Begin Flyfishing

Beginning Flyfishing

So you want to start flyfishing? - Confusing eh?

MadnessWhen I was young, I spent most of my spare time fishing for pike, perch etc  But even then, I could see that what I had to aspire to was fly fishing. But every time I considered trying it, I'd start to read up on the subject and then give up in despair. There was just too much to learn - I mean where do you start? Floating lines, sinking lines, fast sinkers, slow sinkers - and this was in the days before intermediates, slime lines, fast glass etc.

Then there was casting a fly rod - obviously invented by a demented madman. And the books all trying to teach you to cast with little stick figure drawings - it was more like trigonometry than fishing...... look at the drawing on the right - you just know that it's all going to end in tears - and anyway - it seemed that you couldn't cast a fly rod without smoking a pipe!

Then there was the single haul and the double haul, rollcast, steeplecast.......
And what rod did I need - 9ft, 10ft, soft, stiff - and what the hell was an AFTM rating anyway?
And flies? Wets, dries, lures, nymphs, emergers...........It just seemed to me that it was an impossible task.

But you can do it - the secret is to start simple, have a bit of patience and don't try to learn it all at once.  Remember that the idea of this article is to get you started - not to teach you all about fly fishing - anyway you're better learning it by doing - not by reading!

So lets get you started:- 


It's no accident that I start with clothing.  For ten years I owned a tackle shop, and when ever any one wanted to take up fishing, they were always surprised when my first stop was at the clothing section rather than the fishing section.  Well here's why:

Scenario 1:

Luckily modern waterproofs are a bit less cumbersome

You've kitted yourself out with a shiny new rod, reel etc.  Spent all your budget on some really decent tackle.  You've even managed to get an experienced angler to take you out and show you the basics.

It's a lovely day as you set out in a boat which has probably cost at least £40 for the two of you.  You have all your nice new gear, and you're wearing your warmest showerproof anorak.

Five minutes after starting the first drift, it starts to rain, the wind swings to the east and you begin to feel a bit of a chill.  After a few hours of incessant rain, which has now penetrated right through to your underwear, you start shivering - you never knew you could be this cold.  Of course, being a beginner, you've caught nothing, and now you couldn't care less.  A quick glance at your watch tells you that there are still five hours of fishing/misery left to endure.  Mr experienced angler at the other end of the boat, wearing his thermals and breathable waterproofs, is obviously quite content, catching the odd fish, and has no intention of leaving the water until he's had his moneys worth.  After the longest most miserable day of your life, you head home, throw the tackle in the darkest recesses of the cupboard and your angling career is over.

Scenario 2:

As above, but this time you've spent about £50 on one of the excellent budget rod/reel/line packages that are available these days and the rest of your cash on a decent set of waterproofs and thermals.

Out you go with Mr experienced - same weather as before, which of course is not pleasant, but at least you're dry and warm and you can actually enjoy the day, learn a few tips from the other angler, and perhaps even catch a fish - you're hooked!

The rod and the line

These days, it is possible to buy a perfectly good rod for £40.00 upwards.  You probably want something around the 10ft mark.  This is a good general purpose length, and I wouldn't recommend anything longer than 10.5 ft or shorter than 9.5ft.

So now we come to the AFTMA rating.  Well it stands for the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association - the AFTMA rating of the rod and the line, should match for the rod to work properly.

I would recommend  for beginners, a rod rated 6-7-8 or 7-8.  So you would match this with a line of the correct weight.

The lines come marked with some letters, a number, and a letter.  The first letters refer to the shape of the line - so WF is a weight forward, DT is a double taper.  I am not going to go into the pros and cons of these, suffice it to say that to begin with I would recommend a weight forward line.

(If you get hung up just now on what is the difference between a weight forward, a double taper etc, then you'll never get started - my advice is - start with a weight forward, and in time try some other tapers and see which you prefer.  The main thing is to get fishing!)

The number refers to the AFTMA line weight and the line and rod should match.

The final letter refers to the function of the line so F is a floating line, I is an intermediate and S is a sinker

Let's say you buy a rod rated 7-8.  If you are only buying one line then buy a WF8F that's a weight forward eight floater.  The heavier line rating will help you when learning to cast.  If you can stretch to a couple of lines, then a WF8S ordinary sinker is probably the line to go for.

Again you will be met with a huge array of lines priced from £5 to £55.  It is true to say that your first line will probably have a short and unhappy life as it flails back and forth getting nowhere fast - and here's a tip:  If your casting suddenly starts to produce whiplash sounds  - STOP and check your fly - it is probably long gone!  There's many a beginner who has happily fished on with no fly on the end - check your cast and flies regularly.

However I wouldn't go for the cheapest line as when your learning to cast, you need all the help you can get, and some of the real cheap lines can be a bit of a hindrance.  If possible look to spend something in the £20 - £30 range. 

The reel

The basic fly fishing reel is a very simple affair, however I would avoid buying one of the really cheap plastic affairs that are available today.  Not that it won't do the job ok, but the noise from the drag will drive you and your fellow anglers crazy!    Disc drags are the best, and it is now possible to get a disc drag reel for around the £20 mark.


There are some really good deals to be had by buying the rod reel and lines together - shop around.

Putting it all Together

The Rod

Straightforward enough, but mentioned for completeness - stick the various sections together making sure that the rings are aligned.  During the course of a day's fishing, check the rod sections every now and again to make sure they are not working loose.  If they do work loose and you continue casting, there is a danger that the female section of the join can get damaged.

The Reel

A fly reel is first packed out with backing line which is then attached to the flyline - so why do we need this backing line?

  • first of all if you simply attached the flyline straight to the reel, it would be wound tightly round the core of the reel, and when pulled from the reel would hang in tight coils.  Packing out the diameter of the reel with backing line helps to alleviate this problem.
  • Secondly, fly lines are usually 25 - 35 yards long, and if you get into a big fish, you may find that it wants to run a bit further than that - so you need some extra line in reserve.

An easy way to attach the backing to your flyline, is to use one of the braided leader loops which are normally used for tying your nylon cast to the flyline.  Follow the instructions on the pack for fitting it (use some superglue as well as the plastic collar for safety) and tie the backing to the loop.

Don't overfill the reel - the line and backing together should come to about a  quarter of an inch below the rim.

It is important to wind the line on without putting any twists in it -

The cast(tippet,leader etc)

When I started, I was taught to fish with a team of three flies - except when we fished loch leven when four flies were used, the tail fly normally being a wee double.
This is not what I would recommend!  I used to spend most of my fishing time undoing tangles - and remember you won't catch anything if your fly isn't in the water.

To begin with fix a braided loop to the end of your fly line. ( a drop of superglue run under the plastic sleeve will make sure it doesn't come off in a hurry)

Attach a length of nylon about the same length as your rod i.e. 9 or 10 feet and fish a single fly.

The range of leader materials these days is enormous - double strength, fluorocarbon etc

I recommend starting with a good standard reliable nylon such as green Maxima or Drennan sub surface about 5 or 6 lbs breaking strain.  These are fairly forgiving nylons.  Once you have a bit of confidence, you can start experimenting with the high tec stuff.

Attach your flies with this knot - wet it and tighten gently.  Use the same knot to tie your cast to the braided loop


Flies - where to start?

I know anglers who only have a tiny selection of flies and seem to do as well as anyone else.  In fact I know one angler who in the past was a Scottish internationalist, who only ever fished with one pattern in various sizes.
The rest of us suffer from this fear of being caught out on the water without the killing pattern and so insecurity drives us to carry bigger and bigger boxes with more and more flies. We all know that we probably won't use most of them but it's nice to have them in resrve for those tricky days!

Sometimes when I kitted out a new angler in my shop, I'd pick out a selection of flies and more often then not I'd be met with "Surely I won't need so many?"  We'd compromise with a cut down selection of say ten and off they'd go to try out the new kit.  After a few days they were back having lost all the flies by cracking them off, catching trees or grass, or even getting broken on a fish.

The worse thing of course is to find a fly that is catching fish - and then lose it!  Try to always buy them at least in twos - that way if you lose a fly that's catching, you'll have another in reserve.

You will develop your own favourites and as anyone will tell you, half the battle is having confidence in the fly.

If I was to be put on the spot and asked what my favourites of each type of fly was, I would have to say:

  • Favourite Dry - Hare's ear hopper
  • Favourite Long Shank Nymph - olive marabou damsel
  • Favourite Lure - Ace of Spades
  • Favourite Wet - Kate Mclaren
  • Favourite Short Shank Nymph - Diawl Bach
  • Favourite Buzzer - Black Ultra Thin

These are the flies that I think will usually get me a fish or two, but everybody has their own favourites

And Finally.........

Go Fishing

Ok the ideal situation is to have someone who can show you the ropes.  If this is not possible then I would suggest the following:

  • Ask at your local tackle shop where is the best fishery for a beginner to go.  You are looking for somewhere that is well stocked, with easy casting, and importantly - friendly staff who are willing to give you some advice.

  • When you find a suitable place, don't be embarrassed about being a beginner - come right out with it and tell them that you are new to the game.  A decent fishery owner will help you and may even have someone on the staff who for a fee can give you a few lessons.

  • Don't be embarrassed about your atrocious casting - we were all beginners once, and we've all been there!  So how are you going to learn to cast?  Well you can read all you want about it, but you just have to get out there and do it.  The secret is not to try for too much distance at first - that'll come.  Fish a single fly and concentrate on getting your timing right.

  • When should you use a floating line and when to use a sinker?  Start off with a floater as it is much easier to lift off of the water and cast.  If you are not seeing any fish on the surface (and not catching anything) try the sinker.  Try counting to ten, twenty etc after you cast out, to fish your flies back at different depths.  Vary the speed of retrieve and try giving the flies the odd twitch or two.

  • Don't try to emulate the experienced guy down the bank who is chucking out 25  - 30 yds.  All you'll do is make a huge commotion and drive every fish away.  Better to keep a low profile, cast within your abilities, and let the fish come to you.

  • Don't be afraid to ask for advice from experienced anglers - you'll normally find them more than willing to help

Finally - enjoy yourself

Tight Lines