If you live in Colorado, chances are you have seen anglers loading their waders, their weird looking fanny packs, tubes, bags, and all manner of confusing looking gear into their cars on the weekend. With their hundreds of little flies and river lingo, they can often make it seem like fly fishing is a sport perpetually out of reach for the uninitiated. In reality, getting into fly fishing is much more accessible than it looks. Below you’ll find our guide and recommendations for how to get into fly fishing in Colorado.
The first step in going fly fishing is getting the right gear. Like any new sport, fly fishing will require an upfront investment, however, unlike skiing where you have to pay for a pass each year, once you have your annual fishing license, fishing is free. While you could go out and spend thousands of dollars to get yourself outfitted for a fly fishing trip, you can be just as prepared with this short list of items.
- Rod and Reel: You can spend anywhere from $30 to $3,000 on a rod and reel; we suggest you go somewhere in between. Going for a higher quality rod instead of the cheaper ones will pay off for a few reasons. First, learning to cast on a cheap rod will make it harder for you to learn, and just might turn you off of the sport before you can even give it a chance; second, a cheap reel will clog and get stuck, further diminishing your fun on the water; and finally, you always want gear that will last, and a cheap rod and reel will not last long.
- Fly Line: While some reels come with fly line already included, they often do not. If yours does not, make sure to pick up backing and fly line before you leave the fly shop.
- Leader and Tippet: The clear line attached to the heavy fly line is the leader, and attached to the end of the leader is the tippet. Leader and tippet are clear and thin so that fish don’t see them, and are replaced regularly, so make sure you buy a few leaders, and a few spools of tippet.
- Flies: When you are first getting into fly fishing, it is not necessary to have a fully loaded arsenal of flies at all times. Go to a fly shop before heading out and ask the salesperson to recommend the best flies for the area and the time of year. They will happily help you choose.
- Waders: Waders are not entirely necessary, especially in the summer when it is warm enough to wade in your sandals. However, if you are going to be fishing when it is colder, or in deeper water, waders are recommended.
- Forceps/pliers and clippers: Forceps, another word for pliers, are a necessary part of keeping fish healthy when practicing catch and release. When a fly is stuck deep in the mouth of a fish, forceps will help you remove the fly without damaging the fish. Clippers, which are essentially toe nail clippers, will cut through your tippet when tying on, and removing flies.
- Net: A net will make landing your fish significantly easier, but is by no means a necessity.
Of course, there is plenty more that you could buy, but with this list of gear you are now ready to get out and catch fish.
An integral part of fly fishing is casting, and the best way to learn is to get out with a guide, take a lesson at a fly shop, or go fly fishing with an experienced angler willing to give you pointers on your cast. Once you have a basic idea of how to cast a fly rod, it simply takes time, practice, and a buildup of muscle memory in order to master it. However, you certainly do not need to be a master, nor even have a perfect cast, in order to catch fish.
Tying solid knots is key to successfully landing fish. A bad knot will break or come loose once you have a fish on, and losing your first fish to a bad knot is no fun. The two knots you will want to know are a fisherman’s knot, also known as a clinch knot, and a surgeon’s knot. A fisherman’s knot is used to tie flies onto your tippet, and a surgeon’s knot is used to tie tippet onto your leader. Follow the tutorials below from Orvis to master these simple, yet important knots.
It is absolutely necessary before you head out fishing to pick up a fishing license. Found at most fly shops, sporting goods stores, large grocery stores, and even online, fishing licenses can be bought as a one-day, five day, or annual license. Prices vary for residents and non-residents, and every angler must also purchase a $10 habitat stamp once a year. Buying a fishing license will not only allow for you to legally fish across the state of Colorado, but the money you spend goes directly towards state conservation efforts to keep Colorado’s fisheries healthy and beautiful for generations to come.
WHERE AND WHEN
Now that you have your gear, know how to cast, and can tie on your own flies, you are ready to get out on a river. While we highly recommend going out for your first time with someone who can teach you about some of the nuances of finding and catching fish, if you are going it alone, do your homework beforehand. Briefly, in Colorado, trout are found in cool streams and lakes. In streams, trout like to sit in moving water in order to feed on bug life that comes down stream towards them. Look for them in riffles, small rapids, under banks, and behind rocks in the current.
While you can go fly fishing year-round, summer and fall are best for the beginning angler; trout are feeding on top water insects, and you can fish with dry flies on the surface of the water. If possible, go fishing as far away from trails and roads as possible; the less a section of river gets fished, the easier it will be to catch fish.
There are dozens of guide services and outfitters along the Front Range to choose from for your first time out on the water. Below are our recommended shops on the Front Range.
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