Fly Fishing What Is Fly Fishing

What is Fly Fishing?

The thick, yellow fishing line goes “whoosh!” as it zips past you before gently landing on the lake in front of you. A small lure (called a “fly”) that looks like an insect floats across the surface of the water. Then a ripple appears right in the same spot as your lure and a fishtail flashes above the water. You set the hook and the fight is on! That is fly fishing.

Fly fishing what is fly fishing? Fly fishing is a fishing method that uses a light-weight lure that is called a fly — to catch fish. The fly is cast is done using a fly rod, reel, and specialized weighted lines. The flies resemble natural invertebrates, baitfish, or other organisms.

Whether you’re chasing 6-inch brook trout, picture-worthy cutthroat, or 15-pound striped bass. Fly fishing is a unique and exciting way to experience our great outdoors! It offers some serenity and views that are unmatched by almost any other form of recreation.

What is fly fishing?

Fly fishing is one of the most adventurous ways to enjoy all of the great lands and waterways. It often will involve walking or hiking to your favorite fishing spot. Which can sometimes be a lot of miles into the backcountry? But not all fly fishing happens in high-mountain lakes, it can be done almost anywhere. It can be from the seashore to streams, lakes and everywhere in between.

While fly fishing is a fun and relaxing way to fish, it also requires the most patience and skill. That’s mostly because of all the equipment that is involved. It starts with long, thin, flexible rods, two different types of fishing line, and small, delicate flies. This is different than most fishing gear and can be difficult to use at times. It takes lots of time, practice, and patience to become skilled with a fly rod.

Fly fishing gets its name from the lures used. They’re normally referred to as “flies”. This is because they’re made to imitate small insects or prey items that a fish may want to eat. Flies are normally made out of materials like yarn, sewing thread, feathers, fur, and a single hook. Flies range in size from as small as a grain of rice to the size of a small fish.

How to fly fish:

Fly fishing is all about the rhythm. Finding the right rhythm and the movement is the key to casting a fly rod. The mechanics of casting can be broken down into several steps. Remember that the best way to learn is through practice.

An easy way to learn how to cast a fly rod is to picture the movements of your arm on a clock. When your arm is in the neutral position (when it’s up and directly in line with your body), it’s at 12 o’clock. When your arm is forward during your cast, it should be at 10 o’clock. During your back cast, your arm should be at 2 o’clock. By keeping your arm in this small window of movement, you’ll be able to have both control and power in your casts.

To start your cast, let out about a rods length of the colored fly line. You only need one hand to hold the rod with, keep the other hand free to help manage your line. Start your cast by slowly swinging the rod behind you, in the 2 o’clock position. Keep the rod tip up, and once the rod tip gets just past your shoulder, at 10 o’clock, make your forward cast in one smooth, continuous motion letting the line rest on top of the water.

Don’t Crack The Whip:

Be careful and not try to use the rod-like a whip. Any sudden or sharp casts will cause the fly to snap off from the leader, or scare away any potential catches.

When you’re casting you can let more line out. This will help get your fly further out onto the water and closer to the fish. To make your line longer during a cast, pull more line from the reel in between casts.

When you make your cast, try to bring the rod forward and backward several times. Do this just like you would normally cast, but don’t let the fly hit the water. This is called false casting. Try practicing your false cast several times to find the right rhythm. Once you have found the rhythm, you can get ready to let more line out. To let more line out, hold the excess line in the other hand and keep some tension on it. As you make your forward cast, let go of some excess line. The momentum of the cast will bring the line out and make the line go further out. Repeat this process until you get your line as long as you want it.

If a fish does bite your fly, be ready to set the hook! Setting the hook when a fish bites will help keep the fish on your line. There are two different ways to set the hook when fly fishing. the first is a convex (rod) set next is a strip set. A convex set means you pull back on the rod in a sudden, hard motion once the fish takes your fly. A strip set is when you pull on the line with your free hand once a fish bites your fly. The strip set is done with a single, hard tug on the line while keeping the rod motionless.

Gear for fly fishing:

Fly fishing does require more gear than most other types of fishing. The amount of gear you use will depend on where you’ll be fishing and what you’ll be fishing for. Other factors like time of day, season, and how you plan on accessing your fishing spot also determine what gear you need.

From different rods to the reels and wading boots to flies, it can be very confusing. Especially when it comes to choosing the right gear for fly fishing. Check out these descriptions of some of the gear (tackle):

Dry Flies

There are many different kinds of flies that are used when fly fishing. Above is an assortment of midges, nymphs, and dry flies.

Fly Rod:

Having the right fly rod could make or break your fishing trip. Fly rods come in all different sizes and weights (often referred to with a # (pound) sign). Different sizes and weights are made for different species of fish. The most common sizes of fly rods are 8 feet, 8 feet 6 inches, 9 feet, and sometimes longer. The most common weights are between #3 and #7, with #5 being the most common. A #3 weight rod is very light and is meant for catching small fish like brook trout or panfish. A #5 weight rod is considered a medium weight rod. It is suited for catching medium/large fish such as cutthroat trout and bass. A #7 weight rod (or heavier such as a #9 or #12) is very heavy and is used for catching large fish like striped bass or salmon.

Fly Reel:

These reels are specially designed and made to go with a fly rod. They’re not designed like any other fishing reels. Choosing the proper reel is important for you to be able to cast your rod correctly. Fly reels help you to balance the rod. They hold all of the fly line and backing, which are very important for catching and fighting a fish.

Fly line:

Fly line usually refers to the colored section of line on a reel. This heavy, thicker, colored section of line is what makes it possible for you to cast your fly. Fly line comes in many different types they include floating, sinking, and different weights (weight forward, tapered, shooting, and several others). It also comes in different weights, similar to a rod. You need to choose the appropriate weight and type of line for the species you’re after.


The leader is the smaller, clear section of fishing line that’s tied to the end of the regular fly line (discussed above). The leader is where you attach your fly. It can come in many different sizes (referred to with an “x” after the size, for example, a size 6 leader is called a “6x”). Just like your fly rods, you’ll need to choose your leader wisely. It will depend on the species you want to catch and the flies you’re using. Smaller leaders (like a 6x or 5x) are usually best suited for the smaller flies, commonly used when trout fishing. Heavier leaders (like a 3x or 4x) are meant for larger flies and bigger fish. Heavier leaders are also used for connecting the fly line to smaller sections of the leader. For example, a section of 4x leader will connect the fly line (colored line) to a section of 5x leader, where the fly is tied.

Streamers Flies

An angler holds an assortment of large streamers in their hand. The flies are about two inches long.

Streamers are a large type of fly that is often used to catch large trout and aggressive fish like pike or bass.


Fly selection is crucial for you to have a successful fishing trip. If your fly doesn’t look like what the fish wants to eat, you’re going to have a hard time catching fish. With flies, you need to try and “match the hatch”. Or you can use a fly that looks like the ones the fish are feeding on at the time. Flies come in many different types: midges (small, sinking flies), dry flies (small to medium floating flies), and streamers (larger, heavier flies that look like insects, mice, and other fish). Choosing the right fly might also depend on the rod and line/leader combo you’re using. Lighter flies will go with lighter gear and heavier flies with heavier gear.

Wading Boots

Two pairs of wading boots are seen side by side. One has felt soles and one has rubber soles.

Felt-soled wading boots like the pair on the left are prohibited in some National Parks. Felt-soled boots are known to transport aquatic nuisance species between waterways and they are discouraged from being used. Rubber-soled boots are the pair on the right.

Waders and Wading boots:

Waders come in a variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. They’re essentially a pair of waterproof overalls (or pants) that keep you dry when you’re standing in a lake or river. Wading boots can be either attached to the waders or put on separately. Wading boots use special grip to help you have some good footing in wet, rocky terrain. Try to avoid boots with felt soles, which have been known to transport invasive aquatic organisms into different waterways. Rember some National Parks prohibit the use of felt-soled wading boots.

If you start to feel a little unsure or overwhelmed by the different types of gear and terms stop. Then go by your local fly shop or fishing store and ask their employees for their advice. When choosing your flies, be aware of any regulations that prohibit barbed hooks or lead weights. Barbs can be removed by crimping them flat with a pair of pliers.

Fly Fishing at Sunrise

An angler is fly fishing in a river at sunrise as fog rises from the water.

Where to fly fish:

Where you choose to go fly fishing will depend on the kind of experience you want to have. Do you want solitude and sense of place that comes with fly fishing for high-alpine cutthroat trout? Or the adventure and anticipation that comes with hooking and landing large trout in a big lake? Are you planning on hiking to your destination, or just a short walk from the parking lot?

Fly fishing isn’t limited to just banks or shorelines it can be done from boats and other personal watercraft. Things like a kayak or a canoe or a float tube if you’re fishing on a big lake. Doing some research before your trip will help you decide where you want to fish and what fish species are found there.

Expectations for fly fishing:

From battling a picture-worthy cutthroat trout to landing a 15-pound striped bass. Or catching dozens of small panfish, fly fishing offers a wide variety of different fishing experiences. Some offer solitude and vast expanses of wilderness, while others offer small crowds and huge bodies of water. Here is a small list of questions for you to think about when planning your next fly fishing trip:

  1. Where will I be fishing?                                                                                                                                                                                       
  2. How will I get to my fishing spot?                                                                                                                                                                       
  3. What kind of fish live there?                                                                                                                                                                             
  4. Think about the kind of fish I want to catch?                                                                                                                                                   
  5. What kind of flies will I use to catch them?                                                                                                                                                   
  6. Where will I be standing when I’m fishing?                                                                                                                                                     
  7. What kind of experience am I after?

Before you head out for your next adventure, be sure to check the regulations and have a valid fishing license. Some areas and States prohibit the use of barbed hooks so be sure and check. Remember some areas require or encourage catch and release of certain fish species.

If you’re going to go fly fishing, bring lots of patience. Fly fishing requires more focus, attention to detail, and skill than many other types of fishing. It will take a little bit of practice (and yes, patience) to learn the mechanics of fly fishing like casting and knot tying. But the best way to practice is to get out there and do it

Dean Jensen

I started fly fishing in 1972 and I have learned quite a bit about this wonderful sport called fly fishing and I want to share some of the things that I have learned.

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