Fly Fishing for Dummies

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(Photo by Conor Barry)

(Photo by Conor Barry)
(Photo by Conor Barry)

I’m not about to proclaim that I’m an expert. I’ve caught a fair share of fish, but I still consider myself a novice. I have a lot to learn, but I thought I would share a few tips from my experience of getting into the sport. Luckily, I’ve had a great mentor and father-in-law who has shown me the ropes as well as helped compile this list.
1- Enjoy It
Fishing isn’t always super easy. Lines get tangled, fish aren’t always biting, and the water can be cold. Don’t let these things hold you back. When the fishing isn’t great, just enjoy being in the great outdoors. Enjoy watching the wildlife. Connect with nature and leave the stress and worries of the workday behind. Especially when you’re learning, don’t plan to go out and catch a lot of big fish. Instead, plan to simply enjoy the experience, the smells, the sights, and the sounds. Concentrate on your fishing, but don’t forget to look at your surroundings.
2- Find a Mentor
Fly fishing is a lifelong learning opportunity. There’s so much technique and skill to learn. Learning things the hard way by trial and error is fun and all, but why not expedite the already-slow process and learn from an expert? Guide services are great, but they can be pricey. Find a friend who knows what they’re doing and tag along. Watch them closely and try to pick up on the subtleties of their technique. Ask them for pointers and tips. You’ll learn the right way to do things and save yourself a lot of frustration. Plus, it’s nice to have someone nearby when you land a lunker. At least you’ll have an eyewitness when you go home and tell the story. Better yet, find a few folks who enjoy the experience the same way you do. Learn from them. Sure, some alone time on the river is excellent, but getting out with friends or family is always nice. Find a handful of people you can tolerate for a few hours and get out there. Make memories and stories that you can tell for years.
3- Make Friends at the Local Fly Shop
A good fly shop is an invaluable resource. Obviously you need a place to buy your gear, and it always makes you feel like a proud citizen when you buy local. Beyond gear, though, a fly shop can be an excellent source of information. These are the fine folks who are fishing the rivers you want to fish. They know what flies the fish are taking. They know the most productive times of day. Most shops are happy to share their knowledge. Some even offer classes and guide services. Take advantage of these to get the best start in the sport.
4- Hang in There
Don’t give up easily. This goes for an individual day of fishing, as well as your fishing career. Just last week I spent a day on the river. I didn’t catch a single fish until about 10 minutes before we left. I spent an hour or two thinking I was heading home empty-handed — had I given up, I would have. Stick with it. Don’t let early frustration ruin the sport for a lifetime. If you don’t catch a ton of big fish your first few times on the river, patiently wait and learn until you do. Don’t lose the opportunity for all the future good times you could have. This goes hand-in-hand with just enjoying the experience. If you plan to just have fun instead of setting lofty, unreasonable goals, you’ll have a much better experience with fishing.
5- Learn All About Nature
There are many factors that contribute to good fishing — water flow, insect hatches, light, weather. Pretty much everything in the environment can determine how you fish. Be observant and learn about as much of it as you can. Again, you can get a lot of help with this from a mentor or a local fly shop. Study the bugs and when they hatch. Learn what kinds of flies to use to mimic certain insects. Learn how the bugs interact with the water, and do your best to copy their behavior. You don’t have to become an entomologist, but do your best to learn about them. Learn as much as you can about the fish you want to catch. Some fish hide under banks, others are found in front of or behind rocks. Learn about their feeding patterns. In other words, learn everything about everything. Not only will you be better at fishing, you’ll be a better human, too.
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