The Basics of Fly-Fishing Series


Written by: Isobella Ash

Chapter One: The Basics of Fly Fishing
You might have heard that fly fishing is just for trout, but nothing could be further from the truth. You can catch salmon and pike. You can even use a fly rod in saltwater for fish like striped bass, bonefish, and even huge gamefish like tuna and marlin. It just takes a little adjustment to your tackle.

You might have also heard that fly fishing is expensive and complicated. Let’s see just how simple it can be. In this chapter, you’ll learn how fly and spin fishing differ, how to make the basic overhead cast and a roll cast, a little about the history of fly fishing. You’ll learn the two basic knots you will use every time you go fly fishing. You’ll also learn about the essentials you need to get started in this fun and addictive sport, and where to buy your new fly fishing equipment.

Fly Fishing Basics Introduction

An introduction to fly fishing with this instructional fly-fishing video from Orvis. We go over the basics of fly fishing and show you how easy it is to get started.

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Why Do People Love Fly Fishing?

Why do people love fly fishing? Why fly fish? Learn the many reasons that people love the sport of fly fishing with this entertaining video from Orvis.

People love fly fishing for many reasons. For some, it’s a connection they feel with nature. Whether it’s wading on a mountain stream, casting from a boat on their local Stillwater, or fishing in a river, fly fishing helps them get into the outdoors. For others, fly fishing is a means of relaxing, unwinding, and clearing their minds. But there’s one common thread among all of them, and that’s fly fishing is a fascinating way to fish.

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Fishing with Children: Start with Bait and A Float

Float and bait fishing with children is a great way to get them started. This teaching children to fish video from Orvis will show you some easy, educational techniques.

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Fishing with Kids: Fly and A Float

The float and fly-fishing technique is a great way to introduce children to fly fishing. This teaching kids to fly fish video shows you this easy, basic technique.

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Fishing with Children: Graduating to The Fly Rod

Introduce children to the fly-fishing rod in this fly-fishing video for children. Identifying a fly rod is the final step in showing children the basics of fly fishing.

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A Very Brief History of Fly Fishing

Take a journey through the history of fly fishing in this informative fly-fishing history video. This Orvis video gives a brief, yet informative history of the sport.

Fly fishing has been around for quite some time. It began in the Middle Ages, when people noticed fish eating small insects that were tough to keep on the hook as bait.

Early fly fishers didn’t do much casting and didn’t use a reel. Their methods were very similar to a Japanese method of fishing called tenkara, which has become increasingly popular around the world.

At the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, fly rods got better, and fly anglers learned to cast longer distances. Then they added reels to store line. They also began catching bigger fish that would make long runs. This new equipment helped increase the interest in fly fishing.

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What Do You Really Need to Get Started?

See which fly fishing equipment you really need to get started fly fishing. Learn how to start fly fishing in this informative video from Orvis.

You know, I think one of the things that intimidates people about fly fishing is a vision of a fly angler with waders and vests and creel and all these gadgets hanging from the vest. But you don’t need all that stuff.

What do you need? What are the essentials you need to get started in fly fishing? Well, you need that basic fly fishing rod, fly fishing reel, and line outfit in one form or another. You need a fly rod, you need a reel, you need a line, and you need a leader.

What else do you need? What are the essentials that you need? You only need a pair of nippers to cut your line. You need a box of flies, and it doesn’t have to be fancy box. It can be the box that you get for free when you buy the flies in the store or find one here https://www.orvis.co.uk/flies, and you probably are going to need a couple different spools of tippet material. That’s all.

So, when you get started in fly fishing, keep it simple at first. You’ll find lots of uses for those gadgets later, but you don’t need them when you’re starting out.

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The Fly-Fishing Outfit

Understand the basics of the fly-fishing outfit and get started. Learn what basic equipment you need to fly fish in this informative video from Orvis.

You need a rod, a reel, and line, just like any other kind of fishing. But a fly rod bends in a specific way, so that you can put the fly where you want it, but also to play a fish without breaking your leader. For much of fly fishing, the reel is simply a device to store line, and you retrieve and otherwise manipulate the line with your hands. Sometimes, when a big fish is hooked, the reel takes over to provide a mechanical drag and to retrieve line between runs. A fly line has weight, because the line is what casts the fly. A fly line can float or sink, but for now we’ll stick with a floating line, which is by far the most common type. Between the line and fly is a leader, made from regular monofilament fishing line that has been specially tapered to present the fly properly.

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The Clinch Knot for Tying on A Fly

You’ll see scores of different fly-fishing knots, but for most fishing you need only two – one to tie the fly to the leader and another to tie the two pieces of leader material together. To tie a fly to your leader for trout, bass, the easiest knot to use is the clinch knot, and it’s one of the best. With a clinch knot, which you may already know if you’ve done any kind of fishing, you go through the eye of the hook, wind the tag or short end around the standing part of the leader, pass the tag end back through the loop, right in front of the eye, and then tighten by pulling on the fly and the standing part of the leader.

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The Surgeon’s Knot for Adding Tippet

To tie on a new tip to the end of your leader or to tie two pieces of leader material together, you can use a triple overhand, also called the Surgeon’s Knot. This is just a simple triple overhand knot where you pass both ends of the leader, including the tag end, through the loop three times.

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Matching Fly Lines to Fly Rods

The line and leader are tapered to make your presentation better. Fly rods and fly lines are rated with a number system that ranges from 1wt through 12wt, with 1 the lightest and thinnest and 12 the heaviest and thickest. Lighter lines are more delicate. Heavier lines are needed to throw bigger flies and to cast farther, especially when you have windy conditions. Luckily, fly rods made for light lines are more flexible to protect light leaders, and heavier fly rods have enough power to make long casts and enough reserve power to fight big fish. For most trout a 4wt or 5wt rod and line is about right. Rods lighter than a 4 weight are used for small fish or very delicate presentations and are really considered specialty rods. For a good all-round rod for trout, a 6wt is often used. For bigger pike, salmon, and smaller saltwater species, 8wt or 9wt rods are more popular. For very large flies and very heavy fish, 10wt, 11wt or even 12wt rods might be used. Don’t forget a fly rod should always be matched to the correct line size, otherwise it won’t perform at its best.

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Flies vs. Lures

As you can see, by comparing these popular lures to flies, they both do the same thing. Both try to imitate bait fish and others forage like frogs. The only real difference is that fly patterns are virtually weightless in comparison to lures. The weight of a lure is how an angler propels it to the target. With fly fishing, we propel a feather light fly pattern to the target, except we use the weight of the line. The simple mechanics of physics help us cast virtually weightless flies, using a long rod combined with a weighted line. Of course, the actual casting is part of the magical appeal of fly fishing.

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Casting: What A Fly Rod Needs to Do

Casting is one of the great aspects of fly fishing. Many find the rhythmic motion is relaxing and even therapeutic. Like other activities, such as golf or tennis, you need to learn the essentials and practice in order to achieve success. But the key is that it’s easy to learn. I can’t think of a better person to introduce the basics of casting than my friend, Pete Kutzer. Pete’s an instructor at the Orvis Fly Fishing Schools and has taught thousands of people to cast a fly rod.

All fly rods basically need three things in order to work. The first thing they need to do is they need to bend. When that rod bends, we call it loaded. It’s loaded with energy essentially. The next thing that rod needs to do is come to a very abrupt stop. That’s going to transfer the energy from the rod into the line, getting that line to roll out. When we cast, we need to make this fly rod bend and stop twice. Bend and stop, bend and stop. Once behind us, and then once again in front of us. The third thing we need to get this fly rod to do is we need to get that rod tip, that I’m pointing right at you, to move in the straightest line possible. Straight to the back cast and straight to the forward cast. If I get that rod to move straight back and straight forward, the line is going to travel straight back and straight forward. If I travel in an arch, come up and down, up and down, that’s going to send that line down into the ground or into the water and down into the bushes behind you. So just think, bend and stop, bend and stop, and travel in that nice straight path.

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Overhead Cast: Importance of The Pause and Rod Angles

When we’re traveling in that straight path to a stop on that back cast and that straight path to a stop on the forward cast, we must make sure that we pause in between those two casts and let that line roll out behind us. Just as that leader is about to straighten out, that thin, clear piece of line, then we can begin our forward cast. When we’re casting, though, we can move in a straight path, virtually wherever you want. You can make a straight path up over your head. This is kind of a classic trout style of casting. You can make that straight path more out to the side. This is more common in some saltwater situations. Or let’s say you’re in a tricky situation, where you must cast underneath a bush or underneath a tree. We can make a low angle cast, down here, and get that fly out underneath something. So that straight line can be at any angle we want around our body.

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Overhead Cast: Don’t Curl the Rod Around Your Body

When we make that straight path back and that straight path forward, we have to stay in that same straight plane. What we don’t want to do is get a curl around our body behind us or around our body out in front of us. We want to stay, almost as if there’s a wall out there to the side, in that nice straight line, back and forward.

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Overhead Cast: The Grip in Fly Casting and Rod Tip Position

When we’re making that cast, we want to start off with a good grip. You want that thumb on top and a nice, relaxed grip, and that rod relatively in line with your forearm. We’re going to start nice and low, and we don’t want to go too far back when we make that back cast. We’re going to bring that rod up using a little bit of forearm, then a little bit of wrist, and we want to stop somewhere, you know, across from our shoulder or across from our ear, not way back like this. If we come back too far, that usually sends that line down and back, and it’s going to end up getting stuck in the trees or in the bushes. So, rod tip low, thumb on top, smooth acceleration to that stop, smooth acceleration to that stop. Think pop to a stop, if you will, and then when you stop on that forward cast, think stop, then drop. Stop the rod first. That’s going to allow that line to roll out and straighten out in the air. Once that line straightens out, gravity takes over, and then we can lower that line back down to the water and get that line back underneath your index finger, because now you’re fishing.

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The Roll Cast

Sometimes when we’re casting, we have very limited back cast space. We can’t make that complete back cast and send that line behind us. We might have an obstacle behind like us, like a tree, a rock, some bushes, maybe another angler. And in that situation, we want to do a cast called the roll cast. Now, the roll cast is a great cast, but we kind of want to use it on the water. We need to set up an anchor point and what we call a D loop. This is very common, and you’ll hear this a lot in spey casting. The D loop is this little bit of line here behind me, right here. The anchor point is that line touching the water. We need some line touching the water, and we want our hand up kind of near our ear or across from our shoulder. From this point, then we can just make a nice forward flick of the wrist or a nice forward cast, and that’s going to send that line out. So, we just lift this line up and come back nice and slowly, dragging that line across the water, stop right across our ear. I like to tell people it’s almost like you’re talking on a telephone, but it’s somebody really obnoxious or you’re holding the phone away from your ear. Woman: You’re going fishing again? Pete: And then from this point, just a nice flick to a stop or pop to a stop, if you will, around eye level, and that’s going to get that line to roll right out.

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Shooting and Handling Line

When we shoot this line, we want to have good timing. We want to make sure that we’re releasing that line at just the right moment. There’s a couple of different ways you can do this. You can see it, or you can feel it. To see it, what you’re looking for is that nice loop rolling out in front of you. As soon as you see that loop, that’s your visual indicator on when to shoot the line. See the loop. Then you can release the line and start to shoot it. If you want to feel it, you can feel that rod come to that good abrupt stop. Come to that nice stop, then release that line. So, you can see it, or you can feel it. If your timing is off, if you release that line too soon, what can happen is that line can wrap around your arm, wrap around your rod, and it won’t shoot out very nicely. So, we want that good timing, and release that line after we stop. Make sure when you’re releasing that line, that you feather it through your hand. You don’t want to just let that line go and then strip it back in before that line gets straight. So just think, open that bale, hold that line in your other hand, your non-casting hand, make that nice stop, feather it through your hand, back underneath that finger, closing the bale. Then we can strip that line back in. Remember, keep that rod tipped nice and low. Every other cast you hear about in fly fishing is a variation of either the pick-up and lay-down cast or the roll cast as we’ve seen here. And you’ll use these casts more often than any others. Practice these as often as you can, and you’ll have a lot more fun fishing with a fly.

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Fly Fishing Basics Conclusion

You’ve just seen how easy fly fishing can be, and the principle is really the same. Whether you’re fishing for trout, salmon, pike, bonefish, or even marlin or sailfish, you’ve got a rod, a reel, a line, and the fly. It’s just another form of fishing. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that it’s the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but I bet it’s a lot easier than you think. So, keep it simple at first. Concentrate on basic techniques and worry about all that extra gear later. Just get out there and catch some fish at a local pond and see how much fun fly fishing can be.

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