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Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started


Fly-fishing has long been thought by many as a technique predominantly appropriate for trout anglers. It’s certainly an effective way to present a lure to trout, particularly on streams, rivers and pothole lakes. Further, many trout species, including rainbows, browns, cutthroats and brookies, rely heavily on insects as a food source, and artificial flies replicate better than any other lure the various life stages of the most common food insects naturally available to trout. But if you believe that fly-fishing isn’t an effective way to catch a wide variety of species’, you’re missing out on adding a new level of challenge and excitement to your fishing.

Fly-Fishing Beyond Trout

Fly-Fishing Beyond Trout

It’s actually a misnomer these days, I’d suggest. Fly-angling can no longer be defined as the art of casting flies and other insects, it more appropriately describes a means for presenting any lure to a fish. It’s all about the line you use, not what’s tied on to the end of it. With conventional tackle you cast the lure, and the weight of that lure in motion pulls line off the reel. With fly-angling, it's just the opposite. Every fly line is weighted, and it’s the weight of the line that "loads" the rod during the casting process, and it’s the line that you cast; whatever is tied to the end of the line just goes along for the ride. Another often misunderstood aspect of fly-angling is that your lure, or "fly", is supposed to float on the water’s surface. While sometimes that’s the case, there are an equal number of fly lines on the market designed specifically to take your fly subsurface, anywhere from just below the surface film to dozens of feet down in the water column.

As long as we’re dispelling myth, let’s talk specifically about flies for a moment. It’s true that, traditionally, fly-casting focussed on presenting insect imitations to fish, hence the term "fly-fishing". That’s simply no longer the case and, while anglers continue to use insect imitations, today they’re just as likely to use fly gear to present imitations of minnows, leeches, mice and more, just as you would with conventional tackle.

Presentation Flies

Presentation Flies

Over the years I’ve caught many different species on fly tackle, from coho salmon and blue sharks, to pike, bass, walleye, lake trout and even catfish. With few exceptions there are no fish or fishing situations in western Canada where you can’t be successful with fly tackle. In fact, there are times when fly tackle is more effective than conventional tackle. I know, enough already, I’ve convinced you. What you really want to know is how to get started. Fly-fishing rods, reels, lines and all the accoutrements make for a bedazzling and confusing display in the tackle shop. So let’s break it down to the simple component parts you need to get started.

Basic fly-fishing rig

Basic fly-fishing rig

A basic fly-fishing rig consists of rod, reel and line. All three are designated by weight, and it’s important to ensure they’re matched with one another. It’s the the line, specifically its first 30 feet, that determines the weight, with the higher the number the heavier the line. Typical for use in western Canada are 4-weight to 8-weight rigs, though they’re available from 1-weight up to 14-weight and beyond. Heavier lines and rods are better suited to larger flies. They also cast further, cast better in the wind, and are typically used for larger fish. Generally speaking, 4- to 6-weight rods are ideal for trout and other small fish on streams and ponds; 6- to 8-weight gear is appropriate for larger fish and larger waterbodies. If you’re considering pike, walleye, bass or similar, I’d suggest starting with a 7-weight rig.



Fly rods come in various lengths, though 7 ½ - to 10-foot rods are most common. In 7-weight, a 9-foot rod is ideal for all-round use. If you plan to fish regularly from a float tube, you might consider a longer rod. Fly rods are also described by the amount they flex, defined as the rod’s "action". Slow-action rods flex a lot, while fast-action rods are quite stiff. A medium or medium-fast action is the perfect selection for your 7-weight starter rig. As to selecting a rod from the shelves? It’s easy to spend $700 or more on a fly rod, but it’s not necessary given the quality of today’s materials and manufacturing. You can pick up an excellent rod for $150 or less.

Picking lines for the right presentation


Picking lines for the right presentation



Fly lines can be unavoidably complex in their design and description, but selecting one doesn’t have to be. Some fly lines float, some sink (at different rates) and some float but also have a tip section that sinks. Floating lines (F) are the easiest for the beginner as they require less effort to pick up off the water when it’s time to cast. Further, the leader you tie to the end of your fly line will allow you to get your fly underwater if you want, though the depth you can reach will be limited. Floating/sinking (F/S) lines have a front section that sinks, so getting your fly deep is much simpler. The trade-off is you’ll have to strip in more line before you can cast again. With sinking lines (S), the entire fly line sinks; applications for these lines are generally limited to deep lakes. Ideally you’ll have both a F and a F/S line, but that means two reels, more cost, etc. So start with a floating line; as you gain experience you may want to add a F/S. Fly lines are tapered, with various taper profiles impacting the ease with which the line moves through the air. Save yourself studying line tapers for another day and just select a weight-forward (WF) line. Expect to pay between $40 and $60 for your 7-weight WF F fly line; well-cared for it will last several years.




Some say that fly reels are little more than a convenient place to keep your fly line, suggesting that even the cheapest is sufficient. I don’t agree, especially when fishing relatively large fish like pike and walleye that can peel out considerable line during a tussle. Better reels generally have superior drag systems, and that can have a significant impact on your ability to control and land fish. Look for a reel that features a disk-drag and for which spare spools are available in case you decide to purchase a F/S or S line one day. Expect to pay $60 - $80 for a decent reel although, as with rods, the sky’s the limit.




Your fly is not tied directly to the fly line, but to a leader. When fishing dry flies you’ll want a tapered leader, thicker at the butt end than at the tip, as that taper helps your leader and fly turn over and land on the water in a nice straight line. When fishing flies designed to sink under the water and then be stripped back in retrieve, as opposed to being allowed to drift on the surface, tapered leaders aren’t necessary, and straight lengths of monofilament will suffice.


Tapered leaders are described by an "x" code - the thicker and stronger the line, the smaller the x number (it’s counterintuitive). To cast small flies effectively, your tippet (the end section of the leader) must be rather thin, say 5x. Use a heavier tippet, meaning a smaller x size, for casting large streamer flies, such as a 1x or 2x. If you’re fishing straight monofilament leaders, rely on the appropriate "pound test" much as you would fishing with conventional tackle. When fishing dry flies and tapered leaders, pre-packaged 9-foot leaders are pretty standard. If you’re fishing a F/S line with streamers, I prefer a leader as short as two feet in rivers, moving up to 3 ½ or 4 feet in lakes.

With time you’ll decide which flies are your favourites

With time you’ll decide which flies are your favourites



When fishing for bass, walleye, pike or similar, you’ll generally use a fly that imitates a leech or a minnow. These are commonly referred to as streamer flies, and are designed to be retrieved through a repeated stripping motion. Getting started, your best bet will be to ask the Fishin’ Hole staff for their fly recommendations based upon the species and water you’ll be fishing. The options are near endless but, as with conventional tackle, with time you’ll decide for yourself which are your favourites.


Previous Fishing Articles

(1) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List

(2) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator

(3) What to expect when fishing the West Coast

(4) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing

(5) There’s No Place Like Home

(6) A Golden Opportunity

(7) The Observational Trout Fisherman

(8) Un-matching the Hatch

(9) Alberta Super Bugs

(10) Glass is Back

(11) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca

(12) Speed Kills

(13) Entering the Twilight Zone

(14) Old Man River

(15) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(16) Small stream BT fishing

(17) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(18) In The Walleye Zone

(19) Zoo Trout

(20) Fly Selection for Beginners

(21) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(22) New Waters

(23) Big Bad Burbot

(24) Looking Back

(25) Out of Africa

(26) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(27) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(28) The Browns of Autumn

(29) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(30) Walleye Town

(31) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(32) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(33) Going With The Flow

(34) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(35) Swinging The Fences

(36) A View From The Aerie

(37) Dixieland Delight

(38) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(39) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(40) Montana's Cool Missouri

(41) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(42) Toothy Critters

(43) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(44) Top Ten Flies

(45) Northern Exposure

(46) Home Water Lessons

(47) Chicken Of The Sea

(48) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(49) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(50) Keep It Up!

(51) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(52) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(53) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(54) Hawg Holes

(55) Saltwater Salmon

(56) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(57) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(58) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead



(61) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(62) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(63) Fall Walleye

(64) Wet Flies

(65) Versatility the Key to Success

(66) Grayling of the Boreal

(67) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(68) Size Matters

(69) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(70) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(71) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(72) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(73) The Point Of It All

(74) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(75) Fall Fly Fishing

(76) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(77) Big River, Big Fish

(78) Bottom Bonanza

(79) Fishing Small Flies

(80) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(81) Four Seasons of the Bow

(82) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot


(84) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(85) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(86) Edge Walleye


(88) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(89) Four Corners – Four Waters

(90) Chasing Pothole Trout

(91) Springtime Stoneflies

(92) The Torrents of Spring

(93) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(94) Bust Them With Bait

(95) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(96) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(97) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(98) Terrestrials

(99) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(100) Rocky Mountain High

(101) Reading the clues

(102) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(103) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(104) Fly Fishing 101

(105) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(106) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(107) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(108) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(109) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(110) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(111) Trust Your Electronics

(112) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(113) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(114) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(115) Walleye can be Humbling

(116) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(117) Winter Flyfishing

(118) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(119) Hot Fall Pike Action

(120) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(121) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(122) Frequently Asked Questions

(123) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(124) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(125) Deep Water Perch

(126) Post Spawn Brookies

(127) A Fisher's Life

(128) The River's Last Stand

(129) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(130) Coho on the Coast

(131) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(132) Summer in the Mountains

(133) Peak Walleye Season

(134) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(135) Last Ice Rainbows

(136) The Burbot Event

(137) Tackle Matching

(138) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(139) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(140) The Lure of Brook Trout

(141) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(142) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(143) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(144) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(145) The Vesatile Plug

(146) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(147) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(148) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(149) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(150) Daily Fish Migrations

(151) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(152) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(153) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(154) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(155) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(156) The Fun in Ultra Light

(157) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(158) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(159) Never Stop Learning

(160) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(161) Jigging through the Ice

(162) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(163) Rainbows on Ice

(164) The Season of Ice Begins

(165) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(166) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(167) Facts On Cats

(168) West Coast Adventure

(169) June Walleye Frenzy

(170) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(171) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(172) "Northern Exposure"

(173) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(174) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(175) Man Overboard