We all spend the same long days at the office. We’ve got the same household chores, the same weekend errands and 24-hour day. So where do fly anglers find the time to stand in the middle of a river with the world buzzing around us? Well, that’s one of mother nature’s best kept secrets. Out in that water, the world isn’t buzzing at all. It’s calm and it’s quiet. It’s the version of the world that existed before we did, and the world that will be here tomorrow. Fly anglers march into that water because we get to drop our baggage on the shore, connect with the natural world, and push against challenge after challenge. In the midst of all that zen, there are enough wins to justify the effort, enough memorable catches to keep the fire stoked. If you’ve peered into the world of fly fishing with wonder, but felt too intimidated to jump in, now’s your chance. These tips will help you avoid common pitfalls, and get you started on the path to success.
1. Find A Mentor
There is simply no replacement for the guidance an experienced and helpful angler can offer. Yeah, there’s a ton you can learn on YouTube or through other online resources, but a mentor can quickly lessen the learning curve, often correcting with one bit of wisdom what may have taken several videos, or even years, to figure out. Don’t stress if you’re not sure that this person is someone you already know. There are plenty of mentorship outlets. Consider signing up for a casting class at your local fly shop. If you’re lucky, they may even offer an a-z course for beginners. These classes are a great way to get plugged in to the fly fishing community and meet fellow anglers with varying levels of experience. We’d also suggest listening to The Orvis Fly Fishing Podcast with Tim Rosenbauer. His podcast is jam-packed with tips and tricks for beginners and experienced anglers alike. Tom recently had me as a guest on his podcast to discuss winter fly fishing techniques.
2. Get The Right Gear
Notice we didn’t say to get the most expensive gear, or even the best. You don’t need to break the bank to get into the game. It’s all about prioritization. An entry level fly rod and reel will get the job done, and there are plenty to choose from. Shop around and read some reviews to learn what more experienced anglers think of the gear you’re considering. If you’re not interested in entry-level, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace are great sites to check for high quality gear, and you’ll often find great discounts on last year’s models. If there’s something you should splurge on, it’s a quality pair of waders. They’re a must if you’re planning on fishing in the shoulder seasons.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
As with any outdoor pursuit, it takes time, hard work, and a lot of practice to perfect fly casting. Fortunately, we’re not going for “perfect” yet, just enough reps to feel confident in your ability to hit the spot you’re aiming for. These reps shouldn’t take place on the river. A sloppy cast to a steady rising trout is likely to get you caught up in a tree branch, and may dump a bunch of line on top of feeding fish which is sure to spook them. Practice in a field or at a local park by setting up some targets and working till you’re hitting your mark again and again. You’ll be on the water in no time.
4. Tie Good Knots
Good knot-tying is something you can perfect from the comfort of your own home. That’s great news because you won’t want to learn it on the river. When the fishing is hot, you don’t want to be held back by flawed knots, or even worse, watch a fish break off when you know you could’ve done better. You only need to know a few simple knots to get the job done, and there are a ton of tutorial videos on Youtube. We’d suggest practicing with a small piece of rope instead of fishing line. Start by learning the blood knot and improved clinch knot. You’ll get many miles out of just those two.
5. Welcome And Learn From Failure
Fly fishing is a sport that takes years to master, and things don’t always come easy. Take a glance at your local trout streams and you’ll see anglers of all experience levels, all ages. You may assume that the silver-haired retiree with expensive gear has reached the peak, and maybe he has. Even still, he’s practicing, learning from his mistakes, and making a note for next time. Those are constants of fly fishing. One thing’s for sure: if that old man has spent much time on the water, he knows that it’s not about mastery and it’s not about catching fish. It’s about getting out there, slowing things down, and connecting with a world and community you would’ve missed had you never heard “there are monster trout in that water.”