10 Fly-Fishing Tips for Beginners

Primary Image

How to Get Started With Fly-Fishing

Print Friendly and PDF
No content available.

Interested in fly-fishing? Here are 10 fly-fishing tips for beginners from a competition champion! Plus, find a glossary of the most common fly-fishing terms and some great fly-fishing destinations!

This advice comes from Bobby Malouin from Rhode Island. Back in 2003, when he was just a 15-year-old. Bobby won the top prize and a $1,000 scholarship for college at the fly-fishing competition sponsored by United Fly Tyers Inc. We featured him and his fishing tips in The 2005 Old Farmer’s Almanac

Last summer, we reached out to Bob to see if he was still casting about. “I’m still fly-fishing a lot and I’m actually going for stripers, bluefish, bonito, and false albacore tomorrow,” he was happy to respond. Here’s how he got started and some of his (youthful) advice for aspiring anglers.

Diving In to Fly-Fishing

Bobby was a spinning-rod angler at age 9. One day, after fishing for hours and catching only one fish, he noticed that a man using a fly rod had caught three fish in no time. 

Bobby decided to try a fly rod. The first time out, he caught only the attention of a couple of fellow fishermen. One man gave Bobby 20 flies and told him how and when to use them. Another fisherman gave him a fly vest and a reel, but on one condition—that he not give up the sport. 

Not only did Bobby not give up, but he dove right in, getting his own vise for fly-tying and spending much of his free time with his rod, fly-fishing in season at least three times a week. He spent hours tying flies, eventually mastering more than 200 recipes, or fly patterns. He watched fishing shows on television and attended fly-tying courses. 

Bobby daydreamed about teaching the sport and the art of fly-tying.

Photo Credit: Krstyna Malouin

10 Tips for Fly-Fishing Beginners

Here are Bobby’s recommendations for fly-tying and fishing:

  1. Ask local fishermen about which flies are best to use. Or find out for yourself with a dip net, which is usually dragged across the lake-, river-, or streambed to catch nymphs, emerging insects, and other aquatic life. It works especially well after you’ve turned over stones, wood, and other matter on the bottom.
  2. When learning to tie, start with big and easy ones so that you become confident with the basic technique. Try Woolly Buggers, Woolly Worms, and Montanas.
  3. When fish aren’t biting any of your flies, try the Pheasant Tail. Add a copper thorax to it so that it sinks faster, head down, into the water.
  4. Don’t worry about losing your flies—you can just tie more. 
  5. The color of a fly has a lot to do with catching fish. If the fly doesn’t look like what the fish are feeding on, they won’t go for it. Woolly Buggers work very well. Put flash—a shiny, sparkly material—on the sides.
  6. Time of year and weather conditions determine which flies work best. When the trout are hitting wet flies or nymphs, try heavily weighted flies colored olive and black. 
  7. Practice your technique. Use a crude fly (to help straighten the line out) with the hook clipped off (to help avoid injuries).
  8. Mash down the barbs on your hooks. This makes a smaller hole in the fish’s mouth, and you won’t lose the fish as long as you keep pressure on the line when you’re bringing it in.
  9. Fish in places where fish hide or stay to save their energy: undercut banks, obstructions, on the side of the current, in front of and behind rocks. Never fish from upstream to downstream; stirred-up debris will scare the fish.
  10. Wear polarized sunglasses; they’ll help you to see the fish.

Have patience. You’ll get better as you go.

The first fish that Bobby Malouin caught using a self-tied homemade fly was a big rainbow trout on a Pheasant Tail. His first successful use of a store-bought fly was with a Muddler Minnow.


Common Fly-Fishing Terms

Here are 20 fly-fishing terms, defined by Silvio Calabi, author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fly-Fishing, (Henry Holt & Co., 1993).

Arbor: the spindle, or axle, of a fly reel

Bucktail: animal hair used in fly tying

Cree: A mottled ginger color

Danglies: small gadgets that fly fishermen like to hang from their vests

Salmon Fawning: a type of dry fly

Flymph: a soft-hackled fly

Fingerling: a baby fish, about the size of a finger

Flue: the soft fibers at the base of a feather

Gape: the bite of a hook

Haywire Twist: the strongest loop connection for tying wire to a fly

Herl: the individual barb of a feather, usually from a peacock’s tail or an ostrich plume

Hippers: hip boots, worn to wade into brooks and streams

Kype: a growth on the end of a trout or salmon’s jaw that makes it curve upward like a hook

Matching the Hatch: the dream scenario whereby an angler puts on the water an exact imitation of whatever aquatic insect is emerging

Parr: young salmon, usually 5 to 8 inches long

Popper: a type of surface fly that produces a gurgling noise when twitched through the water

Priest: a club used to deliver the “last rites” to a fish that won’t be released

Salter: the sea-run form of the brook trout

Square Tail: a nickname for brook trout

Skater: a type of high floating dry fly meant to “skate” across the water

Teaser: a hookless bait or lure used to draw a gamefish to within casting distance


Best Fly-Fishing Spots

Fishermen rarely divulge their favorite fly-fishing spots, but Phil Monahan, former editor of American Angler magazine and fishing guide in Alaska and Montana, offers his suggestions from across North America:

StateBody of WaterWhat you might catch:
AlaskaKvichak RiverKing salmon, Arctic char
ArkansasRed Riverbrown trout
CaliforniaSacramento RiverUpper: rainbow; Lower: rainbow, steelhead
ColoradoGunnison Riverrainbow or brown trout
FloridaBuchanan Bank (off Islamadora)tarpon
IdahoSnake Rivertrout
MaineUpper Dam, Rangeley Lakesbrown trout, salmon
MichiganPere Marquette Riversteelhead, King salmon, silver salmon, brown trout
MontanaBig Hole Riverrainbow or brown trout
Montana/WyomingYellowstone River, Big Horn, Madisonrainbow or brown trout
New JerseyRaritan Riverbrook and rainbow trout
New MexicoSan Juan Riverrainbow or brown trout
New YorkDelaware River, Ausable Riverrainbow or brown trout
North CarolinaDavidson Riverbrook trout, rainbow trout
OregonDeschutes River, Umpquarainbow trout
PennsylvaniaSpring Creek, Yellow Breechesbrown trout
TexasSouth Padre Islandredfish
WyomingFirehole Riverrainbow or brown trout
WyomingSnake Rivercutthroat trout
ProvinceBody of WaterWhat you might catch:
QuebecCascapedia RiverAltantic salmon
New BrunswickMiramichi RiverAtlantic salmon

Good luck, and remember that you can’t catch anything without a line in the water!

Read more about fishing:

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

No content available.