How to Set Up for Fly Fishing

When you unpack a new electronic device it comes with a “start here” guide because most folks don’t read manuals until they are in trouble. Same goes for fly fishing, except most folks read the books and watch the videos but can’t remember what they read or saw when they get to the river.

This is my “start here” guide to fly fishing. It starts after you get on your waders and ends at the first cast. StreamCharts has a one page chart that encompasses all this.

It’s always a good idea to get some local beta before you go out. Fly shops, newspaper columns and radio shows offer great current advise. I’d say they can give you 80%. The other 20% encompasses the changing conditions that are happening NOW. Without this local knowledge you are starting from scratch.

I’ll have my bag or vest packed with whatever I may need for dry, wet nymph and streamer fishing. I carry two reels that fit in the same housing. One will have a floating line, the other an intermediate sink line. The only thing that I’ll put together at the car is the pole. That leaves me open to evaluate conditions at the water and setup for optimum success. If I set up the line, leader and fly at the car, I will use them at the stream – regardless of what I see. Call it stubborn or lazy, it’s just human nature.

We need to figure out what the fish are eating, are they holding or feeding and what they are eating before we can setup. This is a great way to connect with nature and that is why we are here. If you just wanted to catch fish you’d have a 6 pack and can of worms.

Visible bugs will be either above the water in the form of a hatch or on the surface film as emergers or spinners. Look for the visible hatches or birds feeding on bugs for above the water action. Get down low and see if there is any activity on the surface.

Feeding trout on or near the surface will be evident by bulges or ripples on the water. Trout feeding just under the water will create a bulge great for wet flies or emergers. Trout feeding on the surface will make ripples so use a dry fly here. If there is no evident action on the surface we need to get deeper with nymphs or streamers. Kick over some rocks and skim the debris with a small aquarium net and see what crawls out. We now know what and where the fish are eating.

Is the water clear or stained? Clear water will need a stealthy approach and long thin leader (6x). Off color water is more forgiving. Choose your leader accordingly.

Now that we know the conditions we can set up out line and leader. Dry flies will fish with a floating line, 9-12′ leader and 6x tippet. Wet flies or nymphs will fish with the same line but a 7.5′ leader and 4x tippet. You are now ready to get the line wet.

If there is no evidence of any activity from trout or bugs, and there are plenty of days like this, try streamers of nymphs. I use the intermediate sink line and a 7.5′ leader for streamers. This gets them down in the water column. Nymphs are generally fished floating line, a split shot weight above the fly and a strike indicator.

Check out the rivers flow and see if you can see any seams. Look for bubbles or a small debris path on the surface. Fish will hold just outside the current.

Following this procedure will get you better organized and increase your success rate.

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