Fly Fishing Tips 5 min read

How Does Fly Fishing Work? Mastering the Art of Fly Fishing

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

September 13, 2021

facts on how does fly fishing work

Knowing how does fly fishing work can help you open the door to a brand-new leisure activity. As a unique form of fishing, it is often regarded as an art style for outdoors enthusiasts. If you’re interested in engaging in an innovative activity that can refine your angling skills, let’s dive into the details.

How Does Fly Fishing Work?

As mentioned, fly fishing is an art, especially as it takes some time to refine your skills. Not only is the activity itself a unique thing to learn, but it also opens the door to other creative avenues.

Fly fishing requires using a lightweight fly or an attachment to your line that looks like a bug. This attachment sits at the water’s surface or just below it rather than being completely submerged.

Many anglers start with fly fishing and then move on to create their own flies, a phenomenal creative outlet. Your flies will be very lightweight and delicate, as they’re used to attract the stealthiest fish in the river.

By casting the line out onto the water, you’re enticing fish to grasp onto bugs they think are on the surface. As the angler, it’s your responsibility to hold the bait at the appropriate depth so that it’s easily visible to fish. With the proper technique, you should begin to get bites quickly and make several great catches.

What’s the Difference Between Traditional Fishing and Fly Fishing?

There are a few notable differences between traditional fishing and fly fishing, especially regarding equipment. Knowing what makes them differ from one another can help you better understand how fly fishing works.

Casting Setup

Standard anglers typically have a rod with a line attached and a heavy lure or bait. This setup aims to allow the lightweight line to guide the heavy lure into the water. Due to the weight of the bait, it will drop to the appropriate depth, depending on how far you cast.

On the other hand, fly fishing has a significantly different bait at the end of the line. Your lure will be much more lightweight, as it’s designed to sit on top of the water.

Also, the general gear you’ll be using is quite different. Fly fishers often use a fly line paired with a fly rod and a fly of their choosing. Instead of relying primarily on the weight of your bait, fly fishing requires you to rely on your fly line.

When casting, all of the weight is within the line, as it is responsible for throwing the fly where needed. It also requires a more refined technique to truly master how efficiently your line travels.

Attracting Fish

The most notable difference between traditional and fly fishing is your casting gear. Yet, another substantial difference is how fish are attracted to your bait.

With traditional fishing, you’re often using a lure or a type of live bait to entice underwater critters. When fish see a worm or any other type of bait dangling in the water, they’ll undoubtedly bite.

Fly fishing requires the use of an artificial lure designed to look like a fish’s food source. Some emulate bugs typically found in the fish’s natural environment, piquing their curiosity. By imitating their natural food source, you’ll be working to outsmart fish, which is where the challenge comes in.

There are different materials used to make flies appear more natural to unsuspecting fish, including:

  • Animal furs and hairs
  • Synthetic hair-like materials
  • Feathers from birds
  • Beads from glass or tungsten
  • Wires, tinsel, and ribbons

Casting Technique

When you head out on the water to fly fish for the first time, your casting technique is something to master. Without the correct technique, you won’t get your lure to land properly, reducing your chances of a strike.

Traditional fishing typically requires you to engage your rod, pull it back, and throw it out. Fly fishing requires a more refined technique, and there are dozens of strategies that you can use.

One common denominator with all casting strategies is they require a lot of line, usually a rod’s length. Also, you’ll find that most techniques need you to whip the line behind you and then whip it forward to cast.

It’s important to remember that your primary objective is to get your fly on top of the water. As it lands, it should land naturally, just like a bug in that environment would. If you’re able to cast correctly, fish won’t be able to tell the difference between your artificial lure and their natural food source.

Outdoor Engagement

Whether you’re traditional or fly fishing, you’ll become one with the outdoors. Even so, most anglers agree that fly fishing can often be a more authentic experience.

Regular fishing requires you to sit on a bank or a boat and wait for fish to bite, while fly fishing is more exhilarating. You’ll be standing in a stream while trying to find the most impactful areas to catch stealthy fish.

Instead of staying on land, it can often feel more engaging to wade through the waters to get closer to potential catches. If you love the idea of fishing but are looking for a more active form of it, fly fishing is a phenomenal option.

How To Start Fly Fishing

After learning the ins and outs of fly fishing, there’s no doubt it is something you’ll want to try. Let’s take a look at the two most important steps to take to get started.

Step 1: Find a Location

Picking the perfect place to start fishing is the most crucial part of this activity. Although it can be exhilarating to stand in a rushing stream amid summer, it’s not necessary. In fact, you can do fly fishing in relatively any body of water near you.

The most important thing to consider is fish activity, as this determines the likelihood of catches. You’ll want to make a note of spawning activity, migration, and fish food sources to find the best places to be. We highly recommend reaching out to local fly shops or fishing guides to help you narrow your list.

Step 2: Pick Equipment

The second step to your new hobby is to make sure you have the right gear on hand. As discussed, fly fishing requires a different set of equipment from traditional fishing. The most important things to consider include:

Fly Rod

Fly rods and reels are categorized by weight, ranging from one to 12, with three types of action: slow, fast, and medium. Most often, you’ll do best with a five to six-weight medium-action rod, especially when it comes to fish.

Fly Line

Just like your fly reels, the line you choose should match the specs of your rod. You’ll need to find the ideal weight to prevent the line from loading incorrectly or not casting far enough.

Also, it’s essential to find the right type of line for the water you’ll be working with. Weight-forward floating line is one of the most popular types of line for fly fishing.

This line type is highly versatile and comes in an assortment of weights adaptable to any fly rod. Also, it’s remarkable for most fish species, especially bass.


The third most important thing to get your hands on is the flies you’ll be using. Remember, you want your flies to imitate the natural food source of fish in your favorite location.

With that said, you’re likely to have an extensive collection on your hands. There are standard flies you can work with, but it’s best to consider specifics.

You’ll want to know what type of food is available to fish based on the location, water conditions, and season. The majority of fly shops will have multiple charts detailing the most commonly found insects in that area.

Fly Fishing 101

When trying to figure out how does fly fishing work, it’s easy to see how it differs considerably from traditional angling. With a more refined casting style and specialized equipment, it gives you an up-close view of the benefits of fishing. In a nutshell, it’s a phenomenal hobby that can help you explore more in-depth versions of fishing.