Learn The Fly Fishing Basics and How to Fly Fish!

What is Fly Fishing?

What is fly fishing?  If you’re just starting out, if you recently began to have an interest in the sport of fly fishing, or even if you’ve never heard of what fly fishing is, then hopefully this article will help you.  My goal is to have each of you who read this understand just what fly fishing is by the time this is over.  Hopefully this will also help increase your desire to learn how to fly fish and continue on to learn the fly fishing basics.

With traditional fishing methods, we make a cast using some sort of lure or bait attached to the end of your line, which is typically a monofilament or any of the newer braided lines.  The thing you will notice about this setup is that your line is a very thin, lightweight material and the lure or bait is the heaviest part.  This makes it so that when you let that cast loose your lure or bait is what carries the momentum through the air and trails the lightweight line behind it.  If you’ve ever tried casting objects this way that are very light, you’ll no doubt have noticed the difficulty in making that cast go very far at all.  That weight of the lure is what is necessary in the traditional forms of fishing.  The diagram below will help illustrate this.

Traditional Casting Method

Now if you’ve ever seen someone fly cast, you’ll no doubt have noticed some very distinct differences between fly casting and traditional casting.  The angler uses specialized equipment to achieve this cast.  This includes the purpose build fly rod, fly line, leader, tippet, and fly.  The significant difference in casting a fly is that the artificial flies used to catch fish have very little weight to them.  Even when you get into fly fishing for bass or pike with the much larger flies, the weight to those is still very minimal in comparison to casting a spinning lure or other traditional bait.  So how do you go about getting the fly out to where the fish are?  The key is in the fly line.  The fly line is the weight in the casting method.  By using a casting technique that allows the fly rod and fly line to work together, the weight of the line is used to carry the fly out in front of you by transferring the energy built up in the line down through it and out towards the end of the line.  The diagram below will hopefully help to show how this is accomplished by showing what is called the loop in the fly line, which is what is created as the energy transfers through the line.

Fly Casting Method - What is fly fishing

Learning how to fly cast is probably the most important aspect of fly fishing.  Granted there are specific techniques in fly fishing that don’t require much casting at all, but the majority of what you will do in fly fishing involves casting.

Now that we know the differences between traditional casting methods and the fly casting method that is the root of fly fishing, lets get into just what fly fishing is.  Fly fishing revolves around presenting an artificial lure to a fish that is typically an imitation of any sort of insect.  That is the basic concept of fly fishing.  What you are trying to accomplish fishing in this manner is trying to imitate a fish’s natural food base with an imitation and getting them to take the fly.  You are basically trying to outsmart, or trick, the fish.

The flies that you use can vary from imitations of insects that float on the surface, these being mayflies, caddis, or other terrestrials (grasshoppers, ants, etc.), to those types of insects that live under the surface of the water.  You can even utilize flies that don’t resemble any type of natural insect and go for more of a reaction to get the fish to strike.  I’ll elaborate more about these different types of flies in future articles.  This variety of insects require different approaches to fly fishing.  I’ll get further into detail on that in future articles as well.  The fly imitations are created using many different artificial and natural materials.  The materials that are often used create your standard flies include:

  • Feathers from ducks, pheasants, and other types of birds
  • Furs and hairs from animals like beavers, muskrats, deer, elk, and moose
  • Artificially created synthetic materials
  • Glass, brass, and tungsten beads
  • Tinsels, wires, and other types of ribbing materials

That sums up the basic information to answer what fly fishing is.  The idea behind it all is that you are trying to imitate some sort of food the fish eats and entice that fish to take your fly over the other food in the water around them.  Learning how to fly fish involves taking all of this information and putting it together to catch your first fish on the fly.  In future articles I’ll go over the basics of fly fishing equipment, knots, and techniques that will help you learn and improve your fly fishing experience.  Stay tuned and don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me with any questions.  Tight lines everyone!

About Clint Losee

Clint Losee is an avid fly angler of 25+ years, web developer, and Utah Landscape & Nature Photographer. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

  • Great post! Very informative and helpful for the aspiring fly fisher. If we only had more great resources like this out there. Keep up the good work my friend.

    Feather and Fin

  • Mike B

    Outstanding article! I am just learning how to fly fish and you explain things in a very easy to understand way. Thank you for sharing!!!

    • Thanks Mike! Glad you’re liking the site. Let me know if you have any questions.

  • Marie Hunter

    I can only get information about casting. Why do you strip line instead of just reeling?

    • That’s a great question Marie. The simplest answer is that the fly reel is primarily a piece of equipment to hold the fly line. Part of that is that the fly line is being used to cast. If you reel in the line each time, you’ll constantly be pulling more line off the reel for the next cast. The only time I see to reel in the line instead of (or in addition to) stripping it in, is when you are fighting a fish. The reel’s drag helps in this process and the only way to utilize that is with all the line reeled up on the reel. Some prefer to still strip in the line, but it can become a jumbled mess at your feet when fighting a fish. Hopefully that helps with your question. If you have any others, please let me know. Thanks!

  • Roxanne Gordon

    Why are some streams, brooks allow only fy fishing? Why can’t I take my spinner rod up there? I have no time or teacher or money to invest in fly fishing.

    • My understanding is it is that of fish conservation. Fly fishing is less harmful to fish species and produces a lower mortality rate. Those streams managed under these regulations are doing so for the main goal of the fish population. I’d urge you to give fly fishing a shot. I started with a ten dollar fly fishing outfit and took it along with me whenever I went. Then just practice a little while you are out with your spinning rod. Before you know it you’ll be hooked!

      • Joe Doucette

        Check with your state DNR or Wildlife Agency. Many states have free fly fishing clinics and often even provide all the equipment. This way you can learn relatively inexpensively and in some cases without any money outlay at all except for a fishing license. The best place to start would be the website of the agency in your state that manages wildlife.

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