Learning to Fly
First steps into the world
of fly fishing.
Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD
I began fishing as a child but had never ventured into the world of fly fishing. I’d watched with some admiration as actors in movies cast for the big catch, and I’d spent some time perusing photos and videos and read stories about the joys of fly fishing, but never tried it myself.
It was way past time to make my daydreams a reality and hold a fly-fishing rig in my hands. Thanks to a basic lesson, I finally experienced the thrill of feeling the line go out and watching the fly gently land on the water.
Jumping into fly fishing can be intimidating, but I didn’t want to let that stop me. Fortunately, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Angler Education Program offers a great place to start. I made a call to Adam Comer, aquatic education training specialist.
We met at Onion Creek, which runs through McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. (Fishing is included with admission at Texas state parks, perfect for dipping your toe into fishing for the first time.)
What you’ll need
My lesson began in the parking lot as Adam went over the basic gear, including various types of flies, lines, rod lengths and weights.
The best beginner fly rod for freshwater fishing is one that is a 5/6 weight with a 7.5- to 9-foot length, he advised. New fly anglers also need a reel with a good drag system at a size that matches up well with the rod size. For saltwater, a “sealed” reel made of anodized aluminum and stainless steel should be employed.
The line on a fly rig has additional components not found in a traditional rod and reel setup. The backing is an inexpensive cord that connects the fly line to the reel while also providing extended line for fishing. Fly lines come in different colors and are coated, tapered in various configurations and available in floating or sinking line.
Rod and line weights should match, Adam told me. The best line for beginners is a “double tapered” floating line.
The leader and the tippet are transparent monofilament lines that connect the fly line to the fly itself. Like other components, the tippet size should match the size of the fly and the fish the angler plans to target.
Finally, it’s time to pick out the fly to use, which can be handcrafted or purchased at your local sporting goods store. We settled on the wooly bugger fly, a very good all-around fly that works on several different species.
Learning to cast
The casting sequence contains specific steps that take some practice to get down.
The “Pick Up” is the first step in the sequence, which begins with the rod low and pointing down, followed by a gentle slow lift to about a 45-degree angle.
The sequence then transitions into the “Back Cast” that starts by swinging the rod back sharply from the end of the pickup position followed by a snap of the rod with force just past the vertical position. The back swing should stop quickly, and a tip Adam gave me was to turn my head and watch the line straighten out before moving to the forward cast.
During my short lesson, this is the step that threw me off the most — developing the mechanics to stop at the right spot, but also having the patience to wait for that line to straighten out before moving into the forward cast. My natural tendency is to get it moving as quickly as possible, and even though the pause is brief, it felt like an eternity until I could start the motion forward. With some practice, I could get a basic cast into the water in a short amount of time.
Adam encouraged me to not worry about perfection. Even veteran fly anglers continually strive to hone their craft.
Now to the next phase. When you see the line straighten out, bring the rod forward smoothly to begin the “Forward Cast” sequence. This stage also requires an abrupt stop where the back cast was started, with the tip of the rod at about the same 45-degree angle. A quick stop here is essential to allow the line to straighten out again, this time in front of you.
Then as the line straightens out and begins to fall to the water, lower the rod tip with the line at the same time. Congratulations, you’ve completed the “Lay Down” of the casting sequence! Slowly reel the line back in to try to get a bite. If not, work through the sequence as before to land your fish.
Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD
Take me to the river
Time to start fishing. Fly anglers can do their work from the bank, wade into the water or fish from a boat or a kayak. We stuck with the basics at McKinney Falls State Park, finding a spot just above the lower falls. Largemouth bass, catfish and sunfish are three of the more prevalent species in Onion Creek. Unfortunately, I came up empty that day in my quest to reel in a fish, but it was fun to learn a new skill, gain confidence and get excited about my next trip.
With a little experience under my belt, I began to think about some places I could go for future fly-fishing excursions. There are some local water bodies where I live that are easily accessible; Colorado Bend State Park is a favorite of mine.
However, for a fly-fishing experience that’s unique to Texas, targeting Guadalupe bass on the South Llano River is at the top of my list. South Llano River State Park offers a 6-mile paddling trail that starts in the park with a takeout at Junction City Park. Bank access to the river is also plentiful.
Ready to try fly fishing for yourself? Multiple resources are available to help you get started. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers free classes throughout the state. Videos and instruction guides are accessible for free on the TPWD website.
Fly-fishing organizations around state also provide resources for novice and experienced fly-fishing anglers alike. Living Waters Fly Fishing, a store in the Austin area, offers free introductory and fly-tying classes from certified instructors at its location.
A few additional fly-fishing clubs include Austin Fly Fishers, Texas Women Fly Fishers, Dallas Fly Fishers, Fort Worth Fly Fishers, Texas Flyfishers of Houston, Hill Country Fly Fishers, East Texas Fly Fishers, Alamo Fly Fishers, Central Texas Fly Fishers and Red River Fly Fishers. More information on each of these organizations can be found online.
After taking my first step into the fly-fishing world, here’s my best advice: get the basics down, don’t worry about perfection and, most important, just have fun!