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Tips for Getting Started in Fly Fishing

Mercury Pros show you the way.

Tips for Getting Started in Fly Fishing

So, you’ve decided to try fly fishing – "the contemplative man's recreation,” according to English author Izaak Walton in 1653 – but you have no idea where to begin.

Like restoring a ’56 Chevy, writing a novel or learning how to tack a sailboat, fly fishing is a bucket-list goal that legions of outdoorsy people contemplate but are often reluctant to attempt. Most are intrigued by the concept of fishing with a “Zen” approach but don’t have a map to get them to the starting line. Others have given it a trial run only to find it daunting, frustrating or too complex.

But here’s the truth about fly fishing: Yes, it can be more challenging to learn than other angling methods, but it’s not as difficult or as mysterious as you think. And, after catching your first fish on a fly, every daunting, frustrating and complex misadventure will be immediately forgotten because you will be forever hooked!

A few thoughts to keep in mind . . .

There are No Real Worms in Fly FIshing

The “bait” used in fly fishing is typically a lightweight lure – commonly called a fly – that resembles a baitfish, invertebrate or other food organism – even a worm. The fly is cast using a fly rod, fly reel and weighted line. The physics of casting a fly are similar to, yet remarkably unlike, casting with a spinning rod and reel.

Fly fishing is equally exhilarating in salt water (oceans, bays and estuaries) and fresh water (rivers, streams, ponds and lakes). Frequently targeted saltwater species include bonefish, permit, redfish, tarpon and more. Freshwater fly fishing consists of two categories: cold water (trout and salmon) and warm water (bass, panfish, pike, etc.). But any fish that will chase a fly is a great fish on a fly rod.   

Catch and Release is Widely Practiced

Virtually all fly anglers are in it for the challenge, the experience and to connect more fully with nature, and gamefish are typically returned to the water to battle another day.

Fly fishing can be accomplished from a Mercury-powered boat, from the shore, or by wading “flats,” streams or rivers. Each choice requires its own sets of knowledge (fly selection, fishing techniques and locations) and skills (spotting fish and casting specifically to them) and delivers its own set of benefits (more fish, bigger fish and a sense of accomplishment).

Watch this video for helpful getting-started tips from Mercury Pro Team members and Florida fly fishing guides Capt. Benny Blanco and Capt. Dustin Pack.

Also, included below are additional saltwater fly-fishing tips for beginners from Blanco:

What’s the hardest part of fly fishing?

The most common and most difficult obstacle for new fly fishers is casting. Like golf, the fly-fishing stroke is a solid mix of technique and feel, both of which require a major investment of time.

How does casting a fly differ from casting a lure?

Generally, lures and spinning tackle are designed to cast the weight of the lure. Fly fishing is the opposite – when casting a fly, you’re casting the weight of the line and laying out a nearly weightless fly for presentation to a fish. While spin fishing can be very productive when you’re “sight-fishing” (spotting a fish and casting specifically to it), the lure or bait must hit the water far enough from the fish that it won’t be spooked. When fly fishing, the fly can be presented quietly within striking distance of your targeted fish – a distinct advantage over traditional casting when targeting spooky gamefish.

Do you have any basic casting tips?

There are so many! I usually start by reiterating a few key things: 1. Keep your casting elbow tight to the body. 2. Use a “10 to 2” casting stroke – stopping at 10 o’clock on the back cast and at 2 o’clock on the forward cast. 3. Use the “flicking paint” motion mentioned in the video. 4. Slow down your cast! Speed is not your friend in this situation.

Should I buy top-of-the-line fly fishing gear?

Start off with an inexpensive rod and reel. If and when you reach the point of understanding the differences in rods and fall in love with fly fishing, there are endless opportunities to spend more.

Should beginners learn to wade-fish before fly fishing from a boat?

I believe beginners should find any and every way of practicing their new craft. I spent many years wading before I had opportunities on a skiff. That practice prepared me for the new challenges skiffs offer.

Should beginners hire a guide to teach them the basics?

Not everyone can afford to hire guides for basic training, but guides are a tremendous resource for speeding up the learning curve. If guides are an option, I highly recommend hiring one. If not, other options include casting lessons at local fly shops or joining local fly-fishing clubs, where mentor/beginner relationships are often formed.

What’s a good basic fly line type and setup?

For beginners, I would look for weight-forward “quick shooter” type lines – front-end-loaded lines that help beginners manage the first 40 feet of line.

How proficient should an angler be before learning a “double-haul” cast?

The double-haul cast (look this up online – it will help you cast farther and more effectively) should be learned immediately and practiced at every opportunity. I could argue there are negative effects of learning to cast without the double haul.

Should novice fly anglers target easier-to-catch fish?

I would certainly recommend that beginning fly anglers start with less-challenging targets, whether in fresh or salt water. They should never rush through any part of their fly-fishing journey – the process is the very best part!

Any tips for new fly anglers who don’t have experience sight-fishing?

Books, videos and local fishing clubs are great resources when you’re learning about the different fish species, how to find them and how to catch them. When I was a kid, I spent many nights reading books and many weekends listening to presentations at my local club. Those were invaluable years of learning.

Any tips on setting the hook with a fly rod?

In saltwater fly fishing, the strip set is absolutely necessary for success. The strip set is just a continued and elongated strip (holding your rod with one hand while pulling, or stripping in, the fly line with your other hand) while continuing to point the rod at the fish once it strikes. This technique eliminates any bending of the fly rod and places the maximum strength of the weighted line into the set. Unlike spin fishing, a fly rod actually weakens the strength of your pull on the fish, which means less bend in your rod puts more pressure on the fish. Remembering this is a huge step in becoming proficient in setting and fighting fish on a fly.

For more from Capt. Benny Blanco, you can follow him on InstagramFacebook or Twitter.

Tips for Getting Started in Fly Fishing
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