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Fly Fishing for Women: A Beginner's Guide to Fly Fishing

Susan is a registered nurse (RN). She has more than 16 years of experience working in the healthcare profession in a variety of roles.

Fly fishing for beginners.

Fly fishing for beginners.

Beginning Fly Fishing

Fly-fishing was once a sport dominated by men, but it is growing in popularity among women. This article will cover the basics of fly fishing. Although it is written for women, men can find the article informative too.

Fly Fishing

Equipment Needed or Nice to Have

Fly Rod - this can be purchased as a kit or as individual pieces - rod, reel and fly line. My first reel was one that I purchased a kit from Cabela’s; it included everything I needed in one box.

Flies – look at where you plan to fish and find out what people are using in that area. My box always contains a Parachute Adams, a Woolly Bugger, and a Soft Hackle Hares Ear. In the beginning, it is easier to purchase a few flies. As your skill grows, you might find it fun to tie your own flies.

A practice Rod – this is a stick with yarn and a small cluster of yarn at the end. You can make your own practice rod or purchase one. I spent hours in front of the television casting at an object – a shoe, a piece of lint, the front door. I was amazed at the improvement I made on the river after practicing at home.

Waders – if you plan to fish Rivers or anywhere you will be going into the water waders are a necessity. They will keep your legs dry and warm. The nice thing about waders is they are now making many durable waders designed especially for a woman. They have waists designed for a woman’s curves and colors that are pretty. A wader will come in stocking foot (without boots) or with the boots attached (read the note on felt footed).

Wading Boots – If you have stocking foot waders you will need boots or shoes to wear in the water. They come in felt bottoms, rubber bottoms or with metal studs.

Purchasing a Fly Rod

What type of rod to buy is one of the most common questions asked when a person is starting to fly fish. There are many things to consider when purchasing your first rod.

Type of Fish

To answer this question, you have to decide what kind of fish you are targeting or desiring to catch. If the answer is panfish or trout, a 3-5 weight rod will be the rod that you will need. If you are targeting larger fish, like Bass or Steelhead look towards a 7-10 weight rod. Fish larger than steelhead will require what is called a Spey rod - this is a very different type of fishing for larger bodies of water and will be discussed in another article.

Where You Fish

Fly rods tend to be longer than conventional rods, but can still vary in length. If you are fishing in tight areas like small creeks or rivers covered with dense growth a shorter rod 6-8 feet would be a necessity. In larger bodies of water, where longer casts are needed to reach the fish or where you desire a longer drift an 8-10 feet rod will work well. This size rod is excellent for dry fly presentation or nymphing and allows you to reach over some of the complex currents found in a river. A rod over 10 feet is typically a Spey or switch rod.

What I Use

I tend to fish rivers for trout, and my favorite rod is a 5 weight rod, 8.6 feet, with a floating line. I use this rod for a variety of fish and have caught smaller bass, along with bluegill on this rod. It has turned out to be a great all-around rod.

Types of Casts

The Forward Cast or the Basic Fly Fishing Cast -This cast is the basic cast that all fly fishers need to know. It consists of two casts a backcast and a forward cast. You start this cast with about 8-10 yards of fly line on the water and using a quick but smooth motion, you lift and snap the line back. With an abrupt stop at about the 2:00 mark, you then snap the line forward with and a sudden stop at about 10:00. This motion brings the line forward while using an imaginary line drawn between your thumb and the place where you want the fly to land. Joan Wulff uses a door screen handle to demonstrate this technique. She uses the motion of releasing and pushing the button on the screen handle. 
Some Important tips for this cast are that you need to have a 45-degree angle between your rod and your wrist. It is a lift, snap motion and it is essential to have a smooth action because if you rip the line off of the water, it will scare all of the fish away.

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Backhand Cast -This cast is very useful if you are trying to get around obstacles or in windy conditions. To start, you want to point your shoulder toward the target, and you complete what appears to be a side cast or forward cast but backward, landing the fly gently behind you. Many people overthink this cast and attempt a variety of maneuvers, but if you can complete a good forward, you can do the backhand cast also. Tips to remember are to point your shoulder at your target, keep your knees slightly bent and cast in a straight line.

Reach Cast -This cast is an excellent way of putting controlled slack either upstream or downstream from your fly. It starts with a forward cast and a stop of the line just as the fly hits the water and before the line hits the water. Then move the tip of your rod to the right or the left and let the line slide through your hand. This cast is a benefit when you are casting across the current and is easier to learn than mending the line.

Roll Cast -This is my favorite cast and is a great one for small rivers, creeks or streams. Especially in areas, you do not have room for a backcast. It works great for targeting a fish that is within 20 feet of where you are.

The cast is completed by throwing some line out into the water and then tipping your rod back to about your ear, which will cause the line to pick up off the water and form a ‘D-loop’ behind you reducing the amount of line lying on the water. You then begin your forward motion by flicking your wrist causing a forward roll off the line.

I tend to fish rivers near my home that have a lot of overhanging limbs or narrow areas, and this has turned into my most used cast. Well worth learning for anyone

Roll Casting on the River Side

Roll Casting on the River Side

An Important Technique

Mending The Fly Line - This will be one of the most important things you can learn to improve your chances of catching a trout on a river. While not really a cast, more of a fly line maneuvering, because you have already cast your line onto the water. I decided to include it here because of its importance.

The process sounds almost too easy, but like anything new it takes practice. The basic mend is a lifting of your rod tip to cause the line to break from the water - it is completed before your fly begins to drag. When you lift your rod tip allow the line to make an upside-down and flip the line upstream. The goal is to flip enough line and not disturb the motion of the fly and remain as drag free as possible. A skill that really takes practice.

Fly Fishing Terminology

Action - Used to describe the flexing of a rod- Fast - Medium or Slow Action

Arbor - the center of the reel where the fly line and backing are attached.

Attractor - a fly pattern tied with something not necessarily characteristic of the fly - like a red spot or a flashy area- to elicit a strike from a fish.

Backing - the material, often braided Dacron, used to take up space on the spool before the fly line is attached.

Barb - the projection on the tip of the hook used to decrease the risk of the hooked fish escaping.

Beadhead - a bead near the eye of the hook on a fly.

Bodkin - a fly-tying tool that has a thin pointed metal rod or needle on a handle. Used in various ways while fly-tying but can also help in getting a knot out of your fly line.

Breaking Strength - the amount of effort it takes to break a piece of monofilament described in pounds, for example, 5lb test.

Butt Section - the thick end of the tapered leader - tied to the fly line with a loop or a nail knot.

Dacron - the braided nylon line used for backing

Disc Drag - the part of the fly reel that creates resistance as the line is pulled off of the spool - often used as your fighting the fishing to either add more drag(tighten) or let the fish run (loosen)

Double Haul - This is considered an advanced cast. A cast where both hands are used - one on the rod and one on the line- used to create a faster line speed.

Drag - a term used to describe an unnatural motion of the fly - we attempt not to let the fly drag.

Drift - the pace a fly is traveling with the current - the goal is without drag.

Dropper - Something added to the main line. It can be weight to cause it to sink - sometimes a weighted fly or a weight such as a split shot. It can also be a second fly added to a line with a dry fly as a strike indicator.

DryFly - a fly that is fished on the top surface of the water.

Eddy - Found on the edge of a current and is a swirling spot on the water. Often emerging insects can be found here along with fish hanging out.

Emerger - the stages of an insect when it goes from the nymph to the adult fly.

Floating Fly Line - A fly line that floats. An excellent all-around fly line.

Forceps - just like the medical forceps a tremendous all-around tool but especially aids in removing the hook from fish.

Grip - the handle of the fly rod. Generally, but not always made of cork.

Hatch - a large number of a particular insect hatching at the same time.

Headwaters - A section of the river before the main tributaries join. It is typically smaller in width and slower flow than the central part of the river.

Indicator - A floating object placed on the leader - works the same as a bobber for regular fishing.

Leader - Can be called Tapered Leader - it is a section added to the main fly line to taper the line. You can add a tippet to this or tie your flies directly to this.

Loading the Rod - used to describe the bend in the rod caused by the weight of the line as it travels through the air.

Match the Hatch - Using a fly that matches or looks like an insect that hatching at that time.

Mending the Line - Used after the fly is on the water to achieve a drag-free float. It is a flipping of the line (see video)

Nymphing - a word used to describe fish feeding on immature insects - underwater. When fishing we tie on a nymph and fish below the surface.

Popping Bug - Or a Popper - Usually a bass or bluegill fly made of cork or hard material. It makes a popping sound or motion as we pull it along the surface.

Retrieve - The act of bringing the fly back after the cast is made. Bringing the fly back is completed in a variety of ways.

Riffle - a small area in the river of rapids.

Rise - Fish coming to the surface to feed.

Run - Has two meanings in fly fishing. It is a fish running or trying to escape when hooked (drag is used here), and it is a shallow area of the stream that goes into a pool -or deeper section.

Setting the Hook - the act of tugging when the fish bites the fly to place the hook into the flesh of the mouth of the fish.

Spool - the part of the reel that holds the backing and the fly line.

Strip - Bring the line back to you by pulling it through your fingers

Tag End - the end of the line where you tie a knot

Tip Section - the very top section of a fly rod.

Waders - the outfit you wear while fishing - waterproof and can be stocking boots (requires separate boots) or with attached boots.

Wading Shoes or Boots - the boots or shoes you wear with a stocking foot wader.

Weight Forward - an easy-casting fly line that carries most of its weight in the front and is often one that beginners use.

** This list of terms is by no means inclusive, but it is some of the words that I heard early in my fly fishing journey.

Places to Fish

Lakes, Ponds, and rivers are great for fly fishing. You can fish from shore or stand on a dock. Many fly fishers enjoy wading in the stream. I started out by sitting on the edge of a lake fishing for Bluegill then eventually found that wading was great fun. Look for areas that provide natural cover for fish like rocks, fallen trees, near boat docks, with an escape route for fish.

Fly Fishing from a Float Tube

Fly Fishing from a Float Tube

Float Tube

Fly fishing can be done from any shore, standing in the river, from a boat, or from a Float Tube (one of my favorites). The float tube allows you to hike into areas that are often difficult to get to and to get to deeper waters in lakes or ponds. It resembles a chair that you sit on in the water and propel yourself around with flippers worn over your wading boots. I have found it to be easy to use and lightweight to carry. Some of my most peaceful, favorite areas are accessed using my Float Tube.

Float Tube

Anyone Can Learn

I started fishing as a young girl and have many fond memories of being out on a lake in a canoe with my younger sisters. In those days we used a stick, and a worm or whatever means we could to catch fish. I got my first fishing rod through a newspaper route by getting new subscriptions and winning the contest. I was so excited when I received the Zebco rod I had won.

I continued using that rod for a very long time. I was introduced to fly fishing while standing on a lake and asking the person what they were fishing with - the man- now my husband gladly showed me the basics of fly fishing, and I caught my first Bluegill. No pun intended but I have been hooked on fly-fishing ever since, and my regular rods appear to be gathering dust.

So in my spare time, I can now be found wading in a river somewhere catching my favorite fish Trout. It is in this place that I feel my Zen or my moments of peace. It is there that my worldly cares float gently down the river and I am calm.

Finding My Zen

Finding My Zen

© 2018 Susan Sears


Susan Sears (author) on April 13, 2018:

You should try it again Bill...out on the water is definitely a peaceful place to ponder about just about anything and the excitement of catching a fish on a fly line is worth the effort.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 13, 2018:

At one time, about ten years ago, I had all of the equipment to learn how to fly fish....and then it never happened. It's still on my to do list, and I hope I get to it soon.

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