Beginners Guide To Fly Fishing: Tips, Gear, and More


Coty Perry

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If you are learning about fly fishing for the first time, you have come to the right place. In this article, we’re breaking down the absolute basics of fly fishing for someone who has never fished this style before.

If you’ve ever walked by a fly angler you might think it looks incredibly complicated and involved, but the truth is, it’s no more difficult than fishing with a standard rod and lure – it just seems more difficult.

There are a lot of misconceptions about fly fishing like:

  • You can only catch trout
  • You need to have a ton of experience
  • You need to know a bunch of knots
  • It costs a lot of money

We’re going to cover all of the basics you need to know so you can start fly fishing immediately.

What’s So Different About Fly Fishing?

The thing that separates these two forms of fishing is the approach and the cast. With fly fishing, you are using a lightweight rod with a lightweight fly trying to imitate insects that land on the top of the water.

With the cast, you do not have a lot of weight, so all the weight comes from the line itself. That’s why fly fishing requires a back and forward cast (we’ll get into that). Fly fishing is usually best performed on moving water where there is a lot of action, but you can comfortably fish still water as well.

Understanding Your Fly Rod

The first step to fly fishing is not going out and buying all of the equipment; the first step is understanding the equipment and how it differs from a spinning rod. Truthfully, the overall build of the rod is not that different and fly rod construction is much simpler than other rod styles.

Your typical fly rod is made up of:

  • The butt
  • Three additional blanks with guides
  • The reel

That’s it.

Constructing your fly rod requires you to put all the pieces of the rod together, and usually, the reel will slide into the butt portion of the rod and get held in place at the bottom. If you take a look at the image to the side, you’ll see the basic construction of the rod and how it doesn’t differ much from a regular rod.

How to Line Your Fly Reel

When it comes to understanding how to run line on your reel is where some technical knowledge comes in but don’t worry, it’s extremely simple if you take a basic approach. There are many different ways to do this, but we’re giving you the most basic and straightforward way to get on the water.

Here is everything you need:

  • Backing
  • Fly Line
  • Leader
  • Tippet
  • Flies

For an in-depth breakdown check out this video.

Step 1: Attach Backing to the Reel

The first thing you’ll need to do is tie your backing around the reel. Ideally, you want approximately 100 feet or more of backing around your reel. The amount of backing you choose should run the entire arbor, and if there are any blank spots you know, you need more backing.

Step 2: Attach Fly Line to Backing

Next, you want to take your fly line and attach it to your backing. There are a couple of different ways you can do this. Some fly line and backings come with a loop already built into them which makes installation simple; you can choose to use those loops or tie it using a surgeons knot.

Step 3: Attach Leader to Fly Line

Now that you have your backing and fly line attached you want to connect your leader to the fly line. Again, a lot of the time these lines come with loops already built in so you can choose to use them or tie your knots. For this portion of your line, we recommend using a nail knot.

Step 4: Attach Your Tippet to your Leader

Take your tippet and attach it to your leader using the loops given to you or using a surgeons knot again. This knot is the most important one because a lot of the pressure is going to be between your tippet and your leader so make sure you tie this one well.

Step 5: Attach Your Fly

Lastly, you want to attach your fly to your tippet using a clinch knot.

Simple right? Okay, maybe not that simple but you don’t have to do this every time. As long as you’re keeping the same weight line, you’ll only need to remove your leader to change flies.

Three Main Types of Flies

Now that you have your rod assembled and lined you need to understand the three primary types of flies you’ll use.

Dry Flies

Dry flies are the most common type of fly, and they are used to float on top of the water and mimic the insects that fish come to the surface to eat. Fishing these flies is exciting because the fish actually has to come to the surface to hit it, so you get to see the jump and splash before your very eyes. Fishing this type of fly is good for beginners because you get to see the strike, so you know when to start reeling in.


These are known as the most productive way to fly fish because they sit just beneath the surface of the water where fish do the majority of their feeding. These are meant to mimic the larvae stage of insects. The problem with fishing nymphs is that you cannot see the strike, so you need to pay closer attention or use a strike indicator which is essentially a bobber for fly fishing.


Streamers are light and meant to imitate leeches or minnows, and a lot of experts say this is the most enjoyable type of fly to fish with. These require a short pull method so you can move your streamer through the water to make the fly look alive.

Casting Your Fly Rod: The Basic Cast

The Energy Transfer - Basic Fly Casting
Source: Blog

We weren’t going to get through this article without addressing the elephant in the room – the cast. Casting a fly rod is the most complicated part of the fishing style because if each cast is not perfect, you’ll find yourself either tangled up in the trees or constantly losing flies.

First, let’s break down the methodology here and how it differs from spin casting. Your goal is to present the fly to the water in the most natural way possible, and since you have little to no weight, you need to “load” the rod with each cast.

When you load your rod, you’re putting energy into it which is going to propel the fly in the direction you want it to go. With each cast, your fly line is trailing behind the tip of the rod so when your stroke ends your line is going to continue to unroll in that direction until it reaches the end of your leader. Once your leader stops, your tippet will then drop your fly onto the water.

Unlike a spinning rod, you do not have any weight on your line to drive your cast, so you need to load your rod and transfer that energy into each cast. You do this by back casting first and then casting forward in a smooth straight line with your rod slightly bent.

Think of this like a slingshot – When you load a projectile into a slingshot and pull it back you are now loading that rubber band with energy.

When you let go, the rubber band continues to move forward transferring the energy into the projectile.

Once the projectile leaves the rubber band, it now holds all the energy and continues to move forward until eventually hitting its target. The process of fly fish casting is the same.

In this video, a fly fishing expert gives an excellent breakdown of the basic fly fishing cast.

The Roll Cast

The main issue with the standard overhead cast is that it requires you to have an abundance of space to execute properly. You need to have plenty of room for that backcast, so you need to be in the water with no low hanging trees or obstructions. If you are limited on space, you could try the roll cast, but it is much more complicated if you have no experience.

With the roll cast, there is no back cast. Instead, you cast forward and pull your line back slowly by lifting your rod directly over your head and whip it forward. What this does is it almost creates a figure eight in front of you.

We could go on all day and cover every little detail about fly fishing, but we wanted to touch on the basics so you could have enough information to understand the differences between fly and spin fishing, how to line your rod, and how to cast correctly. Be sure to check out some of the videos above if you haven’t already and always be safe out there!

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