Fly fishing is often portrayed in a romantic light, where there is a lone angler, casting gracefully on a meandering creek amongst a beautiful landscape. Although this is somewhat an accurate representation of fly fishing, the learning curve to become the angler in this scenario is large; meaning the uptake of the sport can be daunting for newcomers. Below are ten steps I believe will help put beginners on the right track to become competent fly fishers:
Before you purchase any gear or even pick up a rod the first step is to do some research on what fly fishing opportunities exist in your local area. Many people associate fly fishing with trout in temperate and alpine regions. Although trout are one of the best species to catch on fly, Australia is home to many freshwater native and saltwater fish that are also perfect target species. By searching for information online or reading old and new fly fishing magazines will help you learn what fly fishing options you have. Research at this stage will help you decide what rod, reel, line weight and flies you should be considering to purchase or borrow.
- THE FLY FISHING COMMUNITY
Become immersed in the fly fishing community and spark conversations with anglers. Many regional areas have local fly fishing clubs, so sign up and start attending their meetings. If there are no clubs in your area, you can always join a fly fishing group online. This will be an extremely valuable resource as you learn the sport. As fly fishing is a relatively niche sport, in my experience most anglers love having a chat and providing advice to beginners.
Historically fly fishing was a sport only accessible to those who were relatively wealthy. In today’s global market, it is now possible to buy budget gear at your local fishing shop or online and have it delivered to your doorstep. As a result, the sport is accessible to people from all walks of life. What rod, reel and line weight you require all depends on the species of fish you intend to catch. A 3-4 weight set-up is ideal for catching hand sized trout in a mountain creek, while a 9 weight (heavier) more suited to catching larger fish (barramundi) or species which require a longer cast (bonefish). A lot of people learn with a 5-6 weight setup which is generally considered an all-rounder. Alternatively, borrow gear from a friend or buy second hand.
Fly fishing generally requires tying a few different knots very often. Clinch, uni, blood and Albright knots are all you need to attach a fly and make your leader (the monofilament line you attach to the fly line).
One of the challenging aspects of fly fishing is mastering the art of casting. It is important to remember in fly fishing you cast the weight of the fly line rather than the weight of a sinker or lure. Therefore, casting a fly rod requires timing and the right technique. The best way to learn the basics is to book a casting lesson or a day fishing with a professional guide. A budget option is to watch online tutorials and teach yourself. The later will be a slower process but many fly fishers I know are self-taught. Also, fly fishing clubs usually run casting workshops, so signing up to your local club is a great way to get some free lessons.
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Whether it’s on the water or on the lawn of your local park, practice casting and tying your knots. Some of the most experienced fly fishers still practice casting off the water. By doing so, when you encounter that fish of a lifetime you can cast accurately and trust your knots.
To convince a fish to take your fly, you need to “match the hatch” i.e. choose a fly that best represents what the fish are feeding on. Flies can be either dry flies that float on the surface or wet flies that sink. Popular dry flies include royal wulffs and parachute adams for trout and dalhberg divers and poppers for Australian natives such as Bass. Useful wet flies include wooly buggers for freshwater fish and clousers and surf candies for saltwater species.
- GET ON THE WATER
Spend as much time on the water as possible, as this is the place where you will learn the most about fly fishing. Learning to cast and tie knots are only one aspect of becoming a successful fly fisher. The other is learning to read the water and analyse conditions to know where fish will be holding and what they will be feeding on. This is arguably the most challenging and addicting characteristic of fly fishing and the only true way to learn this is by spending time on the water. A handy tip is to write in a diary describing the conditions, whether you’re catching fish and other observations. This will help you predict the best times to go fishing.
- TIME AND PATIENCE
Whether it is tangles in your leader, hooking trees on your back cast or fish refusing to take your flies, this method of fishing can at times be incredibly frustrating. That’s why it is important to take your time and be patient, especially as a beginner. Fly fishing does not often reward the angler who casts the most or eagerly moves spot to spot. Instead, the angler who is patient, studies the water and makes calculated casts is usually the most successful.
- IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE FISH
Fly fishing takes you to some beautiful landscapes and forces you to connect and observe nature. As a result, time spent on the water with a fly rod in hand can be extremely rewarding even without catching a fish. To me, the process of reading water, casting and observing nature has a meditative effect I’m yet to experience in any other sport. So, if fly fishing sounds like it might interest you get out on the water and see if it’s for you.
All photos by Angus Kennedy @askdsn