There’s a lot to love about fly fishing. The soothing sound of the rushing river. Wildlife, both in and around the river. Spending time outdoors with friends and family. And, of course, the actual fishing. From getting the right gear and mastering the technique, to learning to read the river and understanding what the fish are doing, there’s a lot to learn. And while the learning curve can be steep, it’s worth it. There’s an artistry to the activity that is truly sublime, and not only does the joy of landing a fish never get old, it could become an obsession. Best to think of fly fishing as a journey that will take you to some really cool places and reward you in surprising ways. Here’s how to start.
Where to go
Fly rods can be used to catch almost any species of fish swimming around America, from your backyard pond to rolling ocean waves to the peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Fish, especially species like trout, smallmouth bass, and tarpon, tend to live in beautiful places. Whenever you go fly fishing, the beauty of the natural surroundings should be a big part of the draw.
Trout are the species most associated with fly fishing and they love cold mountain streams and lakes. Bass, carp and sunfish can be found in warmer lakes, reservoirs and rivers throughout the country. Saltwater fly fishing continues to grow in popularity, especially for species like salmon and striped bass in colder waters, and bonefish or permit in more tropical locations.
What to bring
When it comes to fly rods (and tackle), there are so many options that walking into a good fly shop can feel a bit overwhelming if you don’t know what you’re looking for. While gear can be as simple or complex as you want, you really only need a handful of items to get started.
A fly rod: A 9 foot rod in a #5 to #8 weight will work for just about any type of fly fishing, aside from deep sea searches for swordfish. There are many great American companies that make fly rods, but rods can break quite easily, especially when you learn the ropes, so it’s worth spending the extra money to get a guaranteed rod for at least 25 years old.
Reel and fly line: Fly rods come with recommended reel sizes, the smaller the reel the lighter the line weight. The reel is attached to a bracket tied to the colored fly line, which is most often designed to float. A clear leader ties the line on the fly. Leaders for species such as trout are in lower weight sizes like 4x or 5x, while larger species like rainbow trout or streaks may require larger sizes like 1x or 2x.
Flies: Even though all lures in the fly fishing world are called “flies”, they often don’t look anything like a fly. There are basically two types: dry and wet. Dry flies float on the surface of water and can look like anything from aquatic insects like mayflies to terrestrial insects like grasshoppers, and even mice and frogs in some unique places. Wet flies cover everything from streamers, or “Wooly Buggers” resembling baitfish, to nymph-stage aquatic insects, artificial worms, and trout eggs. The choice of fly will depend on your destination and what you are looking to catch, but you should note that the fly sizes are reversed, the lower the number (from 2 to 28), the larger the fly.
Net, waders and more: After a rod, reel, line and flies, you really don’t need much else. A net is a good idea as catch and release fishing is necessary at the most popular fly fishing destinations. Basic gear like pliers, pliers for plucking barbs or removing hooks, a tippet for tying new flies to the leader, and good wading or water shoes are good to have. If you are heading for colder waters, waders come in handy.
A good cooler: The length of your mission and whether you are wading in the river or on a boat will dictate what size you should bring. A small model with soft sides that you can carry over your shoulder is ideal for shorter trips or if you have to walk to get to the river. Either way, pack it with plenty of ice and at least a few Bell’s Two Hearted IPAs. As the beers are consumed, there will be more room for your take.
Since 1985, Michigan-based Bell’s Brewery has been brewing beers inspired by nature, the arts, and classic brewing traditions. Continuously innovating pioneers of IPAs, stouts and misty beers, Bell’s is focused on making beers brewed responsibly and sustainably, as well as creating craft beers in an inclusive community.