So, you're new to fly fishing?

Mumbles

Steelhead
Forum Legend
Getting Started: I’m New to Fly Fishing – Now What?

Background Information –

Not long ago I was new to fly fishing myself. It seemed like the thing to get into when I relocated to the Pacific Northwest. I had no clue what to do, not that I know much more now. I started out with a 5wt rod, reel and line combo with a starter video on casting.

I floundered around by myself, making every mistake and developing every bad habit that is imaginable. I had been gear fishing for my whole life so far and was lucky to have one friend that both gear fished with me and had some fly fishing basics. Pretty soon I was fishing about half the time with a fly rod from the local Puget Sound beaches that I had been gear fishing on for a few years. I was not catching as many sea run cutthroat trout or salmon, but I was enjoying the fly fishing more and more each time. Eventually I put the gear rods aside. I’ve not touched them for three or four years now.

About the time that I retired from the military I happened upon an interesting place. My fly fishing experience took an exponentially informative turn when I did a Boolean search online and found Washington Fly Fishing. This online forum is where you are, welcome.

What I have asked other members to do is to provide some basic information for new fly anglers. This way the new fly angler can get up to speed and start the learning process. It also helps to know a bit about what you want or need to know so you ask the veteran members of the site a focused question instead of a very broad question. This will allow for better answers.

The following tidbits are offered from the experiences of many of the members here. I asked for their input on how to assist new forum members so that there was less apprehension to ask questions and so that the frequency of responses like “use the search function”, “get a map”, “fill up your gas tank” and “go out and explore”. These are all very valid points, as you hopefully will see. You see, here members continually exchange information, but to get really useful information it is better to have some useful information and demonstrated a willingness to get out and work to find some answers yourself. Some fisheries are small and delicate and won’t openly be discussed because they are “earned” and can’t handle the pressure that open conversation could generate. Other fisheries are quickly offered as good starting points because you’ll find a lot of company and a decent number of willing fish. Get out, get after it and chat it up here and on the water. For the most part we are a friendly bunch, even though some act tough.

What Members Recommend – (No Particular Order – You are the Boss of You)
Here is a list of possible suggestions, there are likely many more:

□ Spend some time reading the CONTENT area. There are lists of sponsors, local shops, articles and links galore. To pass over this area is really a disservice to shortening your learning curve. You can check river flows, find the local shops, get information on shuttle services, check the weather and tides and your trip planning can be underway.

□ Search the forum – the things you want to learn about likely are here because others wanted to learn or talk about them before you arrived. It is a fantastic tool that puts thousands of previous posts and conversations in a search able format so you can focus on what you really want to know. The more you know the better.

□ Get the right resources – having a good map or three, insect hatch book, chart or guide, basic fly fishing information book or books is essential. One of my friends said that everyone should have the Curtis Creek Manifesto which coincidentally was my very first fly fishing book. You can even learn a lot about fly fishing while reading Olive the Woolley Bugger series books to your children, grandchildren or someone else’s children or grandchildren.

□ Learn the basics – how to properly assemble a rod is not rocket science but also not automatic. Knowing fly sizes, tippet size ratings, grain weights, line types, knots, loop to loop connections. This is all complex but fundamental for success. If you are not using leader and tippet materials proportionate for your fly that you are casting you’ll find some trouble.

□ Find a local shop – most shop folks love to talk fishing and do what they do. They do this well because they generally like people and talking to people about fishing. They can help you with the basics and partner with you through your progression. The better relationship you can forge with your local shop the better information you likely can receive from them. They will also know other customers that might be willing to spend some time with you as you get started. Washington Fly Fishing has sponsors, if one is near you, seek them out, say hello and consider those shops or your local shops when you have fly fishing related needs.

□ Take a class – Many of the sponsor shops and local fly shops have classes geared for beginning fly anglers. As you forge that relationship with them you’ll also benefit from basic casting instruction, tactics for specific types of fishing, fly tying and many other subjects that shops offer. This can help you with gear setup to ensure a good match between rod, reel and line for the type of fishing you wish to do. There are classes on how to safely use watercraft in rivers, river fishing, beach fishing, lake fishing, Puget Sound fishing, small creek fishing, fly tying and casting. You can find classes at your local shop by calling them up, making a visit or clicking the sponsor shop link and most have a tab or button for classes. Browse their sites and see what they are offering. Engage them by asking for things that you want but don’t see. The effort these sponsor shops and local shops will go through is very impressive.

□ Attend a clinic – Many individuals and shops will offer clinics that will help to familiarize you with certain tactics, techniques or approaches. Some of these clinics have fees to cover the professional presenter. Many are free. You can find these clinics at the site sponsor shops web pages, at your local shop’s web page, by stopping by or by checking out the EVENTS forum where sponsor activities and fly fishing related events will be listed.

□ Find and join a club - these organizations are full of fishy folks. Fishy folks love to talk about fishing. They also like to fish whenever they can, be it for a day or a big planned trip. Find a club, show your interest in fishing and social skills and you will likely have a way to get more information, experience and company on outings.

□ Practice conservation - for the environments in which we find our fishy friends. I'm not going to get all preachy on you here. Find an organization that suits your interests, has a plan, project or mission that you can stand behind and work toward. There are many such as the Wild Steelhead Coalition, Trout Unlimited, Hoh River Conservancy, Costal Conservation Association and so on. At the very minimum give them a bit of $$ for membership fees, beyond that give them whatever you can contribute and know that you are working to make a difference now and for the future.

□ Share the gift of fly fishing - by extending your knowledge, time and energy to a youth fly fishing program, get new fly anglers interested in the sport or help groups such as Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing so that those involved can turn to fly fishing for their health, well being and recreational enjoyment.

□ Casting is very important – to cast better should always be a goal. Continue to work on your casting as much as possible. The trade off here is that no fish has ever been caught on a fly being false casted to death. If your fly is not swimming you are not fishing, you are casting. Improved casting will enhance the fishing experience, it is a balance you we all must address.

□ Learn what fish eat – Be it baitfish in rivers, lakes or salt water and insects wherever found, knowing what a predatory fish will eat and using something that imitates it is going to give you a better chance to have a fish on your line early and often.

□ Knowledge and tactics – this is what catches fish. Knowing what you are doing and how to do it is far more important that some other factors like what kind of waders or boots you wear, what rod you’re using or other such things.

□ What is the best ______ - be it rod, reel, line, waders, boots, boat, etc. These questions are fun to ask and see go back and forth, but honestly, whatever works best for your needs and fits your budget is the best. Too many variables to come up with the best of anything. If you must ask, clarify as best you can of what your intended need or purpose is and see what opinions others offer. Some will tell you to find out for yourself, which really is the best overall advice. The best for you and I may not be the same yet both are the best for each of us respectively. Remember that sponsor or local fly shop? Go there, see what they have on their demo or try rack. Cast them all. Cast them all a lot! See if they'll let you demo them on the water. If you've built a strong relationship they will really be in your corner.

□ Figure out what you want to do – Okay, so you want to do it all, but you have to crawl before you walk before you run, right? You can get pretty good at something faster if you focus on it in parts. Take a beach fishing class or attend a seminar then go beach fishing every time you can for a few hours. Fish the same beach during an outgoing tide and an incoming tide. Water movement generally is better than a high slack or low slack tide time, but each beach can vary. Seeing a beach during low tide can reveal structure that will hold bait and as such, predator fish will come there to eat those fish and your flies. Read tactical articles on lakes and employ those tactics at different times of the day, water temperatures and times of the year so that you can get more comfortable with the insect populations you will see. Fish eat these insects and we try to imitate them, learning more about them and when to expect them can’t be a bad thing.

□ Focus – fishing every method in every fishery may be your goal. Before you achieve that goal might we recommend that you focus on a fishery and get really good at it before you go all crazy and fish just to touch all the fisheries out there? Learning one stretch of a river, one lake, or a nearby set of beaches might give you tremendous confidence, knowledge and skill advancement that can then be translated into success elsewhere.

□ Keep a journal – So you are now getting into this heavy, track what you are doing. What were the tides like? How was the water temperature? Was it overcast? Raining? Bright? What kind of baitfish or bugs did you see? What did you catch fish on? What failed to produce? Did you see fish activity? When you saw fish, hooked fish or missed strikes were they on the surface, just below the surface or deep? The variables are endless and keeping some good outing notes will allow you to identify trends that may lead to improved fishing experiences. For those with an I Phone, I hear there is an App for that. I wish my Blackberry had one.

□ Find an open seat – if a board member has an open seat, fill it. Offer to fill the tank, bring the latte, lunch, beer or whatever you can to get your butt into that open seat. Some of these offers will come from guides and others from fishermen who have boats and would not mind some company. Once you are connected I’m sure there will be some beneficial information on the basics, tactics, and presentation, fly selection, gear selection or recommendations and such that can and will be discussed. It makes sense to figure that folks with boats that go fishing are fishy folks who are the right kind of people to go fishing with, right? Who comes to a fly fishing forum and does not like to talk about fly fishing?

□ Hire a guide – if you want to really shorten the learning curve consider booking a trip with a guide. These professional service providers are fishy folks that must know their trade to be successful. If you are looking for a guide don’t hesitate to post an inquiry in the forum. If you tell the board where you are interested in fishing and what species you hope to encounter you can expect that someone will have a suggested guide that knows that particular place very well.

□ Make a friend – find someone who is willing to go fishing. No fish are caught on the forum and online talk is fun, but getting out and fishing is where we all want to be. If you can find a member near your location or one that has made some posts that interest you, send them a private message (PM) or post a thread “Anyone want to go fishing at (lake, river, beach)”. Who ever has enough friends and fishing pals?

□ Fish don’t care – how much your gear cost, what reel you are using or much else. The gear you have is different than mine but no better or worse than mine. If you can afford it, it balances well, works for you and you enjoy fishing it then you’ve got great gear. Believe it or not there will be snobs out there that will disagree with this. I’ve got some very fine higher end rods and some pretty humble ones. That part of the process only matters to me. It is no one else’s business what I choose to fish with, hopefully it will all integrate well and be effective. The fish don’t care. Others who have a dialed in setup will eagerly share their knowledge. What they have will be a good starting point for you and will help you achieve that dialed in feel for your setup too.

□ Safety first – if you are going to be around water you should be safe. Learning to swim, having a personal flotation device and using sound judgment are not something anyone else can do for you. This you must do for yourself or your family. Going out alone increases your risk greatly. If you are out with a fishing buddy you at least have someone to potentially assist you when in need. You should also be prepared to offer that assistance should your fishing buddy find him/herself in need. As such you should be capable to render this assistance to someone else fishing with you or that you happen upon in a time of need.

□ Etiquette – is important. Learn proper etiquette for fishing around others. Know what it means to fish through a run properly without camping out so others cannot pass through. Don’t jump in above or below an angler and crowd them without at least letting them know you are there and asking if they mind. Getting along online and on the water should not be that tough if we all respect one another and each other’s space and fishing intentions. Learn that some tactics will be to start upriver and fish downriver, other tactics start downriver and work upriver. Knowing the etiquette basics will go a long way. Say hello, have a brief chat, watch and observe another angler and you may learn what to do or what not to do in certain situations.

□ Know where the fish are and how to find them – each fishing situation varies. The more you know where the fish are and get to that place the better. Surface fishing is preferred by some but statistics will overwhelmingly show that most fish are below the surface of the water, not at the surface of the water. Getting the right presentation at the right depth will often be more important to the exact right pattern of fly to use.

□ Line management – is very complicated. Learn to cast well and mend line. Mending is most often done in moving water and will allow your fly to drift with the current in a manner that presents your fly in the most natural manner, just like a real bug would be drifting by if it was not attached to a fly line or leader.

□ Mother Nature always wins – this is about safety again. Wading deeply in a moving river across slippery rocks while casting and managing line, mending and then hooking into a 25# native steelhead on the River of Woes can lead to disaster. Fish within your capabilities and improve your techniques, tactics and physical capabilities to enhance your experience. Risk taking is a balance that only you can manage. Most bodies pulled out of underwater snags or sweepers are not wearing life preservers. Take a rowing class or go with experienced oarsmen/women before you go out there by yourself. There are countless stories of experienced folks making mistakes and getting into trouble, some don’t come home. The less safe and experienced you are the greater the chance that you will be a newspaper article or evening news report.

□ Know what to expect – and don’t go under gunned. If you know that there are big fish there, and you do not intend or cannot legally keep them, don’t go with a rig that is too light. This prolongs the fight with the fish and will potentially tire the fish to exhaustion. This can lead to the death of a fish that is preventable, a fish which might have spawned to create more fish in the future.

□ Know when not to fish – if the temperatures are too high for the survival of hooked, fought and caught fish then don’t fish there. Find a hatchery fish filled fishery and harvest a few for dinner or find a cooler place to fish. Different folks have different opinions but many say that after the surface water temps are above 68-72 degrees that a fish brought into this low oxygen content surface water will more than likely die. That fish might swim away from your net or hand at first but it might not survive.

□ Break it off – if you catch a fish that you can’t legally target, or if you get into a big one that you’ll likely not land on the gear you have, point the rod tip at the fish, hold the reel/line so that it goes tight and pop the tippet. It will cost you a fly. It might save that fish for more fishing opportunities later and it might save you a ticket. Catching certain species out of season is not illegal if you handle the fish according to the regulations, but it might be better for all to just break it off early.

□ Don't overlook the gallery - with a ridiculous number of images (30,000 or more?) you'll find photos of fly swaps so you'll have an idea of what kind of flies you'll need for certain species or types of fishing, loads of fun filled shots, family stoke, natural beauty, party scenes from fishing related gatherings, pictures of watercraft galore and of course fishporn. Browse the general gallery, member galleries and anywhere else that you fancy.

□ Spend time on the water – then more time, then more time then more time. After that read a bunch when you can’t be on the water. This was offered up by a friend who had a goal of fishing every day for his summer break. I don’t think he achieved that goal that summer, but he fished enough to wear out a set of boots and waders, so he made a pretty good go of it I’d say.

So, you’re new to fly fishing…got questions? Did you do some research on your own? Searched the forum for threads with the same question? Go ahead and ask. This is a community site, we’re here to share, help and every now and then hand out a good ribbing. Welcome.


Contributions by: (listed by current screen name in no particular order)
Kent Lufkin, Old Man, Ford Fenders, Miyawaki, Karl Shaffer, KerryS, Bitterroot, Steve Saville, Evan Burck, Jason Shutt, Mike Lee, Dustin Bise and Mumbles.
 
Last edited:

Evan B

Bobber Downey Jr.
Staff member
Admin
Going to add another tidbit, if I may:

A question I get asked a lot: "I have this particular rod. What's the best fly line for it?"

I always struggle with the response, because this is a flawed question. As a flawed person, often my response isn't ideal. But you're ok to ask it, because you likely don't know enough at this point to know the right question to ask.

The rod honestly matters very little in this question. The rod size matters, but what rod brand and model is borderline irrelevant.

Often I will come back with this question: "Do you want the best CASTING line for the rod? or the best FISHING line?" Personally, I'm laser focused on the latter.

My advice to folks choosing a fly line: Pick a line that is the right line for the type of fishing you are doing, then get the appropriate size for the rod you have.

(this is all in regards to standard single-hand rods)

All purpose line - Great for beginners who won't benefit from a specialized line quite yet. Can typically turn over most average size flies just fine with average rear taper for line control and average casting ranges.

Nymphing/Streamer lines - These are often the same line in a different box. Though some streamer models will have a shorter rear taper. Both often feature aggressive front tapers to help turn over heavy payloads. The long rear taper helps with line control on long drifts.

Dry Fly/Light Presentation - These will have a long front taper to a light tip section for gently rolling out and landing your dry fly with minimal crash that can spook fish. They can't turn over much weight, but they're excellent at their one job.

If you're a beginner in the PNW, these three types should get you by until you get some experience and know enough to know what specialty line you need to step up your game. There's a lot more styles, but even the more specialized ones will often fall within these categories. As with most things, your local fly shop will be an invaluable resource to get you dialed.
 

O' Clarkii Stomias

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon
Forum Supporter
Going to add another tidbit, if I may:

A question I get asked a lot: "I have this particular rod. What's the best fly line for it?"

I always struggle with the response, because this is a flawed question. As a flawed person, often my response isn't ideal. But you're ok to ask it, because you likely don't know enough at this point to know the right question to ask.

The rod honestly matters very little in this question. The rod size matters, but what rod brand and model is borderline irrelevant.

Often I will come back with this question: "Do you want the best CASTING line for the rod? or the best FISHING line?" Personally, I'm laser focused on the latter.

My advice to folks choosing a fly line: Pick a line that is the right line for the type of fishing you are doing, then get the appropriate size for the rod you have.

(this is all in regards to standard single-hand rods)

All purpose line - Great for beginners who won't benefit from a specialized line quite yet. Can typically turn over most average size flies just fine with average rear taper for line control and average casting ranges.

Nymphing/Streamer lines - These are often the same line in a different box. Though some streamer models will have a shorter rear taper. Both often feature aggressive front tapers to help turn over heavy payloads. The long rear taper helps with line control on long drifts.

Dry Fly/Light Presentation - These will have a long front taper to a light tip section for gently rolling out and landing your dry fly with minimal crash that can spook fish. They can't turn over much weight, but they're excellent at their one job.

If you're a beginner in the PNW, these three types should get you by until you get some experience and know enough to know what specialty line you need to step up your game. There's a lot more styles, but even the more specialized ones will often fall within these categories. As with most things, your local fly shop will be an invaluable resource to get you dialed.
Funny, years ago, we did all above with a WF Cortland 444SL.
 

longputt

Steelhead
One thing I do with beginners is take them somewhere where the trout are stupid on a stream that has room to cast. A late summer mountain stream has back casting room and hungry little trout. Humpys or Elk Hair caddis are easy to see and the trout are not fussy about technical things like drag. I've taken hardcore gear fisherman and heard them laugh out loud at a small trout flying out of the water to grab a dry fly.

Another alternative is a heavily stocked lake with room to cast from shore or anchor a boat and cast (if allowed). Boats are awesome to avoid back cast snags that drive new fisherman nuts. A dry line and #8 wooly bugger will catch freshly planted trout all day long (until the power bait folks keep them all!)

The other thing I do is give a quick few instructions and then leave them alone...fly fisherman tend yammer on and dwell on technical stuff. Just let them fish.

Evan B and Mumbles et al have great advice but in my opinion it is actually pretty advanced and technical for a newbie. I try to simplify as much as possible.
 

scottcbarker

Just Hatched
As Lefty Kreh says if you get tired of catching fish take up fly fishing. To get folks interested they need to be able to catch a fish on fly. My recommendation is an angler friendly spot. Does not have to be trout. Bass or bream on a pond w a popping bug. Large stimulators in a trout pound. Catching fish makes taking instructions much more palatabl.
 

Sam Roffe

If a man ain't fishing...
Forum Supporter
The other thing I do is give a quick few instructions and then leave them alone...fly fisherman tend yammer on and dwell on technical stuff. Just let them fish.
I think that is excellent advise for newcomers to fly fishing. Get them started, and fishing. Enjoy the sport, the process.

Before WFF there was Kaufmans. I was so fortunate to have them a 15 minute walk from where I work. (They too were fortunate to have me 15 minutes from where I worked LOL) I think Ryan, Gary, Bob, and others who's name I can remember were very helpful in providing good information. Their advise to took and applied it the best I could, and found my own groove.... Also taking casting lesson, and tying lessons got me started on the foundation of fly fishing.

Over the years getting a little coaching here and there on my casting hasn't hurt either.

However, there is no short cut to gaining experience. Advise will get to part way, but not make you a good fisherman. Get out there and FISH!!!
 

Coach Potter

Life of the Party
One thing I do with beginners is take them somewhere where the trout are stupid on a stream that has room to cast. A late summer mountain stream has back casting room and hungry little trout. Humpys or Elk Hair caddis are easy to see and the trout are not fussy about technical things like drag. I've taken hardcore gear fisherman and heard them laugh out loud at a small trout flying out of the water to grab a dry fly.

Another alternative is a heavily stocked lake with room to cast from shore or anchor a boat and cast (if allowed). Boats are awesome to avoid back cast snags that drive new fisherman nuts. A dry line and #8 wooly bugger will catch freshly planted trout all day long (until the power bait folks keep them all!)

The other thing I do is give a quick few instructions and then leave them alone...fly fisherman tend yammer on and dwell on technical stuff. Just let them fish.

Evan B and Mumbles et al have great advice but in my opinion it is actually pretty advanced and technical for a newbie. I try to simplify as much as possible.
Positive feedback (fish) is the only way you'll know if you're doing anything right.
 
There is no substitute for time spent on/in water. I've had people explain double hauls, and roll casts plenty of times, but couldn't get the hang of it until I found myself trying to get my line to a tricky patch of water.

Things don't always make sense until the context is there.
 

Pink Nighty

Life of the Party
There is no substitute for time spent on/in water. I've had people explain double hauls, and roll casts plenty of times, but couldn't get the hang of it until I found myself trying to get my line to a tricky patch of water.

Things don't always make sense until the context is there.
This is well stated. You have to do it yourself. Learn all you can but know that until you apply its just knowledge not a skill. If you can find someone willing to tell you how you're doing it wrong, like an experienced fishing partner, listen to them and it will cut your curve infinitely.
 

Tom.S

Smolt
Hello friends,

Looks like I found a gold mine with this forum. I will read up on the content for sure. Just wanted to say high and that I’m new to fly fishing and the PNW Blaine area.

Looking forward to the good times coming.

Will be taking lessons at Red’s Fly shop to learn to cast then put the waders on and learn to present the flies.
 

Bruce Baker

Steelhead
Hello friends,

Looks like I found a gold mine with this forum. I will read up on the content for sure. Just wanted to say high and that I’m new to fly fishing and the PNW Blaine area.

Looking forward to the good times coming.

Will be taking lessons at Red’s Fly shop to learn to cast then put the waders on and learn to present the flies.
Welcome aboard Tom!
 

Pink Nighty

Life of the Party
Hello friends,

Looks like I found a gold mine with this forum. I will read up on the content for sure. Just wanted to say high and that I’m new to fly fishing and the PNW Blaine area.

Looking forward to the good times coming.

Will be taking lessons at Red’s Fly shop to learn to cast then put the waders on and learn to present the flies.
Welcome to whatcom county Tom! It's a wonderful place in close proximity to amazing fisheries without actually holding any of those fisheries itself.

The local shop is The Confluence in bellingham. Not sure if they offer classes, but they are super helpful, fishy dudes over there and can definitely get you set up gear wise.
 
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