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Dock Talk: fly fishing basics

So, you are thinking of taking up fly fishing...

SHAWN SMITH | GEORGIA | May 23, 2023

I can understand why. Who wouldn’t want to get out into some amazing country and experience it in a whole new way? Maybe you have been fishing your entire life utilizing more “conventional” gear and fly fishing seems like an interesting new challenge. And for someone completely new to the sport I can assure you it is just that, a challenge. But, you know, challenging in a good way. The main difference between conventional fishing and fly fishing basically boils down to one is using light line to cast a heavier lure, while the other is using heavier line to cast a lightweight lure. But... It is so much more than that.  

Fly fishing offers an immersive experience that allows the angler to connect with nature in a way that more traditional forms of fishing can't match. For most anglers, the prize is the size of the fish at the end of your line. But for those who venture into the realm of fly fishing, you will learn there is more to it than that. You will begin to understand the why. It’s the subtle art of the cast, being able to watch as a fish takes your dry fly, the feeling of the current dancing around your legs while standing in a river. I dare say it’s the poet of the fishing world. Give it a shot, and I would be willing to bet you'd agree with me.  

Man fly fishing in river

Now, don’t let what I just said lead you to believe that fly fishing is not as exciting or heart pumping as some other styles of fishing. Trout, being one of the main prizes for freshwater fly anglers, put up as good of a fight as the largemouth bass you may be accustomed to catching (which can be done with a fly rod with the proper fly).

On top of that, the fight takes place with very light tackle, which makes your brawl with the fish all the more enjoyable. Alright, now that your interest has thoroughly peaked, let's get into some of the basics of fly fishing.  

There are a few different items that make up the fly fishing outfit, starting with the fly rod. Fly rods come in a variety of different sizes and actions which can be used to catch anything from the smallest freshwater species to beautifully large saltwater trophies.

When choosing a rod, it's important to consider your budget and go with the best that you can afford. Fly fishing is its own animal when it comes to the price range of equipment. The rod is critical; it is your only way to get the fly to the fish. 

The next item on your list will be a fly reel. An item I have heard affectionately referred to as the jewel, or the “bling” of the outfit. The three main purposes of the fly reel are to manage line, apply drag when necessary, and help balance the rod during the cast.

Fly reels are single action devices and not much has changed since the original patent was issued in 1874. One thing that has changed, thankfully, is the drag system.

Modern fly reels are equipped with sophisticated drag systems that are on par with any other modern reel. That said, their mechanical simplicity is part of their charm. You want to cast? Simply strip line from the reel using your hand. You want to reel in line? Simply turn the handle.

Selecting your new reel is simple too. All you really must do is match up the number on the rod, reel, and line. For example, a 5wt rod needs 5wt line, which can be spooled on a 4, 5, or 6 reel. How flashy you want to be is up to you! 

Man holding fly fishing rod and reel

Now, arguably the most important piece of the fly-fishing outfit, line. The line used when fly fishing is what makes this style of fishing possible. As mentioned above, common fishing convention involves light line that is used to cast heavier lures. Whereas in fly fishing, the heavier line casts the lightweight lure.

Fly line comes in fixed lengths that usually range between 75 and 100 feet. Unlike conventional line, there are distinct sections of fly line, and you can't just cut the line wherever you want.

For example, if you cut too much off the front of the line, it won't cast the way it should. They are also thinner or thicker in certain areas. This shape is referred to as the taper. These subtle variations in thickness help the line to cast easier.

You will find that most modern lines are “weight forward” lines with the thickest part being towards the front of the line. Again, this aids in casting. You can find fly line in floating and sinking variations, however, most fly fishing is done with floating line.  

And of course, you can't get started fly fishing without a few flies. You will want a handful of dry flies that float along the water's surface and some subsurface flies that do just that, sink slightly and travel along under the water's surface.

Now there are as many different fly patterns as the day is long but a few on the beginner dry fly list would be Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Easy Pheasant Tail, and Parachute Adams.

On the subsurface side of things check out Zebra Midge, Hare’s Ear, and the Frenchie.  

That should be about all you need to scratch the surface and get started fly fishing. Be warned however, this “hobby” has been known to easily become an all-consuming passion for many.

Thus, leading to countless weekends in the wilderness surrounded by nature's majesty as if you just stepped into a Bob Ross painting. Wait, that was supposed to be a warning of sorts... right? Anyways, it's all about getting out there, so grab some gear, practice those casts, and enjoy yourself!  

Pure Fishing Dock Talk

Shakespeare Cedar Canyon Summit Fly Rod

Shakespeare Cedar Canyon Premier Fly Reel

Fenwick Eagle® Fly Rod

Greys Tail fly reel

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Shawn Smith is a native of Northwest Georgia and a graduate of the University of Georgia. An avid outdoorsman, he was introduced to fishing as a child and has spent the better part of the last 25 years with a rod in hand while venturing throughout the United States. As the Ecommerce Marketing Manager for Pure Fishing, Shawn is able to put his passion into practice while sharing his knowledge and love for the sport with others.

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