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Introduction to Fly Fishing

Walking through the woods you come across a small stream teeming with trout. The water is too shallow for any lure or bait, or maybe the area is a fly fishing only zone. It’s early spring and you are looking for a challenge when going after big pike and Muskie so you pull out the fly rod and attach a big streamer. You can even fly fish in the ocean. Fly fishing is all about technique, finesse, and being able to play the fish.

Fly Rod:

Fly fishing rods come in weights, from typically between 0-12. The smaller the fish the lighter the weight rod. If you are going after panfish or smaller trout in streams and ponds a three weight or smaller is the right choice. If you are going after big pike, Muskie or saltwater fish a 10 weight or heavier is the right choice. A good starting weight rod for the angler that is fishing medium streams, small rivers and lakes is a 5 or 6 weight rod. Most fly fishing rods start out around 8 feet with some going upwards of 10 feet in length. When considering height be sure to remember that casting a fly is much different that casting with a spinning or baitcasting set up. If you need a rod to maneuver in tight spaces then a smaller length is a better option. Fly rods are generally fast action, meaning they have a stiffer backbone with a sensitive tip to detect finicky fish going after the fly.

Fly Reel:

You want to match the fly reel weight to the rod weight, most fly reels come are 4/5 weight or a 7/8 weight, meaning they will match a 4 or 5, or a 7 or 8. Matching a reel to the rod is important because the reel will have the proper drag and line capacity for the size fish that is being targeted. Many fly reels now come equipped with a drag that makes it easier to fight bigger fish. Reels are a place to hold the line and the backing. A good reel will have a smooth drag and feel comfortable on the rod.

Fly Line and Backing:

When you look at a fly fishing reel there are two to three types of line on the reel. The base which can be two different lines is the backing. Backing is a braided line that is used to fill up the reel that does two things, the first is to have extra line in case the fish decides to run, and the second is to fill up the reel so that it is faster to retrieve the line that is out. Most fly lines are between 90 and 110 feet long so having the extra backing to make sure no fish runs the length of the line and you run out is very important. Most backing will be 20 or 30 pound test.

Again, matching the line to the rod and reel weight is important. You can overline (go over the rod/reel weight by 1 or 2 weights) or underline (go under the rod/reel weight by 1 or 2 weights). While over and underlining have pros, they also have some downsides so it is recommended to stick with the rod/reel weight. Fly line comes in all varieties, there are weight forward taper (WF), double taper (DT), level taper (LT) and shooting taper (ST). Fly line also comes in two types, floating and sinking. The tapper of the line is meant to add heft to the front of the line to aid in casting.

Weight Forward:

A weight forward taper means that the first fifteen feet of the line will be thicker and heavier than the rest of the line, this allows the line to gain momentum and the tip helps carry the fly through the cast, it also allows for good control of the fly.

Double Taper:

Double taper fly line has the same taper in the last 15 feet as in the first 15 feet of the line so that it is reversible. It is good while fishing for trout, however because of the tapering of the line at the front of the line it is more difficult to cast into the wind. The body of the fly line is thicker and heavier than the two ends.

Level Taper:

A level taper line has no taper. The line is all the same diameter and weight throughout. Level taper line is harder to cast and control because there is not a weighted end to assist in getting the fly moving. It is also harder to control the fly once it is in the water.

Shooting Taper:

Shooting taper line is essentially the same as a weight forward line, however the weight at the front end of the line is much much heavier. This allows for increased distance in casting but that is about it.

Along with the different types of taper, fly line comes in floating line, used for dry flies or top water flies, and sinking line, used for wet flies that are meant to be fished under the surface. Floating line can have a sinking tip or be 100% floating. Floating line stays on the surface of the water and will keep the fly on or near the surface.

Sinking line:

Sinking line is good when fishing wet flies in fast current. Most fish going after wet flies will be down near the river bed or lake bottom. Using a sinking line can help get the fly down faster. Sinking line is divided by sinking speed on a scale of 1 to 7. 1 being the line that sinks the slowest while 7 sinks the fastest. 1 sinks at about 1-2 inches per second while 7 sinks at 7 to 8 inches per second. When fishing water deeper than 10 feet using a 7 sinking line is recommended.

Leaders and tippets


Fly fishing leaders are 7-10 foot lengths of monofilament that are tied to the end of the fly line, they are usually tapered and come in 0X-8X. This is the diameter and strength of the leader. Many leaders taper naturally from thicker to thinner. Lower the number before the X the larger diameter and the stronger the leader.


Tippets are an optional addition to the end of the leader and can be attached with tippet rings. Tippets are lengths of mono or flouro line in the same 0X to 8X range as leaders. They give a lifelike and realistic movement to the flies while being virtually invisible. Depending on the fishing you are doing switching types of leaders and tippets will help with fishing the flies correctly. Smaller streams will require a longer tapered leader, bigger fish a shorter stronger leader.


Flies come in two types that have already been mentioned. Dry flies, or flies fished near the surface and Wet flies, or flies meant to be fished under the surface. Dry flies are generally used in smaller shallower streams during insect hatches. Wet flies are usually fished in deeper water, some wet flies are wooly buggers and streamers.

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