5 Tips for New Fly Fishers

Updated: Jan 29



Last week, I posed this question on the Keystone Fly Fisher Facebook page: If you were to give someone new to fly fishing one piece of advice to get them started, what would it be?

And then, just to poke the bear a little bit and get a wide range of responses, I shared the post to a handful of fly fishing groups. So much for heeding the words of P.G. Wodehouse, creator of Jeeves, who once said, “I always advise people never to give advice” because if there’s one thing about us fly folks, it’s that we love to give advice. Within hours I had literally hundreds of comments to sift through.


I read every comment, replied to many of them, and a very clear pattern started to emerge. Sure, there were off-the-wall replies that weren’t very relevant, but overall, many of them were great, and if heeded, would certainly help someone get started on the right foot. Below are the five tips (in countdown fashion!) that were most often repeated within the comments pertaining to my post:


Number 5 – Social Media is Good…and Bad


While there are certainly many seasoned veterans on social media just sitting around waiting to share their knowledge with neophytes, there are a handful of self-righteous smartasses hellbent on ruining your experience, too. These are the ones who will criticize everything until you’re fairly certain you can’t do anything right, especially when it comes to how you hold a trout for a photograph. They can be downright discouraging.


However, there are some really great folks on the fly fishing forums, too, and when you connect with one, you stand to learn a lot. So if you do go to social media for fly fishing advice, gravitate to the ones who will encourage and support you, and ignore the rest.


Number 4 – Don’t Overcomplicate Things


Easier said than done, of course. It’s human nature to complicate things, and you’ll often find that anyone skilled in a craft or trade is also prone to make it seem more difficult than it is. That’s true with fly fishing, too. The more you learn, the more there is to learn. It can seem like a bottomless pit of learning, in fact, and just when you think you have something figured out, a finicky 10-inch brown trout humbles you all over again.


There are many facets to fly fishing. From the rod and reel you use to the line, leaders, fly selection, etc. But when you get to the bottom of it, successful fly fishing is really about just putting your fly in front of fish. Long before thousand-dollar rods and titanium reels came about, people were catching trout with nothing but a cane pole, length of fishing line, and a hook with a feather tied on it.


Number 3 – Take a Casting Lesson


One of the most difficult tasks for any of us is to break a bad habit. That’s doubly true for casting a fly line. Develop too many bad habits with form, and you’ll have a heck of a time unlearning them and getting on the right track. If you’re serious about learning to fly fish, investing time and money into casting lessons is a great move. Lessons can make the sport so much more enjoyable, not only through the technical aspects of a fly cast, but also in your ability to deliver the fly properly to the fish, which by default will increase your success.


If you don’t want to take in-person instruction, there are a number of great videos on YouTube as well as for sale through Orvis and other catalogs. If you’re going this route, just make sure you’re learning from a reputable source.


Number 2 – Hire a Guide


A good guide can answer a lot of questions. A good guide can teach you where fish are likely to be stationed in a stream or river and how to get your fly in front of them. Every time I’ve hired a guide, I’ve learned a few new tricks and techniques to add to my toolbox, and I’ve never had a fishing guide who didn’t want to help me have success on the river.


Many fly fishing guides spend dozens, if not hundreds, of days on the water every year. They fish through a variety of conditions and have experienced just about every variable possible. When you hire a guide, you have access to that experience, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, this is their job. They want you to catch fish – and some of them pack a really mean lunch!


Number 1 – Just Go Fishing and Have Fun


By far, the most common piece of advice to my Facebook post was this one. Just fish. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t stress yourself out over whatever you’re doing wrong or for not catching fish. Eventually you’ll learn one thing that will help you, and then another, and then another. Fly fishing is an accumulation of knowledge. Nobody ever starts out being great at it right away. At one time or another, we all suck at fly casting, we all get caught in trees, and we all spend time untangling knots in our leaders. And that’s okay. Don’t be hard on yourself, and whatever you do, don’t give up.


Also, have fun, which is what any fishing is all about. The more you slow down and immerse yourself in the learning process, the more you’ll enjoy it. And the more you enjoy it, the more you’ll want to learn.


***What advice would you add to this list? Login below to leave a comment.

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