How Do I Learn to Fly Fish?

People come to the sport of fly fishing from various places. You may have a family member that's introduced you, a friend that's always talking about their fly fishing adventures, or simply just seen someone fly fishing and it's piqued your interest. Regardless of how you got here, if you're ready to start fly fishing then let's take a look at the steps that can simplify the process of getting out on the water and getting fish at the end of your line!

The Gear

Let's assume you don't have any of the gear and are wondering what the basic equipment you'll need in order to try your first casts. Before you go and get all the gear that goes along with it (waders, boots, nets, etc.), you need to focus on the real essential tools of the trade; rod, reel, line, fly. At a bare minimum you will need:

A Fly Rod.

  • The most common and best place to start is a graphite 6WT fly rod at about 9' long. Fly rods come in a myriad of lengths and designated WT's but for the most part a 6WT will get you casting and catching just about all the freshwater species of fish.

A Reel.

  • You'll want to match the fly reel to the rod, meaning that you want the size of the reel to be relative to the size of the rod. Reels also come in a WT designation that matches it to the rod. For a 6WT trout rod, look at the reels designated 5/6WT.


  • Typically you'll want to match your leader size to the type of fly you're presenting, but for beginning purposes start out with a 2X leader at 9' long and then purchase a spool of 3X leader to practice your leader/tippet knot connection.

Prepackaged Set-Ups

Prepackaged set-ups are really the way to go for an angler starting out. Most major rod companies that also sell reels have beginner rod/reel setups available for purchase. Instead of having to select and purchase all the individual parts, you can usually find pre-boxed set ups that contain the rod, reel, line, and leaders all set up and ready to go. These are a wonderful place for anyone who is just getting into the sport to start. They are usually very affordable (between $70-$200) and you can spend more time acquainting yourself with the gear rather than trying to figure out what to buy.

Buying individual rods and reels and then matching them together allows an angler to customize their set-ups to a very precise level of personal preference. This is great for an experienced angler that knows exactly what they want, but can be confusing for someone starting out. When buying your first rod and reel, a prepackaged set-up is a great way to just keep it simple and start casting right away.

Class Instruction

If it's available in your area, taking a class on basic fly casting and basic fly fishing techniques is a great and highly recommended way to introduce yourself to fly fishing. These classes will have you side by side with other first timers, learning the motions and tricks of casting a fly rod from a certified expert with years of casting experience. A quick internet search will key you in to classes in your area.

Online videos also are hugely helpful for beginners and experts alike. If you have a mobile device that's able to stream online videos, load up a few instructional casting videos and bring the device with you out on to the lawn. Watch the video all the way through first to take it all in. After reloading the video, start it from the beginning and follow it step by step, pausing the video to practice the techniques as you go.

Some people benefit greatly from being directly taught by an expert and are able to learn more quickly and confidently that way. Others prefer to teach themselves and better able to "learn by doing," or more aptly, through trial and error. If you know which style of learning suits you best, then go with it and try that way first. However, it can't be overstated that the best possible way to learn to fly cast is by at least once having an expert suss out your cast on a personal level and give you advice on how to improve it.        

Learning From Peers

Fly fisherman are sometimes viewed as solitary and even grumpy or secretive types. You may be afraid or weary to approach a fellow angler on the river, but don't be! Just about any fly fisherman will attest to the lasting friendships and wealth of knowledge they've been graced with after talking with fellow anglers on the water. If you're having a tough time catching fish, and see someone having great success, don't be afraid to have a friendly conversation and try to learn a thing or two from them. At the very least, watch other anglers and how they fish, where they fish, how they cast, and what they do on the water.

Making fishing buddies shouldn't be an overlooked part of the learning experience. If you have no fly fishing friends, try joining local fishing clubs, join online fishing forums, hang around the fly shop, and look at any conservation club like Trout Unlimited. There are TU chapters in virtually every state with cold-water fisheries, and many saltwater fisheries have comparable conservation groups aimed at restoring fish habitat and populations; virtually all of their members are fisherman!

Get After It!

Once you have the basic gear, set it up and get going! Don't give up! Just like anything that has great reward, there is some amount of struggle involved in getting started. At some point, you'll get frustrated, but just keep with it. The day when everything clicks, your cast lays out perfectly, and a fish takes your fly for the first time are some of the most lasting memories of any fly angler's life. Persevering through frustrating moments will build your confidence as a fisherman, and there are rarely moments where things comes easy; and that's what makes the reward that much greater.

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