Marina Gibson, Founder of The Northern Fishing School and renowned fishing instructor shares her ‘one stop starter blog’ on Fishing in our very first “Fishing Corner”.
Start with an instructor or guide
If you know anyone who fly fishes, they may well offer to give you some tips, but I really would recommend starting with a guide or instructor. That way you will get their undivided attention and one-to-one casting tuition, perfect for a really solid foundation.
We are so lucky here in the UK that there are plenty of websites to make your search easy. Explore local fisheries too, who will all have their own instructors and guides they use. Don’t forget if you’re based in the north or you’re up for a road trip The Northern Fishing School based in North Yorkshire has a Team of instructors waiting for you!
Where to find your nearest fishery
There are three different types of fishery for UK anglers – lake, river and sea. I would definitely recommend having your first session on a local still water (lake) so that you can get to grips with the kit, stance and skills needed without worrying about tides, currents and waves. Websites such as FishPal and The Angling Trust have all the information you will need about the facilities in your area and their availability and prices.
Don’t forget to get a licence! Even if you’re only dipping your toe into the world of fishing you must make sure you have a licence for your time there. You can buy a licence from this government website where you will find options for one-day, 8-month and 12-month licences. If you’re taking children with you then please note that under-13s don’t need a licence and those ages 13 – 16 will need a licence but won’t have to pay for it.
Getting kitted out for your lesson
Protective eyewear is essential for safe fly fishing. I would advise you to choose Polaroid lenses as they are brilliant for removing surface glare and enabling you to see the fish. A cap or hat is also essential to help protect your head and face from the fly while you learn to cast. There’s a rather amusing (and painful) tale of a man who not only got a fly stuck in his head, but managed to embed it further while driving to the hospital when his car went over a bump and his head hit the roof of the car… Ouch! You’ll also need warm clothing, waterproofs and wellies.
Here’s the lowdown on the tackle you will use in your fly-fishing lesson:
The Rod– this is the centerpiece of your kit! Most modern rods are made from carbon fiber or fiberglass. Rods come in three classic actions: full (bend starting in the lower third of the rod) , mid (bend in the top half) and tip flex (bending in the top third), in most practical cases a full flex is usually a slower action rod and a tip flex is usually a fast action rod. A mid flex is recommended for beginners as an all rounder rod to get started with.
The Reel– the reel attaches to the rod at the cork handle end, it can be a left hand or right-hand wind.
The Fly line– this is coiled within the reel and delivers the fly to the targeted fish.
The Leader– most leaders are tapered monofilament nylon; one end has a larger diameter that attaches to the fly line and has a smaller diameter tip which is attached to the tippet (or it can be tied directly to the fly).
The Tippet– this is a specific fluorocarbon monofilament line which is attached to the end of the leader, to which you tie the fly.
The Flies– these are designed to replicate flies, larvae, bait fish, fish eggs or nothing real at all! They are made from fur, feathers, hair or other materials, both natural and synthetic and come in different shapes, sizes, hooks and weights.
Fly floatant– this is a wax or liquid that keeps your dry flies floating on the surface.
I strongly advise you to practice with borrowed or rented tackle to begin with. I hope you’ll love fly fishing as much as I do but there’s no point investing your hard-earned money on tackle until you’re sure you are hooked!
Your first fly fishing lesson beings on land
When you book your lesson do make sure to ask if they can show you how to set up your kit. I often fish with clients who have never been shown this and it’s a worry – what happens when they want to fish on their own? You will get more enjoyment out of fishing if you know how the tackle works and can be self-sufficient in time.
Even really experienced anglers are learning more about fly selection all the time. Essentially, you need to be ‘matching the hatch’, that is selecting the right flies for the time of year, weather place and time of day that you are fishing. If not, the wilier (and therefore older and bigger!) fish will not be fooled by your fishing. There are some excellent books I would recommend to anyone wanting to learn more – ‘The Orvis Guide to Hatch Strategies’, ‘The Pocket Guide to Matching the Hatch’ and ‘Matching the Hatch’.
There are three knots which, if you can learn to tie them properly, will enable you to go fishing by yourself – the half-blood knot (clinch knot), blood knot and the perfection loop. You will use the half-blood knot for tying your fly to the tippet, the blood knot for tying two tag ends of line together and the perfection loop for connecting your fly line to your leader or tippet.
There are two types of cast which you will be taught before you head to the river to get started – the roll cast and the overhead cast. The overhead cast is the basic (and rather self-explanatory) fly fishing cast whereby you bring the fly line overhead and behind you, then cast it in front of you to the desired target. The roll cast is used where space is tighter, and a back cast isn’t possible.
When you’ve got your own setup, you can practice your casting anywhere, the garden for a start, even for 20 minutes a day just to get you up to speed. This way each time you go fishing you’ll really notice the difference.
Heading to the water for a play
This is where your love of fly fishing will be ignited. You’ll head to a lake or river to learn how to hook, play and land your first fish… They say the tug is the drug; it really is highly addictive. Here’s how it works in principle:
When a trout takes your fly you’ll need to strike up to set the hook.
The most important thing I tell beginners is to make sure that the tip of the rod is bent at all times whilst playing the fish. If you have any slack in your line the hook will dislodge and you’ll be fish-less!
If the fish is going right, point your rod tip left and vice versa, so you put pressure on the fish, so it tires out, if you’re releasing the fish, you’ll need to get it in as quickly as possible, so it has as much energy as possible when you release it.
When you’re learning make sure you have someone to help you net your fish.
Your lesson will also cover how to kill or release your prized catch as quickly and humanely as possible. Some people aren’t keen to try fishing because they don’t know what to do with the fish when they catch one. You have two options: catch and release or catch and kill.
It’s worth noting that some still-water fisheries are catch-and-kill only, so if you’re keen to release fish back into the water you may need to pick your spot based on that.
Good luck and ‘tight lines!’