Fly fishing 101: a guide for beginners

Fly fishing is an angling technique using a fly rod, reel, and a unique weighted line, getting its name from the unique bait used. The fly fisherman uses artificial flies designed to appear as specific prey, such as invertebrates.

Fly fishing began centuries ago as a simple “hook” and line that eventually became tied to the beginnings of what we know today as rods and has evolved into the sport of fly fishing currently enjoyed across the globe today.

I enjoy fly fishing because it brings a special connection between people. Not only is it the fishing, but it’s a great way to make friends and share stories with others. Fly fishing has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years, and I think it’s great; people of all ages and backgrounds are finding themselves in a river or on a lake learning how to catch a fish with a fly rod. It isn’t just a hobby or past time but becomes a way of life for many people.

Jacob Brewster, fly fishing guide

Where is fly fishing used?

Fly fishing is commonly practiced in a variety of streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The waters of Palmer Creek in Cataloochee Valley.
The rushing water of Caldwell Creek in Cataloochee, North Carolina.

What equipment is involved?

The first piece of equipment needed is a fly rod. Fly rods are different from other fishing poles. Fly rods are typically longer and more limber. Whereas other fishing poles have a reel attached above the grip, fly reels are mounted below the grip.

Reels hold the line and backing. They are separate from the rod and are attached prior to using. Reels are crafted in different styles, based on the circumstances in which they are utilized.

The most important piece of equipment is the fly line and backing. It is the dacron, or braided nylon string in the reel, that allows the angler to reel in fish. There are also different types of line, such as floating line, sinking line and sink-tip line. It attaches to the fly rod and connects to the fly.

There many different types of flies meant to imitate different prey for fish. There are five main categories of flies: dry flies, wet flies, poppers, streamers, and saltwater flies. Each has a different purpose while on the water.

  • Dry flies are meant to float on the water in instances when fish come to the surface to eat. They are meant to imitate emerging or adult insects.
  • Wet flies are fished below the surface and are meant to imitate insects in the nymph stage (pupal).
  • Poppers are blunt flies and also are fished on the surface, but unlike dry flies, they are meant to be moved or twitched to imitate small injured fish or other injured prey.
  • Streamers are fished below the surface and are like wet flies but are larger. Unlike wet flies, they are stripped or retrieved to imitate small fish or other small animals.
  • Saltwater flies are specifically meant to lure fish in salty or brackish water, such as ocean water. They come in many different shapes and sizes and are meant to imitate crabs, fish, or other marine animals.

Where are supplies found for fly fishing?

Supplies such as rods, reels, flies, and other helpful tools can be found in any typical fly shop. Fly shops carry more than the basics and have many helpful tools. Most have guides and experienced employees who are only too happy to answer questions and give helpful tips.

Jedidiah Green watching for movement in his fly on Caldwell Creek.

Even with all necessary equipment, getting the fly on the water can be tricky.

Casting is the technique used to project the fly onto the water. When casting with traditional fishing poles, the bait is cast and the line follows, but fly fishing requires you to cast the line, and the bait follows. In both, when the rod stops, the bait continues forward. It is important to practice casting prior to fishing. There are many types of casting and different techniques.

Jedidiah Green fishing for trout on Palmer Creek in Cataloochee, North Carolina. [Photo Credit: Claire Green]

Though there are many additional techniques, tools, equipment, and information for this entertaining, outdoor activity, these are the basics of fly fishing. So put down the phone, pick up a fly rod, and bask in the cool autumn breeze, colorful leaves, and rhythmic flowing water… a rich combination that is sure to bring refreshment to your soul.

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