New to fly fishing? You’re in the right place.
If you want to start fly fishing, you need a few pieces of essential equipment – or as it’s called in the fishing world, tackle. The main things you need are:
- Fly rod
- Fly reel
- Fly line
- Backing, tippet and leader
- Some flies
Once you’ve got all the essentials, you’re ready to fly! But how exactly do you go about doing it? Let us fill you in.
How to set up your rod and line
Spend some time getting to know your rod and line before putting them together.
It also pays to know a few different types of knots as if you buy your backing and line separately, you’ll need to knot them together. You’ll also need to tie your fly on.
The basic knots you should be familiar with as a beginner are the arbor knot and the Albright knot.
There are many others, and learning to tie knots and learn what situations you should use them in is all part of the fun!
Load the backing onto the reel
- Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to attach the reel to the rod. It varies by reel, but it will usually just slide on and lock into place on the rod.
- Load your backing onto the reel. As a very rough guide, you can judge how much backing to put on the reel by the reel’s weight:
- 1 or 2 weight reel: 0 to 25 yards
- 3 to 5 weight reel: 25 to 50 yards
- 5 to 7 weight reel: 50 to 100 yards
- 7 to 9 weight reel: 100 to 200 yards
- Attach the backing to the base of the spool with an arbor knot – although as long as it’s secure, you can use whatever knot you like
- Reel the backing onto the spool. The backing line should lie evenly across the spool.
Attach the backing to the fly line
The majority of fly lines have a label indicating which end should go onto the spool, and many will also have a loop here to make it easier for you to attach the backing.
If so, tie the backing onto the fly line with a double-figure of eight knot or a uni knot.
If your line doesn’t have this loop, this is when your Albright knot comes in handy!
You should use this knot instead to attach the fly line to the backing. Once you’ve attached your line and backing, load them onto the reel.
When fully loaded, the line shouldn’t touch the body of the reel – it may take you a couple of attempts to get this right, so have patience and keep practising!
Thread the line through the fly rod
Now with the reel fully loaded, it’s time to thread the fly line onto the rod through the guides (the loops on the rod).
You can do this by pulling around 7-8 feet off the line and doubling it over, then thread the doubled-over section of the line through the guides, ensuring that you thread it through both guides.
Pull around 10 feet of the line through the guides.
Tie the leader to the fly line
The majority of lines have a loop at the end for you to attach the leader to. If so, you can just attach it like you did when you were attaching the backing.
If there’s no loop, you can use your double figure of eight knot again – you should be well practised by now!
Attach the tippet to the leader and tie a fly onto the tippet
Use a clinch knot or a uni knot here – or again, whatever knot you know that will keep the fly secure. The last thing you want is for a badly tied knot to let you down at the very last moment!
And that’s you all setup and ready to go – although there is one more important thing to consider.
What fly should you use?
Choosing the right fly will come with time, practice, and speaking to other anglers – don’t underestimate the knowledge of local anglers, especially when it comes to what fish are in your area. But here are a few things to consider when picking out your fly:
- Where do you want to fish?
- What time will you be fishing?
- How are the water conditions?
- What kind of fish do you want to catch?
Let’s run through some of the most common types of flies that you’ll want to have in your fly box to get you started.
This type of fly is designed to look like a fully-grown adult insect, and they sit on top of the water. Fish will notice this fly as it hits the surface of the water, and if they like the look of it, they’ll swim up to grab it. Some of the most common dry flies are:
- Match the hatch: These flies look exactly like the insects that are hatched around the water you’re fishing in, so you’ll want to speak to local anglers to find out the best ones to go for
- Terrestrial bugs: These flies realistically resemble bugs that float on the water but don’t live in or on the water, such as grasshoppers and spiders
- Attractors: These bright, shiny flies don’t resemble an insect as most flies do. Instead, the goal is to quickly attract the attention of a fish before it realises that this spectacular object isn’t actually food.
This type of fly floats just below the surface of the water and closely resembles insects. Some common types are:
- Nymphs: These resemble insects at the larvae stage, and float on or just below the surface water to attract fish (especially trout)
- Streamers: Sometimes called lures, these flies resemble aquatic insects like leeches or minnows. Rather than letting them sit on the water like you would with a nymph, streamers are moved in short bursts by tugging on your fly line. The movement looks like a living creature and can attract fish.
It’s important to try out different types of flies and see what works best for you. Listen to recommendations but don’t be afraid to play around with different flies. Even within one session, you may want to change flies several times to see what works best on that given day.
Rules and regulations
Before you excitedly head out with your newly set up rod, reel and line ready to make your first catch, it’s important to note that you do need a rod licence if you’re fly fishing in some parts of the UK.
The Environment Agency oversees fishing on all enclosed water, which includes reservoirs, lakes, ponds and canals. They also look after rivers and streams, and you can buy a rod licence from them online or at the Post Office if you need it.
If you’re in England or Wales, you need a licence if you’re fishing for salmon, trout, freshwater fish, smelt or eel with a rod and line:
- Anywhere in England (except the River Tweed)
- Anywhere in Wales
- The Border Esk region, including the parts of the river in Scotland
You’ll also need an extra licence if you’re fishing in the locks or weirs of the Thames.
If you’re in Scotland, the only part of the country where you need a licence is if you’re fishing in the Border Esk region. As this river flows into England, you need a licence for England and Wales if you’re fishing in any part of it, even the sections that are in Scotland.
If you’re in Northern Ireland, you need a rod licence and angling permit from a Northern Irish agency.
In all four nations, you need permission from the landowner or angling club to fish there.
Types of licence
In England and Wales, there are two types of licences:
- Trout, coarse fish and eel licence, which lets you fish non-migratory trout and all freshwater fish
- Salmon and sea trout licence, which allows you to fish for salmon, sea trout, non-migratory trout and all freshwater fish
You can choose to buy a permit for one day, eight days or twelve months.
Where to fish
So now you know what licences you need, where should you go to fly fish?
There’s actually a legal answer to this question. There are local bylaws for each region of the UK that determine:
- Parts of the region where you’re not allowed to fish
- Any closed seasons when you’re not allowed to fish
- The tackle you can use for certain fish in your area
- The size of fish you can keep
In England and Wales, the main rules to know around when and where you can fish are as follows – but check your local bylaws for further information about closed seasons and regional variations:
- You’re allowed to fish for coarse fish, eels, rainbow trout and brown trout on most enclosed stillwater and canals year-round
- You can’t fish for coarse fish and eels on rivers between 15 March and 15 June
Can you keep the fish you catch?
Some very important answers to know the answer to before you start fishing:
- What do you do with the fish you catch?
- Can you keep them?
- Should you throw them back into the water?
This is another question that’s determined by law, and the limits are determined by the amount of fish you catch and the size of the fish.
You may be fined if you don’t adhere to these limits.
For coarse freshwater fish, each day from rivers you can take:
- 1 pike (up to 65cm)
- 2 grayling (30cm to 38cm)
- 15 small fish (up to 20cm) including common carp, silver bream, roach, barbel, chump, smelt and tench
- ‘tiddler ‘ species
- non-native species
- ornamental varieties of native species, like koi carp
The bylaws vary by region for the amount of salmon and trout you can take. Remember, if you’re fishing in privately owned waters, the rules may differ so always check with the owner.
You know how to set up your rod, you know how to choose flies, and you’re clued up on where you’re legally allowed to fish and what catch you can take – you’re ready to go out there and learn how to cast!
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