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Basic Fly Fishing Techniques and Tips

image of man fly fishing

Fly fishing is no different than anything else in life, the more that you practice, the better you will get. When I first tried fly fishing, I thought it might be similar to regular types of spinner fishing. There are a few things that overlap, but for the most part, fly fishing is very different. 

When you are first learning how to fly fish, it can be a little frustrating, especially if you are at the water with an experienced angler. The experienced angler will probably be catching fish nonstop while you are untangling your flies repeatedly. I spent about half of my time untangling hooks and tying on new flies and weights, trying to figure out what the fish are biting.  

Switching a spinner takes seconds, tying on 3 new flies with leaders, tippets, weights and an indicator can take a decent amount of time. There are many different types of flies that you will use, sometimes it is simpler as you will be only using 1 dry fly, but this is rarely the case.  

I wanted to write a blog post on the basic starting techniques that will help any angler getting into fly fishing. These techniques will help you to not get tangled as often, catch more fish, lose less flies, and most importantly, have more fun at the water. Remember to have patience when fly fishing, the learning curve is a bit tricky, but in a few trips, you should be well on your way to catching fish. On my first trip out fly fishing, I was able to land a nice rainbow trout, maybe you will be fortunate enough as well! 


First thing is first, the right gear.  

Starting out in fly fishing is overwhelming with how much gear there is, and the cost of it. There is nothing wrong with getting cheaper gear at the start to see if you even like fly fishing or not. If you stick with it and get more experienced, you will start to want better gear as you will see how much it helps.  

The absolute must haves for gear are the fly rod, reel, fly line, leader, and flies. Other crucial but not absolutely necessary gear are the net, clippers, tippet, weights, indicators, waders, vest or pouch, hat, etc. Depending on the types of fish you are trying to catch, will depend on the rod, reel, and line that you pick. Let’s keep it simple with standard trout fishing in lakes, rivers, and streams. The weight you will want is #5 on your gear and a 10-foot fly rod will be ideal. 

As for the flies, you will want a variety of them. Fish are picky when it comes to what they eat, you may have to try quite a few different things before you figure out what they are biting. Zinger Fishing offers fly kits that comes with a variety of great flies. They can be found here. 


Tying your flies on the line. 

Tie the thickest part of your leader line to the end of your colored fly line, there should be a loop to tie to. Next you will have to decide if you are trying to catch fish off the surface, if so, you will want to use a dry fly or streamer. If you don’t see any fish rising, you will probably want to use a wet fly, emerger, or nymph to get them to bite your hook under the water. If you want to use more than one fly, connect your tippet to the round part of your hook that is already tied to your leader. Your tippet should usually be the length of your arm. Now you can tie your second hook to the end of your tippet. If you need weights, apply them a few inches above your first hook on the leader line. If you want more than 2 hooks, repeat this process. 

If you are fishing beneath the surface, you will want to use a strike indicator/bobber. Place the indicator on the line for the desired depth that you want your hooks to be at.  

The more hooks that you place on your line, the easier it will be to tangle them together. 


Where to cast. 

Find the right place where the fish are, and it will make all the difference in how many fish you will catch. Usually, where the fast water meets the slower water there will be white bubbles on the water. This is where the fish like to stay and feed. They also like shade, under trees and docks, near rocks, and sometimes in the deep water. There will be fish all over the place, but these areas tend to have higher volumes of fish.  


How to cast. 

Casting is the trickiest part of fly fishing. There are many styles of casting, but if you are just getting started, I would suggest a simple back to front cast over your shoulder. When you cast, you will want to make sure to do a nice slow motion once you extended back all the way and start to bring your rod forward. If you do this too quickly, it will tangle your line. Undoing line tangles can take up hours of fishing time, so be careful when casting. Check your line every 5 casts or so to see if it is tangled. If it is, stop immediately and untangle the line.  

When you cast, you will be using the hand that isn’t on the fly rod to pull more line from the reel. A traditional spinner reel lets the line out of the reel during the cast from the weight of the hook and energy from the cast, pulling the line out. Your fly hook will not be heavy enough to pull the line from your fly reel. You will need to pull it out with your hand, then during the cast, the weight from your fly and the energy from your cast will take this spare line that you have taken from your reel, making your fly go further.  

It is common to have spare line hanging down from your reel and even into the water. You might be doing short and long casts. Reeling in your line after each cast is not needed. You don’t want too much line out that it starts to tangle though. Casting and line management will take some getting used to, but within a few hours you will be off to the races.  



If you think it is as easy as flopping your fly down on the water and fish biting it, you would be wrong. One of the hardest challenges with fly fishing is the presentation. You need to present your fly to the fish in the best and most natural way possible, which makes the fish think that your hook is a natural fly. Matching your fly drift with the speed of the current is key here. You also want your line to be straight or upstream of you, which will give your fly a natural floating look. If your line is looped, tangled, or down stream of your fly or indicator, this will not look natural to the fish.  

To get your line straight or above the fly/indicator, simply lift your rod and give it a slight jerk up. You might have to do this multiple times as your fly is floating downstream. 

You will catch 10 times for fish if you present your fly the right way. Presentation is one of the main reasons why people that are new to fly fishing don’t catch a whole lot of fish.  


Getting a fish on and landing it. 

Whether you are using nymphs or dry flies, when your indicator or fly goes under the water, you will want to set the hook. Setting the hook is done by giving your rod a quick and firm jerk up or sideways. If you have a fish on, you will know! The most important part when you have a fish on is to keep your rod tip high and your line nice and tight. If you loosen up your line, there is a good chance that your fly will pop out of the fish's mouth.  

If you are fishing for smaller fish, you may be able to bring the fish in by pulling the line in, instead of reeling the line in. You can act as the drag yourself by letting line go as needed. If you are fishing for larger fish, they will probably take off fast and hard which will use up your spare line you had outside of your reel, then they might take more line from your reel. The drag on your reel will keep the line tight as the fish is running. This is where you will want to use the reel to reel in the fish slowly, all while keeping your tip up.  

A fly fishing net is not necessary, but I would suggest getting one. When you bring the fish close to you, often you will let your line go loose as you bend over to try and grab the fish. This may lose you the fish. With a net, you can keep your line tight and scoop the fish up from the side or behind.  


Other tips. 

When getting started, I would stay away from small streams, as the casting will be tricky. Also, stay away from lake shores or riverbanks where trees or other things are right behind you. When starting out, you will want wide open space, so you don’t get tangled up constantly.  

Fly fishing is similar to golf. It is a gentleman's game/sport. This means that you must respect the water, nature, fish, and other anglers.  

Never fish too close to someone else, snagging someone else's line or body with a fly is a pain in the ass and can hurt. Make sure to wear eye protection when fly fishing as it can be very dangerous. The eyewear will also help from the sun and glare from the water. 

When using waders, do not go too deep or in fast moving currents. Falling in can be very dangerous as your waders will fill up with water. This will sink you down and will make it very challenging to swim to shore.  

A good hat or face covering is a must have when out on the water. Zinger Fishing has face coverings and they can be found here. 

Make sure to enjoy yourself out there. Fly fishing is a great sport and it can be very rewarding. 


If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.