10 Fly-Fishing Tips for Beginners

How to Get Started With Fly-Fishing

March 11, 2020
Fly Fishing

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.

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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.

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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

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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:

State Body of Water What you might catch:
Alaska Kvichak River King salmon, Arctic char
Arkansas Red River brown trout
California Sacramento River Upper: rainbow; Lower: rainbow, steelhead
Colorado Gunnison River rainbow or brown trout
Florida Buchanan Bank (off Islamadora) tarpon
Idaho Snake River trout
Maine Upper Dam, Rangeley Lakes brown trout, salmon
Michigan Pere Marquette River steelhead, King salmon, silver salmon, brown trout
Montana Big Hole River rainbow or brown trout
Montana/Wyoming Yellowstone River, Big Horn, Madison rainbow or brown trout
New Jersey Raritan River brook and rainbow trout
New Mexico San Juan River rainbow or brown trout
New York Delaware River, Ausable River rainbow or brown trout
North Carolina Davidson River brook trout, rainbow trout
Oregon Deschutes River, Umpqua rainbow trout
Pennsylvania Spring Creek, Yellow Breeches brown trout
Texas South Padre Island redfish
Wyoming Firehole River rainbow or brown trout
Wyoming Snake River cutthroat trout
Province Body of Water What you might catch:
Quebec Cascapedia River Altantic salmon
New Brunswick Miramichi River Atlantic salmon

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

Read more about fishing:

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Reader Comments

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flyfishing

I'm 79 Years old and have fly fished in the Florida Keys and Many places in the Tn. mountains, The only thing I use the reel for is to store line on except for Tarpon and Snook in the Keys and you have to have a large reel with drag and much backing for these fish. I use a 7' rod for all the small creeks and rivers here and a 9' rod for large bodies of water, I can't see how a $1,000 rod would improve on my catch. If you are like me don't think you have to break the bank to start Fly Fishing.

Fly Fishing

Washington State- Yakima River

FLY FISHING

I HAVE BEEN A FLY FISHERMAN FOR OVER 60 YEARS AND FIND IT GREAT FUN BUT TODAY IT IS RIDICULOUSLY EXPENSIVE. A GOOD REEL IS SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLars AND A QUALITY ROD CAN BE $1000 OR MORE. GET A CATALOG ON LINE FROM ORVIS OR LLBEAN AND OTHERS AND SEE THE PRICES.

Best Places to Fish

You forgot Missouri on your list.
Montauk State Park and Bennett Springs are two great places and they have both rainbow and brown trout.