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Fly Fishing Beginner's Guide: John Schneider's Advice for Starting Out

Updated: Jan 4


What Fly Rod Do I Need?

John Schneider fly fishing a brilliant summer stream in the East Kootenays.
Photo by Curtis Hall

Getting started with Fly Fishing is one of those things that seems so complicated and perhaps difficult to achieve, but really it isn’t. In this article let me show you how easy it is to achieve your goal of fly fishing on your own for the first time! 

"Like having a dish slip from your fingers somewhere between the dishwasher and the cupboard, it will seem like slow motion."

Compared to regular spin cast fishing that you are likely familiar with, being a fly fisher is almost always equated with elite-level skills and equally elite-level fishing gear.

I would actually argue that the opposite could be true. Fly rods and reels are not much more than they ever were. Technology gets in the way slightly with this statement. Companies, of course, have tried to complicate things in order to sell more gear. Ultimately though, all you need is a rod and some line and a fuzzy, floaty, fly tied to the end.

a woman bent over about to release a fish back into the water.
Erin, enjoying the results of her enrollment in our Fly Fishing 101 Course!

I spent all last summer fishing a $2,000.00 set up that I received as a demo; and, I have to be honest, it wasn’t really worth it to me. It did not hurt my feelings at all to hand it back to the dealer at the end of the summer. It was a beautiful rod and reel combo, very trendy in how it appeared, extremely light and nimble. Did it catch more fish? No it did not. Did it somehow improve my experience of being out on the water? Nope. Did it make me more efficient with my fishing? Absolutely not. I am convinced, more than ever, that fly fishing gear doesn't need to be expensive.  

The caveat to all of the previous statements might be that if you are someone who spends a lot of time fishing, and I do mean a lot, then perhaps spending that kind of money, or more, would make a difference. Your arm, because the gear is so much lighter, may be less tired at the end of a multi-day fishing trip. As an expert caster, your fly will launch further, perhaps as far as that log jam across the stream that holds a monster Cutthroat Trout that you've seen rising. Perhaps.


Fly Fishing Beginners Guide:

Choosing The Correct Fly Fishing Gear

Ok, so the gear doesn’t really matter then, John?

Well, no…and yes.

There is something to be said for having a well balanced, well made fly rod, reel, and fly line set up. Gone are the days of visiting the local hardware store to buy a rod and reel package and then using that gear for years. What you want to do is buy yourself a rod, reel and line package from a reputable company. I don't earn any comissions from this recomendation by the way. I would seriously look at something like this package from Reid's Fly Shop. There are other good set ups too, but by visiting a dedicated fly shop like Reid's or Nile Creek Fly Shop you will be assured of getting great quality gear no matter what your price point.

An old wooden fly rod case holds two bamboo fly rods and their sections.
I built myself a bamboo fly rod a few years ago. It is a treasure to me that fishes well enough to catch fish!

What should I expect to spend? This is a difficult question for me to answer. There are a lot of variables. One of the biggest cost factors for your first fly rod should be the warranty. Fly rods don't break on their own, typically, but they will when you are new and you leave it laying on the bank of a stream and your fishing buddy steps on it. Or, equally likely, it slides from it's leaning position against the car at the exact time that you are slamming the door. Like having a dish slip from your fingers somewhere between the dishwasher and the cupboard, it will seem like slow motion.

Your rod will now be laying in two or three pieces and your fishing day will be over. Don't lose more fishing days by having your rod maker take 4 months to get you a new section. Check out the warranty of the company you are choosing. A good quality rod, reel and line combo will run you in the neighbourhood of $500 I suspect. But, do your homework, find the gear that you want and then spend some time looking for it used! You will always be better off going that route if you just don't have the money for new gear. Again though, check out the warranty or ability to get a new section if you ever need it.

"More than anything, I want you to avoid that struggle and just head straight to the joy."

What is the most important fly fishing item to spend my money on?

Good Quality Fly Line!

The rod will matter almost zero if it is paired up with the wrong line. On the contrary, even a cheaper rod can cast well with good, matched line spooled on your reel. Spend your money on line and take your rod to a professional to see if they can match up with your rod and the type of fishing that you want to do with a great quality line. Then learn how to take care of that line! That will be another article here be sure to subscribe to the blog for that sort of content.


Ok...I Have a Rod, a Reel, and Fly Line. What now?

Now is the time to consider wisely what the next step will be. My recommendation is to find yourself a good teacher. There is also plenty of information on places like YouTube. I have heard stories of money wasted on classes too. I can't really help you too much here beyond suggesting our Fly Fishing 101 Course. I know the results we achieve and the feedback I've received from folks who've taken the course over the past few years. Some of those students are now dear friends and fishing partners.

As an instructor, I empathize with you. You are just getting started. I remember what it was like 30 years ago when I wanted to begin fly fishing and had no idea how to do that. There was no internet to speak of and certainly no YouTube. I struggled. Alone. Years of failure and frustration taught me well. More than anything, I want you to avoid that struggle and just head straight to the joy.

Now though, with all of that fishing and professional guiding experience behind me, in one day, I can take you from having never held a fly rod to being confident enough to head out to your local stream on your own...the expert guide to getting started in fly fishing.

We start at the beginning with some clear information on the physics of fly casting (in common language). Most people, now understanding how things work in their mind, can put it together later in the day when we're out casting.

A crowded fly wallet, filled with flies and fishing gear.
There is a lot going on here. I can help simplify things.

You need to know a few knots. You need to know what the basic kinds of fly fishing you will encounter. Things such as nymphing, streamer fishing and dry fly fishing. You also need to know where the fish like to hang out, and then you need to know how to manage your fly line in a current. Once we cover all of that in a gentle, but comprehensive way, I can get you casting. Usually, it will take an hour or so of initial instruction and then a little time on your own.

I won't leave you hanging. After the class is over, you will have my number where you can send me some videos of you casting and I'll let you know what is going right, and wrong.


So there you have it. A down and dirty guide to getting started with fly fishing according to me. I hope you'll reach out with any questions about this article. I will always find the time to speak with new fly fishers and try to help out!

John Schneider

John Schneider's expert guide to getting started fly fishing.


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