Things I learned My First Year Fly Fishing

Full trout-sparency? I thought I would NOT enjoy fly fishing. All I knew about it was it was something older dudes did. Like golf for outdoorsy people… It just never grasped me as something I should make time to do. Fast forward to this year, I am counting down the seconds here in Vermont till trout season. Right now, I’m looking at 10 days, 6 hours, and 8 minutes. Oh and last season? I pushed activities that were life and death aside, so I could walk around Vermont’s mountain streams all summer. I am (I hate fish puns) HOOKED. Here are some things I learned my first season fly fishing. Crack a cold one and enjoy.

Native trout are the best trout

Just go and try it.

Expectations? Nah. It’s more fun that way. My first time out, my girlfriend and I woke up at 5am to drive an hour to meet with a work friend who has been keeping “tight lines” and “catching hogs” for basically a decade. I threw on some quick dry clothing and drank 4 cups of coffee. I had the expectations set at “I am going to crush this and catch a fish” even though I had never even seen a trout up close. We got shown basic casting, (yeah that’s all) and then it was time to go give it a go for real. I settled into what I call “the danger zone,” the water around my nether region, and started swinging the rod back and forth and finally landing the fly on the slow, bubbly current. After about 10 minutes fishing the same little zone I came out of my trout tunnel vision and handed the rod to my girlfriend for her turn. I stepped back, looked around and realized this fly fishing thing was special. I’m standing in a remote mountain stream, with someone I love, trying to catch a fish in a weird sort of poetic dance of tangles, hooks that go into skin really easily, and fish that seem to be smarter than any human on earth. I loved it. A few hours later we were back in the car after covering a mile and a half of river. My girlfriend caught the only fish of the day, on a dry fly.

I had all these expectations to learn all these intricacies of a sport, what fly, what line, all the million things it takes to be good at this. I didn’t learn any of that. All I learned was that it’s an experience unlike anything else.

Bottom Line: Throw the expectations out the window of the car at the beginning of the drive… you only have one thing to do your first time out, and it’s simple. Just have fun and wiggle the stick with string and a fake bug for a while and maybe you’ll catch something. Savor the intimidation, it is glorious.

Don’t go top shelf on gear… To start.

A 3rd grader could look at fly fishing equipment prices, do a little math, and realize it will take 46 years of allowance to own the good stuff. Unless you are starting in the cold months, you don’t need much, and it can be friendly on your wallet. I borrowed the expensive stuff from friends. And by expensive stuff, I mean everything. Rod, Reel, and some flies. This is the best way to get into it, without paying money. I paid them in beer and stoke and went on my way. I didn’t know which bugs to use so I just picked ones I thought looked cool. Just throw on some shorts and a shirt, some river shoes, some sunglasses, and go clomp around. I can’t stress the importance of the fly fishing “kit.”

I couldn’t tell the difference between a 5 weight and 8 weight, Caddis or Parachute Adams. But one thing was for sure. I was gonna look damn good, while struggling to keep my friends gear pristine and try and outsmart what seemed to be genius minded fish. So, you’re just getting started, do you need the G Loomis Asquith? Nope. Sounds like a spaceship. Get something that makes sense for being entry level. If you want to try nymphing, dry flys, and streamer fishing, get something that you can do it all with, for a realistic price. Remember, you don’t know if you really enjoy it or not yet, so just go basic. A 9 foot 5 weight combo package would be a great starter rod. Something like THIS. Once you build gear preferences you will appreciate the expensive stuff. Glass rods, faster vs slower action, longer or shorter rods, wading boots, nice sunglasses, all of that stuff.

Bottom Line: There is no need to take out a second mortgage to get into fly fishing. Borrow some gear for the first little while if possible. If not, take a look at some packages. Some even come with flies too.

Fall glory in Vermont

Take it all with a grain of salt. Just do you.

There is too much information out there. With this thing called the World Wide Web, you can sit for hours and hours and read. Maybe this dude from France prefers to use this leader, Orvis says this one is better, this rod is better, this fly is better. I can go on forever. I tried to nerd out on all this stuff and it left me with this unshakable feeling of impossibility. So support your local fly shop. Head there, bring a six pack, and tell them you are about to embark on this sport. Ignorance is bliss. You’ll quickly find out some spots to fish what you want to fish, and what you need to catch them. Go at your own pace. I spent the first 5 months of fly fishing only using dry flies. I felt like it was the way it was supposed to be learned. One chance, you are in control of whether a fish eats or not, because if it’s presented poorly, or it doesn’t look natural, you have to play the game, figure out by trial and error. Just because the internet says this is the fly that will catch fish during this time on this water, you might be surprised.

Bottom Line: You should only do this one way. THE FUN WAY. If it’s fun to figure out hatches and water morphology, dig in! If you want to just go and throw dry flies and figure that out, dig in! Just do you, leave the other stuff to those people. Do it how you want.

What now?

All that really matters is that you are out there. It’s awesome that you can dive down a rabbit hole in the sport. Want to get into Czech nymphing? Yeah you can. Want to be a dry fly purist? Yeah. Want to learn which parts of bugs are which? You can do that too. Just take it in chunks and go in whichever direction you want to go in. again, as long as you are out there fly fishing.
I personally like to get my information via satire. So Ben Sittig AKA HUGE FLYFISHERMAN was a dude I stumbled upon, and learned a lot from. Like I said above, I am by no means an authority. I am just a dude who started a sport who is now completely obsessed. I started tying recently as well. That’s a whole other article. Hit me up on the gram @big_snick if you want to talk learning, or flies, or making sure your outfit is dialed. Keep those lines taught. Keep those fly’s looking natural. I’ll see yah out there. Enjoy.

Boots: borrowed. Waders: borrowed. Rod: borrowed. Stoke: HIGH

About the Author:

Sam has been in Vermont the past couple years. He works as a brand strategist at Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, which makes all things outdoor his main vein in life. Even though fly fishing is new to the wheelhouse, you’ll find him with his dog Moisie, and partner Elissa, walking miles in the Vermont mountain headwaters. You can link up with him on the gram @big_snick.

3 thoughts on “Things I learned My First Year Fly Fishing

  1. First thing I’d recommend – lose the purple shirt! Fish can see, and you don’t look like a tree 🙂

  2. What a great article and experience for the novice fly fisherman. Sam you are the man, enjoy. Jim from the farm

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