11 Fly Fishing Tips for Beginners

To those that have never tried fly fishing, it may seem daunting to learn a brand-new type of fishing skill. If that’s the case, let me assure you that fly fishing can be some of the most rewarding, and relaxing time you can spend on the water.

Fly fishing is also not as hard as you think it might be to pick up as a beginner. While it may take a lifetime to master, fly fishing can be fun and fulfilling for anyone willing to pick up a flyrod.

Here are some quick tips to get you going in the right direction, and hopefully there will be some trout streams to fish in your near future.

Before heading out on a stream, try practicing your casting in the backyard or at a park with ample open space. Keep your thumb on top of the handle pointing forward, and use your index finger to hold the line after you cast.

When you’re casting a flyrod, as opposed to a spinning rod, instead of your lure doing the work, your weighted fly line is what will be propelling your fly out onto the water. Make sure to have a couple of feet of the colored fly line coming out of the top of your rod before you begin to cast.

#1. Form a Loop with Your Cast

When practicing, hold your casting arm out to the side with your elbow forming an L-shape with your forearm. Now, bring your forearm back like a lever, and keep your wrist locked as you bring your arm forward to cast.

Keeping your wrist locked will ensure that your cast forms a loop and snaps forward as you stop your backcast and began your forward-cast. The key here is to form a loop, which will snap forward in a whipping motion as you bring your forearm towards the water.

#2. 11 O’clock to 1 O’clock

Now, imagine that your arm from elbow to wrist is a hand on a clock which extends up through the rod. Your backcast will start at 11 O’clock and come back past 12, reaching 1 O’clock before pausing for a split-second and then snapping your arm forward back to 11 O’clock. At this point, slowly lower the rod tip to the ground to allow the line to perfectly unspool and land lightly on the water.

The less moving parts there are in your cast, the better. The parts of your body that will be doing the heavy lifting are your shoulder and your forearm moving back and forth from 11:00 to 1:00.

#3. Pull Out Line While Casting to Extend Length

Once you’ve gotten used to the form of casting and are happy with your results, now try extending the line while you cast. This will take some practice, but soon your body will learn the muscle memory of both hands working together.

During the pause between the backcast and the forward-cast, pull extra line out from the reel with your other hand. This will extend your line to allow you to cast further.

This extra line is not always necessary. If you’re on a small stream, it’s best to take short, calculated casts and focus on placement of the fly instead of how far you can cast.

Once you’ve gotten used to casting and can confidently guide a fly in the general direction of where you’re aiming, now it’s time to learn the real skill of fly fishing: placement.

#4. Know When to Use Dry Dapping

Sometimes you don’t even need to bother with a full cast, especially if you’re in tight quarters. Whether you have brush all around you and want to avoid a snag, or you’re looking for exact placement on a particularly inviting pool for a trout, dry dapping is a technique to always have in your back pocket.

Dry dapping is the only time you’re going to leave your fly line in the reel. In this scenario, you want only the leader coming out of the tip of the rod. Standing just off the shore, you want to lower your dry fly onto the water and let it drift for a bit before picking it up and placing it, or “dapping” the fly on the water.

While this technique may appear overly simple to you, to the trout, they see what looks to be a mayfly briefly laying an egg on the surface of the water.

#5. Use a Dry Fly as an Indicator

Instead of using a bright, fish-distracting bobber as your indicator, tie on a big dry fly instead. The larger strike indicators can mess with the drift of your fly and could also be spooking nearby fish. With a dry fly as the indicator, you give yourself two chances at catching a fish and allow for a more realistic drift with your fly.

#6. Use Stealth and Positioning to Gain Advantage

Just because you can cast 20 yards doesn’t mean you need to—or should. Sometimes you’ll hook into a trout but have no chance to bring it in because of your positioning. If the trout manages to get on the wrong side of a rock and you can’t adjust quickly enough, then so much for that epic Instagram selfie.

Trout are stubbornly smart fish, don’t make it any harder on yourself because of bad positioning.

With that said, make sure not to spook the fish when approaching your casting point.

#7. Don’t Spook the Fish

Along every shoreline you’re about to walk up to, there could be a trout hanging out nearby. The hunt for trout begins as soon as you get within 10 yards of the water. Approach with caution and treat every stretch of water as a potential chance for a big fish.

Unless you’ve drifted a fly across the water at least a few times, you never know when a trout might decide to take the bait. Scour every stretch of the stream for a pool of calm water where fish might be lurking.

Always be sure to check the quiet water just in front of a big rock with stronger water running along the sides. Get to know where the trout will be, and always be on the lookout for potential hiding places before plowing forward to the next spot.

#8. Don’t Forget to Roll Cast

The roll cast is my favorite because it’s simple, efficient and effective. There’s no time wasted with unnecessary false casts, there’s less of a chance to snag your line, and it’s easy to be accurate with a roll cast due to the lack of moving parts in your motion.

To pull off a roll cast, angle your rod tip up, remove any slack in the line and sharply roll your forearm and wrist in the direction you want to cast.

This can work both when the fly is downstream, or upstream. When your fly is downstream, the roll will require more effort and is useful for longer casts with additional line out. Personally, my favorite time to roll cast is when my line is upstream and it takes a quick flip of the wrist to lightly roll the line towards a pool that’s begging for a fly.

#9. When You Hook a Fish, Keep Your Rod Tip High and Pointed Upstream

There are two essential techniques to remember after hooking into a big trout: keep your rod tip high while maintaining tension on the line but also allowing him to run by letting line out, and keep your rod tip pointed upstream.

There are two reasons to keep the rod tip angled upstream and not downstream: the trout wants to go downstream and has a much easier job if the tension is going in that direction, and most importantly, it’s easier for the trout to spit out the fly when he’s swimming right at you.

By keeping your rod tip pointed upstream, the fish must work harder as he wants to swim in the opposite direction. This should tire out a fish that wants to fight and gives you a better chance of landing the big one.

#10. Follow the Foam

The seam where fast-moving water meets with a quiet pool will typically create bubbles that are visible on the surface. Sometimes, these bubbles will form a foam where trout will rise to pluck unsuspecting flies. Keep an eye out for these foamy patches and place a few casts at the top of the seam, letting them drift all the way down. This is usually an excellent place to find a fish.

#11. Don’t Leave Home Without Floatant

Before throwing a dry fly out onto the water, floatant needs to be applied to the fly to ensure that it stays buoyant on the water. Over time, the floatant will wear out. When this happens, your dry fly will start to sink below the surface, and it will become much harder to tell if you have a strike. Floatant comes in tiny little bottles, so it’s easy to run out without realizing. Always carry extra floatant!