What Is Fly Fishing – A Beginners Guide

What Is Fly Fishing - A Beginners Guide
Beginners Guide to Fly Fishing

Whether you have just started fishing, or you are just beginning to look into it, you may be wondering, what is fly fishing? Well, hopefully, you are in the right place to learn a little bit about the topic.

To put it simply, it is a type of fishing that involves the use of a bait that is a lot like a fly, both in size, shape, and activity,  instead of the usual, heavier lures.

However, by the end of this article, you should know the basics to get out there onto your local water, and give it a go yourself!

History Of Fly Fishing

Fly fishing, first documented as far back as writing from the year 300BC in China. However, the first book written about the subject was at the end of the second century. A Roman author by the name of Claudius Aelianus wrote that book.

His description of fly fishing (describing Macedonian anglers on the Astraeus River) was:

“…they have planned a snare for the fish, and get the better of them by their fisherman’s craft. . . . They fasten red wool. . . round a hook, and fit on to the wool two feathers which grow under a cock’s wattles, and which in color are like wax. Their rod is six feet long, and their line is the same length. Then they throw their snare, and the fish, attracted and maddened by the color, comes straight at it, thinking from the pretty sight to gain a dainty mouthful; when, however, it opens its jaws, it is caught by the hook, and enjoys a bitter repast, a captive.” – Wiki

As you can see, the idea of using strands of fiber, horsehair, silk, and feathers is not new at all.

It was not until the cease of World War 2 that fly fishing became extremely popular, though. The reason for the increase in popularity was due to a lack of supplies around the world. On the other hand, however, nylon was more readily available at that time due to the lifted rations to civilians. Thus, the use of heavier nylon lines became possible.

What Is Fly Fishing

As you probably are already aware, traditional fishing requires a lure or bait at the end of the line that is heavy enough to cast. The line that you use on a reel for traditional fishing is pretty lightweight and thin. That is because the bait or lure is the most substantial part of the setup. Therefore, it is what propels the line out to the fish.

However, how do you get a lure that it the weight of a fly, literally, to the fish? The answer to that is in the line itself. Before we get into the specifics of lines, we will continue with the explanation of what fly fishing is.

Fly fishing developed from studying how fish would eat insects from the surface of the water, and trying to mimic the insect’s movements as best as possible.

There are three types of fly fishing:

  • Wet
  • Dry
  • Streamer

We will now go into those different styles in a little more detail:

Wet Fly Fishing

Wet fly fishing is a term used to describe the imitated prey of fish where the fly sits under the surface of the water. They are basic interpretations of prey such as:

  • Small baitfish
  • Worms
  • Insects

As they are not to float on the top of the water, they are slightly weighted to allow them to sink below the surface. Some other design characteristics of a wet fly are:

  • Bulky dubbing fibers
  • Longer hackle collars

Both of those characteristics allow for more animation while moving in the water, making it look more like a real insect.

To use these files, you need to cast it out across the water and attempt to retrieve it at a constant pace, luring in predatory fish. It is not a technique recommended for beginners.

Dry Fly Fishing

Dry fly fishing is when the lure sits on the top instead of being underwater. As with wet, the flies look like insects in distress. However, certain conditions are best for dry fly fishing.

The best time for this method is when the fish are looking at the surface of the water. That is often during a hatch of other insects that frequent the waters.


Streamers are great ways to seek out aggressive fish such as trout in streams and rivers. They are particularly good at catching larger fish because streamers are larger than the average dry or wet fly. Streamers can also be rather effective in rainy weather, which I go over in this post.

Streamers imitate large prey such as:

  • Baitfish
  • Leeches
  • Crayfish

Bigger fish eat bigger prey!

Fly Fishing Line

As we said earlier, fly lines come in different weights. That is because it is the line that has the weight for casting, not the lure. The heavier the line, the further the cast. You can buy lines in a range of sizes from 1 to 14.

  • #1 line is skinny and lightweight. 
  • #14 line is more like a rope. 

Therefore, everything between the two numbers will have different weights incrementally increasing.

The weight of the line reflects the size of the bait that you would use, and the fishing conditions, too. For example, you would use a number 1 line for the most delicate and light fly, in the calmest of waters with the most fretful fish.

A standard trout weight fly line would be around the number 5. Whereas 8-10 lines are primary saltwater lines, and 11-12 are for big, massive fish, and 13-14 are fish fighting lines.

Choosing the line can be one of the most challenging tasks in fly fishing, except for actually catching the fish. However, once you have that part of the job completed, you need to pick your rod.


Rods that you use are much easier to decide once you have the line weight in mind. There are only two things that you need to think about, they are:

  • Length.
  • Line size.

The most common length that you will see is a nine-foot rod. There are smaller and larger rods, but people often reserve them for the extremes. For example, small, five-foot rods are typically used for tiny streams and “poking” into bushes, etc.

what is fly fishing?

Larger, 11,12, and 15-foot rods are specialist rods that will need a different article altogether.

The physical weight of a fly rod is an irrelevant factor, as graphite has made them so light and durable now. Fly rods and reels are the most basic looking rods you will find but do not be fooled.


Leaders are a different type of line that ties onto the end of your fly line. Remember that we said that it is the fly line that makes the cast possible with lighter fly bait? Well, you can’t tie the fly right onto the end of that line.

So, a leader is more like a standard fishing line on the end of the fly line, to provide an invisible, lightweight line for the fly. Leaders will also slow down the cast, allowing for more “stealth” casts.

Again, the leader length has a role to play, too. The shortest leader that you will find is 6 feet long and used for sinking, heavy lines to keep the fly under the water and close to the bottom.

7.5-foot leaders are for general stream fishing with faster, choppier waters where the casts are short, and the fish are unlikely to care about seeing a fly line if they see it at all.

9-foot leaders will work better for calmer, flat water where the fish are more suspicious of their surroundings. That length keeps the fly far enough away from the fly line for the fish to notice. It also slows the bait down more for a gentle drop onto the water.

12 and 15-foot leaders are a lot more specialist leaders for extremely flat, calm water where the fish are excessively cautious.


Buying leaders is not just about length. You also have to consider the tippet size. The tippet size designation is either a number on its own, such as 0.15 for a 0.15″ diameter, down to an 8X – 0.003″. Each tippet diameter will balance different fly sizes.

Keeping bait looking natural on the water is done through the balance of fly to the tippet. Using a heavy, larger diameter tippet with a small fly will stop it from looking natural.


Although we have spoken about the different types of fly fishing, and what a fly may look like, we need to have a little look into the types of flies that you will come across, and what they mimic:

  • Dry 
  • Wet
  • Nymph
  • Streamer
  • Terrestrial

fishing flies

Dry Flies

These mimic flying insects in their adult stages of life. Like insects that would typically land on the water, or hover low above it. Some may be imitations of insects that have fallen from trees above the water.


Wet flies will look like insects that, in their adult stage, live just below the surface of the water. So they are often a little heavier and less buoyant.


Still a wet fly, the nymph flies imitate insects in their larval stages of life, the ones that the fish would usually feed on.


As has already been pointed out, streamers will imitate the smaller fish that live in the water, such as crayfish, leeches, worms, smaller fish, etc.


Terrestrial are as they sound. Imitations of land insects that fall into the water. Some examples are:

  • Grasshoppers
  • beetles
  • ants
  • caterpillars
  • Etc. 


There are quite a few aspects to fly fishing. However, it is undoubtedly one of the more straightforward fishing techniques to learn. The great thing about fly fishing is that the basic methods required are the same no matter which fish you are looking to catch.

The only thing that you need to do is practice with what you have learned here. It is always wise to check your local authorities for fishing laws regarding fly fishing. However, it is a type of fishing that often has no regulations and can be done anywhere from your local lake to rivers and the sea.

Do not feel afraid to try different combinations of the equipment that we have spoken about here.

Please feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions, or any other tips that you think may be useful to our readers.


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