Fly Fishing for Beginners - Part One

Fly Fishing for Beginners
If you have always wanted a crack at fly fishing but have always been unsure where to start, then this is the article for you. When starting out, common questions include "what is the best fly rod for a beginner," "what's the best fly reel," "how do you begin fly casting," and "what flies do I use." This article aims to answer those questions and is part one of a series of three where we simplify what you need and how to get started. Our ultimate intention is to help you successfully embark on your journey as a fly angler.

Fly Rods 
Firstly, you need to kit yourself out with a rod. Buying your first fly rod depends to a large extent on what fish you are targeting, whether you will be fishing a river, loch or stillwater, and whether you will be travelling with your fly rod. Prices for a new fly rod range from around the £50 mark to £300 and upwards, but if you are starting out, you should be focusing on fly rods that cover everything.

As a beginner, it's important to understand that all fly rods have an AFTM rating. AFTM stands for Association of Fishing Tackle Manufacturers and is recognisable by a # (hash tag) followed by a number. So a #6 means a six weight fly line is suitable for the rod. In simple terms, a #6 will have the required weight to bend the rod adequately when fly casting. For the majority of those starting out on their fly fishing journey, something like a functional, affordable fly rod in the nine-foot-long, six or seven weight category would be the most sensible choice. You can happily target fish on both small stillwaters and larger lakes and lochs with this sort of outfit.

A fantastic fly rod for beginners is a Shakespeare Agility 2 Single Hand Fly Rod in 9ft6 for a six weight (#6) and will allow you to cover most fly fishing situations that a beginner will encounter.

Shakespeare Agility 2 Fly Rod
Fly Reel
As a beginner, choosing a fly reel that balances well with your fly rod, can hold an adequate amount of backing, is suitable for a six weight fly line, and has an appropriate drag system is all you need. Of course, as you progress and your needs change, there are a wide variety of fly reels to choose from for your particular style of fly fishing. But if you are looking at just the basics, an Airflo Classic Cassette Fly Reel is perfect for your needs. It is lightweight, durable, has an adjustable ultra-smooth drag system and comes with four polycarbonate spools in case you want to carry a few different fly lines. It also comes with a custom-made padded reel case for protection.

Airflo Cassette Fly Reel
Regarding fly reels, you may come across terms such as "standard arbor" "large arbor" or "mid arbor." "Arbor" simply means the distance from the centre spindle to where the base of the spool starts. In a standard arbor reel, the spool is very narrow, so this is more suited to smaller river fly rods. They hold plenty of backing, but the downside is that backing sits on the reel in very tight coils which reduces your retrieval rate, or how fast you can rewind the fly line on the reel. Another disadvantage of the standard arbor is that your fly line will suffer from a thing called "coil memory," or "line memory." The longer you leave the fly line on the spool, the line becomes 'coiled' and needs to be stretched or else the line will not sit in a straight line on the water but instead, in coils. In contrast, a large arbor fly reel solves a lot of the problems associated with the standard arbor and is the most popular choice for beginners. They have a much bigger diameter and wider design, offering better backing capacity, faster retrieval, and significantly less line memory.

Fly Line
For beginners, a floating line is an excellent choice because you’ll be able to use it to fish both dry flies on the surface and wet flies just under the water. The weight of your line should match the rod you fish with, so make sure you look for the information written just above the handle of your rod (as discussed). Given that we recommend a Shakespeare Agility 2 Fly Rod in a four to six weight, the recommended fly line for this rod would be a Greys Platinum Shoot Fly Line in a weight forward six (WF #6).

Greys Platinum Shoot Fly Line
Weight forward is a term used to describe the taper of the fly line. Most fly lines are tapered and vary in weight, diameter, and thickness over the length of the line. Some float; some sink at varying speeds per second. Weight forward taper is the most popular choice if you are a beginner. In the first 30ft of a weight forward fly line (WF), the line is heavier and the front end is tapered. The rest of the WF line is thinner and is sometimes known as 'running line'. The weight forward fly line helps with longer casts and offers better precision in windy conditions.

A floating line simply means that the fly line floats on top of the water and does not sink. For a beginner, a floating line is suitable for most fly fishing situations. As you progress, it is then worth having fly lines at differing densities, or 'sink rate' which will significantly improve your ability to adapt to the conditions.

Fly Fishing Kits
To make things event simpler, it is possible to buy a fly fishing kit with everything you need to get started. Kits include rod, reel, line and backing. Two good example kits to get started include the Shakespeare Sigma Fly Combo and the Airflo Elite Fly Fishing Kit.

Shakespeare Sigma Fly Combo

Airflo Elite Kit

Fly Line Backing 
As discussed, backing gives your fly line a platform to rest while wrapped around the spool of your fly reel. It also 'backs up' the length of your fly line with added distance while fighting a fish that takes long runs. For beginners, the most popular type of backing is braided in 20lb or 30lb strength. To start with, we recommend Stillwater Fly Line Backing.

Stillwater Fly Line Backing

Leaders, Tippets, and Loops 
Once you have your fly rod, fly reel and fly line, the next consideration is to attach a leader of some description to your fly line. For most beginners, an adequate solution is to connect a braided loop to the end our your fly line (some fly lines even come with a loop attached or are pre-looped) and connect your leader using a loop-to-loop connection.

Airflo Braided Loops
There are loads of options when it comes to fly leaders and tippets, but for beginners, there are two primary methods: use a straight length of tippet material such as Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon, or a knotless tapered leader such as the Greys Knotless Tapered Leader. Use a straight length of 9ft tippet, create a loop at one end, and connect the leader loop to your braided loop using a loop-to-loop connection. 

Fulling Mill Fluorocarbon

Greys Knotless Tapered Leader
A straight length leader is perfectly adequate for a beginner because you are still learning about proper presentation and improving your fly casting technique. However, if you feel that your casting technique is improving and want to present your fly with increased delicacy, say to a rising trout on a river, then using a knotless tapered leader will offer an advantage. Knotless tapered leaders will achieve a significantly better turnover because they are thicker at the fly line end and progressively taper down to a thinner tip section. The energy you have created in your cast will smoothly transition to the fly, resulting in better accuracy and very little water disturbance.

Eye Protection 
Finally, equipping yourself with a pair of polarised sunglasses is a must for two fundamental reasons. Not only do they protect your eyes from wayward casts and hooks, but they also help you to spot fish by removing the glare from the water. We highly recommend a pair of Greys G1 Sunglasses to reduce the stress on your eyes and make the whole experience of fly fishing safer and relaxing.
Greys G1 Sunglasses
Improving Your Casting
It is well worth booking a session with a coach or instructor if you are new to fly fishing as they can establish good casting habits from the outset and save you a lot of frustration. In the space of a few hours, an instructor can often teach you things that would take a fair bit of time to learn.

Finally, videos, diagrams, and written instruction can offer some knowledge but getting out and practicing is what will help you perfect your technique.

As highlighted, we have outlined the very basics of fly fishing by discussing fly rods, fly reels, lines, leaders and tippets, braided loops and eye protection. In future articles, we will go into greater depth about fly fishing clothing, fly fishing flies, and tips on fly choice. However, for more information on must-have fly fishing items in your kit bag, you can read our blog on Tackle Bag Essentials.

This article was brought to you in association with Trout Fisherman magazine.