6 simple tricks to help teach a beginner to fly fish

In the words of Roderick Haig-Brown, “I had to learn a lot on my own which is a fascinating process but a slow one.”, but given the circumstances where opportunities intersect with drive and/or ambition, the learning curve is diminished. Fly fishing is no different, and if patience and dedication are applied, then the outcome becomes less in importance than the journey.


It’s the journey that has become enjoyable. Am I a good or expert with a fly rod? Hardly, but I have since learned enough tricks along the way to make the process enjoyable and it can be downright enlightening.  Often enough, people become frustrated early and it’s the line tangles, lack of fish, or the seemingly endless manner in which to tackle the subject or sport that diminish the starter’s enjoyment. And to tackle this supposed wall, I’ve developed a manner in which I can share my love of the sport and watch a few people figure out, in the manner of a couple hours, why I continually display such ardor for the sport of fly fishing.


Just like a carpenter, there are a thousand ways to build the same end project—and one single way is not better than any of the others. It is a base premise that we often forget (or forget to relay) and that is to simply fish.


I’ve had the chance, as well as my wife, to recently spend a few minutes sharing our love for the sport while standing in the water with newcomers to the sport and a few basic tenets that have become apparent:


  1. The trip to the river/creek. Don’t overload the listener with details of the cast, river structure, or the strategic differences of nymphing vs. dry fly fishing as you drive to the river; too many details can make one’s head swim. The whole thing should be relaxing and inundating them with nuances or details is moot at this point.
  2. Communicate effectively. Don’t stand on their shoulder for hours on end and confuse them with minutiae about their cast—give a couple of clear and concise directions and then let them figure out what their own rhythm is. Keep the initial casting process simple and short. This will minimize tangles, allow for more time fishing, and then-when a little more distance is required or wanted—show them how to add a little line.
  3. Tie something on that will catch a fish. Now this seems pretty obvious but it is worth talking about. Don’t tie on a streamer when you know it is best to drift a soft hackle through the seam. Early learners will probably do best in situations that require a bit of a drift rather than an endless process of stripping as that is a lot of activity for the brain to process. Don’t tie on a rig (like a double with a dropper, or a three fly rig) that requires a little bit of an experienced hand at casting.
  4. Manage expectations. Whether you are teaching an 8 year old boy or a 45 year old woman one has to consider what the end game is. And that should be simply how to share what you love to do and why you spend countless hours obsessing over it. It really doesn’t matter if you catch no fish, one fish, or twenty fish (although a single fish on can make a world of difference), the point is to share why fly fishing can be a transcendent experience.
  5. Location, Location, Location. It’s important and that’s why the old saying articulates it three times. It’s exceptionally true for beginners, too. Stay out of creeks with overhanging branches or a windswept river and find a spot that offers them a chance to throw a line without worrying too much about landing their back cast in a tree or fighting a stiff breeze. Set them up for success rather than failure! Choose a spot that’s clear of obstructions that they can start to figure out the motion and rhythm of a cast.
  6. Be patient. Now, this is probably the most obvious of the tips but it might be the most overlooked. Chances are that your student might not be the most proficient at first. Kids, spouses, friends of the family, aren’t necessarily going to want to see you throw a rod on their first outing and most people will respond better to a calmer and quieter voice rather than a raging “expert” who displays no regard for the process.


It’s important to share the larger picture of why Fly Fishing is fun and, if they ask, share your personal stories of success or heartbreak, or why one turned into the other. My kid laughs at me when I tell fishing or hunting stories because I like the audience and often embellish a series of dry stats with hysterical details (hysterical at least to me.)

Try to clue them in to the love of the riddle that we so often try to solve.