What Is Fly Fishing and 26 Questions About Fly Fishing Answered By A Pro Guide – Part 1
River guides have been asked just about every question there is about fly fishing and these are the answers to 27 questions that beginner fly anglers often ask their guides or other anglers.
1. What Is Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing is a method of fishing where the weight of a specially made plastic line is cast and it carries an artificial bait called a fly out towards the area where the fish is. Fly fishing allows anglers to cast and fish with flies as small as a mosquito on the surface of the water or under the water.
Fly fishing enables the angler to imitate the natural insects found in a river and to fish them in a natural manner.
2. What Is The Purpose Of Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing is a unique and fun method of fishing for trout, steelhead, and salmon in rivers using flies that are too small and too light to cast with other fishing methods. Fly fishing has a couple of advantages over other methods of fishing.
You can also fish many other species of fish and you can fly fish in lakes and ponds.
The primary advantage of fly fishing over all other methods of fishing is that you are able to cast very small almost weightless flies a long distance.
Another big advantage over all other methods is the ability to fish small flies on the surface of the water to fish that are feeding on floating insects.
3. How Is Fly Fishing Different From Regular Fishing?
With regular spin fishing or other types of fishing, the weight of the lure or the bait pulls the line out to the fish.
Casting the weightless flies that are used in fly fishing just doesn’t work with the other fishing methods unless you add some sort of weight. But adding weight to a fly that is supposed to float on the surface will make the fly sink.
With fly fishing, the fly line is heavy and the fly line carries the weightless flies out to the fish.
Fly fishing is the best method for presenting small light floating flies on the surface of the water.
For some methods, you can use flies with spinning reels. See my page How To Fish Flies With Spinning Gear: 2 Best Methods or my page Float Fishing For Trout – An Expert Guides Best Tips.
4. Is Fly Fishing Hard To Learn?
I have been teaching fly fishing for over 20 years and I will be honest and say that yes, some parts of fly fishing are hard but once you figure out the cast and the correct technique fly fishing is not hard to do and it’s a lot of fun.
There are some methods to fly fishing like Nymphing that don’t require the casting of the fly line and are easier to learn.
When I guide and teach anglers how to fly fish, I teach them the easiest methods at the beginning so these anglers can start catching fish within minutes, and sometimes they will even catch fish on their first cast.
5. Is Fly Fishing Harder Than Regular Fishing?
The fly fishing cast is harder to do than casting a spinning reel or a baitcasting reel but once you figure out the cast fly fishing is not that hard. For some anglers casting and using a baitcasting reel is more difficult.
In general, I would say yes, fly fishing is harder than regular fishing but only because of the casting and only when longer precision casts are required.
6. Do You Catch More Fish With Fly Fishing?
In some cases, you can catch more fish with fly fishing especially in rivers that are shallow and fast. When fishing lakes for fish that are feeding on baitfish, fly fishing is not usually the best method.
During times when the fish are feeding on insects on the surface, fly fishing will allow anglers to catch more fish and it’s these times when you will catch more fish with fly fishing.
When fishing in shallow faster rivers, fly fishing can be the best method and you can often catch more fish with fly fishing methods than all other methods of fishing.
There are also times when trout will be feeding heavily on aquatic insects above and below the surface which is often fly fishing is the best method to use. You will likely catch more fish with fly fishing during these times.
Some anglers will also fly fish for bass, pike, musky, and even carp as well as saltwater species.
7. How Do I Learn To Fly Fish?
There are many ways to learn to fly fish but the best way to learn how to fly fish is to have someone teach you.
Having someone that knows how to fly fish well is a great way to learn how to fly fish faster. That person could be a friend, a member of a local fly fishing club, or a fly fishing guide like me.
In the above picture, you can see Cody Burden from Reel Fresh Guide Service teaching fly anglers how to nymph during one of my annual nymphing classes. Classes like this can really improve your learning curve and teach you the correct and most effective methods from the start.
You can also learn to fly fish by reading websites like this one or you could learn from books, watching videos, and going to fly fishing presentations.
I always recommend new fly anglers at least take a 2 or 3-hour fly casting lesson to speed up the learning curve.
In the end, nothing beats time on the water and practice.
8. Is Fly Fishing An Expensive Hobby?
Fly Fishing can be an expensive hobby to start with and some anglers will spend thousands of dollars on the best fly fishing gear, but you can get into fly fishing for under $150.00
How expensive a hobby fly fishing is will depend on your budget and the quality and the amount of gear you want to buy.
When I owned my fishing store I could have new anglers set up and ready to fly fish for about $150.00 but there are fly rods that cost over $1000.00.
If you are getting started in fly fishing or if you want to make sure you have everything that you need, check out my page Fly Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Fly Fish
9. Does Fly Fishing Need To Be Expensive
A similar question as above but this may help you decide whether you should spend a lot of money or very little money.
Fly fishing does not need to be expensive and setting yourself up with gear for $200 to $300 dollars is perfectly fine and it will do the job.
I used to guide with rods that were $99.00 and reels that were $50.00 and they worked great. You can buy fully rigged fishing kits for under $150.00. You do not need a $500 rod and a $250 fly reel to fly fish.
You also do not need a pair of $500 waders when you can get some waders for under $100.00.
It’s really up to you how much you want to spend but rarely will a $500.00 rod make you catch more fish.
Some of the $120 rod and reel combos actually cast and fish well and I have used many of my client’s combos when I teach them how to fly fish.
The only thing I recommenced is not to buy really cheap rods under $80 dollars because they may not cast well and that can affect your ability to learn and catch fish.
Having more expensive gear will help you a little and it can help you be more comfortable to wear. However, I often tell my clients to figure out how much they can afford to spend and then buy your gear based on your budget.
10. What Is Needed For Fly Fishing
When fly fishing, you will need some essential equipment and some non-essential equipment. You can get away with the bare minimum equipment which I will discuss below.
To fly fish, the bare minimum equipment is:
- A Fly Rod
- A Fly Reel
- A Fly line – Usually a floating fly line
- A leader
- A fly or multiple flies
That’s all I would need to go fly fishing and catch some fish and you could get that for about $150.00.
There is a lot more stuff that I use to aid me in my day when fly fishing.
To help you catch more fish you should also have the following items:
- Forceps – A must-have tool to help you get deep flies out of fished mouths.
- Tippet – tippet is an add-on line that attaches to your leader which will make your leader last longer and will ensure that your fly is tied on the right diameter or size of line.
- Fly box – Fly boxes help protect and organize your flies.
- An assortment of flies – it’s good to have a good selection of flies for all situations.
There is also some other gear that you could fish without but it would come in handy if you have it and it’s something you should seriously consider for fly fishing.
- Waders – Waders are great for protecting your legs and keeping you dry if you need to get in the water.
- Vest or Packs – These are great for holding all your fly fishing gear.
- Fly Line Cleaner – This is good to help clean and protect your fly line.
- Nippers – Good for cutting lines
- Glasses – Polarized glasses are a must-have tool for me because they protect my eyes in many ways and they allow me to cut the glare on the surface of the water so I can see deeper into the water. This helps me see fish and fish-holding areas.
- Wading Jacket or Raincoat – Great for keeping you dry and comfortable. Wading jackets should be waterproof but will have lots of pockets for all your gear.
- Dry Fly Floatant – Great to keep your dry flies floating longer
- Indicators – an indicator is like a mini bobber and is used when fishing sub-surface flies to help you detect a bite.
- Net – A net is a great tool to help you land your fish and it’s better for the fish than dragging them up on shore.
- Extra Leaders and Tippets
- Hat – The hat protects your head from the sun but in fishing, the hat puts shade on your eyes and that helps you see deeper into the water.
May article Fly Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Fly Fish covers all the things that I recommend fly anglers should have or consider using.
11. What Is A Good Beginner Fly Rod
The rod that you buy will depend on the fish species and the size of the fly you want to use.
- For Trout: A good beginner fly rod for small stream trout is a 9 foot 5 weight rod like the White River Fly Shop Dogwood Canyon Fly Rod for a rod under $60.00 or the TFO NXT Fly Rod which is the one I recommend the most for beginners.
- For Steelhead: A good beginner fly rod for Great lakes Steelhead is 10 foot 7 weight rod like the Redington Path Fly Rod which sells for about $130.00 – For West Coast steelhead use a 10 foot 9 weight fly rod.
- For Salmon – A good beginner fly rod for salmon is the10 foot 10 weight Douglas LRS Fly Rod which sells for around $189.99
- For Pike: A good beginner fly rod for Pike is the TFO NXT Fly Rod in the 9 foot 7 weight size
- For Bass: A good beginner fly rod for Bass is a 9 foot 7 weight fly rod like the TFO NXT Fly Rod.
12. How Much Should I Spend On A Fly Rod?
How much you should spend on your first fly rod will depend on your budget and your needs. A salon rod will be more expensive than a trout rod. Above I listed some inexpensive beginner rods but if it was me and I could afford it I would go with a mid-priced rod.
For guys that can afford it, I usually recommend fly rods in the $200 to $400 price range. Rod’s in this price range will do everything you need them to do, they will be good for learning and will still be good when you are more advanced.
13. Are High-End Fly Rods Worth It?
Many anglers and guides will disagree with me on this, but I believe that high-end fly rods are not worth it.
I say this simply because a $1000 fly rod will not help you catch more fish and there is almost nothing you could do with a $1000 fly rod that you couldn’t do with a good $300.00 fly rod.
The only anglers that might really notice the difference in a $1000 fly rod would be expert fly anglers or tournament fly casting professionals. The average fly angler would not be able to tell the difference in performance between a $300 dollar rod compared to a $1000.00 rod.
I believe an expert fly angler with a $150 fly rod will still fish better, cast better, and catch more fish than an average angler with a fly rod over $1000.00 rod which is why I believe that it’s not the rod, it’s the angler using the rod that matters.
14. What Is The Best All-Around Fly Rod Weight?
Most river fly rods and lake fly rods will range from 3 weight to 9 weight. That is why I would say that the best all-around fly rod weight when river fishing would be a 6 weight rod.
However, I would highly suggest putting in some forethought into what you want to do before you buy a fly rod so you can get the rod that better suits the river, the fish, and the flies you will be using.
A 6 weight fly rod is right in the middle of light rods and heavy rods and can be a great rod for bigger rivers, bigger trout, great lakes steelhead, bass, and pike.
If you are mostly or only fishing for small stream trout, a 4 weight rod is the best all-around fly rod.
If you are planning on fishing for bass, pike, musky, great lakes steelhead, and salmon, an 8 weight rod is the best all-around rod.
15. What Is The Best Fly Fishing Combo For Beginners?
After reviewing dozens of fly fishing combos for beginners I have found that the best fly fishing combo for beginners that want to fish for trout in rivers is the Orvis Encounter Fly Fishing Combo
16. How Much Is A Decent Fly Rod?
A decent fly rod will cost you between $200 and $400.00. Fly rods in this range can be light, sensitive, and cast well as well as most high-end rods but will still have a better feel and action than cheaper rods.
Fly Rods in this price range are also good rods for multiple fly fishing methods.
The Orvis Clear Water fly rod gets great reviews and is a great choice for a rod around $230.00.
17. Can You Fly Fish From Shore?
You can fly fish from shore and often times it’s best to keep your feet out of the water on small to medium-sized rivers where trout might be spooked by anglers walking through the water.
You can also fly fish from shore alone lakes and ponds.
In some cases wading into the water will put you in a better position to catch more trout but many times you could just fly fishing from shore.
18. Do You Need Waders To Fly Fish?
You do not need waders to fly fish but they are a great piece of equipment to have for many reasons. Some anglers will do what is called wet wading which is when they just wear shoes or boots in the water.
Other anglers will just fish from shore and not get into the water.
Waders help protect your legs from bugs, poisonous plants and animals, sticks, and other sharp objects and they keep your legs dry and comfortable.
The advantage to using waders is that they allow you to position yourself in the right spot in the river while keeping you dry. Being in the right spot when fishing or when fighting a fish can mean more fish in the net for you.
Waders are also great for crossing the river to get to more fish or for getting closer to fish.
I discuss the best waders on my page River Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Succeed In 2021
19. Do I Need Waders In The Summer?
If the river is not too cold you do not need waders in the summer and some anglers will do what they call wet wading. Wet wading is just wearing shoes or boots in the water and your feet and legs will get wet.
I wear shorts under breathable waders even on the hottest days and I do this because the waders protect my legs from anything that could cut or scratch them and from bites from insects or other animals.
In areas that have tics that might have Lyme Disease, it’s a good idea to wear waders in the summers.
20. What Pants Should I Wear For Fly FIshing?
You can wear any type of pants under your waders but there are pants that are breathable or that use a wicking material that is much better for under your waders.
During the summer I will wear shorts to keep myself cooler but in the winter I will layer with multiple pairs of pants.
See how to dress and stay warm in winter on my page Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips
20. What Fly Line Do I Need?
Fly lines, like fly rods, have a weight rating on them and it is best to match the fly line weight to the rod weight.
This means if you have a 6 weight fly rod you should use a 6 weight fly line.
Having the right fly line for your rod will help with casting. The wrong fly line could make casting more difficult.
21. Should I Use A Floating Line Or A Sinking Line?
For almost all river fishing on small to medium-sized rivers, I use a floating fly line.
Floating fly lines are good for streamer fishing, dry fly fishing, wet fly fishing, and when nymph fishing.
If you require a line that sinks you could always add a sinking tip to the end of your floating fly line.
Full sinking fly lines are often used when lake fishing with subsurface flies like streamers. Sinking fly lines are not good when dry fly fishing or when nymph fishing.
22. What Is A WF Line?
A WF fly line is a weight-forward fly line. WF stands for Weight Forward.
What that means is that the fly line is tapered and the thinker heavier section of the line is at the front of the line closest to the fly.
Weight forward lines cast easier and are used more often than other tapers like a double taper line
Most anglers that fly fish rivers will use a weight forward line and weight forward lines are often the best fly lines for beginner anglers. I have over 10 fly rods and reels and they all have WF fly lines.
23. What Is A DT Line?
A DT Line is known as a double taper fly line. A double taper line has an equal heavy section closest to the fly and the same on the farthest end away from the fly.
Double taper lines are often used on small rivers where delicate presentation is needed or when a lot of roll casting is required.
I almost never use a DT fly line and do not recommend them unless you are using a specific method that requires this type of line.
24. What Is The Best Fly Line For Trout?
As I mentioned before that you should match your fly line weight to your fly rod weight.
The best fly line weight for trout is a 4 weight line unless you are fishing big rivers, big flies, and big trout which is when a 5 weight or a 6 weight fly line might be better.
25. Why Is Fly Line So Expensive?
Fly fishing line is expensive because of the way it is made and because of the materials they are made from.
Fly lines are often tapered for better casting and they have an inner core line that gives it its strength.
Fly lines also last 10 year if they are cleaned often and taken care of properly.
26. What Leader Size Do I Need For Fly Fishing?
For trout fishing in rivers and streams, I recommend a 9 foot 4x tapered leader with a 5x or 6x tippet added to the bottom.
Your leader will change depending on the type of fly fishing you want to do. I will often use a heavier 7-foot leader when streamer fishing in rivers with tough casting.
I will use a longer 11-foot leader when dry fly fishing on slower flat water when trout are nervous.
My steelhead leaders are usually a nine foot 1x leader with a 2x or 3x tippet.
27. What Is The Best Tippet For Trout?
The best tippet for trout is 5x tippet which is around 3.5 pound test. If the fly is bigger I will use a 4x tippet or when I fish with streamers I will use a 2x tippet.
For larger trout in bigger fast rivers I may use a 4x or 3x tippet.
If I am dry fly fishing on slower flat water I will use a 6X tippet so the fish are less likely to see the line.
For more detailed information on tippets and leaders check out my page What Pound Test Leader For Trout.
Common Questions About Fly Fishing
I hope this answers some of your questions about fly fishing but there are a lot more that I cover in Part 2 of Common Questions about Fly Fishing which you can see in Common Questions About Fly Fishing Part 2