Learning To Fly – How To Master The Basics

New converts to flyfishing are usually experienced fishermen to start off with. Without the aid of an instructor, this momentum of previous experience can take a steep decline. In turn, the interest in flyfishing could be lost when trying to teach yourself. As Chris Adams explains in this article there are steps the new flyfisher can take to get off to a successful start.

Catching Fishing On Fly

The whole goal for this sport is to catch fish successfully, let’s not get caught up in the fashions, who’s who or the endless sea of keyboard warriors, the fastest road to satisfaction is keeping the focus on your own goal for your own reasons. Everything that you do when leading up to eventually catching your first fish on fly has to be centered around catching fish, really nothing else matters. I am sure many will remember fishing as a kid, in the creeks or on the jetties, no shirts covered in company logos and no interest in Facebook or Instagram, and it’s that grass roots passion needed when starting a new sport such as flyfishing.
Lewis with a fly caught bass.

Lewis with a fly caught bass.

With the intention of chasing a fast transition to achieving the runs on the board that you may be used too, you have to be focused on your progress and your goals, as opposed to a quick fix or internet stardom, this will not be a fast process.

Small Steps First

An interesting saying I tell my fly casting students is borrowed from my career as a Thai boxer “You don’t jump in the ring for a trophy”. Those who do lose and are often never seen again in the sport, they carry the wrong fear and the wrong intention into the ring. Learning flyfishing is Like any other sport you wish to excel in, you have to believe in your own goals and associate with other likeminded anglers or go it alone. Flyfishing is not for you if you want to be cool or tell people “it’s on fly”, it shouldn’t make a difference how you get the eat, time on the water should be a means to working on flyfishing as the most effective way to catch all species.

Meet Lewis

Recently my mate Lewis was displaying some interest in flyfishing. He is already a good angler who is very competent with conventional gear. I invited Lewis out fishing to Lake Borumba, an iconic yet tough flyfishing destination located in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. We launched at first light, and made our to the upper arms of the lake – cruising the edges under power of the electric motor.


I attempted to slow down the instinctive rapid fire blind casting to snags that he was doing with a light spin rod and a spinnerbait. In attempt to see how tuned in he could get to his surroundings by just paying attention, I asked him what he sees, why did he reckon that fish crashed the surface over there, where would the concentration of food be and so fourth.

A Hunting Game

The reason I took a few moments out of precious time on the water is because Flyfishing is more of a hunt than a game of chance. About mid morning, we ended up at a spot that you could say was the sum of what I was trying to teach, I got Lewis to stand next to me on the casting deck so both of us could spot fish, there was about 80 feet of fly line on the deck in anticipation.

Toga Ahead

I had a black toad fly tied to my leader with about a foot of the leader pressed up against the cork of my rod butt ready for quick deployment in case of Toga cruised within cast. It wasn’t long before I got my shot, at 60 odd feet a solid fish was cruising in and out of the shadows about a foot under the surface, I could almost physically feel the tension from Lewis as he had never seen a cruising toga before.
Take a good look around, watch for disturbance or movement on top of the water, then cast.

Take a good look around, watch for disturbance or movement on top of the water, then cast.

Cast Less, Catch More

Instead of casting reactively, I quietly explained how I like to watch the fish for a bit and get an idea of direction and how happy the fish is, after about 20 seconds I made my cast and led the fish at 90 degrees to its path, the cast was about 1m off its nose and didn’t make enough noise for it to notice, I gave the fly a sharp strip. By doing that I got the fishes attention, it turned, and hunted the fly. I stripped the fly using short sharp strips with no pauses, the fish approached the fly from just underneath, opened its mouth for both of us to see and inhaled the fly. I don’t reckon at that point that Lewis could have told you his name, the euphoria of sight fishing would have been too much. Upon the eat I kept the rod tip low and strip striked with a solid short strip, and on doing so, the Saratoga took to the sky, I know it was at that moment I also set the hook on Lewis also. Within a week, Lewis had me ringing mates for setups, I found him a Sage launch 7 weight rod with a Bauer reel, Bionic braid backing and two fly lines (floating and intermediate) for just over $300, a pretty good deal I reckon. Like most people Lewis couldn’t wait for his booked lesson, attempting to learn casting in the back paddock of his home, I wasn’t surprised to get phone calls of what am I doing wrong, videos showing how he was going and text messages asking me what flies would work best for some of his favorite species. As a professional casting instructor I find it hard to offer advice of a generic manner.
A professional caster will help get you off to a great start.

A professional caster will help get you off to a great start.

Consult A Pro

  I find most people who come to me have some fault that they cannot see for themselves that really stunts progress and enjoyment, 9 times out of ten they have used books and YouTube as their instructor. I am not saying books and online tutorials are all bad it’s just that everyone is individual and as a former CCI and a member of the Federation of Fly Fishers, one of the fundamentals of instruction is that the adaptation of the basic principles of casting are going to apply in a unique manner to everyone. There is no hard and fast way that I, or anyone on a forum can correct your frustrations without a professional instructor, these professionals have drills for correction based on your own strength, body shape and experience. Although Lewis had a lesson coming up and although I sincerely wanted to help him I could only advise basic principles on the physics of the cast, without standing next to him there really isn’t much else I could do. A casting instructor needs to be looked at like a Golf pro, sure anyone will eventually get close to a bogey round but the guys who get better handicaps have had lessons, probably a lot of lessons.
Once you have your casting down pat you will be able to catch more quality fish like Australian bass.

Once you have your casting down pat you will be able to catch more quality fish like Australian bass.

Casting Smarter

The thing with fishing is there are no mulligans or two shots over then move on to the next hole; the consequence of a poor game is that your trophy fish will swim away. The thing that impresses me about Lewis’ first month is that his expectations are right on track, and his skills are on a steady positive curve. Wanting it now is the undoing of a lot of guys, be it through ego or just fighting against the mechanics of their own body, feeling the energy is a very real thing. Like Lewis I also persisted through my first month going without quality fish, some people have better natural skill than me but I doubt consistency will come easily to anyone, it’s hard work, but a lot of fun, and also very unique in the way individuals learn. There are things that I did advise Lewis to get, and in addition to his great deal on his first rod, I am sure he is going to need something for a fish to eat. I advised on getting some leader material, the hardest fluorocarbon of the highest quality his budget would allow, with this, Lewis will be starting out with rod length two piece leaders, for practice and fishing. A couple of flies to add to the collection is a must, a couple of 1/0 White clouser minnows for saltwater and a couple of Bass Vampires for freshwater.
This will have anyone’s bases covered for a range of species so that Lewis can spread his time between practice on the lawn and actual fishing, while leaving the spin rod at home. Photo 27-08-2015, 8 00 39 PM


Chris Adams

About Chris Adams

My name is Chris Adams, I am based on the Sunshine Coast and have been fishing my entire life, from simple hand lines and a prawn on a hook off jetties as a kid to nothing but artificials from the age of 10. I cut my teeth on bass in the local creeks and from there, progressed from Lures to Flyfishing. Having been Flyfishing exclusively for the past 12 years, I have been to many places all over Australia and the world all thanks to my love of sight fishing. I have previously been the president of the Saltwater Flyfishing Association and a certified casting instructor with the Federation of Flyfishers (FFF), I am still a practising casting instructor and most recently a low volume commercial fly tier. These days I have evolved into a more all rounder and will mix it up between conventional and Flyfishing whenever I feel as though one has more of an advantage to the other. My favourite type of fishing is any type of sight fishing, from bream on the flats in landlocked lakes, to the pelagics cruising the flats inside Fraser Island, saratoga both wild and impounded to nones and GTs on the flats of Kiritimati. Sight fishing is my preferred style is of hunting but my heart will always be with Aussie bass.

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