5 Common Misconceptions About Fly Fishing

Fly fishing expert Ryan Collins sets things straight concerning a few misconceptions about fly fishing.

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Throughout history man has been drawn to the water's edge to catch fish, whether with a spear or even a fly rod. Stories of fish weighing 1000lbs have circled the globe, anglers have treasured these possibilities for generations. Anglers just like me. I have been fishing nearly my whole life and have always had a passion for being on the water pursuing the next bite.

A sport as old as time itself, a handful of common misconceptions have developed around fishing in today's modern era. In this article, we are going to take a look at a few modern-day fly fishing misconceptions and debunk them ourselves!

Misconception #1: Skill Level Matters

A common theme that seems to run through fly anglers who are just taking up the sport is that, to enjoy the sport of fly fishing, you must be considered a pro or maybe a top fly fishing guide on a serious river lake or ocean fishery. And that just isn’t the case—many misconceptions revolve around new fly anglers that are just misconceptions, myths, and folklore. For many beginning fly anglers, the introduction into the sport can be a little overwhelming and even a little frightening for those unfamiliar with the water, yet hundreds of thousands of new fly anglers test the waters every year with many of them coming back again and again.

Fly fishing is a great sport on account of the fact that most people can partake in the sport and have success in their own right. Even with little practice, new and beginning fly anglers have the ability to catch plenty of fish—and even some big ones. The story that some catches are just luck isn’t totally false—this is the beauty that lies within the opportunity of fishing. Sometimes, you never know what you can catch unless you just go fishing!

A man in a blue shirt and a baseball cap holds up a fish while holding a fly rod
Photo courtesy of Ryan Collins

Fishing, in a sense, is called fishing and not catching for a reason. Even some of the best anglers have days where they may only catch one fish—or none at all. They might see a multitude of fish, that doesn’t mean they’ll catch them all. They might throw a fly at a giant fish, only to see it shy away. Or they might have a big strike and still miss the fish. The point being that even the best anglers in the best conditions still make mistakes. What separates a great angler from the rest of the pack is their knowledge of fish behavior, seasonal patterns, water temperature changes, and other factors. Otherwise, they make plenty of common mistakes that new fly anglers also make. So really, it shows how just about anybody can learn the mechanics of the fly cast and hookset and can feel the bite on the other end of the line from a fish. This gives anglers the ability to learn and catch fish no matter where you’re starting or what skill level you may be.

If you’re thinking of heading out on the water for the first time and want a little guidance, start with a guided trip. These trips are a huge part of the fly fishing industry, and for good reason as they can significantly improve your first fly fishing experience. Although you may naturally be a skilled fly caster, you may not know all the best spots to fish if you are unfamiliar with the waters you are planning to fish. Because of this, using a fly fishing guide is a surefire way to at least see some fish and hopefully catch a few on your first fly fishing outing. These guides are typically already in tune with the water, ecosystem, and fishery. With the expert help of the guide you can really maximize your fish-catching ability, especially if you’re a beginner. When the fish are biting, it’s easy for anglers to catch fish all day long, but when the fishing is tough, challenging, or unfamiliar, having a guide simplifies the process. All the new angler needs to do is to show up and fish. If you go into your day of fishing knowing this, you may be able to relax a little bit more and focus on just casting and catching the fish.

Misconception #2: Fly Fishing Takes a Lot of Skill

Common misconception #2 is that it takes a lot of skill to fly fish. While that may be true with many other forms of fishing, fly fishing might be one of the easiest forms of fishing, once a few basic fundamentals are met. Being able to fly cast and tie your own fly are the two skills an angler must learn, but after those skills become muscle memory possibilities seem limitless: rivers to fish, places to cast, flies to tie on ect. Taking fly fishing to the next level is more dependent on things like understanding fishing patterns. But really, the fact that the basic skills of casting and setting the hook are all you need and are easy to pick up does a lot to explain why the sport is growing at an exponential rate and so many fly anglers are coming back to do more fly fishing.

Misconception #3: You Need Fancy Equipment

Another common misconception of fly fishing is that you must have the best equipment to be successful—this is also not true. When I first started fly fishing, I had a beginner rod at a beginner price, and man, did I take it everywhere with me. From catching 20lb carp and bass in my backyard and 2lb rainbow trout in Colorado, even redfish from Carolinas to Florida—that fly rod saw it all and caught just about everything that swims. That was a great success story and lasted me much of all the 10 years I used it. I eventually graduated to more species-specific gear. Until then I had the all-purpose rod on my hip for most of my adolescence. I never had a problem with weight or size or any issue like that. The rod worked like an absolute charm for me, and I whispered fish with it. This is a shining example of the idea that, whether you are catching trout, bass, or redfish, you do not need the most expensive gear to effectively catch fish on the fly.

A man looks out over a river while he fly fishes
Photo courtesy of Ryan Collins

Misconception #4: Fly Fishing Isn’t for Everyone

Against common misconception, fly fishing is a sport anyone can partake in! You don’t always need a guide to go out and catch fish on the fly. More times than not, you have the ability to venture out into nature and connect with the water on your own, from walking the bank to wading in the river, and even making a float trip with one of your buddies down a river or out on a skiff. Throwing a fly is all you may need to catch some fish, there are plenty of great public land access points to fish. Below a local dam or a river just right off the highway—any access point is a great place to start. You may not need a 5mi ride on horseback to reach waters far in the deep woods. Many great fish can be caught during good seasonal patterns and when fish are biting.

Misconception #5: You Can’t Fly Fish Off Shore

As a matter of fact, you can bluewater fly fish and have great success at it too! It’s possibly one of the more visually-stimulating types of fly fishing out there—from sailfish to marlin, tuna, and everything in between! Many anglers who target the offshore saltwater species on fly partake in an offshore quest to capture many different saltwater sportfish; anglers will practice catch and release as well as harvest certain species.

Many billfish—such as marlin, sailfish, and spearfish—are commonly caught and released at the surface on lures and other live baits. Because these fish are targeted and caught on the surface, similar to about 50% of fly fishing presentations, billfish can be caught on both heavy conventional gear and considerably lighter fly tackle. In the case of catching these billfish on fly, the fish are what is called “teased to the surface” by the lures during the troll. Once the fish are engaged and chasing baits behind the boat in the spread, the fish are then at that point presented the fly by the fly angler. This is where the magic happens. Just like traditional fly fishing, the anglers guide the fly with rod and fly line into the strike zone; they tease the fish with the fly as they swiftly strip line to keep the fly moving with moderate to fast action. As the fish pursues the fly and slashes and spins the fly down its bill to its mouth, the angler sets the hook and loads the rod with the weight of the fish as the hook is set. Then the fight ensues—watching a darlin’ marlin dance and tail walk across the surface of the water just a couple feet behind the boat still with the fly hooked right in the corner of the mouth is incredible. The fish is considered officially landed once the leader is touched and in possession of the angler. Grabbing the billfish by the dorsal and the bill is part of the final step in releasing the billfish successfully. Once the fly is removed the fish is free to swim away under its own power for the release.

When anglers target other offshore species such as tuna, cobia and kingfish on the fly, they follow and set up fishing behind large fishing barges trawling for shrimp and other fish. These shrimp trawlers discharge bycatch baitfish all day long, keeping active fish feeding behind the boats, and thus giving ample opportunity for anglers to target these pelagic offshore species on the fly. Once the fishing boat is in position, the fly anglers can set up, casting off the bow or into the wake of the center console fishing boat to target these offshore species as they are aggressively feeding in the expansive wake of the trawlers. As these fish gorge on bait at the surface, they often are out competing one another for the next baitfish to swim by. This innate instinct of the fish drives them to strike the fly harder, leaving them more susceptible to eating a fly. This is a feeding frenzy where placement of the fly is a minimal requirement, yet movement of the fly paramount. “Keeping the fly alive” or a similar action imitated in a fly’s presentation is key. This is what triggers aggressive strikes from big sportfish such as tuna, cobia, and kingfish as they streak to the surface to engulf your fly as they boil at the surface. This is where anglers can see the backing of their fly rods and have to be careful of what are called knuckle busters. As the fish run, the handle on the fly reel begins to spin at an astronomical rate as drag and line peel off the reel as these powerful fish run hundreds of feet of line off in an instant! This is some of the most visually stunning and exhilarating fishing a fly angler my experience. By the time the angler lands the saltwater sportfish on the fly, the fish is well exhausted past the point of release, and anglers can then harvest their good eating prized catches such as tuna and cobia!

Two women and a dog sit in a boat looking out at the water with a net and fishing rods at the ready
Photo courtesy of Jesi Scott

As you can see, there's more than a little misinformation about fly fishing floating around. But don't let that stop you from getting in the sport. Need a little help getting started with gear or advice? Reach out to any of our experts here at Curated.

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Written By
I am a certified U.S.C.G Licensed Captain, and a competitive SportFishing Angler who loves the excitement of competitive tournament fishing. My passion has always been to target fish across the country in clean bluewaters and open oceans. Fly Fishing began for me at an earlier age when I fished for...

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