Learning how to fly fish, how to fly fish well, is best considered a long-term endeavor.
This is a lifetime sport for many people. They spend their lives learning about fish, the places they live in, and how to fish for them.
But, to learn the fly fishing basics well enough to catch fish, is really fairly simple.
As a beginner, fly fishing is all about casting. Go to any Fly Fishing 101 course and the first thing they will teach you is how to cast, and then if there is time, they will teach you how to tie some knots. If you can't cast, you can't fish. That's where the focus should be for fly fishing beginners.
Once you know how to cast to the right spot and present the fly just so, a whole new world of opportunities opens up.
Now it's important to know how to tie knots and techniques for catching different types of fish in different conditions.
If the only thing you know about fly fishing is how to cast, you are in good shape.
If you know nothing else, you can hire a guide or find a patient friend to take you out fishing.
It's a hired guide's job to show you where to cast, rig your line with a good fly, help to unknot your line when it inevitably gets tangled, and help you land the fish you catch.
A good guide will do this for you if you are experienced or inexperienced, a fisherman or fisherwoman. It's what they do - no need to feel uncomfortable about it. You're paying for it.
On my first fly fishing trip, all I knew how to do was cast (and not even very well) and our guide had me catching fish on the first day. Granted, Alaska was a target-rich environment, but still. He tied on a pink starlight leech, showed me generally where to cast, and then told me how to strip in the line to attract fish.
And then he reeled the fish in while I pulled out my camera.
This was a terrible thing to do. Jerry chuckled as he took the pictures, realizing he had forgotten to teach me about landing a fish. I was all excited and flustered and didn't know what I was supposed to do, I just knew I wanted a picture.
What's the best way to learn how to cast?
Well, this depends somewhat on your favorite learning style. Jerry learned by watching experienced fishermen and trying to copy their movements. He prefers to learn by doing. I like to take classes, to have someone explain things to me first. I signed up for a casting lesson with my local LL Bean store, and later with my local Orvis store.
Then, we both practiced a lot.
Knowing how to rig a fly rod is the second-most important aspect of fly fishing for beginners, behind casting.
Once you have casted and presented a fly to a fish, if he chooses to take your fly, you'll need to be able to hold on to him when he runs or jumps in the air.
This means knots. All different kinds of knots. Knowing how to tie knots correctly is a key skill in fly fishing.
It's incredibly frustrating to lose a fish due to a poorly tied knot - one that you tied yourself.
You'll need to tie knots to attach the backing to your fly reel, fly line to backing, fly line to leader, leader to tippet, and fly to leader or tippet.
The easiest way to do this is to rig you line with everything except the fly at home, before you are on the water and anxious to start fishing.
Once you are on the water, you'll put together your rod, attach the reel, and thread the leader through the rod guides.
Next, select the fly you want to use and check the hook. Make sure it is sharp and that the point hasn't been damaged on previous fishing trips. Also, if it hasn't already been done, mash down the barb. You can use forceps for this. The barb makes it harder to remove the hook and causes more injury to the fish.
Now tie on the fly with yet another knot, and you are ready to start fishing!
The way you fish will be different depending on the fish you are targeting and conditions you are fishing in. You'll fish differently for salmon than you will for rainbow trout and you'll fish differently in a stream than you will in the surf.
Also, you'll need to know what the fish are eating, so you can "match the hatch." A local fly shop or a guide will tell you everything you need to know about what the fish in different areas are eating at that particular time of year.
Wild for Fly Fishing Tip: When learning how to fly fish, the off-season is a great time to practice casting, tying knots, and rigging your fly rod. It's helpful to be proficient at all of these skills, to have the muscle memory in place, before you are on the water.