Fly-Fishing Basics

father teaching daughter how to cast a fly rod

Week 3

Week 3

We are obsessed with fly fishing. It is our favorite way to explore. When we are not on the water, we are in the backyard practicing our cast, at the kitchen table tying flies, or surrounded by books studying insects, habitats, and rivers. Fly fishing is our favorite way to explore, observe, and benefit from the natural world.

This obsession teaches us a lot! Fly fishing requires us to attempt to understand how water moves, how rivers function, how fish thrive in and react to their habitat, what fish eat and how they hunt, when flies hatch and what that means (the list goes on and on!). Fishing also takes us out of our homes and onto the water where we can enjoy peace and fresh air and a welcomed sense of calm. Fly fishing is our lifeline.

The journey of an angler is a lifelong pursuit. It is an art, a science, a practice in observation, a meditation, and an energizing physical feat. And we all remember our first season fly fishing—the most exciting and engaging—when we took those early steps and dipped our toes into a sport that now defines us. Campers, welcome to the life of fly fishing. Let’s begin with the basics.

What is fly fishing?

What separates fly fishing from other kinds of fishing are the flies themselves—many of which are virtually weightless—which imitate the very small insects that trout and other fish eat. Therefore, with a fly rod, you cast the weight of the line, rather than the fly. A fly line is weighted in a special way to allow fly casting, and the back-and-forth of the fly-casting motion develops momentum that allows you to deliver the weightless fly to a target on the water.

What kinds of fish can you catch with fly fishing?

This is the coolest part: You can catch almost every species of game fish—small trout and panfish, huge salmon, and even saltwater giants such as tarpon. There are different kinds of fly rods and flies used for fishing these many different species. You can learn about some of the most popular fly-rod targets on our Fish Facts page.

What do you need for fly fishing?

To get started, you really need just a few things: a fly rod, a fly reel, fly line, tapered leader, and some flies.

There is lots of other gear—from waders to vests and packs—but you don’t really need them to learn. With a simple setup, you can go to your local pond or stream to catch whatever fish live there. We will spend the next two weeks of Orvis Summer Camp focused on fly fishing —this week is all about the basics. Next week, we will dive into knots and casting.

Please share your adventures by emailing photos and reflections to And follow us on social media to stay updated on special Facebook Live events for campers and more!


illustration of a jumping fish with the words: Orvis - The Great Awaits

Fishy Art: Get to Know Your Local Fish

Little(r)-Kid Approved!

There are many different kinds of fish you can catch while fly fishing, and they all have unique, colorful markings. Do some research to discover what fish you are likely to catch in your nearby streams, rivers, or ocean waters. Once you identify your local fish, study pictures and videos to learn more about their look and movements.

Using whatever art supplies you choose, paint, color, or sculpt your local fish. Here are two fishing scenes that you can print and color.

And, for those campers who want to know how to create a realistic trout, we have a two-part video lesson from artist Tim Johnson, who specializes in painting trout. You only need paper and colored pencils or crayons. Follow Tim’s step-by-step process, and you’ll be amazed by what you can create!

You can also find tons of fishy themed art projects for all ages at Angler Academy:

Angler Academy
Little boy fishing with a branch

Make Your Own Practice Fly Rod

Indoor (or Outdoor) Creative Activity

Step one in becoming a fly fisher is learning the feel of the cast. You can make your own practice rod from things you probably have in the house. Here’s how you do it.


  • A 3-foot thin dowel or similar (a stick, stiff tree branch, etc.)
  • 5 to 7 feet of the heaviest yarn you can find
  • A knife or something to notch the “rod”
  • Athletic tape or duct tape


  • At one end of the dowel or the thicker end of the stick, wrap tape around it to create a grip for your hand.
  • Make a notch for the yarn at the other end of the dowel or stick.
  • Slide the end of the yard into the notch and secure it with tape.

Watch this video on the basic cast. Now see if you can make the yarn unroll in front of you and behind you, as you make the fly-casting motion. The yarn will tell you if you’re doing it correctly.

image of person practicing casting a fly rod

Casting Game: Test Your Accuracy!

Once you are able to get the yarn to unroll properly on your front and back casts, it’s time to practice your accuracy with some fun games. With your 3-foot rod and 5-foot “line,” you should be able to cast about 8 feet. Create some targets (such as your fish drawings), and place them around you, from 5 feet to 8 feet away. Now practice hitting the targets with the tip of your yarn fly line. Can you hit all the targets in a row?

Orvis casting instructor Pete Kutzer has found lots of ways to have fun with his Practicaster. What other games can you come up with?

Pete Kutzer & the Drone Trick Shot
person fly fishing while standing in waist deep water

More Fly-Fishing Resources

multiple canoes in a lake

Connect with Other Campers!

Please share your camp adventures on social media using #orvissummercamp

Send in photos of your maps and photos or reflections of your adventures to If you email us by the end of the day on Thursday, we will share some on our blog on Friday!