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Fly Fishing 101


When talking with customers I quite often hear that they would like to try fly fishing but their reason for not doing so is that it looks too hard, or it’s too expensive, or it’s too complicated. None of these needs to be a deterring factor today; there is no better time to get started in fly fishing than now. While it is true that getting outfitted for fly fishing used to be expensive and starter outfits were of questionable quality, this is no longer the case.

Today’s beginner has access to high quality equipment at very reasonable prices with quality outfits including graphite rods, lifetime warranties, disc drag reels and matching fly lines with leaders attached in the $200.00 price range. Quality instruction is available via shops, books, DVD’s and the internet. Almost anybody can learn to fly cast in a half day with proper instruction. Contrary to popular belief fly casting is not about strength but rather timing, letting the rod do the work. For this reason ladies always seem to be faster learners than men. Once a person learns the basic fly cast then the fun really begins. Fly fishing is a lifelong learning experience; every time an angler goes out they learn something new.

Novice fly fishers practice their newly learned skills at a fly school.

Fishing Tackle

The novice fly fisher would be well advised to take a course that provides equipment before making their purchase. The knowledge they gain in the course will help them make an educated decision on which rod length and weight will best suit their fishing situation. For instance, an angler that will be mainly fishing lakes for large fish will want different equipment than someone who will be fishing streams for smaller sized fish. If this is not possible make sure you do as much research as possible before making a purchase. The same goes for reels, lines and leaders.

Fly rods are designed to cast a certain weight of fly line. The higher the number of the rod, the heavier line it is designed to cast. The heavier rod/line weight has the advantage of being able to cast larger flies, cast in windy situations, and land larger fish quicker. The disadvantages are that they make more of a disturbance when they land on the water. Also being heavier they will tire the caster out quicker, and smaller fish will not put up as good of a fight on the heavier, stiffer rod. For most trout fishing situations either a 5 or six weight rod is normally the best choice. Most rods in these weights run between 8 to 10 feet long. A lot beginners seem a bit overwhelmed by this length of rod but in fly casting the rod is a lever, the longer the lever the easier it is to propel the line, leader and fly through the air. A longer rod also helps keep the fly line off the water, for this reason anglers fishing from a boat or float tube prefer to use a longer rod.

Fly Fishing Lines

There are so many choices in fly lines available these days that it’s become confusing to even seasoned fly fishers which to choose. Specialty lines exist for every imaginable situation, fish species, water temperature and weather condition. This can all be very confusing to novice but needn’t be. The beginner should start out with a decent quality floating line, other lines that sink or have a tip that sinks can be added as an angler gets more experience and encounters situations that call for them. With a floating line the angler can fish dry flies on the surface or get their flies to sink a little or a lot by adding split shot to the leader or by fishing weighted flies. A good quality line makes casting much easier, and is probably the second most important thing a novice angler should spend his money on, after a good quality rod.

Fly Fishing Reels

The major difference between fly reels and spinning reels is that fly reels for the most part are what is known as single action. That is, if the angler is turning the handle the line is being retrieved, there is no drag that allows the line to go out when the handle is being turned. The drag found on fly reels only controls how fast and under how much pressure the lines gets pulled off the reel when the handle is released. This pressure prevents the reel from back lashing when a fish runs and then stops, it also helps tire the fish as he is pulling against the drag. Because of this the angler has to be paying attention to what the fish is doing, letting him run when he wants and reeling in line when the opportunity allows. Modern day fly reels can be easily switched from right hand retrieve to left hand retrieve, so the angler can reel with which ever hand is most comfortable. Most also have spare spools available so that when an angler gets another fly line, say a sinking line, they don’t have to purchase a whole new reel, just a spool, which is usually about half the cost of a new reel.

Leaders and Tippets

Leaders are simply a tapered piece of monofilament that makes an invisible connection between the fly line and the fly. The leader will have a heavy butt end that attaches to the fly line and then tapers down over its length to where it is tied to the fly. Leader lengths range from 7 feet to 15 feet or longer, clearer water and spookier fish dictate how far from the end of your fly line your fly is landing. For most stream situations a 9 foot leader is used whereas lake fishermen prefer longer leaders in the 12 – 20 foot range. Tippet is quite simply a level piece of monofilament that is added to the fly end of the leader. It must be the same diameter or smaller than the tip of the leader. The tippet serves two purposes; it allows you to lengthen the leader and also replaces the leader material you lose when you change flies so that you are not using up your leader as quickly.


One of the hardest things for a new fly fisher to learn with the large number of fly patterns available is what insect they represent, when to use, and how to fish them. Fortunately there is a great deal of information out there on flies. Books have hatch charts that provide details on when insects hatch and what fly patterns are appropriate. Speciality stores have fishing reports that advise the angler not only where fishing has been good but also what patterns have been working. One of the best ways to build up your fly collection is to purchase flies that are working for you as the season progresses, making notes if necessary. Try to avoid using the last of a fly pattern if it has been successful as it can be tough to remember exactly what it looked like the next time you shopping or flies.

Ladies are quicker learners as they tend to listen better and let the rod do the work.

Other Stuff

Once the new fly fisher has acquired the basics they will find an almost limitless supply of accessories available. Some are essential while others are not necessary but are but are useful none the less. The essentials would include fly floatant, fly boxes, forceps, clippers and polarized sunglasses. Other items can be added as time goes on, waders, vest, tippet holders, threaders and on and on. Once you have acquired the fly fishing bug, your friends and relatives should have no problem with birthday gift ideas for years to come.


Fly fishing used to be for trout alone, thus deterring many anglers from taking up the sport. Now days fly angler’s fish for every species imaginable, fresh water or saltwater, big fish or small, almost all available species can be taken on the fly rod, usually with just minor changes to tackle. Pike, walleye, whitefish, catfish, gar and many other species are not only being caught on flies but are having magazine articles written on them to help other anglers do the same. Many fly fishers are making a winter get away to Belize or Cuba to fly fish for bonefish, permit and tarpon. In British Columbia fly fishing for Coho salmon has become very popular.

Arctic Grayling are a perfect fish for the novice angler to hone their skills on.

In northern areas Arctic Grayling are a great fish to target with the fly rod. They rise readily to the fly and a very forgiving of mistakes making tem a great fish for the novice fly angler to hone their skills. So no more excuses, this year give fly fishing a try, take a course, bug a friend to show you how, join a club that has fly fishers in the membership, just get out there and do it. You’ll be glad you did.

All sorts of fish, fresh water or salt, can be taken with a fly rod.

Previous Fishing Articles
(1) In the Good Old Summertime
(2) A Southern Escape
(3) Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone
(4) Sunny Day Rainbows
(5) New "Fishing" Year Resolutions
(6) Five Fine Places to Find Trout
(7) Catfishing Revisited
(8) Discover Squamish, an Outdoor Playground
(9) Falling for Cutthroat
(10) New Water and Old Friends
(11) My McLeod
(12) Temperature and Trout
(13) On the Road Again
(14) Tips That Will Make You a More Successful Fly-Fisherman
(15) 5 Ways to Catch Your Trout
(16) The Difference Maker - Reading Trout Stream Waters
(17) Rollin’ on the River
(18) Windy Day Pike
(19) Cures for Cabin Fever
(20) Snowbirding with a Fishing Rod
(21) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(22) A day on our foothill streams
(23) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(24) Fly Leaders
(25) In the Zone
(26) Learners Permit
(27) Flies of Summer
(28) Selecting the Right Boat
(29) The Italian Job
(30) Making a difference
(31) Pass the Salt
(32) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(33) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(34) Fall brings the big walleye out
(35) Hoppertunity Time
(36) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(37) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(38) Early Season Fly Fishing
(39) Walleye Logic
(40) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(41) Grammy’s Fish
(42) Top 10 Trout Lures
(43) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(44) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(45) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(46) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(47) There’s No Place Like Home
(48) A Golden Opportunity
(49) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(50) Un-matching the Hatch
(51) Alberta Super Bugs
(52) Glass is Back
(53) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(54) Speed Kills
(55) Entering the Twilight Zone
(56) Old Man River
(57) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(58) Small stream BT fishing
(59) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(60) In The Walleye Zone
(61) Zoo Trout
(62) Fly Selection for Beginners
(63) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(64) New Waters
(65) Big Bad Burbot
(66) Looking Back
(67) Out of Africa
(68) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(69) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(70) The Browns of Autumn
(71) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(72) Walleye Town
(73) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(74) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(75) Going With The Flow
(76) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(77) Swinging The Fences
(78) A View From The Aerie
(79) Dixieland Delight
(80) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(81) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
(82) Montana's Cool Missouri
(83) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(84) Toothy Critters
(85) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(86) Top Ten Flies
(87) Northern Exposure
(88) Home Water Lessons
(89) Chicken Of The Sea
(90) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(91) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(92) Keep It Up!
(93) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(94) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(95) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(96) Hawg Holes
(97) Saltwater Salmon
(98) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(99) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(100) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(103) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(104) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(105) Fall Walleye
(106) Wet Flies
(107) Versatility the Key to Success
(108) Grayling of the Boreal
(109) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(110) Size Matters
(111) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(112) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(113) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(114) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(115) The Point Of It All
(116) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(117) Fall Fly Fishing
(118) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(119) Big River, Big Fish
(120) Bottom Bonanza
(121) Fishing Small Flies
(122) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(123) Four Seasons of the Bow
(124) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(126) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(127) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(128) Edge Walleye
(130) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(131) Four Corners – Four Waters
(132) Chasing Pothole Trout
(133) Springtime Stoneflies
(134) The Torrents of Spring
(135) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(136) Bust Them With Bait
(137) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(138) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(139) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(140) Terrestrials
(141) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(142) Rocky Mountain High
(143) Reading the clues
(144) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(145) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(146) Fly Fishing 101
(147) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(148) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(149) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(150) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(151) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(152) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(153) Trust Your Electronics
(154) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(155) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(156) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(157) Walleye can be Humbling
(158) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(159) Winter Flyfishing
(160) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(161) Hot Fall Pike Action
(162) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(163) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(164) Frequently Asked Questions
(165) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(166) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(167) Deep Water Perch
(168) Post Spawn Brookies
(169) A Fisher's Life
(170) The River's Last Stand
(171) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(172) Coho on the Coast
(173) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(174) Summer in the Mountains
(175) Peak Walleye Season
(176) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(177) Last Ice Rainbows
(178) The Burbot Event
(179) Tackle Matching
(180) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(181) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
(182) The Lure of Brook Trout
(183) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(184) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(185) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(186) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(187) The Vesatile Plug
(188) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
(189) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures
(190) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(191) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
(192) Daily Fish Migrations
(193) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(194) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(195) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(196) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(197) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(198) The Fun in Ultra Light
(199) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(200) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(201) Never Stop Learning
(202) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(203) Jigging through the Ice
(204) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(205) Rainbows on Ice
(206) The Season of Ice Begins
(207) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(208) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(209) Facts On Cats
(210) West Coast Adventure
(211) June Walleye Frenzy
(212) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(213) First Fish of the Year Pothole Rainbows and Browns
(214) Northern Exposure
(215) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish
(216) Early Season Pike On The Fly
(217) Man Overboard
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