Nothing beats whiling away a Sunday afternoon than casting out with a buddy and waiting for that elusive bite. Until they ask, “What is fly fishing?”

You may have mastered regular old fishing, yet this sounds new and exciting. So, what is fly fishing, and how do you get started?

What Is Fly Fishing?

Fly fishing is a technique of catching fish where the light-weight fly imitates an insect. The fly, or bait, sits on the top or just beneath the water to lure in the fish.

Fly fishing contrasts with traditional fishing methods where you cast out the bait and keep it submerged hoping to get a bite. Fly fishing is a delicate art as flies vary with every fish and you have to place the fly on the water’s surface without scaring the catch away.

And fly fisherman must have a good understanding of the river, a fish’s feeding patterns, and understand which flies to use at different parts of the day.

What Equipment Do You Need?

In traditional fishing, you attach the bait, the most substantial part, to the end of your line and cast. In fly fishing, you’ll notice the artificial fly is light, so you need different gear and casting techniques. The gear you need includes:

Fly rod and line

Rods are a significant component of your fly fishing setup. For beginners, choose a mid-action rod as they are easier to cast and a weight forward (WF) line.

You must consider which fish you want to catch and where the species lives (e.g., streams) as these factors determine the weight of your rod and line.

There are various lines, such as floating, intermediate, or fast sink. Beginners should practice with a floating line, as it is easier to cast and see whether you’ve got a bite.

The rule of thumb says lighter lines are suitable for small streams as they only make a little splash, so they don’t scare away the fish. And for larger bodies of water, use a weighty line.

For example:

  • For small streams use a 3-weight, 5 to 8-food rod (use a 3-weight, 5 to 8-foot rod) to cast small flies on a light line
  • Use a 5-weight, 9 to 10-foot rod for large rivers
  • Choose an 8-weight, 10-foot rod for large still waters to catch bigger fish


Man is using the fishing rod for fly fishing

Photo by JanFillem on Unsplash

Fly reels have three jobs: they hold the fly line, balance a fly rod, and let the angler wrestle with the fish. The rod and reel work in harmony to present the fly to the fish, so it bites.

Like lines, reels depend on what type of fish you hope to catch and whether it can hold your fly line and backing.

Also, the loaded reel should be balanced with the rod when you grip the handle. For example, if you have a nine-weight reel, you should pair it with a nine-weight rod (a nine-weight reel, you should pair it with a nine-weight rod.)

Fishing On The Fly has a fly fishing reel that comes in several weights depending on which fish you want. So choose a seven or eight-weight if you hope to catch a larger fish like a salmon or pike.

Backing, leader, and tippet

The backing is the line reserve, which is essential when you’re grappling with a strong fish. The leader is a transparent monofilament, 7 to 12 feet, that attaches to the end of the fly line to prevent fish from spotting the cast.

Then you add on tippet material which is where we attach the fly.

For example, if you’re fishing a 3X Trout leader, add four extra feet of tippet to the leader and tie your fly at the end.

Waders and wading boots

In fly fishing, you may end up in the water when you need to backcast, so invest in waterproof waders so you can enter the river and track down the elusive salmon.

The best fly fishing waders come in many materials such as breathable, neoprene, and rubber. Breathable waders are compatible in every weather, whereas neoprene waders are insulated, perfect for winter.

Wading boots let you stand on the rocks without slipping because of their felt soles. You should pick wading boots a size up from your standard shoes as most anglers wear neoprene socks that require extra room.

Orvis has a popular pair of wading boots that increases foot grip when you’re in the water and over slippery rocks.

How Do I Get Started With Fly Fishing?

Man at the river side is doing some fly fishing

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

There are many ways to test the waters and find the answer to “What is fly fishing?” You can:

Take a class

Watch tutorials on YouTube or find a local class. Many sporting good stores, fly fishing shops, or community colleges offer free or low-cost classes to introduce you to the art.

They often begin with a lecture to cover the basics and then get hands-on with knots, lines, flies, and casting.

Get your equipment

You don’t have to blow your budget but invest in a good fly fishing rod, reel, and line. You can get great combo packages like Sougayilang’s portable set to get you started.

If not, get a nine-foot, five-weight rod, as it is a safe bet for beginners.

Research where to fly fish

Explore various bodies of water to understand how to read a river and figure out where fish hideout.

For example, fish often remain well below the surface and like to lurk behind boulders and in slower currents.

Do The Different Types Of Flies Make A Difference?

Man holding a fishing rod and net while standing at the river side

Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Flies used to comprise of natural materials like feathers, thread, and animal fur. Nowadays, we use a range of synthetic and natural materials on the same fly.

Flies fall into five categories: dry flies, wet flies, streamers, poppers, and saltwater flies. What is fly fishing? Nothing without these bad boys.

Dry flies

These stay on the surface of the water and imitate emerging insects like mayflies, grasshoppers, or midges. The fish registers the fly’s appearance, so accurate casting, and delicate presentation is crucial.

Wet flies

Kept below the surface, these imitate nymph-stage aquatic insects like fish eggs or crayfish. The strike happens below the surface, so you have to pay close attention to the line movement or the fish appearing below the surface.


These are larger wet flies that imitate leeches and other smaller animals. Anglers use steamers like lures to attract more territorial or predatory fish.


Poppers represent damselflies, dragonflies, and other bugs that stay near the water’s edge. They are most effective in late spring, summer, and early fall when there are plenty of insects around.

Salwater Flies

Most saltwater flies are wet flies that imitate crabs or shrimp and are for marine species of fish of varying shapes and sizes.

3 Facts About Fly Fishing

Learning about fly fishing gives you a grasp on its history, fundamental techniques, and enables you to answer “What is fly fishing?”.

1. There are five essential knots

person's hand is holding a fishing knots

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These are the knots you’ll need in fly fishing:

Nail knot

Anglers use nail knots to attach the backing to the fly line and the fly line to the leader. It’s excellent for joining dissimilar lines as the knot squeezes them together tight.

Double surgeon’s knot

This knot connects similar diameter materials. Here, two lines lay parallel before they’re tied with two overhand knots. You use the double surgeon’s knot to attach the tippet to a leader or to make a loop for tying on flies.

The clinch

You use the clinch knot to attach flies or to tie on swivels and leaders onto the fly line loop. You can also use this knot to pre-tie the tippet onto small flies before heading out for a session.

Duncan Loop or the Uni-Knot

Anglers use the Duncan Loop to attach the tippet to the fly and the leader to the fly line, giving the fly more freedom.

Blood knot

Blood knots tie leaders or attach tippets to a leader. Your presentation must be delicate, so you can use the blood knot to tie the line straight.

A great way to learn more about knots is by flicking through a guide that offers step-by-step instructions. Try the Pocket Guide to Fly Fishing Knots, as the illustrations are useful for beginners and it can fit in your fisherman’s vest.

2. Rods are made from many materials

fly fishing rod

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As fly fishing developed, so did the rods. If you’re wondering “What is fly fishing?” and the materials used for rods, these are the most popular types:


In the 1970s, graphite was a game-changer. Manufacturers had the freedom to make light, durable, and sensitive rods, which were also high-performing.

For example, Piscifun has graphite rods in several weights depending on the species of fish and the environment. If you’re after medium-sized fish, try the 7 to 9-inch weight as it’s designed to catch carp and bass in saltwater.


Bamboo is another traditional material that is revered in the fly fishing community. This rod has a faster rate of recovery than fiberglass and is heavier compared to other rods.


Fiberglass rods have made a comeback and cater to a slower casting stroke. They’re great for fishing in close quarters and load with much less line than other rods.

If you want to go after a small fish in a small stream, fiberglass is for you. Maxcatch, for example, has a line of compact fiberglass rods that offer unique flexibility and are perfect for medium-fast action.

3. Fly lines were originally made of woven horsehair

2 men at the shore is doing some fly fishing at the ocean

Photo by Ali Hegazy on Unsplash

So what is fly fishing and when did it begin?

Pinpointing the exact origins of fly fishing is tricky because there are conflicting accounts. One source claims that fly fishing dates back to the second century by Roman, Claudius Aelianus.

But it wasn’t until the 15th century that the upper classes in England recorded the first in-depth account of fly fishing. In the 1700s, anglers used braided horsehair as a line and even combined it with silk, making it the first fly fishing line reference.

Fast-forward to the 1950s and manufacturers used PVC, as it was cheaper and produced a far better and consistent product.

What Is Fly Fishing?

Fly fishing is an art that requires patience, practice, and perseverance. It’s great if you’re a die-hard angler looking for another venture as fly fishing requires unique tactics to lure fish. Fly fishing will also broaden your knowledge of fish, their habits, and how to read different bodies of water.

Do you have any tips on how to get into fly fishing? If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.