Thanksgiving dinner is a time of family conversation and good jokes. But eventually, the conversation always seems to lead to “what do you want for Christmas?” My standard joke response is, “a new bamboo fly rod would be nice”, which quickly gets ignored among the chatter. But then my niece who was sitting beside me asked me, “How difficult is fly fishing to learn”? I suddenly found myself at a temporary loss for words.
How difficult is fly fishing to learn? Learning to fly fish is easy, mastering fly fishing may take a lifetime. Fly fishing has many facets to it and each can be learned over time. As an example, casting is usually the biggest stumbling block for the beginner, but shouldn’t be a hindrance. There are millions out there who fly fish and every one of them learned to cast.
As a beginner at fly fishing, your main goal should be to enjoy the outings, embrace the learning experience, and above all be patient with yourself. The fly fishing community as a whole likes to share information and welcomes newcomers with open arms. Learning to fly fish is only as hard or as easy as you make it. So, how difficult is fly fishing to learn? What do you say we take a look?
Where To Start?
There are two ways I highly suggest a person should go about learning anything really. First, find someone you know who is already involved in what you wish to learn and ask for help. People love to help and especially when it comes to showing or talking about their hobbies. Spend a little time in conversation and ask all the “dumb” questions you can think of. Fly fishing, like many activities we participate in, has a language and a culture all its own. The so-called “dumb” questions are a good starting point because, well, there are no dumb questions. If you don’t know what a blood knot is, or an emerger, or tippet how else are you going to learn what these things are if you don’t ask?
Second, is to read or as it is today, Google it. YouTube has videos on any subject you can think of and of course, they are free to watch and learn. Find dedicated websites on fly fishing, like this one, and read the articles. I’d love to say I’m the only source out there that teaches what I have learned over the years, but you know that isn’t true. And, no one person knows it all even though I’d like to think I do, I don’t.
Get Out and Do It
Nothing can happen if you don’t get out and do it. But before you hit the stream and try fly fishing you are going to need some equipment to get started. Fly fishing utilizes a lot of specialized equipment such as the fly rod and reel, fly lines, leaders, tippets, waders, flies of all sorts, and a bunch of other gadgets. It can seem like a never-ending list. But the good news is when starting out, if you keep things simple and basic you’ll have all you need to get started and catch fish.
If you have a willing friend, ask to borrow a rod before you buy one. This way you can decide if you even like fly fishing without creating an expense. If no one is available to lend you a few things, then buy cheap. I know this sounds funny, because who usually suggests buying anything cheap? But there are plenty of combo deals on the market with reasonable pricing made with quality parts to get you started. Once you have had a bit of creek time you can more easily upgrade to equipment that better suits your needs and have a better understanding of what you really could use. (For Start-up costs, click)
What Comes First?
The answer to our original question, “how difficult is fly fishing to learn”, centers around learning to cast. The cast, in my opinion, is the hardest part of fly fishing. Fly casting is all about casting line rather than weight. A spinning or baitcasting set up uses weight, like sinkers or split shot to propel the line off the reel and out into the water. But a fly rod uses the weight of the line and the rod’s bend to achieve propelling the fly to water. (Learn to cast, click)
You’ve probably seen someone fly fishing and “whipping” the line back and forth over his head which typically looks like it would be hard to do. But, casting is easier than you think or expect. For the most part, casting is a straightforward process with the key element being “timing”. Learn a few fundamentals of holding the rod and the motion of casting and you’ll know enough to get started. Like anything we do in life, everything gets better with practice and time.
How to Practice
If you are one of those people who gets something, sits and plays with it, makes up a game using it, or simply looks it over a bit, then you will enjoy practicing your casting. Because casting is all about timing and timing improves with practice, making a game out of “practice time” takes away the worry of “am I doing this right?”
A simple practice game, for example, is to take your fly rod (no hooks or leader) outside anywhere and see if you can get the tip of your fly line to land on something. It could be a dog’s dish, a stone in the yard, a picnic table’s top, or a big whatever. Once you can have the tip of the line several times on the object, change up distance and location and try again.
You can also incorporate your practice time into your workout time. In other words, do both at the same time. It is a matter of adding a few casts between reps or segments of the workout.
For example, say you do 25 sit-ups. After finishing the set and during the recovery time take a few casts. Doing a set of pushups next? Then follow with a few casts when recovering from those pushups. Or maybe a few casts between stretching movements.
Whatever your exercise routine is, find a place to incorporate some casting practice.
Remember the title of this post “How difficult is fly fishing to learn”? Well, the answer may lie right here when it comes to practice. Setting aside a bit of time to practice is the only way you’ll learn to cast. Putting in a little time in the yard, park, driveway where ever, will go along way to improving your casting.
You’re going to hear this word a lot during your fly fishing future and that is “presentation”. It means, putting a fly precisely where a trout will be able to take it. Perfect presentation is when the trout takes the fly offered.
Learn To Tie Basic Knots
Fly fishing requires an ability to tie two pieces of line together such as leader and tippet. The leader is a section of monofilament or fluorocarbon line that is tied to the fly line. Tippet, also monofilament or fluorocarbon line is tied to the end of the leader. The fly is then tied to the Tippet. There are numerous knots for these connecting tasks with each having a specific task or place in which it should be used.
A fly guy needs to tie his tippet to his leader and his fly to the tippet. Adding a tippet in the course of a day’s fishing is the least of the two tasks to be performed, but tying a fly on may happen dozens of times throughout the day.
Two knots to learn for tying tippet to the leader are a “Surgeons” knot and a “Blood” knot. Both are good knots for tying two pieces of line together. I prefer to use a Blood knot but a Surgeon’s knot is probably easier to tie. Either one will do fine and once you learn how to tie both you can decide which is more comfortable for you to use.
Next is tying a fly to the tippet. Clinch knots are good knots for this purpose either a single or double. I like double clinch knots for most everything I tie on, but I like using a clinch knot for smaller flies. For more on Knots, click here
How to Tie a Blood knot
How to Tie a Surgeon’s Knot
What is The Breakdown of Fly Fishing?
The next step to answering the question, “how difficult is fly fishing to learn”, is understanding that fly fishing has three basic elements to the sport, each with a learning curve. It should be pointed out here that each of these elements is related to the life cycles of the “critters” living near, on, or under the water of a stream. Fly fishing is directly tied to these life cycles and part, if not a major part of fly fishing, is becoming acquainted with life on a trout stream.
Trout feed on insects, baitfish and any small land animals that may fall into the water. Ants, spiders, worms, grasshoppers and so on. But insects are the biggest attraction for both trout and fly fishermen. It is the life cycle of these insects that fly fishermen concentrate on and try to mimic with the various flies they tie or buy.
So, with that being said, the three basic elements to fly fishing are dry flies, nymphs and streamers. In other words, these are the “baits” that you will be using to catch trout. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve broken them into these three categories to help you with a basic understanding.
Keeping with the life cycle concept, nymphs are the early stages of aquatic life and live on and near the bottom of the stream. Nymph fishermen use flies tied to resemble these early-stage insects and fish them accordingly near the bottom.
Dry Fly Fishing
When these insects mature they “emerge” from the bottom and their nymph stage into adults where they rise to the surface and fly away to mate. Dry fly fishing is using flies that resemble this stage of the cycle. Dry fly fishermen float flies on the surface to catch rising trout which are feeding on the adults drifting on the surface.
In addition to insect life, there are various baitfish, crayfish, leeches, and any other assortment of swimming creatures living in the stream. Bigger trout prefer to feed on smaller fish. Streamer fishing is a form of fly fishing that uses flies tied to attract trout searching for baitfish and the like.
These general and basic groupings should help you gather an understanding of the world of fly fishing, and in addition, help you understand that as a fly fisherman you have your work cut out for you trying to master each of these elements of fly fishing. Although I enjoy fishing all three of these techniques and I employ each depending on the condition presented to me when I reach the stream, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t consider myself a master of any of them. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I catch a ton of trout using all three, but my point here is that learning to fly fish is a life long journey and becoming a master, may not be achievable for most of us. But who cares really as long as you’re catching trout. Isn’t that the point of trout fishing?
Learn Basic Entomology
As we have learned trout eat bugs and the fly fishing “dude” is casting imitations of these bugs the trout are eating in an effort to catch the trout. So here we go again, question time: “How difficult is fly fishing to learn”? Well, if we are going to fly fish and we need bugs as bait, then having a basic understanding of the types of bugs we need is helpful.
It isn’t as hard as you might think to learn a few basics of entomology. You don’t have to become an expert on bugs but more importantly, get a general idea. Learn the family groups, like Midges, Caddis, Stonefly, and Mayfly. These groups make up the vast majority of the bugs used to fly fish. Within each of these groups are nymphs, emergers and adults (dry fly) of which the life cycle we spoke of earlier is based. The majority of the flies you use will be imitations of these group members.
So to keep this as simple as possible, look up the life cycle of a caddis. Start with the nymph. Next time you go to the fly shop, see what you can find in the way of a fly that looks like the nymph you looked up. And that my friend is how it starts, and soon you will have learned basic entomology. (5 Bugs to know, click)
Start Small And Start With The Easy
It’s time on the creek that makes all the difference eventually. The more you fish the more everything will fit in place. It takes a little time to sort out what’s happening on a stream. Starting small refers to finding streams that are manageable. Small streams that are easy to wade and have more open space are good beginner streams to fish. Small streams are generally safer as well, especially if being on the creek is really new to you. ( Click to learn about finding streams)
Spend some time too just observing the stream for a while and take notice of things. Let this practice becomes a vital part of your trout fishing in the future. Fly guys make decisions based on what they see happening on a creek. If bugs are rising, and so are the trout, they will try and fish a fly that matches the rise, for example. So learning to be observant is another task we get to add to the question: “how difficult is fly fishing to learn?”.
Start With The Easy
I don’t know where that phrase came from but I have been using it since I was little. It’s my way of going about learning and doing things. Earlier we broke down fly fishing to three groups, Nymphs, Dry flies and Streamers. If we place those three groups in order of difficulty to fish, my line up would be, hardest: dry flies then nymphs. Oh, I can hear the purist already clearing their throats for the argument, but I think they would all agree streamers are the easier of all.
For a newcomer to fly fishing using streamers to catch trout is the way to go. “Start with the easy” is a streamer. Streamers cover a lot of water, are easy to cast and fish and trout love them. You can be rather clumsy fishing a streamer, meaning, your casting doesn’t have to be as exact or perfect. Basically just get the streamer into the water and it will do the rest. (Learn about fishing Streamers, click)
Why You Want To Learn To Nymph Fish
The next in line form of fly fishing is nymph fishing. This is a form of fishing every fly guy should learn and for one simple reason. 80 to 90% of trout feeding is underwater. Trout position themselves near the bottom, generally, and feed on nymphs and any other morsel that may float by. Because the majority of trout food is nymphs, it is why you need to learn to nymph fish.
Nymph fishing can be intimidating when first learning to fly fish. You miss a lot of fish while learning what a “take” is. Getting things just right isn’t easy because it takes a while to understand “feel”. Again, practice and reading about nymphing are going to take you a long way to getting better at nymphing. (Nymph Fishing click)
What Makes Dry Fly Fishing Hard?
Ask 10 fly guys this question and you’ll get 10 different answers. But, for me, it’s choosing the right fly more than casting, line mending, and drift. Perfect presentation is always what it is all about, and I have presented many a fly as perfectly as if the bug itself landed on the water, only to be rejected by the trout. Why? It wasn’t what he wanted and I am still wondering to this day what it was he wanted.
Again let’s revisit our question, “how difficult is fly fishing to learn?”. In this case, casting mechanics didn’t come into play, but entomology did. In other words “matching the hatch” becomes another concept you will eventually come to understand. But in the beginning, it will be an elusive concept. Matching the hatch is picking a fly from your fly box that most resembles the bugs coming off the water. Color, size, profile all play into trying to match the hatch. Generally, if your selection is close trout will take it, but there are no guarantees and this is part of the challenge and frustration dry fly guys learn to live with.
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Learn How To Read The Water
Reading the water could be the most difficult aspect of any fishing let alone trout fishing. Many never pay attention to this skill but the ones that do catch a lot more fish. Locating trout in a given body of water may be only half the battle. How to present your fly and get it in the proper position for a trout to take it is the next challenge. (Learn to Read Water, click)
Current or the flow of water within a creek is something most take for granted, but for a trout fisherman, understanding how the water actually flows is crucial. Current isn’t the same velocity throughout a stream as it varies depending on obstacles present, the width of the stream, depth of the water and weather conditions. Trout hold in certain locations on a stream depending on the cover (structure), food sources and oxygen present in that location.
The more time spent fishing, of course, will develop your overall abilities, but paying attention to the creek, studying how it flows and watching trout behavior will go a long way in helping you to learn to read the water.
After reading this post you may draw the conclusion that there is too much to learn, too much stuff to know about or it just seems too hard to fly fish. Sure there is a lot, but then again there is a lot to everything we do out there in the world. If you played sports, like soccer, football or hoops, you didn’t learn that in an afternoon. If you are gamer, spending hours, console in hand in front of the screen, doesn’t seem like a chore now does it.
In other words, fly fishing takes time to learn and a lifetime to master, but it’s not like your life depends on it. It’s not like going to college to get a degree because your lively hood depends on it, no, it’s a pastime. Something to do to take your mind off the rest of the world. Your approach to fly fishing should be something you do for fun and to get out into the world of nature. Part of fly fishing is simply the enjoyment of being on the stream, in the woods. The learning curve should be part of the fun as well. And how long it takes shouldn’t be a concern. The reward of catching a trout far outweighs everything else and can happen at any time while on the creek regardless if you did things just right or not.
But the ultimate thrill of fly fishing for me is tying a fly at my fly bench, taking it to the stream, casting it to water, and fooling a trout into thinking it is real enough that he decides to eat it. Fish on!
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