At FlyCast, our goal is to help anglers of all levels enjoy the sport of fly fishing. We’ve recently placed a heavy focus on posting blogs aimed at assisting new anglers because this is typically a difficult and sometimes frustrating period. So, to further assist, we tapped on the shoulder of a fellow angler who has made it through his first year of fly fishing to share his experiences and the biggest things he has learned thus far. So, without further ado, here are Damian’s top lessons from his first year of fly fishing.
Welcome! If you’re reading this you got into fly fishing and you’ve decided to pursue a lifelong adventure. There is so much information out there related to this sport, and it still is a little overwhelming for myself a little over a year later. You want to know how to catch fish and have a great day on the water, so I’ve put together a list of 10 things I’ve learned to make my time productive and enjoyable. I live in Colorado and this was written based on that perspective.
1. Enjoy your time outside: Public lands are an incredible resource that we are very fortunate to have. Keep your expectations reasonable as you become proficient. Don’t let one day of getting skunked take away from the golden aspen stand you hiked through, or a snow-covered peak in the distance. We get to fish in some of the most beautiful scenery so, take some photos, bring a book and soak it up. It will always be better than working.
2. Check the weather & water temps: You don’t want to put yourself into a position where the skies open up on you and you aren’t prepared, or you get to a mountainous area and the wind is howling on your exposed skin, not fun. Speaking of mountains and alpine fishing, it’s safe to assume there will be a thunderstorm in the afternoon during the summer months, plan accordingly. Why check the water temperature you ask? If the water temp is too hot, over 65 degrees, the fight is going to stress the fish out, and potentially kill it. If it’s cold, less than 45 degrees, expect a slower day on the water that requires precision placement. Water temperatures also play into hatch action, too hot or cold there might not be a hatch at all.
3. Catch and Release: Want to fish your favorite spot for years to come? Put ‘em back. Don’t be afraid to pinch those barbs down, I know I was, but I promise you won’t don’t lose as many as you think you will. Fisheries are fragile resources that are heavily utilized by many, think of it as a social fish account where we all contribute to the savings and we watch the interest grow over time.
4. Equipment: You don’t need an 800 dollar rod to get into this sport, but if that’s your cup of tea go for it. I started with a 100 dollar online special that included the rod/reel/carrying tube. Line can be cheap too, but from experience it’s worth the money to get a good one. A 9 foot 5 weight works great for many situations, and it’s also a good starting point. Once you develop you can get your creek, nymph, and streamer rod setups as you see fit.
5. Flies: This can be the most overwhelming part of it all, hundreds to choose from! Once you decide where you’re going to go, check out an updated report or head to a shop and tell someone you need a few for that location. It’s also fun talking to someone who is just as excited as you are to try and catch some fish. I’m still trying to remember the names for all the patterns out there, if you find that one caught you a lot of fish, take a picture of it in case you end up losing it in a tree or under a rock a few casts later.
6. Casting: Practice, practice, practice. The great part is you can practice on the water, in backyard, or in a park (use yarn anywhere but the water, it’s safer). I’m still trying to get that perfect drift, it just takes time! When you’re faced with wind, you can use it to your advantage by positioning the wind at your back, casting over opposite shoulders, and keeping the line low on your back cast. Pay extra attention, no one likes a fly in their face. Wind still intimidates me, so I’ll start with a short amount of line, keep my back casts low, and work line out while false casting.
7. Cover Water: Unless you can see the fish you’re working on, after a few casts through the spots you think the fish will be and nothing happens, get moving. You’ll learn so much about what to look for when you start to hookup in spots you thought fish wouldn’t feed. You also discover all the little things that give a body or stretch of water its character.
8. Vantage Point: Being a few feet above the water can make a world of difference for sighting fish. I love hiking a little higher up around alpine lakes to spot those cruisers coming in. Move slow, try and keep a low profile, and if a fish is close to you, it’s ok to stop moving all together. If there’s clearance you can even cast ahead of the fish you just spotted and carefully walk back down to land it. This is so much fun with a fishing friend, give it a try sometime.
9. Waders, Nets, Vests, etc: Having a set of waders can make the difference between a cast with great presentation versus poor by being able to get an extra 3-4 feet out into the water. A vest, hip pack, lanyard, or any other way you’re comfortable carrying your gear for quick access to change tippet, flies, add an indicator, or grab the forceps allows more time with the fly on the water and the fish getting back into it. You can fish without a net, but I’d highly recommend one, with rubber, to help land the fish and keep it in the water without stressing it out. Polarized sunglasses are worth the investment and will help you spot fish more easily than without, I promise.
10. Hydration, food, and TP: Becoming dehydrated can turn a great day into a terrible one. Do yourself a favor and bring a water bottle, hydration pack, or filter with you. Here in Colorado it’s pretty dry, and if you’re fishing at elevation and not accustomed to it, staying hydrated is key. You also need to keep your mind sharp, bring your favorite foods with you. I love granola bars and PB&J sandwiches. You might have noticed at a trail head the toilet situation can be a little discouraging, or absent. You don’t want to be caught in the woods when nature calls and not be ready for it. I rip off half a roll of TP and put it in a gallon sized freezer bag, just in case. Don’t forget to pack out all of your trash, these are public spaces and no one wants to see it.
It worth the time to take a free Fly fishing 101 class through Orvis or any other fly shop that offers them. You’re going to experience the beauty of flies snapping off on your back cast, wind knots, and a variety of other challenges, keep at it, they will greatly reduce over time.