Getting Started

The ultimate beginners guide to fly fishing

2nd of July 2022

What is fly fishing?

Fly fishing is a method of angling that involves the use of a rod, line. It uses an artificial fly – rather than a lure or bait – to catch fish. It takes a bit more practice than other types of fishing, but that's also why it's so much fun once you get the hang of it! With a little practice, anyone can learn how to fly fish.

The key difference with other types of fishing is that in fly fishing the weight to get your line out is the line itself, instead of a lead weight or a heavy lure at the end of the line. This is because then you are able to present a fly imitation that floats on the water. If you would use weight like lead to get your line out, that fly would simply sink! Presenting a fly that floats on the water is where fly fishing started, but nowadays you can also fly fish with many different flies, including ones that go under water (like a nymph or a baitfish imitation).

If you have been itching to try something new or simply want to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to fly fishing, then this article is for you.

Fly fishers having a good time 🎣
Fly fishers having a good time 🎣

What does fly fishing involve?

There are two main components to fly fishing: 

  • Casting — you need to learn to cast your line out and then back in again in such a way that you get your fly to land where you want it to
  • Presentation — this means presenting your fly, and making it move in a way that it appears natural to the fish 

Casting is the most important aspect of fly fishing and what separates it from other types of fishing. You’ll need to practice to get it right. It’s not just about throwing the line out into the water like you would do with other types of fishing. 

How to cast?

When you are fly fishing, you must learn to “make” a cast instead of “throwing” one. Throwing a cast is how you would normally go about casting a line with a spinning reel, but when you “make” a cast, you are moving your arm and wrist in a way that you control the line. When you make the cast, you need to follow through so that the line goes exactly where you want it to. It’s also important to work on your timing.

Once you get more experienced, you can “false cast” meaning swinging your rod back and forth without actually landing the line on the water. Instead, you keep it in the air and make it longer and longer by ‘giving it line’, until you’re ready to make your last forward cast and land in on the water.

If this all sounds like hocus pocus to you, have a look at this video that visually explains it:

Explanation of the basic fly cast by Orvis

Casting lessons

If there is one thing that can dramatically impact learning to fly fish, it’s casting lessons. As with any new skill, it’s important to learn from an expert – especially when you’re first starting out. A good instructor will be able to assess your casting and offer tips and advice on how to improve. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend who fly fishes, ask them if they would mind taking a look at your casting. 

If you don’t know anyone that fly fishes, it’s worth contacting a local or online fishing shop and asking them for tips. We have yet to encounter a fly fisher that’s not excited to help a beginner get started!

What do I need for fly fishing?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that fly fishing is expensive. This probably comes from the fact that a long time ago it was a hobby for the upper class (full read: the history of fly fishing). Those times are long gone, so fly fishing is available to anyone and everyone.

This is the minimum that you need in order to get started:

  • A rod — we would recommend an AFTMA 5 weight rod, because it’s a good all-round weight that you can use for many different fish.
  • A fly line — the weight class of a fly line should match your rod’s weight. So for an AFTMA 5 rod you get a 5 weight line. Whether you buy a floating, intermediate (which is a slow sinking line) or a fast sinking line).
  • A leader — this is the transparent line that you connect to the end of your fly line, and at which end you attach your fly. Optionally you can attach tippet to the end of the leader, but you can do without.
  • Flies — beginner’s mistake: buy too many. Really, just a selection of 10 different flies is more than enough.
  • Landing net — you might not expect to catch something, or something big. But if you do you should be prepared, so make sure you have a landing net.
  • Basic tools — you will need at least a forceps to remove flies from a fish when you caught one, and optionally nippers to cut fishing line.

If you plan on going in the water you could add waders to this list. But we would suggest to start with the most minimum set and just add things after you’ve confirmed you like it. Because once you do, you’ll be adding gear in no time ;-).

Oh and don’t worry about loosing flies. It happens to every single fly fisher, especially in more difficult water where the likelyhood of getting stuck is bigger. It’s just part of the hobby.

Start without buying gear

If you know a fly fisher, ask them if they can not only give you some casting instructions, but also if you can borrow their gear for a day or two. This way you can easily see if you like fly fishing without having to buy all the gear first.

When is the best time to go fly fishing?

The answer is 'it depends'. On the location (country and which water), on the weather and that combined with what species you’re fishing for. In general, when the weather is more warm during summer, most fish will be higher up in the water. When it’s colder the fish will be deeper down.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t catch them, you could fish with a sinking line and still manage catch a lot of fish. Some species, like Northern pike in Europe, are actually best caught in the winter. So not to worry: you can fly fish all year round!

Where to go?

When you are just starting out it’s a good idea to start on a lake where you have a lot of empty space (no trees) behind you. Trees can make the fly fishing experience very frustrating for beginners because the lines will get caught in them when you make your back cast. A calm lake surface is also a much better option than an active river when it comes to learning how to fly fish, because a running current makes presentation and managing your line more difficult.

Gathering information

If you are completely new to fly fishing, it can be helpful to email or talk to someone who is experienced in the sport. They will be able to discuss the best options with you and offer tips on how to get started. If you are trying to decide between different types of fly-fishing gear, they can also provide a lot of useful information to get you started.

And of course: browse around on this website. Read up on locations, fish, gear and other tips in this library so you have a better understanding of all the things involved.

How to handle fish

With any method of fishing, you need to be careful with how you handle fish. Use an appropriate landing net (made from the right material), try to unhook the fish in the water if you can and if not make sure the fish is out of the water for the least time possible. You can take a picture of course, but do it quickly so you can return the fish quickly as well. It’s better if you fish with someone else so they can both help you land the fish and take the picture, which speeds up the whole process.

Use a rubber mesh net, take pictures quickly and handle the fish with care
Use a rubber mesh net, take pictures quickly and handle the fish with care


There is nothing quite like the feeling of fly-fishing and being one with nature. It takes a great deal of skill and patience, but for those who stick with it, fly fishing is sure to become a lifelong passion. 

It’s okay if you feel like you’re not getting it right straight away. Once you get the hang of it you’ll like it even more because there’s nothing better than the feeling of mastering a new skill.

If you're curious to learn why so many people are obsessed with fly fishing, read our article that explains all the reasons why people love fly fishing.

Who invented fly fishing?

If you're curious after reading this about where it all stared, read out post about the history of fly fishing.

Tight lines! 🎣

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