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Angler's Journal: Beginning Fly Fishing

February 9, 2009

By King Montgomery

The keys to turning someone on to fly angling are controlling frustration levels, having fun, catching fish -- and catching fish! Landing a few fish is very important to beginning anglers of any age or disposition, but particularly for young folks.

(Photo Courtesy of King Montgomery)

The best place to teach someone to fly fish is on a warmwater pond, lake or reservoir; and the best fish to target is the bluegill and its other sunfish cousins. Pick a place with few obstructions to snag lines or backcasts. Boat docks or grassy banks are good.

But back up a bit. Make sure a beginner is brought to the water to catch fish only after he or she has learned basic casting skills, simple knot-tying and rudimentary presentation awareness. If you want to learn golf or tennis, you don't just buy equipment and step onto a course or court. The same applies to fly fishing.

Learning from a professional is the only way to go. The money paid for professional casting lessons will be more than offset by avoiding of a lot of casting grief typical when self-teaching or being taught by a well-meaning amateur. Schools throughout the world teach folks how to cast, fish and get familiar with all the other skills to be a successful fly fisher.

Check with a local fly shop, outfitters and guides, and visit fly fishing shows in the winter to find good instructors. Get a good fly-casting tape and check it now and then to see what you're doing correctly, and what you're doing wrong.

Let the neophyte use good borrowed equipment for starters. A newcomer can learn to cast quicker, better and with less exasperation by using the best rod and line available. Yes, the $500 rods and $60 lines do cast easier and better than a $79 rod and $20 line. But don't go that high or that low for beginning gear. As the beginner gains proficiency, she or he should buy the best equipment affordable.

Fine starter kits are available from the major high-end rod manufacturers G. Loomis, Sage, Winston, Scott, Orvis and others. Also, check out St. Croix, Redington, L. L. Bean, Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, and numerous others, including the relatively new kid on the block, Temple Fork Outfitters. They provide lower cost and quality gear for all levels of expertise.


Once the newcomer can assemble a fly outfit, tie a few knots, know a little about the process, watch fly fishing videos or TV shows, and practice casting about 15-20 minutes a day, it's time to go fishing.

Go to the warmwater pond in late spring through mid-fall, depending on geography. Tie on a knotless line that tapers down to four or six pounds test (add tippet material as needed). Bend down the hook barb on a small panfish popper with a No. 8-10 hook and you'll hook most fish, even the smaller ones. (If the fish swallow the popper, tie on a larger fly.)

Find a spot with some nearby in-water brush, vegetation or other fish-holding structure. Warm up a bit by flexing and stretching casting muscles. Straighten the leader and line by stretching them, too. Cast it out and they will come.

Once a fish hits -- most likely a bluegill -- more lessons begin, such as how to hook, fight and land a fish; how to handle and gently release it; and how to keep the fish fresh for dinner and how to clean and prepare them. Bluegills and their cousins are great starter fish. As you progress in your fly fishing life, you will often return to these little, agreeable jewels. Thank goodness we have them.

If you want to learn fly casting and fishing, check around for a fly shop. They all offer lessons and, of course, have the proper gear to get started.


Some of the casting instructors in the Baltimore area are Larry Coburn and crew at the White River Fly Shop in the Bass Pro Shops at Arundel Mills (410-689-2500,; Phil Gay at Trout & About Fly Fishing in Monkton (410-472-0740,; and Theaux Le Gardeur and the folks at Backwater Angler, also in Monkton (410-357-9557,
Issue 134: February 2009