• Dustin

How to Fly Fish

Updated: Dec 9, 2020


Northern Pike on the fly using a homemade fly pattern
Northern Pike on the Fly (homemade fly pattern)

Fly fishing can be intimidating, and the perception can often be that the method is species or angler specific. However, that could not be farther from the truth. Fly fishing is a great way to take away variables, and force your brain to think about the water, environment, and fish behavior instead of the multiple rod setups and multiple boxes spilling out of your fishing gear closet.


Getting started is simple and fun. In fact, the first time I ever fly fished was some of the most action-packed fishing I have ever done. They weren’t big fish, but the topwater hits never stopped. I was in middle or high school and our neighbor had a stocked pond with bass and green sunfish (sometimes called warmouth). I remember buying a less than $20 fly rod combo from Walmart and a basic 5-piece popper fly set. I went home and assembled the pieces, threaded the fly line, and tied a leader to the fly. I then headed out to that pond and proceeded to “cast” the fly and try to get it to land softly on top of the water. The reality was more like an Indiana Jones movie with more intense and audible slaps than a game of crazy eights. But the fish still crushed it. Even though they were stocked panfish, the instant feedback kept pushing me to get better. I loved the fact that I did not have to rebait and that I did not need a bunch of extra gear to catch fish. Literally just the rod (didn’t even need the reel in this case), line, and the fly.


Another misconception is the notion that all fly fishing is elitism and if you don’t tie your own flies or wrap your own rods you are somehow less of a person. This is just not true, and you can rock a really simple set up with store-bought flies and be very successful on any trout stream in addition to your favorite pond, lake, or ocean. You will want to find some time to practice casting, but don’t wait to enjoy fishing until you have the perfect cast. Just like in my scenario, there will be some fish that eat ferociously when you slap the water. They just might not be trout. You can also use it as a cane pole and meticulously cover pockets and current seems and catch plenty of trout without casting or reeling. You also don’t need to buy waders or boots right away. Yes, they are a great tool, but you can stand on the bank of a trout stream, not cast, and catch trout (I have done it many times). The key is to find a setup that fits your budget and your desire. If you can afford to get awesome gear, then by all means swing for the fences, but it is not necessary. If you are going to splurge on something, the one piece that is worth the extra money is the fly line. You will shorten your learning curve casting with higher quality fly line (Orvis Hydros equivalent ~$79).

Brown trout on the fly
Driftless Wisconsin Brown Trout

Basic Gear List to get you started:

  • Rod/Reel set up (does not need to be expensive)

  • 5 WT is perfect for learning

  • Works for trout, bass, panfish, walleye, and many other species

  • Fly Line (If you can afford it, go with higher quality, but not a necessity to fish)

  • weight forward 5 WT

  • Probably coldwater unless saltwater fishing exclusively

  • Leader

  • Individual leader packets or a spool of regular 6, 8, or 10 lbs. fluorocarbon will be great to get you started depending on your target species

  • Flies

  • Wooly Buggers in a couple of sizes and colors and weights

  • Black, Brown, Green,

  • White

  • Waders (optional)

  • Go try them on before you buy to figure out comfort and sizing

  • Look for warranty info in case of tears or holes

  • Boots (Optional)

  • Some are built into waders

  • You will want to try these on before you buy and wear the socks you would wear in the stream if you plan to wade.

Everything else you may already have in other fishing gearboxes like hemostats or pliers, a hand net, and sun protection. Fly fishing is a ton of fun and can be as simple and accessible as you can imagine. I have learned so much from fly fishing that has transferred to conventional tackle, its put more fish in the net, and I still smile every time I am on the water no matter what type of fish catching tool is in my hand. Get out and try a different way to catch fish and enjoy learning something new!

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