Getting started in fly fishing
Getting started in fly fishing is not difficult, nor is it expensive. Persons with a meager amount of manual skills and very modest budget meet the minimum requirements.
First define the kind of fishing you intend to do most and the kind of fish you will try to catch. Is it lake, stream or ocean fishing? Is it for trout, panfish, bass, salmon, bonefish or tarpon? From the answers to these simple questions you can determine the outfit you’ll be using most.
Choosing a Balanced Outfit
You should start with a balanced fly fishing outfit: with a rod/reel/line that balance, e.g., a balanced 5 weight outfit – a 5 weight line, a 5 weight rod and a reel that holds a 5 weight line. Then the assembled outfit should balance in your hand. While holding the grip the rod shouldn’t feel butt or tip heavy. This will make for comfortable, controllable fly fishing.
We start by choosing the line for the type of fishing we intend to do, then match it with a rod and then a reel.
Rod and Line Selection
General rules of thumb in rod/line selection:
- For fishing in small streams for small trout or panfish – Line sizes 3 to 5, 5 being most popular. Rods, usually graphite, in 7 to 8 feet in length (be sure rod “weight” matches the line you have chosen). Longer rods are easier to cast than smaller ones. The choice of weight forward versus double taper fly lines is a subject of much debate. It simply doesn’t matter much in this case.
- For medium size rivers for trout bass and panfish of most sizes – Line sizes 5 to 7, 6 being most popular. Rods in length 8 to 9 ‘. Again, longer rods are easier to cast and can cast longer distances, especially with weight forward or rocket taper fly lines. Double taper fly lines are used less in this kind of fishing.
- For really big rivers, big trout, salmon. big bass and light saltwater – Lines 7 to 9, 8 and 9 weights being most popular. Graphite rods of 9 to 10 feet, 9′ being most popular. Weight forward lines are generally used to punch out the big flies and to cast for distance.
- Really big fish like tarpon are usually fished with 12 weight lines and 9 to 9 1/2 12 weight rods.
Fly Reel Selection
General rules of thumb for fly reel selection:
- For fishing small trout and panfish a fly reel serves to hold the fly line. Rarely are any of the reel “features” needed for this type of fly fishing. We can readily use reels like the smaller Pflueger Medalist, Cortland Rimfly or Crown reels.
- Stepping up to larger trout and bass fly fishing, we need some of the reels “features.” A palming rim and drag system now become important. Even a disc drag system is useful for fishing these bigger fish.
- With big game fish like salmon, steelhead and saltwater species in addition to a palming rim a really good disc drag system is helpful.
- Avoid buying “too much reel” for the task at hand. Trout fishing with an 8′ 5 weight rod and line would require no more than a Pflueger 1492 1/2 or 1494 or 1594 or 1974 reel, or a smaller crown or Rimfly Cortland reel. It would be ok to use more expensive models like Cortland’s LTD or 3M’s system 2-l reels, but those features wouldn’t be used much for smaller fish in smaller streams.
- For larger trout and bass the features (i.e., strong disc drag, palming rim and counter balanced spools) of the Cortland LTD reels, Pflueger Supreme reels and the 3M system 2-L reels become more important, although the intermediate size Pflueger Medalist, Cortland Rimfly and Crown reels are certainly up to the task.
- For big game such as salmon, steelhead and light saltwater species (bluefish, stripped bass and bonefish) reels like the Cortland Magnum and 3M System 2 reels are perfect. However, the Pflueger models 1498, 1598 and 1798 along with Cortlands XL LTD reels will certainly be sufficient for the beginner or occasional saltwater fly fisherman.
- For really big fish like tarpon, only reels like the Cortland Magnum 200 or 3M System 2 Model 1011 will do. Big reels with heavy drags and large line and backing capacities.
Fly Line Backing
Fly line backing serves two purposes. To fill the spool so it doesn’t take terribly long to wind in a fly line and to allow a fish to run and strip more line from the reel than the fly line itself. Backing becomes more of a factor with the increase in size of the fish being sought.
- For fishing trout in small streams little if any backing is necessary, in any event no more than 50 yards of backing is needed.
- For larger trout and bass a reel should be able to hold 100 yards of backing and the fly line.
- For salmon, steelhead and light saltwater species, the reel should hold at least 200 yards of backing.
- Tarpon and other really big game fishing reels should hold at least 300 yards of backing.
Most reel tables in catalogs list reel capacities in terms of line/backing. Most often it is in terms of WF lines. One can take those numbers and estimate for a different line what a new capacity would be as follows: To go down a line weight (from 6 to 5) add 50 yards backing. To go from a DT to a WF line add 50 yards backing. (If you wish to be really conservative use 35 yards instead of 50).
Using a specialty line changes things in some instances. A wet tip line will closely follow the above. A full sinking line is much smaller in diameter and will allow about 100 yds more backing than charts show.
All that is needed now to compete the basic fly fishing outfit is a leader and tippet. This is basically chosen according to fly sizes to be fished. Roughly the rule-of-four can give you an upper limit of the tippet size to use. For a size 8 fly 2X (or smaller) leader tippets are required. For a 16, a size 4X tippet size is maximum. Always add a piece of matching or smaller tippet material to your leader. It will be chewed up as you change flies instead of your leader.
One also requires appropriate flies and perhaps fly floatant and/or fly sink depending on the type of fly fishing to be done.
Many Trout Unlimited groups offer fly casting/fly fishing lessons. These alone are worth the cost of a membership in this worthy organization. There are, of course, many commercially available fly fishing schools. We do not recommend a book for fly casting instructions, but basic fly casting and fly fishing videos of outstanding quality are available.
Credit given to Hook & Hackle Company