Is Best For Beginners?
- How Do Fly Fishing Reels Work?
- What Is The Best Fly Line For A Beginner?
Recommended Reading: How To Setup A Fly Rod For Beginners
What Fly Fishing Gear Do Beginners Need?
There is a huge difference between what I want and what I need. When I walk into a local fly shop to pick up gear, I want it all. In reality, there are really a few things that you must have to fly fish and catch fish. There is an endless array of fly fishing gear. However, below is what I would consider the bare necessities for what a beginner needs to start your fly fishing adventures. These fly fishing items are in no particular order of importance.
Fly Fishing Gear You Need:
These fly fishing gear and accessories are the items that you need for a fly fishing setup at the bare minimum in order to begin fly fishing.
- Polarized Sunglasses
- Fly rod
- Fly Reel
- Fly Line
- Pliers or Hemostat
Buy a fish-friendly net with a rubber ghost basket as they are easy on fish and your flies don’t tangle in the basket.
Recommended Reading: Quick Guide To Tippet And What Sizes To Use
Fly Fishing Made Easy 👍
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Fly Fishing Gear You Don’t Need:
When you’re just learning how to fly fish, there are certain items that you don’t necessarily need right away. These are gear items that you can wait to purchase as you decide to invest a bit more into fly fishing.
- Neoprene Waders/Wading Boots – Unless you plan to fly fish all winter and into the spring, you don’t need waders. Wet wading from June to September is refreshing.
- Fly Box – Fly boxes are also nice to have, but most of the time fly shops have small round puck shaped plastic containers that they provide when you buy flies. Most of the summer I use these to guide out of. They are great for separating flies and fit nicely in pockets.
What Are The Best Sunglasses For Fly Fishing?
Next to my rod and reel combo, polarized sunglasses are the single most important piece of equipment when considering fly fishing gear. If I make it to the river without my polarized sunglasses I will turn around and go home. They are important for several reasons: eye protection against flies and errant casts and protection from the reflective glare off the water. They also help you see fish.
An experienced fly fisher will hunt fish. This means that the more fish you are able to see and present a fly to, the more fish you can catch. Fly fishers that see wary trout before they see you have the advantage. Sunglasses are an important piece of the puzzle. If I was going to pick one pair of sunglasses, I would select a pair that has vented frames which prevent fogging while fly fishing. Chooses glasses with lenses in brown or copper. Copper colored lenses cover a wide range of light scenarios when fly fishing.
What Size Fly Rod Is Best For Beginners?
Most fly fishing for beginners starts with the pursuit of either trout fishing or bass fishing. Our recommendation as the best fly rod for a beginner fly fisherman is a 9-foot 5 weight or 6 weight fly rod with a matching 5 weight or 6 weight reel and fly line. This length fly rod the perfect rod and reel for covering a variety of fly fishing scenarios.
Whether you are fishing bass ponds in the South or chasing trout on Western rivers, a 5 weight or 6 weight is the ideal fly rod for your first purchase as a beginner. You will also need to choose a fly reel. A well balanced fly reel makes up your rod and reel fly fishing combo.
Here’s how fly rods are different from the conventional rod reel combo. Fly rods are classified by different weights. You will often hear fly fishermen ask, “what weight rod is that” or “what weight fly line are you casting.” The weight of the rod refers to the overall strength or size of the fly rod. The smaller the number, the lighter the line and the smaller the flies it is capable of casting. Conversely, as the number goes up the fly rod and line get heavier, which means they can cast larger flies to bigger fish.
Choosing Fly Rod Weights
Fly rods range in size from 2 weight for small panfish, all the way up to 14 weight fly rods for saltwater fly fishing.
A 1 to 3-weight fly rod is ideal for casting small flies in streams to smaller fish species. Most fly anglers avoid 1 to 2-weight rods unless they are only fishing micro streams and tiny fish. Fly fishermen commonly use 3-weight fly rods for nymphing and dry fly fishing as the sensitivity to takes is more noticeable. Using smaller weight fly rods makes even fighting small fish seem like they are massive, which some anglers prefer for added enjoyment.
A 4 to 6-weight fly rod is perfect for casting heavier flies to larger fish on bigger water. These are the most popular size ranges as they are perfect for all skill levels. These heavier weights make it easier to cast streamers, poppers, bass bugs, heavy nymphing rigs, and fight larger fish.
A 7-weight and heavier fly rod is ideal for large fish such as salmon, steelhead, pike, musky, and even saltwater fly fishing. These fly rods have more sturdy and stiff shafts that make fighting large fish manageable.
Choosing Fly Rod Lengths
The fly rod length you require is, typically, determined by the size of the body of water you plan on fishing. Most fly rods are between 6 feet to 10 feet in length for standard trout, bass, and panfish fly fishing. Anything shorter than 6 feet is made specifically for certain applications such as small wild-trout streams. Anything longer than 10 feet is used for casting long distances in large rivers and saltwater.
Fly rods 6 to 8 feet are great for smaller streams as they allow you to maneuver areas crowded with brush and trees.
Fly rods 8 to 10 feet are great for streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes as they allow you to make longer casts and, with your fly rod, physically reach greater distances to make pinpoint accurate casts.
Fly rods 10 feet or longer are ideal for big bodies of water to maximize your casting distance. Many fly fishermen who practice what’s called “European” or “Euro” Nymphing use 10 feet to 12 feet long fly rods to physically reach greater distances and put more ground between them and the fish.
How Do Fly Fishing Reels Work?
For anglers that are new to fly fishing, it might come as a surprise that the fly reel is the least important piece of equipment. Fly reels are essentially shiny fly line holders. It is very rare when fly fishing for bass and trout that we actually reel fish in when fly fishing. In fly fishing, we fight fish by stripping them. This is typically the case for smaller freshwater species like trout and bass. As you pursue fly fishing and become an avid fly fisherman, the reel becomes more important. Naturally, you will pursue larger fish where a good drag system is needed for powerful runs.
Stay away from casted fly reels. Spend a little more money and buy a machined aluminum fly reel with a click-and-paw drag system. Click and Paw fly reels are simple, effective, easy to maintain, and they land fish well. They are simple tooth and gear systems that were developed to stop the reel from overrunning the line. If you are on a budget, the fly reel is where you can save some money. Use your surplus funds to invest in a well made fly line.
What Is The Best Fly Line For A Beginner?
Choosing the right fly line is essential for catching fish. A well made fly line makes all the difference when you start fishing. Fly lines are made with a braided nylon core covered with plastic and infused with micro bubbles that help the fly line float. Cheaper fly lines tend to get water logged and sink, making casting and presentation very difficult. This can be frustrating when you are trying to learn the mechanics of fly casting.
Floating fly lines are the most common fly lines used for trout, bass, and panfish fly fishing. They help keep your flies above the water without the weight of the line pulling them under. Floating fly lines also make mending and detecting strikes easier so that you can perform a “dead-drift” presentation.
Sinking and weighted fly lines are for fly fishing ponds, lakes, and rivers to get your streamers and nymph flies lower in the water to feeding levels.
There are many different fly lines for different scenarios. Beginner fly fishermen should only be concerned with a weight forward floating line. Fly lines are tapered. This means that most of the fly line is skinny and then tapers to a larger heavier shape towards the end of the end of the fly line (we will explain why this is important in the next section). A weight forward fly line is great for presenting all flies and does not require the finesse or experience that other fly lines demand, thus making it a good fit for beginners. It’s basically the most versatile option out of all fly lines and one that I most often fish with today.
Choosing the correct “weight” fly line is easy. Typically you choose a weighted fly line that matches the weight of your fly rod. For example, if your fly rod is a 6-weight fly rod, you should be casting a 6-weight fly line.
A beginner’s trick to casting farther without years of experience is to choose a heavier fly line than the fly rod that you choose to buy. For instance, if you have a 6-weight fly rod you will use a 7-weight fly line. The extra weight of the fly line helps beginner fly fishermen load the rod and make a basic forward cast.
When it comes to the best color fly line, it is truly up to your personal tastes. I have always fished with a lime green, chartreuse color fly line with no trouble. The color of the fly line is only to help you see it in different lighting situations whether it be low light or extremely bright conditions.
How To Cast A Fly Rod For Beginners
Casting a fly rod is not an overly difficult task if you understand how fly fishing is different than conventional fishing. When we cast a regular rod and reel, we are using the weight of your lure to load or bend the rod. The energy in the rod is transferred to the lure and projected across the river.
In fly fishing, we don’t have heavy lures. We are casting small flies that are lightly weighted. Therefore, we have to use the weight of the plastic coated fly line to load or bend the fly rod. The energy stored in the fly rod helps us present the flies and make long casts. Understanding this concept and why we have a weighted fly line makes learning casting easier. It’s all about the transfer of momentum and energy from the fly rod and out into the delivery of the line.
Let’s breakdown a basic overhead cast.
There are three parts to an overhead cast: the back cast, the pause, and the forward cast. If we start our cast with the rod tip high in the air or with a lot of slack on the water, then we are robbing ourselves of valuable space to get the fly line moving in the right direction. This causes a dramatic loss of power and we are not able to throw the fly line behind us. This is the number one reason fly lines and leaders become tangled.
To perform a back cast, start with your rod tip as close to the water as possible. Make sure that there is not an abundant amount of fly line out of the tip of the fly rod. Start with 3 to 6 feet of fly line.
An analogy I like to use when I am guiding and teaching an overhead cast is to visualize that there is small tomato on the end of my rod tip. As I make my back cast (rod tip low to the water and no slack) I am going to start slow by lifting the rod, speed up, and then make an abrupt stop at my ear flicking the tomato off the end of the rod and splattering against an imaginary wall directly behind me at head height.
The second step of casting a fly rod is to pause. Let the fly line unwind behind me and come completely straighten out. There is no shame in letting the fly line hit the water behind you. This creates tension on the fly which loads the rod, and makes it impossible for a tangle to occur. The last part of a fly cast is to present the fly at the target.
The third and final step to casting a fly rod is the forward cast. After your fly line has completely straighten out behind you mid-air, speed up and point the fly rod tip forward towards where you want to cast your fly and make an abrupt stop. You should feel the momentum transfer from the fly rod into your fly line.
Understanding these mechanics and a basic overhead cast allows fly fishermen perform many other casts such as the roll cast, reach cast, and any other casts they might need for different fly fishing scenarios. One of the best places to practice casting is out in your yard without a fly. Once you master the basic forward cast, you can start to work on your single haul and double haul casts. These casts are slightly more complicated but allow you to cast even greater distances.
The Roll Cast
If you fish small spring creeks or even fast western rivers, oftentimes it is not possible to wade far enough from the bank to make a backcast and present the fly. The roll cast is vital in tight quarter fishing situations where trees or obstructions make it impossible to make a back cast.
A roll cast is a forward cast without a backward cast. It is also used to take slack out of your line when picking up the rod to start your cast. This is especially important when fishing from a raft or drift boat. As the boat moves towards your line, and often over the top of it, a roll cast can be used to get the line away from the boat and take the slack out.
To perform a roll cast, start with the line in front of you on the water. Then lift your rod tip up pointing towards the sky. As you do this motion the fly line will begin to make a bow or loop heading to the side of you. The fly line will behind the vertical rod and makes a D with the straight part of the D being your rod and the line making up the curved part. To cast the line forward, do the same forward stroke you would with a standard overhead cast. The line will follow the loop and lay out in a straight presentation. It is a very simple cast but can be used in a lot of situations.
Reach Cast and Mending
Learning to reach cast and mending your fly line are critical to presenting a fly in a manner that will allow you to catch fish. Fish are keyed into insects that are floating in the stream current at the same rate of speed as the water is moving. Flies that drag, through the water are tell tell signs to fish that your flies are not edible food. Dragging flies greatly reduces your chance of catching fish. Therefore, you have to minimize your fly dragging through the water by mending your fly line.
Recommended Reading: How to Mend Your Fly Line
Mending is the act of manipulating your fly line in manner that will create a longer drag free drift. This is accomplished by lifting your rod tip high up in the air and gently flipping your fly line upstream of your fly. Mends can be subtle or large. The main point to understand is that you are minimizing the drag on the fly line and fly from both major and minor river currents.
Learning to reach cast will give you an advantage when trying to create the longest drag free drift possible. A reach cast is basically mending your fly line in the air, so that when your fly lands on the water, your fly line is already positioned above your fly and it you get longer drag free drift. As you make your forward cast to the target with your fly line and fly in the air, you reach your rod tip up stream. This repositions your line for an optimal drag free drift.
Where Do Fish Live?
Reading the water is a learned art. The more you fish the more you start to pick up on subtle characteristics of rivers and “fishy water”.
Fish aren’t much different then us. Their instincts are driven by the need for food and safety from predators. For this reason, beginner fly fisherman should look for areas in the river where current brings food to fish and they can eat that food in safety. Areas where this occur are: around and behind logjams, undercut banks, the back side of shelfs and riffles, deep holes, both in back and in front of boulders, and of course deep troughs. The best and only way to sharpen your water reading skills is the get out there and fish.
Trout like to feed in areas where the current is not so fast where they burn a lot of energy but just fast enough where food drifts to them at a decent rate. Usually flows moving at the pace of a slow walk is roughly the optimal speed.
A water depth from 2-feet to 4-feet is where we find most feeding trout. You may find trout in more shallow water depending on conditions and how much fishing pressure the stream gets. I’ve seen trout feeding in about 12-inches of water during a Blue-Winged Olive hatch right along the shoreline or at the edges. So just be aware of these outliers and take advantage of them before placing casts to the rest of the pool.
In areas where fast water meets slow water you’ll find a noticeable line, usually where a line of bubbles or debris collects, called a seam. Trout will hug this line because seams funnel all sorts of insects that have hatched in the riffles above or fallen in. A well-placed nymph can also be drifted through these seams to trout hanging low along the bottom. Fish the inside edge of seams first and then cast closer to the middle before targeting the main current.
Shade is also a great place to find trout. Trout find safety swimming within a shaded section of the river and will often choose to feed in these sections to avoid the prying eyes of a predator. Or they will use these shaded sections as a hiding spot to ambush prey from and then quickly return to. With an accurate cast, you can place your flies just on the outside or inside of the shade to lure trout up to take your fly.
Eddys are swirling currents caused by flows passing over and around obstructing objects such as large boulders or submerged rocks. As the water passes around these objects, it creates a reverse current that pushes it into a swirling motion or a slow patch of water. These places can be small or quite large amassing a pile of debris and foam. Slow pockets of water like this are great holding areas for trout who like to pick off insects that drift by in the faster current. They like to swerve in and out of this safe pocket of water and into seams created by the eddy against the faster flow.
Feeding trout will stay a few feet away from areas where they can ditch back into for safety if they sense a predator. Fallen trees, shade, boulders, overhanging banks, deep water, and riffles are common hiding places. Use these places as markers to help pinpoint where you might find a few fish.
When it comes to fishing these areas, try using a grid method. Separate the main current into multiple threads or grids and fish the ones closest to you first. We prefer to position ourselves downstream and cast up. An upstream presentation helps stay out of their line of sight and gives us a better angle to cast. Approach as if you’re stalking the trout nice and slow. Use the natural noise of the stream to add some stealth. For example, wading through fast flows and riffles will help disguise your entrance.
Now, closely watch where the water flows into and where trout might quickly find cover but still be able to feed off the channel. Place your fly several feet upstream and let it drift down. Actively mend your fly line to avoid dragging your presentation and scaring off any chance you had. Keep a distance at first and work up the pool.
How To Fight A Fish On A Fly Rod
There’s no getting around losing fish, but there are some things anglers can do to impact the fight and hopefully keep trout or steelhead buttoned up longer. A good reel with a solid drag, proper knots, and sharp hooks are certainly all factors, but perhaps the most important is the angle of your rod when the fish is on the line.
Applying proper pressure at the correct angle not only keeps trout hooked but also works to land them quicker, thus improving their survivability upon release!
Your goal should be to land the fish as quickly as possible.
Helpful Tips: Direct the fish out of faster water and into slower, soft water so that you’re only fighting the fish and not the current as well.
This is perhaps the most important angle to work a fish during the fight. The idea is relatively simple in that you want the rod off to the side, almost parallel to the water, and pulling away from the direction the fish is swimming. In other words, if the fish is working upstream when hooked, you would have the rod downstream, semi-parallel to the water, and apply pressure back against the way the fish wants to swim. This is a surefire way to tire the trout out, and while it’s important to not pull too hard or apply overwhelming pressure, it’s critical to tire them out as quickly as possible to ensure a safe release once it hits the net.
There’s a moment in the fight when the rod angle shifts from side pressure to pressure straight up high, and it’s usually a critical part of the battle. When you’re attempting to tire the trout out and get it in closer, side pressure is the way to go, but as the fish gets nearer to you a rod tip straight up high, with pressure from straight above, forces the trout to the top of the water. This is the time you want to attempt a fish landing as the pressure from the top pulls that fish into shallower water and the top of the water column.
One of the most common times to lose a fish during the fight is as the trout or steelhead jumps, shaking its head trying to throw the hook. This moment is typically coupled with a strong run that peels out line, making the whole thing a situation where one wrong move means a busted line or loose fish. When things really get tricky like this, put the rod tip directly at the fish. This pointed pressure still attempts to keep the line tight, but in a way that gives the trout a little bit of leeway should it want to jump and rip out 20 feet of line.
How To Handle A Fish Properly
When you’re catching and releasing your fish, properly handling these wild trout with immense respect is crucial to the health of future trout populations and generations of anglers to come. I strive to keep it under 30 seconds, from the time the fish hits the net till it is released. The less you touch the fish the better.
Once the trout has been successfully brought to the net, the key here is to keep the fish and its gills in the water at all times. Roll up those sleeves and get your hands wet. Dry hands remove the protective slime that coats all trout. Without it, trout are susceptible to infectious diseases and parasites.
Kneel down and remove the hook. Pinching your barbs or using barbless hooks makes it much easier to release fish. If the slippery sucker does decide to flop out of your hands, trust me it’s bound to happen, this way the trout is dropping a very short distance into the water. Or better yet, lower your net deeper in the water and allow the fish to swim away freely without ever having to be held.
If you do have to hold the fish, there is no need for the death grip. Ever. However, a sure and safe way to control the trout is by confidently grabbing the wrist of the tail. Cradle your free hand under the trout’s belly.
Send that trout off by gently facing the fish upstream so that the water is passing through the gills. He’ll let you know when he’s ready.
What Are The Best Fly Fishing Flies For Beginners?
Fly selection is intimidating. There are thousands of different flies for different scenarios and all of them have their place on the river. We will try to simplify them.
We need to first define the different fly types to choose from and then discuss which patterns are best for beginners.
Flies are designed to imitate aquatic insects in different life stages. Most aquatic insects follow this life cycle after hatching from eggs: larva or nymph, emerger, adult. Aquatic insect insects live both above and below the water. We have to select the fly patterns that represent the life stage that is currently hatching in real-time. We do this by what’s called “matching the hatch.” Fly fishermen use nymphs, emergers, wet flies, dry flies, and streamer flies to match whatever insects are hatching as closely as they can.
Here are the most important fly pattern types that will help us accomplish imitating the most important life stages.
Recommended Reading: 19 Best Trout Flies for Beginners
What nymph fly patterns are best for beginner anglers?
Nymphs are fly fishing flies that are both heavily weighted and unweighted fly patterns that represent aquatic insects that live at the bottom of the river under rocks, fallen trees, and sedimentary layers. Whether by accident or intentional, nymphs and larva occasionally get swepted into the current for opportunistic trout to eat. This is a great opportunity to catch fish. Nymphs usually provide an opportunity to catch some of the largest trout in the river.
We fly fish with nymph flies when fish are near the bottom of the river and before there is an active above the surface hatch happening. Fly fishing nymph flies are also a reliable option when fish are not actively rising to insects on the surface such as in the winter or during the morning.
How To Set Up A Nymph Rig For Beginners
Fishing nymphs is one of the most productive ways to catch large trout. Nymph fly patterns are usually fished deep and with weight. They are great tools when targeting fish in deep pockets, off the back of shelves, and along deeper cut banks of the river. Put simply nymphs catch fish.
One of the easiest ways to set up a nymph rig is by starting with a 7.5-foot or 9-foot 3X tapered leader with a strike indicator set at 1.5 times the depth of the water. Add the end of the leader attach 24 inches of 4x fluorocarbon tippet using a Surgeon’s Knot. Finally, select a nymph of your liking and attach it to the end with an Improved Clinch Knot or Davy Knot.
If you’d like to fly fish with two nymph flies you can create what’s called a tandem nymphing rig. In a tandem nymphing rig you can structure your setup in two different ways. The first way is to have the heaviest fly at the very bottom of your rig, known as the lead or anchor fly. The second way is to place a lighter weight nymph at the bottom of your line. Both are incredibly effective and choosing between the two is entirely up to your personal tastes.
For this example we will place the lighter weight nymph at the bottom of our tandem nymphing rig.
For starters, we are going to select a stonefly nymph imitation. Stonefly nymphs are excellent food sources for trout year round and the perfect fly to use for stoneflies is a heavily weighted Pat’s Rubber Leg. I typically use a double weighted Pat’s Rubber Leg or Girdle Bug in sizes #6 or #8 as my first fly (orange and brown is my favorite). This eliminates the need for split shot, little weights you can pinch on to your line to increase your rig’s sink rate.
Next, add 18-24″ of 4X or 5X fluorocarbon tippet to the bend of the hook of the Pat’s Rubber Leg with another Improved Clinch Knot or Davy Knot. At the end of this piece of tippet, you will add your second fly.
Recommended Reading: 8 Fly Fishing Knots You Need to Know
If you need a split shot to get your flies deeper, add your split shot above the knot where you attached your 4X tippet to the leader. Or you can place two separate split shots above your most-bottom fly.
The second fly in your nymphing rig can be weighted or unweighted. Some great choices for this second fly are more natural looking flies like the Bead Head Pheasant Tail and Hares Ear Nymph. You can even select attractor patterns like the Prince Nymph, Psycho Prince Nymph, and even a San Juan worm is an excellent choice.
In my humble opinion, a few flies every beginner fly box should have would include various sizes of the following nymphs:
- Pat’s Rubber Legs
- Beadhead Pheasant Tails
- Hare’s Ears
- San Juan Worms
- Prince Nymphs
I caught my first fish on these patterns, and they work universally no matter where you are trout fishing. As you progress in your fly fishing journey, you will search out and find flies that work well for specific hatches.
What Are Emerger Flies And How To Fish Them
Emerger fly fishing flies are lightweight flies designed to drift effortlessly with the current and hang just below the surface. Emergers are a simple concept, they imitate emerging insect larvae and pupae making their way to the surface to molt into their next life cycle.
Emerger flies are usually fished higher in the water column. We use these patterns to catch fish both right before a hatch occurs and when hatches are actively happening. Hatches are actively happening when you see insects on the water.
They are tied as both dry flies with traditional post or parachutes as well as nymphs. These are some of the most important fly patterns to have in your fly boxes. When you see fish rising but they refuse to eat a traditional dry fly. Use an emerger fly pattern that hangs in the surface film of the water.
The tell tell sign of a trout eating emergers, is when you see fish porpoising at the surface. If all you see is their back and dorsal fin, this means fish are eating insects right below or in the surface film of the water. As bugs swim to the surface of the river to hatch, they have to struggle to break through the tension of the surface film of the water to molt into adults. This is when they are most vulnerable to feeding fish. Patterns such as the Klinkhammer Emerger and RS2 Emerger are excellent flies for the beginner fly fisherman to trick fish that refuse a traditional dry fly.
Emerger Fly Pattern Tactics
One of my favorite tactics when fishing to rising trout is to use unweighted emerger fly patterns as a trailer to a small parachute dry fly. A trailer fly is a type of tandem, two-fly rig where you attach a fly with a section of tippet to the back end of the first fly.
Trailer rigs are perfect for casting to feeding trout even after hooking a few from the same run on a dry fly. Trout will sometimes key into the dry fly and stop eating it. Using a small unweighted emerger pattern like a Split Case B.W.O. or even an unweighted Frenchie Pheasant Tail as a second fly will provoke strikes from weary trout.
Using your dry fly as a strike indicator, your tippet attaches to bend of the dry fly hook with an Improved Clinch Knot or Davy Knot. Use 18-24 inches of tippet to connect your trailing emerger fly. Using this two-fly setup is absolutely deadly when fishing to wary trout that have seen dry flies presented to them over and over.
What Are Wet Flies And How Do You Fish Wet Flies
Wet flies are similar to nymphs as they are all also fished underneath the surface of the water.
Typically, wet flies or ‘soft hackles’ are characterized as flies that are tied with a soft hackle collar. Wet flies are used to imitate emerging insects or dead insects. They can be nymphed or swung in the water current. In my experience guiding western rivers, wet flies are most effective during an insect hatch.
As mayflies and caddis flies hatch, they become adults with fully formed wings. Although as fly fisherman, we mostly see adult mayflies and caddis flies fly away from the water, there is an abundant amount of fully formed adults that never make it out of the river. These adult insects drown, and in the process, they offer trout an easy meal that is hard to refuse.
Wet Fly Fishing Tactics For Beginner Fly Fishermen
Taking advantage of the hatch can change your day from great to amazing. This is an opportunity to target fish that might be full, but are still willing to eat if the right option is presented to them.
My general setup when fly fishing with wet flies is to fish them in a typical dry dropper fashion. Your first fly, could be a grasshopper pattern, stonefly pattern or even a larger parachute pattern. Tie 18″-24″ of fluorocarbon tippet off the bend of the hook of the first fly. As the hatch starts to fade and there are fewer adults on the water to eat, trout will start to move back to the safety of deeper water. Fish will move off of shallow gravel shelves because the risk/food reward has diminished to the point that it’s no longer worth the risk to be eaten by birds of prey. Target the backside of steep drop-offs and the bottom of riffles and long runs for trout.
Recommended Reading: How to Fish Soft Hackles
Dry Fly Fishing: A Beginners Introduction
Dry fly fishing is what most people visualize as fly fishing. A rainbow trout subtly rising to sip a size 18 Parachute Adams on the surface, or an aggressive brown trout annihilating a large foam fly is the epitome of what our sport is.
As insects go throughout their life cycle on the river, they go from the nymph form to the emerger, and eventually to fully formed adults with wings.
Dry flies are made to imitate a large variety of insects such as stoneflies, midges, caddis flies, mayflies, grasshoppers, ants, and beetles. The two main insects that beginner fly fishermen should be aware of are mayflies and caddis flies as they are the most abundant insects that you’ll be able to target consistently during the spring, summer, and fall months.
Mayflies look like little sailboats floating down the river on the surface of the water.
Caddis flies appear to be small moths with tent like wings that will float on the water’s surface or hop up and down to deposit their eggs. They have wings that lay flat. It is obvious when fish are truly eating adult insects on the surface, because you will see their mouth fully open and eat them. Whereas, fish eating emerging insects have a porpoising rise form. Don’t worry about knowing the fly fishing entomology, all you really need to observe is the size and color of the hatching insect to match the hatch and choose the right fly.
Dry fly Basics And Strategy
When selecting flies to fly fish, for your first fly patterns choose flies that work well in a wide range of scenarios. Parachute Adams and Elk Hair Caddis are two must have flies. I like to buy my parachute adams in the color grey. The reason being, is I also carry a variety of sharpie pens with me. This way no matter what is hatching on the river, I am able to use the grey colored Adams, or I can color them to reflect the hatch more accurately. This will save you a bunch of time and money. You can even color them purple or hot pink to make them flashy and more attractive when necessary. The most important part of dry fly fishing is matching the correct size of the insect; therefore make sure you have a bunch of different sizes available.
Recommended Reading: Effective Dry Fly Fishing For Rising Trout
Elk hair caddis is the other pattern that should be in your fly box as well. They imitate adult caddis flies, but they cover a wide range of other insects too. Most importantly small stone flies and even crippled or emerging mayflies. Having various sizes from very large to very small is critical. Also, having elk hair caddis with various colored under bodies is a good option. They can also be colored with a sharpie.
If you are fishing dry flies, and fish refuse the fly that you are presenting. There are several things that you can do: change your tippet size to a smaller diameter and possibly add a longer section to extend your fly leader, change the color of your fly, or change the size of the fly you are using. I usually downsize the size of the fly instead of going larger. If none of those tactics work, physically move to a different location and present the fly from a different angle. In other words, if you’re positioned below a rising fish and casting upstream to it, move up to 45 degrees or even 90-degrees of the fish. Often times changing the angle and the presentation of the fly will provoke an eat simply because your presentation is better.
Fly Fishing Streamer Patterns
Streamers are flies that imitate bait fish. They are usually fished on a larger fly rod reel combo, fly rods in the 6 to 10 weight ranges are great for streamer fishing. Most saltwater flies are streamer patterns. Streamers are often difficult for beginner anglers to fish, because they require a longer cast and most often stripped back to the angler. That being said, there are effective ways for streamers to be fly fished that beginner anglers can utilize to catch fish. Streamer patterns that should be considered are wooly buggers, Sex Dungeon articulated streamers, and rabbit fur double bunny patterns.
Streamer Fishing Tactics for beginners
While streamers are typically fished by making long cast and stripping the fly back in, they can also be nymphed and swung in the current. Nymphing streamers under an indicator is very effective below dams on tailwater where water is released on a consistent basis. Baitfish often get sucked into the intake of dams and are pushed through the turbulent water. The result is dead and dying baitfish that are drifting in the current. This is an incredible opportunity for a fish to get enough calories in a single meal. This scenario often gives anglers the opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime. For this reason, water below dams often hold the biggest fish. Bring a landing net.
Streamers can also be swung in the current. This doesn’t require a great cast. All that really matters is that there is enough fly line to swing the fly downstream of the angler. The angler then uses the tip of the fly rod to manipulate the streamer over shelfs, around rock piles, and in front of structure like log jams. Fish will react and with aggressive strikes often hooking themselves.
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