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The Plan to get started in fly fishing

Updated: May 8, 2023

by John Schneider

 

Wild Food Ingredients, & How to Acquire Them

Lisa is casting a bright orange fly line in front of her. Photo by John SchneiderErin is in the background fishing. They are standing calf-deep in a mountain trout stream.
Lisa and Erin on their very first fly fishing trip after taking the Fly Fishing 101 Course.

I know that there are barriers that exist for folks who want to get started in fly fishing or are new to pursuing wild food ingredients in the great outdoors in other activities. Hunting, mushroom foraging, and collecting edible plants all have their cliques, knowledge gaps, and faux pas issues. Here's the thing though, it has never been easier to enter these worlds. Getting started in fly fishing is almost as simple as reading this article, gathering some basic gear, and finding a mentor or introductory class. That's it! After that, you too can be standing in the cool waters of a mountain stream casting dry flies to hungry trout.


I hear about all of these barriers and it still takes me by surprise each time I listen to a beginner's story. I've been hunting and fishing for things to eat since I can remember, literally. It is just something that has always been a part of my life, and I think I am lucky to have a personality that just wants to figure stuff out, no matter what. I've never considered actual barriers of entry to be a barrier to 'my' entry into an outdoor endeavor. I've been oblivious to the challenges folks face when it comes to outdoor activities that I take for granted. But, we are all different in our approach to things. For example, I can relate to some of these barriers in my experiences trying to grow the Food Afield Podcast! Other folks, younger, more computer-talented, and more intelligent than I, don't think twice about growing the SEO on a website or podcast brand. I'll be stubborn though, and I'll muddle through and try to enjoy the learning process!


So, giving credit to some new friends who have lent me insights into some of the struggles they've faced getting started with outdoor adventures in wild food, let's explore the how-to of fly-fishing here in the Food Afield Gazette.



Get Started in Fly Fishing

John is taking a picture of his biggest Cutthroat trout while it is in the net. He and Curtis are standing in the shallow, rushing water of the Elk River.  Photo by Paige Johnstone
Fly Fishing is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me.

Fly fishing came to me a little later in life, however. I was working at a fly-in fishing lodge on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada's Arctic. I was a fishing nut by then, but only with a spin-cast rod.


One evening, after dinner, the head guide, Charlie took me out fishing. I must've bugged him enough that he relented and brought me up the Stark River to fish for Arctic Grayling. Backing up a little, the first year of working at the lodge was strictly on-shore work. We rebuilt cabins and worked on all sorts of things to make the lodge run smoothly for the fishing clients. Plumbing, electrical, dock-building, you name it, I did it. It wasn't until the 2nd year that I got to guide fishers on a regular basis.


Back to Charlie and I in a boat on the Stark River.


The best way to fish for the Grayling that were rising all around our anchored boat, in the middle of the river, was to cast flies. Being a spin-cast fisher, I had to tie on this weird, water-filled plastic bubble. Attached to the bubble was a long piece of monofilament. To that piece of line was tied a little dry fly. The weight of the bubble allowed me to cast tiny flies where the fish were. It was so embarrassing!

Photo by John Schneider. John is standing in a boat. He is wearing bright yellow insulated, waterproof coveralls and his holding a 20 pound lake trout. This picture was taken in the early 90's while John was guiding fishers on Great Slave Lake
There was no such thing as a digital picture during my guiding days in the NWT

As I am 'plopping' my bubble out into the current, Charlie was elegantly swinging his little 4-weight fly rod above his head. His fly gently touched down on the water near the side of a partly submerged boulder. It floated down the current for mere moments, and almost immediately, it was engulfed by a huge Grayling. It was at that moment that I knew I had to ditch the spin cast outfit. He let me try the fly rod that evening. That too was embarrassing!


1 - Just decide to do it!


Once I got home after my first summer of fishing in the north. I bought my first fly rod. It was an inexpensive, truly awful fly rod, but I was proud to be a "fly fisherman". My fly fishing journey began in earnest. At that time, there was no internet. There were some videos that I bought to try to teach myself casting. I had nobody that I knew of that could help. Charlie lived in Salt Lake City, Utah when we weren't at the fishing lodge. Hours of casting on the grass in the nearby park eventually got me to the point where I wasn't completely flailing. I could, with some regularity, get a fly to land where I wanted within a short distance from me. It would have to do.


Two fly rods and several Arctic Grayling lay on the grassy banks of a Northwest Territories river.  Photo by John Schneider
Beautifully fresh shore lunch ingredients. Fly-caught from the Stark River.

The second summer at the lodge meant that almost every evening, after a day on the water with those insufferable fishing clients and their obtuse spin-cast gear, I got to fish for myself.

I hope you understand that I'm joking here. I actually got to spend my summers meeting some wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) people. I have stories, but they're for another day.


I would wade the Stark River and catch fish after fish. Honestly, it is impossible to not catch Grayling on that river. My fly casting improved, as did my knowledge of fly fishing in general. Where were the fish holding in the stream? How did they react to insect hatches at different times of the day and in different seasons? It was an education that was completely invaluable. I soaked it all in and even advanced to the point where I had started tying flies. Old bits of Caribou skin on the various beaches around the lake made useable tying materials. The white caribou hair floated brilliantly and matched the colour of the big caddis flies that emerged on the Stark every summer afternoon. Four more northern summers after that, along with off-season fly fishing at home on the Bow River, I felt like a fly fisher. I simply did not know what I didn't know.


2 - Find a Mentor


Charlie got me started with fly fishing, but really, we spent such a small amount of time fishing together that I did not learn enough from him. At least not anywhere near as much as I would've liked to. The main thing that I learned from Charlie was to slow down. Not just the casting, but life. To just enjoy my time with him, on the river, doing something cool in a pretty neat place.


Charlie, in his 70's, with a big cigar in his mouth. He is holding up a 10 pound lake trout.
Charlie and a Stark River Lake Trout

Back home I lacked the initiative to find a mentor. That is my first piece of advice to anyone getting started here. Fly fishing today is much more prevalent than it used to be. And with the internet as such a grand tool, finding instruction, and fishing companions should be easier than ever. Here's that first barrier though. You need to be able to put yourself out there. To ask for help and have the willingness to meet new people doing cool things. To be a little vulnerable and feel a little inadequate. That is a big regret that I still feel to this day. I wish I would have made more effort to find someone to help me learn how to fly fish. Having more friends is never a bad thing, especially if they know more than me about certain topics that I wish to master.


3 - Get the Correct Gear


Recently, I have become acquainted with Reid Otto. Reid is the owner of Reid's Fly Shop here in Edmonton. I have sent a few of my Fly Fishing 101 students his way to help get them geared up. They've all reported back to me that Reid was super helpful, polite, and knowledgeable. So, I asked Reid what he would recommend to folks wanting to get into the fly fishing lifestyle for the purpose of this article. Here is what he had to say.

"For a budget-friendly outfit, those Temple Fork Outfitters NXT outfits are a great place to start, only $325.99 for a quality setup that won’t break the bank and will provide years of service.


If someone’s looking for something a little better, Temple Fork Outfitters has their Pro III series available in an outfit for $509.99-$519.99. This is a better rod, better reel, and better fly line.


Alternatively, our Vision rods are awesome, and are actually the first thing I’d recommend! For around $500 we can set someone up with their Hero series of rod, reel, and a really great fly line! Vision has decent combos for under $300, as well as a wicked little kids’ combo. Echo outfits are around the same price, and we will actually be bringing those in in the spring.




Folks can’t go wrong with a setup from Vision, Temple Fork Outfitters, or Echo. Typically a prebuilt combo is always going to be lacking in some regard, whether with the line or the reel; the line that comes with the Temple Fork combos isn’t great, and the reel on the echo combo is kinda cheap; something more in that $500 price range will give someone a well-rounded quality rig.


That being said, it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and reels and lines can always be upgraded down the road; the important thing is that they have something to start with that will be easy to learn with and provide them with reliable service on the water, and that can be said for anything in our shop.


The Rod Weight and Length


Reid also had this to say about what is a good all-round weight and length of fly rod to get started with:


"5wts are a great place to start for someone mainly fishing trout streams; a 6wt may be a better place to start if they’re fishing bigger rivers, lakes, or having to deal with a lot of wind. Perhaps they may want something that can handle a little bigger flies too?

For the pike fishing game, an 8wt-9wt is pretty much the place to start; a 9wt is personally my go-to. An 8-weight just isn’t enough rod for bigger pike in the thirty-five-inch category, they aren’t built like trout or salmon, and a lengthy fight can be very hard on them physically.


Fly size comes into play as well, and an 8wt is a bit limiting in that regard. Prebuilt pike outfits are available from Vision for $429.00; we’ve sold a ton of these and have received nothing but great feedback. The line is important for casting those big flies, and your typical 8wt “trout” line just doesn’t cut it.


Hope that helps!"


That helps a ton Reid! Thank you for sharing your knowledge here. I didn't find anything that you said that I could disagree with. Great advice.


I think too that today there exists fly fishing schools and casting instruction all across the world. It certainly hasn't always been this way.



Flies


We can't forget about what to tie on the end of your line! There are two options for you here. One is that you can learn the awesome hobby of fly tying. But, perhaps that is a step too far if you're just learning.


The other way to go is to just buy the flies, already tied. Going this route, you will again have a couple of options. Reid' Fly Shop has a decent selection of flies as do the big box fishing stores. If Reid knows you're new to this game, he'll ask where you're headed fishing and give you a few suggestions.


A while back, on episode 29, I got to interview Eric Leslie. Eric is the owner of Driftstone Fly Fishing in California. He sells his hand-tied flies as well as tying materials. These flies are pretty amazing quality, and he has a few patterns that work really well on Alberta trout streams! Eric also has a youtube channel. His videos are expert level and you will learn a lot if you just watch him fish.


 

Anyone looking to get started with fly fishing today has all of the advantages. There are so many resources available nowadays, that there is nothing holding you back except yourself! I am confident that you won't regret it if you give it a go.


If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, or get hold of me here.


Happy fly fishing!


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