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Introducing Fly Fishing To Your Significant Other | 5 Tips From Chris Thompson

To many, flyfishing is a solitary pursuit. Long moments on a river spent with their own thoughts are broken by brief periods of communal meals, laughter, and lies. A buddy can be 50 yards downstream, just close enough to hear gleeful shouts at a good hook up, or shouted curses as one breaks off, yet not close enough to disturb the serene, babbling water that washes the rest of the world away. I have never been one of those people. I find the best moments in life are those shared with the ones we care for the most, and fishing is no different. I enjoy sharing the process with my friends, or fishing buddies.

Mind you, those friends must go through a rigorous screening process. Everyone can’t be allowed into that sacred space. Plenty of friends are great to share a finger of rum with, talk about the family, or even share deep thoughts and dreams. On the water with a fly rod is another matter entirely. That’s church. There, the wrong person can transform a small slice of paradise into just another bland place in this world. The right person brings an explosion of color into even the dullest day. They are few and far between.

I have several fishing buddies that have been part of my life for a very long time. One of them stands above the rest, and I made sure I married her. Who better to pass those selection criteria than the person you decide to be your partner in life? I know, a lot of you are already laughing (or shouting…or worse) and think I’m crazy. I admit, my marriage isn’t normal. Kellie was a guide when she was younger on the Little Red. She’d mastered trout fishing, landed salmon, and fought smallies before she’d ever met me. Sure, that made my screening a lot easier. She already shared my appetite for fly fishing. She also shared my passion for life, and we unquestionably share passion for one another.

Passion. Isn’t that what angling truly is? Isn’t that what we all really want in our partner? Your significant other may not understand fishing, but would probably like to know why you’re obsessed. Try letting them in. Invite them along, and like you, they may just discover the beautiful places our fish live, the skill required to hook and land them, our connection to nature as we try, and the healing the water provides. If you’re still reading, then you likely haven’t thrown your hands up at the thought of being on the water with your spouse (or girl/boyfriend). However, you’re probably unluckier than me and didn’t marry an angler. At this point, you’re receptive to the thought of inviting that special someone into your magical place, but just don’t know where to start. Kellie and I have been asked how we manage it before, and I have a few suggestions.

TIP #1: EASE INTO IT

You’re already in love with our sport. That means you’ve already accepted some things your loved one will have to ease into. That first trip can’t be ice in the guides, numb feet, Erie steelhead fishing. Fighting off mosquitos and No See Ums at sunset on your local pond may not be the best initiation either. Sure, I get it. The fish are rising, but trust me, this isn’t the way. Instead, choose a serene and beautiful location you know is likely to produce a few fish. Keep the trip at a few hours to a half day trip. Let your partner be introduced to the best of what we do. If they like it, then they’ll see the other stuff soon enough!

TIP #2: THIS IS NOT A NORMAL DAY

Waking up at 3:30am, fumbling through making a pot of coffee while half asleep, stumbling to the truck, and then stopping for a gas station gut buster and the day’s provision of Slim Jims might be the norm…for you. You’re anxious, excited, and hopeful about what the day might bring. No kid has ever been more excited on Christmas morning. However, throwing the non-initiated into the pre-dawn ritual isn’t going to work out well for either of you. Plan a day that includes time to get ready, some comfort items, no rushing, and remember you’re trying to show someone else a good time. I’m sure you’re in tune with what that will take, and if not, you now have the chance to learn.

TIP #3: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU

This may be the most important thing to remember. Today’s trip, or maybe even the next dozen, aren’t about you. They’re about her (or him), and ultimately the two of you together. If you’re hoping this will be the start of a genuine lifetime fishing partner situation, then you have to be the guide. I’m not just talking about being the fishing guide. You are the trip planner, the logistician, the tour director, and the guide on the water. You’re hoping your most special someone may just change their life to join you on a regular basis. Show them a good time! Help them rig. Coach them through their time on the water. Have a shore lunch. Be the net guy. Take a break when they get tired, and end the day when they’re ready. Then go relive the experience over some drinks and great food.

TIP#4: PATIENCE AND HUMILITY

Some of you have been waving a long rod around for decades. Your partner is just starting. They may never be at your level, nor do they need to be. Sooner or later they’ll reach a level of competency allowing you to graduate from Ghillie, but until then your role is as much mentor as fishing buddy. You’ll need to teach knots, rigging, fly selection, tactics, and everything under the sun. Sharing your knowledge can be a reward in and of itself. You’ll also need to know when you just don’t have the aptitude or capability to be helpful. For example, soon your partner will begin their voyage casting, and you my friend are not a suitable captain. Lefty Kreh frequently said he could teach anyone to cast except his wife. Unless you’d like to forego some fishing trips for couples counseling, you’d do well to heed his advice. Hire a casting instructor, or ask a friend, but unless you are among the rarest of breeds, admit you’re not equipped for this task.

TIP #5: HAVE THE RIGHT GEAR 

Everything about this process can be exciting and fulfilling, but this part is just plain fun! Along this journey you get to help outfit your partner. In the beginning, they’ll need their own rod. Sure one of your spares may do the trick, but it’s always nice to have something of your own. You don’t have to go overboard. I find the TFO Bug Launcher in 4/5 or 5/6 are exceptional trout and panfish rods, and their finish and smaller handles are especially appealing to ladies. The NXT Black Label is also a great entry level rod that has a smooth action, and is available in 5 or 8 weights. Both rod series are affordable, available in full outfits, are sure to provide years of use, and are backed by a lifetime warranty. As your partner develops a feel for what they like you get an instant gift list, and actually are required to visit fly shops. You’ll want waders, chest packs, stripping baskets, rods, reels…and maybe a second mortgage!

From Michigan, to the Carolina Coast, to Alaska, and many points between, I’ve shared my love of flyfishing with the love of my life. I introduced Kellie to saltwater flyfishing, and she’s shared her expertise on trout streams. We’ve fished in waders, on kayaks, and from boats. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve cursed like sailors. What we don’t have are arguments about going fishing, because it’s an integral part of our marriage. It’s part of who we are. It can also be part of who you are. You may have to chart a different course, but after all, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.”

All the best.

Words and Photos by Chris Thompson. Chris is a TFO Ambassador based out of coastal North Carolina. He is a former veteran of the USMC who does a lot of work with the non-profit organization Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., and spends more time helping veterans get introduced (and obsessed) with fly fishing.

Generation To Generation

My parents belonged to the greatest generation, although no one ever told them until late in their lives. I’m pretty sure they didn’t realize it when they were my age and definitely not at my kids age. They never realized how great they were; they simply returned from the war, got married, got jobs and raised families. Since then, we’ve had baby boomers, Generations X, Y and Z, millennials and probably several others along the way.

One thing has remained constant across the generations, however, at least in my family; each generation invests in the next, not necessarily in a material sense but by passing down wisdom, values and passions. My love of the outdoors was learned from my dad, which I in turn, have passed down to my children and their spouses. I learned to fish standing by my father’s side. At first he tied the knots and baited the looks, but soon taught me to do it myself. I not only learned to fish, but also to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. I gained respect for the fish I caught and other animals I hunted. My dad was my role model, hero as well as mentor.

I learned fly fishing as an adult, partially from my father but also from other mentors. With a sport as complex as fly fishing, mentorship serves a vital role to a fledgling angler. Some of my fly fishing mentors are well known like Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski, but many others are less famous but still just as important. Each planted the seeds or nurtured my growth, helping me to develop as an angler and man. I honor my father and all my other mentors when I share with others what was taught to me.

Now my kids are sharing this passion and wisdom with their children. In our family, this begins at an early age. On a recent family trip to the Driftless Streams in Northeast Iowa, we introduced my grandson, Gage and granddaughter Emma to fly fishing. My wife, Jo took photos of Gage on Evan’s back as he fished. Michelle made sure he was warm and snug. Clay carried Emma in a chest pack.

Even though Gage and Emma were far too young to fish or even walk along the stream banks, we enjoyed the outdoors as a family, laughed a lot and even caught some pretty nice fish. But I stood back at one point and simply took it all in, admittedly a little choked up on that beautiful morning. I sensed the warmth of my dad’s smile. He would have been delighted. And Lefty too; as my daughter Erin held the rod and I place my hand over hers, Lefty’s hand was there too, guiding us through the casting stroke.

Written by TFO National Advisor Jason Randall

*All Photos Provided By Jo Randall*

How Beginners Can Get Started in Fly Fishing, Part 1: Simplify

Welcome to part one of TFO’s fly fishing for beginners. Starting today, our series will be divided into five weekly segments — an introduction followed by singular posts on rods, reels, lines/leaders and casting.

Let’s be honest. Fly Fishing, at least at its advanced levels, is not easy. It can be difficult for the beginner, but it doesn’t have to be. You can fish for tailing bonefish and permit on the gin-clear flats of the Bahamas, or, you can try your hand at bluegill on a farm pond with nothing more than a simple out-of-the box setup and a fistful of poppers.

The choice is entirely up to the angler.

A few thoughts on how the beginner can streamline the process:

Buy a Kit

When a beginner first goes into a fly shop, the array of lines, rods and leaders can be daunting. If you’re patient and persistent, you can go through the tedium of putting together a matching outfit. But why endure that stress?

Better yet, a buy a kit — with a rod, reel, line and leader already assembled. TFO has NXT kits (suggested retail: $199.95-$209.95), which are perfect for a youngster or adult beginner. You get a quality, affordable setup that’s ready to fish.

It’s a low-risk proposition. If you eventually fall in love with the sport, you can upgrade to a better rod and reel. On the other hand, if you simply want to dabble in fly fishing, the NXT kit will serve you well for years — and you won’t blow through a monthly mortgage payment, which is easily doable at your local fly shop.

Take a Class

Most fly shops offer classes. Mad River Outfitters in Columbus, Ohio offers outstanding instruction. Most shops offer free weekend casting lessons, and it’s worth your time to invest a few hours with a knowledgeable teacher.

Internet instruction is an option. The only problem with that approach is that the quality of the information varies. Some is good. Most of it is bad and there’s no gatekeeper to sort through the volume of misguided info.

The next best option is to buy a DVD from a reputable source. TFO’s Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski teamed for The Complete Cast, which is a comprehensive look at fly casting. It’s a little advanced for the pure novice, but a good investment for the intermediate angler.

Hire a Guide

One of the hardest things about learning to fly fish is knowing where the fish are, when they’re going to be there and why. And then you have to be skilled enough to put the fly where it needs to be. A good guide can help you sort through the obstacles. And trust me, there will be plenty.

When I first started fly fishing 30-something years ago, I was immediately hooked. I went out and bought a handmade fly rod for $350, which translates to nearly $800 in today’s economic climate. And, I had no idea how to cast or how to find fish.

Sheer perseverance yielded a few trout, but fortunately I found a friend who was not only skilled but helpful. In retrospect, I should have spent less money on my first rod and invested in a guide. You, as a beginner, should do the same.

 Set Realistic Expectations

I learned to fly fish on a spring creek. Of course, I was seduced by the visions of big brown trout sipping sulphurs at dusk. I eventually bagged my share of browns, but not before I honed my skills on a more forgiving species — the brook trout of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I should have simplified even further — with bass and bluegill on the local farm ponds. You don’t need a guide. You don’t need waders. If you can toss a popper a few feet, you have a good chance of landing a fish or two. From there, your confidence will grow — along with your skill level.

 Enjoy the Journey

When I first started fishing, I used to take a few fish home, not because I was against catch-and-release — actually I was in favor of it —- but because I needed proof. I needed validation that I could actually catch something with a limber rod, a rubbery line and a tuft of fur and feathers. I’m not sure if I was insecure or trying to prove to my wife at the time that I was being productive. Beats doing yardwork, right?

As I’ve grown older, I no longer measure fishing or hunting success by empirical output. If I’m still learning, that’s good enough for me. Fly fishing offers infinite possibilities — saltwater, freshwater, big fish, little fish, stocked fish, wild fish. All can be sampled close to home or abroad. You can tie your own world-class flies ala TFO’s Blane Chocklett. You can row a drift boat or pole a skiff. Or you can simply fish from the bank.

That’s the beauty of fly fishing. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. The choice is yours.

Below is a video from Mad River Outfitters that provides additional insight on the simplicity of fly fishing. Additional thoughts or comments on how to make fly fishing more user-friendly for beginners? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.