How to Get Started Fly Fishing if You’ve Never Done it Before

If you have gone fishing before you know that it is a wonderful pass time that can be extremely fun and relaxing. Fly fishing is another technique used for fishing that can be a little tricky (but fun!) to learn at first.

While you might want to jump right into all the details of fly fishing, the best way to get started is by learning the basics. Starting slow and working in each little bit of the process, will eventually help you to be a fly fishing pro!

Fly fishing (and other styles of fishing) offers a unique way to experience nature. Fly fishing gives a unique view of the river that many other styles of fishing does not offer. Below we will discuss the basics of fly fishing, some fly fishing lingo, and how you, a beginner, can get the most out of each and every one of your fishing trips.

Basics of Fly Fishing

When learning to fly fish start off with the basic gear and do not worry too much about all the “fancy” or specialized pieces of equipment.

Start off with a fly rod, fly reel, fly line, leader, and some flies! That all you need to get started, nothing more!

Once you have the basic skills down you can start worrying about using all the more specialized gear in your fishing trips.

You do not need any fancy or specialized gear to get started.

The best place to learn how to fish is on slower moving water such as a lake or slow stream. These areas present fewer challenges and obstacles than a river or other fast-paced water might.

The first skill you need to know in order to fly fish is, how to properly cast.

A good way to imagine your back cast is as if you are picking up your telephone to answer a call.

Start by pulling out the length of the line you want to cast out and holding the line in your non-dominant hand.

Bring your cast to your ear, pause for a moment, allow the entire back cast to complete, and then quickly bring your rod forward.

The forward cast begins right before the leader begins to straighten out in the back cast. The forward cast should have a sort of flick to it as if you are setting your telephone down quickly again.

As your forward cast ends, you can let go of the line in your non-dominant hand. Keep a few fingers on the line loosely to ensure that as the line is leaving your hand, the line does so smoothly and no knots are formed.

The entire motion of the cast should be fluid and should allow the tip of your fly rod to move straight back and straight forward.

Start casting on dry ground with a “dummy fly.” This may seem like a childish way to learn, but casting without the influence of the water on the line is the best way to feel exactly how the rod, line, and fly each react with your cast.

Remember that the perfect cast relies mostly on your wrist and the entirety of the rod. Your whole arm should not have to move too much while casting.

The perfect cast comes from the wrist and the rod, NOT your entire arm.

Once you feel that you have the hang of this casting technique you can move on to try casting with a real fly on the water!

After learning to do the overhead cast, the next step in the basics of fly fishing is to learn how to strike the fish and set the hook.

This takes a little bit more focus and in some situations can be quite difficult.

Being able to tell the difference between a fish striking your fly and a snag can be a little difficult. The best advice for fisherman just learning is to simply strike often!

Do not be afraid to strike often.

Some times you will snag your line on a rock or a submerged log; however, you will never know whether that little tug on your line is a twig or that monster fish you have been chasing if you are too cautious in your strikes.

There are plenty of other skills you can use while fly fishing; however, mastering these two skills are all that is really needed to know the basic of fly fishing (see fly fishing is NOT as complicated as many believe it to be!)

Fly Fishing Tips to Have You Beginning Like a Pro

Once you have the basics down, knowing a few tips to take with you out on the water that will help you get the most out of each and every one of your fishing trips can be the most beneficial thing.

#1 Don’t Slack Off

When casting upstream to achieve the perfect dead drift, you will want to gather the line at the same pace that the current is moving the fly down the water.

Gathering your line too fast will cause the fly to float unnaturally and will scare the fish away.

However, not gathering your line fast enough will create slack on the line, making it so you can no longer control the drift of your fly and can no longer strike properly.

#2 Be Strategic

When you are out on the water, there is only so much time you have to spend fishing.

Use your time wisely and make strategic decisions.

Watch where the fish are traveling too, observe which flies are more commonly being taken, and most importantly, watch for what is not working.

Do not waste your time casting into an area that you know there are no fish in.

#3 Don’t Be Afraid to Mend

Often times people will be too afraid of messing up the mending process that they never attempt to try to mend.

Mending is a great way to combat the drag that can occur during a quartering upstream cast or an across stream cast.

Mending is done by lifting the “belly” of the line off the water and flicking the line and rod (without moving the fly) to eliminate the drag on the fly.

In fast water, you will mend upstream to combat the quicker currents and in slower water, you will need to mend downstream in order to achieve your drag free drift.

While mending without moving the fly can be quite tricky, learning how to do so will be an essential skill on your fly fishing excursions.

Never be so worried that you may make a mistake that you don’t try a new skill! It’s the practice that makes perfect.

#4 Experiment!

Each species of fish will react to how you are casting differently.

While it may seem like a certain fly is not working, try casting in some new directions or using a new technique BEFORE you switch your fly.

The presentation you use to get your fly to the fish is the key to tricking a fish to take a bite on your line.

Do not waste time switching between flies constantly if you have yet to try a new presentation!

#5 Use Different Casts

Besides the simple overhead cast, you should take advantage of the many different kinds of casts out there to help you reach the fish in the correct way.

Some other casts you can try while fishing are the slackline cast, reach cast, “s” cast, parachute cast (pile cast), roll cast, or even a side cast.

Each of the different casts will change how your line and fly will travel through the water.

#6 Stay Downstream

The best way to keep the advantage over the fish on your line is to stay downstream of it.

If the fish gets downstream of you the hook may simply just fall out or the fish may pull hard enough to snap your line.

Once a fish is on the line, do everything you can to stay downstream of it (even if that means running to some dry ground- it is easier to move there).

#7 Steer the Fish Right to You

Once you have a fish on the hook, it can be a quite the adrenaline rush trying to reel the fish in. Do your best not to get lost in the excitement and focus on getting the fish to you.

Once hooked the fish will always attempt to swim away from you and the direction the line is pulling it in. Remember, a fish has to swim in the direction it is facing.

Take advantage of the fish’s direction by turning it to face you so the fish’s only option is to swim right to you.

Achieving this may take some practice and a few snapped lines, but once you have this skill down there will be no fish that you can not catch!

#8 Always Be Safe While in the Water

While fly fishing gives you the opportunity to see new parts of the river that other styles of fishing do not, fly fishing also puts you at the mercy of the water.

Never step where you can not see the bottom of the river or when you do not have a firm stance on at least one of your feet.

If you are wading across a wide piece of water, travel at an angle upstream. This way you can still cross without getting pushed too far downstream.

If needed always bring a wading stick for added balance in the water.

Safety should always be of utmost concern while fishing. Be aware of yourself and of ALL members of your fishing group in case there is an emergency.

Fly Fishing Gear for the Beginner

As a beginner, you do not need to purchase the most advanced and expensive rod and reel on the market.

Many outdoor stores will allow you to demo a few fishing rods. When searching for the perfect fly rod you should try out as many rods as possible before settling on “the one.”

So take advantage of this opportunity at your local outfitters until you find the rod that works best for you.

A few good rod and reel combos to check out are:

  • Fenwick Nighthawk Fly Combo
  • Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Combo
  • Wild Waters Freshwater Fly Fishing Combo
  • Scientific Anglers Ampere Fly Combo
  • Orvis Encounter Fly Fishing Combo

These rod combo sets come set with a full reel of backing, line, leader, and tippet. Some even come along with a box of assorted flies. Making this the perfect way for a beginner to get gear without all the tricky matching line to rod and reel!

Fenwick Nighthawk Fly Combo

The Fenwick comes with a fly rod, fly reel, fly line, a leader, and a carrying case.

Not only does the Fenwick Combo come with all this excellent gear, but it also comes with a 5-year warranty. Giving this combo set a great bang for its buck!

You can get this set in a variety of sizes (will depend on the type of fish you want to catch which size you should buy). However, if you are just starting out the size that may work best for your needs is either a rod of 7 to 8 feet.

When you are first learning you should not go any larger than 8 feet with your rod. It is easier to learn how to control your casts on a smaller rod.

The Fenwick Nighthawk Fly Combo can be found for only $121.22.

Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Combo

The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod is especially known as the fisherman’s versatile rod. This fly fishing rod can come in handy in almost all situations while out on the water.

The rod and reel are made to give the rod a classy look with a lightweight and excellent performance.

The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Combo comes with a 25-year warranty, showing you that Orvis puts a lot of hard work and care into designing and manufacturing their products.

This 9 foot 5 weight rod is a little longer than a beginner fly fisherman may want to start on. However, once you have some practice, this rod and reel set would make a great addition to your fly fishing gear.

The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Combo outfit comes at a higher price of $289.95.

Wild Waters Freshwater Fly Fishing Combo

If you are looking for the complete set up with both quantity and quality, the Wild Waters Freshwater Fly Fishing Combo offers just that.

The rod and reel are designed to not only look amazing but to operate effectively as well.

This set comes with everything a fisherman would want with them on their trip: a fly fishing rod, a floating fly box (capable of storing over 300 flies!), a carry case with a protective sleeve for your rod, snippets, leaders, a fly reel (fully loaded with backing and fly line), and a lifetime warranty.

This fully loaded fishing combo comes in at only $127.00; which, is a phenomenal price for both the quality and quantity of the Wild Waters Freshwater Fly Fishing Combo package.

Scientific Anglers Ampere Fly Combo

No matter where you find yourself fishing, whether it be fresh or salt water, the Scientific Anglers Ampere Fly Combo has the versatility to help you catch fish!

This combo comes with the fly fishing rod, a carrying bag, and a fly fishing reel fully stocked with backing and fly line.

Not only does this set come with some quality line, rods, and reels, but most of the pieces are made and assembled in the USA, making this the all-American fly fishing rod.

While this rod comes with less gear than some of the before mentioned sets, the Scientific Anglers Ampere Fly Combo costs $149.95 and offers a high-quality fly fishing performance each and every time.

Orvis Encounter Fly Fishing Combo

The Orvis Encounter Fly Fishing Combo is everything a beginner fly fisherman would need in a rod to get started.

This fly fishing rod also comes with a carrying case and fly fishing reel.

The reel is pre-loaded with both quality backing and forward weight fishing line. The fishing kit also comes with a professionally designed leader!

The Orvis Encounter is made to be durable against even the strongest of fish and to withstand the wear and tear that comes along with plenty of fishing use.

This Orvis Encounter Fly Fishing Combo is one of the more expensive fly fishing combo kits being listed as $169.00; however, altogether this kit is cheaper than purchasing each piece individually and offers a quality fishing experience each and every time you use it.

Beginner Fly Fishing Lingo

If you have spent time around fly fisherman, you may have heard them use some terms that you have never heard before or that simply just do not make much sense to you.

In order to help you get started on your fly fishing journey, here is a series of terms and lingo that you are likely to hear while learning to fly fishing.


  • Across Stream: When you cast perpendicular to the current. This can cause your fly to have more drag.
  • Arbor: The center of the reel where the backing and line is wound


  • Back Cast: When your line and rod are both completely behind you
  • Backing: A smaller but stronger than typical fishing line. The backing is tied to the arbor and then the line is attached to the backing. This gives the fisherman a little extra line for when a strong fish takes off quickly.


  • Casting Arc: The entire path of the rod during a full cast.
  • Catch and Release: A conservation technique that allows fisherman to still enjoy catching a fish but releasing the fish safely back into the water afterward. The fish should not be tired out from the fight and you should release the fish as quickly as possible.
  • Casting Upstream: When you cast straight above you into the current. You gather line as the fly floats closer to you, but the fly line over the fish may spook them.


  • Dead Drift: The “perfect” drift. During a dead drift, the fly is floating downstream at the same speed as the current.
  • Downstream Cast: When you cast into the flow of the current. This causes the fly to float unnaturally and therefore is not used that often.
  • Drag: When the fly drags, it is floating in an unnatural way compared to how a real bug would float. This drag can be caused by the pull on the line and leader. Typically this is not good for fishing, however, drag is used for imitating a caddis fly on the water.
  • Dry Fly: Flies that are meant to stay upon the surface of the water while fishing.
  • Dry Fly Floatant: Fly fisherman coat their dry flies in dry fly floatant in order to help them remain waterproof and to help them stay higher up on the water while fishing.


  • Floatant: Similar to the chemical mix used on dry flies, floatant can also be applied to your leader or line to increase their buoyancy
  • Fluorocarbon: A material used to make tippets or leaders, underwater fluorocarbon is often invisible. Lines made of this material sink faster than others.
  • Fly: A hand-tied artificial lure designed specifically to imitate the insects or baitfish that the larger fish are likely to eat. These artificial flies can be store bought or made yourself using many natural and synthetic materials.
  • Fly Line: Fishing line that is made specifically for fly fishing. This line is meant to help deliver the small fly further across the water.
  • Fly Rod: Designed specifically for fly fishing. These rods are different from other styles of rods because the reel is at the bottom of the rod, with more line guides than others. Fly rods are also different due to their longer more flexible design.
  • Foul Hook: Occurs when a fish is accidentally hooked or snagged in any place other than the mouth.


  • Haul: When you use your non-casting hand to pull the fly line allowing the line to increase in speed and travel a further distance while casting.


  • Leader: A mono-filament line that connects the fly to the fly line. The leader’s purpose is to deliver the fly in soft motion to the water apart from the fly line.
  • Line Weight: This is a measurement used to match your fly line to your fly rod. To determine the line weight of the rod or reel, you use the weight of the first 30 feet of the fly line. For example, the first 30 feet of a #6 weight line weights 160 grains, you will want to take those numbers to match it with your fly rods line weight.


  • Mending Line: Once the line is already on the water’s surface, you flip the line in order to allow the fly to float without any drag. Mending should not be used too often in a cast so as not to spook the fish. Proper mending will put a horseshoe shape into the line as it drifts. This can be done in a cast or on the water.
  • Monofilament: A nylon line filament that is clear and smooth.


  • Quartering Upstream: A compromise between casting across stream and upstream. Gives your fly a natural drift and helps to keep the line from floating above the fish.
  • Quartering Downstream: A compromise between casting across stream and downstream. Used to cover the most amount of water with a single cast. (Best for Salmon and Steelhead).


  • Roll Cast: The most commonly used cast in fly fishing. A cast used to deliver any fly either 15-30 feet.


  • Setting the Hook: After a fish has taken your fly, you pull quickly on the line putting the hook into the fish’s mouth.
  • Strike: This can refer to two different actions in fly fishing. Striking can either mean when a fish attempts to eat the fly or when the motion a fisherman uses to set the hook.
  • Stripping Line: The act of retrieving the line by pulling it in back with your fingers rather than reeling the line back in with the reel.


  • Tippet: The end of the leader, this is the direct spot the fly is tied onto the leader.
  • Turn Over: Describes how the line and leader straighten when you finish your cast


  • Wet Fly: Any fly that is meant for going under the surface of the water.

The best way to learn and improve is to go out there and give it a try! Good luck in your fly fishing adventures!!!

Tim Butala

My name is Tim and I have been a fisherman my whole life. My favorite fish to go after is a Striped Bass.

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