The Beginners Guide to Fly Fishing – Courtesy of Neil Keep

The following guide has been produced to remind you of some of the key points covered when learning to fly fish.

It is by no means comprehensive but designed as a quick reference guide. If you would like any further in depth information please contact Neil who will only be too happy to answer any of your questions.

The Tackle

After securing the reel to the rod always make sure the rod rings are aligned and that you haven’t missed any of the rings on the rod when you have threaded the line through them.

Use a leader of around 10’ to 12’ to start with, as your casting improves lengthen your leader but still keep it manageable when casting. You can buy ready-made tapered leaders or make your own by joining progressively thinner diameter line.

Keep knots simple to start with, the blood knot for joining your leader to the braided loop and for attaching the fly to your leader. Use the water knot when joining the different line together when making a tapered leader.

When out fishing don’t forget a net to land your fish and a priest to dispatch your catch with. Sounds basic but an easy mistake to make!

If you are thinking about purchasing your first fly rod, a 9’ rod that casts a 5 weight line is pretty much middle of the road as far as size is concerned and can be used in a variety of venues and situations from lake to river and even saltwater in calmer conditions.

Casting

Always remember some form of eye protection before picking up a fly rod and casting it no matter how competent a caster you are.

The Roll Cast – slowly lift the rod tip so that the line glides across the surface of the water towards you until it forms a “D loop” behind the rod, this “D loop” is your weight of line that flexes the rod when you accelerate forwards and enables you to make the cast. The tip of the fly line should still be in the water, this anchors the D loop in place. Start the forward cast with rod pointing to around 1 o’clock (presuming you are right handed) and then accelerate the rod forwards until it reaches 10 o’clock where you should stop it abruptly.  The line should then start unrolling across the water and land in a straight line on the water.

This cast is a forward cast without an aerial back cast so great for fishing in confined spaces but more importantly for a beginner a great cast to manage your line, so if your fly line is laying in a big coiled heap out on the water use the roll cast to straighten the line before attempting the overhead cast.

The Overhead Cast – accelerate the rod back smoothly but quickly to get the line airborne above your head and then stop abruptly at 1 o’clock, the same position as in the roll cast. Once stopped, you have to pause to allow the line to straighten in the air behind you, this pause is known as the “timing” and is critical to enable you to make a good forward cast. To make the forward cast simply accelerate the rod forward then abruptly stop again at 10 o’clock. If you are struggling with the timing of the cast and you are hearing the tell-tale “cracking” sound behind you, remember the phrases you can say in your head as you cast such as “lift – flick – tap” or the simple “tick – tock”. Remember to keep any eye on the rod as you cast and don’t let it travel too far behind you in the back cast, a common fault for the beginner. To make sure you are getting your hand into the correct position in the back cast, hold out your hand as if you are holding an imaginary rod, then move your hand as if you were picking up a telephone and answering it, now look where your hand is, it will be in the correct position for the stop point, now do the same with the rod in your hand.

The overhead will be the most commonly used cast in your armoury. It is the best cast for distance and accuracy and is used in most fishing situations where space allows. Always check you have space behind you before you make the cast otherwise you will be finding yourself decorating trees with the contents of your fly box! Also check for anyone walking behind you before making the cast.

Fly Selection

The key to selecting a successful fly is to cast your eyes on, around and in the water and see what you can find in the way of a food source for fish.

If you see swifts or swallows dipping down onto the water that is an indicator that midge or “buzzer” activity is present, a staple food source for the fish, so try a buzzer pupae. If the fish are clearly taking fly from the top of the water then you can try a dry fly on the surface. If there is no sign of fish try a fly with more weight and fish it a little deeper.

Look out for damsel flies in spring and summer. If you see these in abundance around the water’s edge it is likely that the fish will be feeding on the nymph stage of the fly sub surface.

Remember to keep things simple to start with, carry no more than a dozen or so flies in a box, buzzers, damsel nymph, pheasant tail nymph, diawl bachs, a couple of dry flies and a couple of lures for when the fish aren’t feeding on anything natural. Have a couple of flies with the added weight of a gold head for when you want to fish a little deeper.

One key tip for fly selection is that if you see an abundant food source for the fish on, in or near the water, simply try and imitate it.

Playing and Landing Fish

When you have hooked a fish always remember to keep the rod tip high to act as a shock absorber and to keep tension in the line between you and the fish. Once hooked, never let the line go slack as this will give the fish chance to throw the hook.

If you are taking the fish once landed, take your time and let the fish wear itself out against the bend of the rod. If you are going to be returning the fish, play it hard and get it into a position to be released as quickly as possible, thus giving it a better opportunity to make a full recovery. Also if you intend to release a fish always flatten the barb of the hook with pliers and this will ensure no damage is made to the fish’s mouth.

One final note that I try to get over to everyone I teach or guide is not to measure your success with how many fish you catch but by how much you enjoy the whole experience of fly fishing itself.

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