Learning to Fly Fish

father teaching his daughter how to cast a fly rod

Week 4

Before you head to the stream to start catching fish with a fly rod, there are a few things you need to learn: how to cast and how to tie knots. But don’t worry, these new skills aren’t difficult and learning them is fun. There are also some new terms you should learn and may want to refer to you as you take on this week’s activities, so we’ve created this short glossary to help. Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll be ready to catch your first fish!

To dive deep and learn everything you need to know about fly fishing, visit the Orvis Fly Fishing Learning Center, which features how-to videos, knot animations, articles, and lessons that will help you catch any species of fish!

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


Screenshot from basic fly casting video

Learn to Cast!

The first step in the journey to becoming a fly fisher is learning how to cast, which will allow you to deliver your fly to the fish. With just a few hours of practice, you’ll be able to hit a target 20 or 30 feet away, which is far enough to get the job done. There are many different kinds of casts, but the two you’ll want to tackle first are the basic overhead cast and the roll cast.

The Overhead Cast

To practice the overhead cast, pull about 20 feet of fly line (or 10-12 feet of practicaster yarn) and the leader out beyond the tip of the rod, and lay it on the ground in a straight line in front of you. Safety First: Always wear eye protection when you are casting!

Watch the Instructional Video


  • Grip the rod handle with your thumb on top. Start with your rod tip close to the ground.
  • Using mostly your forearm (rather than wrist), smoothly accelerate the rod backward until your hand is next to your ear and come to an abrupt stop. The motion is similar to how you would quickly answer a phone. After you stop the rod, the line should roll out in the air behind you.
  • Just before the line straightens completely, accelerate the rod tip forward until it is at eye level, and abruptly stop. This will make the line roll out in front of you.
  • Just as the line straightens in front of you, drop the rod tip to the ground, so everything returns to the starting position


  • Try not to bend your wrist. Bend at the elbow so your forearm does most of the work. This motion is similar to how you would use a hammer to pound in a nail in a wall in front of you.
  • The stops on the backcast and forward cast must be abrupt. This allows the rod to “unload,” which transfers energy to the line, sending it straight out from the rod tip. If you simply slow the rod to a stop, your line will just collapse.
  • Turn your head to watch the backcast as it unrolls behind you. This will help you know if you’re stopping the rod correctly, and it will help you know when to start the forward-cast motion.

Once you can get the line to unroll straight behind you and in front of you, you’ve got the hang of it!

The Roll Cast

The roll cast is great for fishing in places where you have trees or bushes behind you that may get in the way of the backcast. Start in the same position above, with 20 yards of fly line plus the leader lying in front of you.


  • Slowly raise the rod tip until your casting hand is next to your ear, and the rod tip is pointing slightly behind you.
  • The fly line will move toward you and form a curve of line between the rod tip and the ground. (This is called the “D loop.”)
  • Now make the same forward-cast motion you did in step #4 above: accelerate the rod tip forward until it is at eye level, and abruptly stop. This will make the line roll out in front of you.
  • Just as the line straightens in front of you, drop the rod tip to the ground, so everything returns to the starting position.


  • Make the backward motion slowly, so the whole line doesn’t jump behind you. You need that portion of the line on the ground or water in front of you to help load the rod.
  • Angle the rod slightly away from your casting shoulder, to keep the line on the far side of the rod.
  • Again, make sure the stop on that forward cast is abrupt.
image of person practicing casting a fly rod

Test Your Casting and Accuracy—Advanced Level!

Field Trip | Advanced Level

Last week, we practiced our accuracy using targets and our practice line. Let’s step it up a notch! This week, place your targets 20 to 30 feet away and see if you can hit them with the end of your leader, using an overhead cast and possibly a roll cast. Challenge yourself to hit as many in a row as possible or give each target a score and compete against another angler to see who can amass the most points.

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

Watch the Practicaster in action
close up image of a clinch knot

Essential Knots for Fly Fishing

Indoor (or Outdoor) Creative Activity

Knots are important in any kind of fishing because they address the weakest part of the connection between you and a fish. In fly fishing, you’ll need at least one knot to tie a fly to the end of the leader (the clinch knot) and another knot to connect two sections of leader material—for instance, if you want to make your leader longer (the double surgeon’s knot). Check out our video instructions to learn how to tie these two essential knots.

Practice, practice, practice. You can practice tying these knots while you’re watching TV, riding in the car, or just hanging out. All you need is any kind of fishing line, a fly, and a pair of nail clippers. Put a piece of pencil eraser over the hook of the fly so you don’t poke yourself. Take your time—it’s always worth ensuring quality knots so you don’t miss an awesome fish!

Once you think you’ve got the tying steps down, see how fast you can tie each one. But make sure they aren’t sloppy! Can you tie a clinch knot in under 30 seconds? Can you tie a double surgeon’s knot in under a minute?

Next, starting with your rod in its tube, see how long it takes you to get rigged for fishing:

  • Take rod out of tube and assemble it
  • Attach the reel
  • String the rod
  • Add two feet to your leader
  • Tie on a fly

If you can do this in under 5 minutes, you’re a pro!

woman casting a fly rod against a blue sky

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 summercamp@orvis.com. If you email us by the end of the day on Thursday, we will share some on our blog on Friday!