A variation of this article originally appeared in the December 2023 edition of the FFI Texas Council Newsletter.

Much of what happens on the river is beyond our control as anglers—the wind, the weather, the flows, the fish. One thing we can control is equipment, often investing in the latest and greatest our money can buy. But many ignore the one investment likely improve their fly-fishing game the most. How do I know that? Well, out on the water these days I see a lot of thousand-dollar fly rods being subjected to hundred-dollar casts. I also see lots of anglers with decent casts that could be way more effective with a few tweaks. But I’m not here to disparage, I’m here to help. It’s the reason I became a casting instructor in the first place. 

As one fly shop touted, “The Eagle Has Landed.” That’s right, the much-whispered-about and anticipated 4th generation of Orvis’ flagship rod is now available. You can find a list of videos with lead designer, Shawn Combs, talking about the innovation and technology that has gone into these beauties. There’s lots of talk about things like science, material technology, durability, hoop strength, oscillation, accuracy, tracking, etc. Their core marketing message is that this rod is 4 times better than the previous generation of Helios rod. In fact, Orvis goes as far as to say they have developed the “best rod in the world.” Have they? Maybe. But will all of that innovation really lead to more success on the water? Well, that depends.

I recently went wade fishing with my friend, Steve Ramirez, on the Guadalupe River Tailwater. It looked like the San Juan in July out there that day with most of the usual “spots” already playing host to more than one angler. So when we came upon a run with just one fly fisher standing near the head with lots of run, and Texas Trout, left beyond his longest drifts, we asked if we could fish along side (that reminds me, good river etiquette is another bit of learning that would be a good bit of supplementary education for most self-taught fly anglers). He graciously invited us and we made the usual small talk—‘what a lovely day,’ ‘where are you from,’ ‘how’s the fishing,’ etc. He said he had a taker or two a while ago that he missed or couldn’t keep hooked up and nothing since. That’s okay, we call it fishing not catching for a reason, right? And it really was a beautiful day.

I recently had someone reach out to say they were looking to get a new reel for their spouse’s beginner combo. While the specific reel question was more unique, I’m asked all of the time what would be a good upgrade when someone is ready to move on from their $99 starter combo. The short answer is, that if budget doesn’t allow for for a whole new combo, there IS a logical order of upgrade. If you have $100, upgrade your line. If you have $200-$250, upgrade your rod. If you have $350, upgrade rod and line. Only when you get past this budget does it really make sense to go for a new reel. And once you reach the $400 mark, don’t chuck your beginner combo. No. Instead, keep it as a back up, a different weight, or gift it to a friend or loved one you’d like to lure into the pastime. Oh, and one more thing before we dig in to some detail—all rod blanks have slightly different casting characteristics, so do yourself a favor and get somewhere you can cast any of rod you might be considering!

First let me say that ANY option would be a good start. It really depends on your budget and how much help you think you might need.

Private Beginner Fly Fishing Bootcamp -Premium: This is my flagship offering designed to “set you up to win” as you begin your fly fishing journey. If you want to go from zero or very little knowledge and skill to being able to go out and fish independently with the greatest chance of success, our Premium Beginner Bootcamp is really the bees knees. It includes the same 4 hours of instruction as my Complete package covering everything you need to know to get started PLUS 3 hours of mentored fly fishing so you can begin put it all together on the water. Upon completion, many of my students consider this a key component to preparing them to head out on their own with confidence! Click HERE for more detail.

Private Beginner Bootcamp – Complete: Everything you need to know to get on the water for about the price of a 1/2 day of guided fishing. This is a great, budget-minded option that includes the same 4 hours of instruction in the Premium package sans the mentored fishing. If you still want the benefit of personal instruction and feel confident that you can translate that skills training to an on-water scenario on your own, this is the package for you.

Private Fly Casting/Fishing Lessons: Perhaps you’ve had a little experience already, are looking for help with a specific aspect of casting or fishing, want to target a new species or try a new technique. While our packages offer better value for those looking for more wholistic assistance, even an hour or two with an instructor can go a long way.

If, after reading this, you still have questions, I’d love to talk with you. Just send an email to cari@zenflyfishing.org to request a call back and I’ll get back to you – usually within 24 hours. You can also check out other FAQs here.

I admit it, I was a skeptic. I love all things fly fishing, but fly casting is my jam. So when I first tried Tenkara fishing (more on that later), I was personally underwhelmed by what amounted to flicking woven thread through the air, and further annoyed by its apparent lack of versatility. I mean, come on, it’s not really fly fishing without the cast, right?

My friend, Steve

I owe a lot of thanks to my friend, Steve, for setting my along this path of discovery that called me to challenge my initial impressions. When we met, he was a formerly avid fly fisher who had been sidelined 16 prior by a stroke. My journey with him of trial and error resulted in a technique that empowered his successful return to the sport. This approach worked so well with Steve that I asked for approval to pilot it at a fly fishing retreat for women battling breast cancer. This was an important case study because while Steve was an experienced fly angler, these ladies were not.

Done hate me for saying so, but it depends…

That’s all too true, but let me see if I can give you a little guidance. I’ll start by offering a few parameters so we know the rules of the game. In this case, I’m going to recommend based on this being an angler’s first and only fly rod…for now anyhow. 😉

To give the most generic answer possible, most industry folks would say a 9ft 5wt. While it may not be the perfect tool for every fly fishing scenario, it’s heavy enough for some light streamer work and bigger fish, and light enough to still have fun with smaller ones. And when it comes to Central Texas fly fishing or targeting warm water species with bigger poppers & streamers, lots of fishy folks will tell you to get a 9ft 6wt. That advice, while sound, is a little over-simplified. So if you’re like me, like to understand the why and gain a little more perspective, then read on…

An 8-9 ft 4-6wt rod is a good choice for a first rod depending on the waters you plan to fish.
If in doubt, get a 9ft 5wt.

Good question. The short answer is that one follows a set curriculum and the other is customized to meet the specific needs of the fly angler. Additional detail follows:

BEGINNER PACKAGE: My beginner packages have a specific curriculum designed especially for those with little or no experience fly fishing. They are also good for folks who have been at it a while, but are self-taught and really looking to better understand the fundamentals, mechanics, and approach of fly casting and fishing.

INTERMEDIATE PACKAGE: In contrast, the intermediate package is primarily an opportunity to do 2 things. 1) offer savings when compared to individual lessons. 2) I have found that the cumulative benefit of a few lessons far outweighs that of a single session in most cases. Unless a student has a specific skill they’d like to learn or work on, we usually begin with a casting assessment and conversation about what the angler may be struggling with on the water and then individualize the instruction from there.

If, after reading this, you still have questions, I’d love to talk with you. Just send an email to cari@zenflyfishing.org to request a call back and I’ll get back to you – usually within 24 hours. You can also check out other FAQs here.

That famous guy over at Orvis, Tom Rosenbauer, has compiled a list of what he considers 12 essential trout flies and I certainly am in no position to disagree with him, nor do I. That said, I wanted to see if I could narrow it down even further to help beginners cut through some of the noise. This list is for warm water species like bass & panfish. Relative to fly size, this list assumes most beginners are fishing a 5 or 6wt rod. If you have a 6wt, you can even go up in size a bit to target larger bass.

If you could only carry or afford one fly, this is it.

WARNING: FLY LINE GEEKERY, PROCEED WITH CAUTION. In preparation for guiding in SW Colorado this summer, I’ve really been putting some lines through their paces. Without belaboring the details, In doing so, I have a new favorite line that I think just might be one of the best all-around lines for the type of fishing we do in TX…and lots of other places, for that matter. For bass fishing with “pick up and shoot” tactics and heavy flies, it’s hard to beat the extremely overweight lines like Orvis Bankshot, Rio Outbound Short, SA Grand Slam, etc. But if you do find yourself in a situation where you want to throw dry flies/hoppers, it’s like trying to carve toothpicks with a chainsaw. Not to mention the fact that many of these lines are only available in 6wt and up.

It’s like a shooting head line and a triangle taper
had a beautiful, chubby baby.

Enter the Scientific Anglers Amplitude Smooth Creek Trout. I know, I know, it says TROUT…but hang with me a minute. First of all, it’s overweighted by a whole line size. That means, for example, you have a 5wt running line, but a long rear taper that pushes out a short, 6wt head. That makes it great for sending loads. But wait, look at that long front taper. That’s what really makes this line stand out from the other overweighted “creek” lines currently on the market. It slims down just right to slow things down for better presentation when that matters. It’s like a shooting head line and a triangle taper had a beautiful, chubby baby. That might just be why it won the IFTD Best of Show Freshwater Fly Line for 2022. Side note: if you have a really slow/soft action rod, this is likely not the line for you…well, maybe. In correct line weight it will turn that rod into a noodle when casting at distance. That said, I have put the 3wt Creek Trout line on my 7’6″ S-Glass 4wt and it made me giggle. For real.

I know many find that they prefer lines that are 1/2 weight heavy because they load faster action rods better and let them do more of the work. This line makes throwing bigger streamers like child’s play…without sacrificing presentation when you need it. Wanna target trophy trout? This line will roll cast an indicator rig with ease and mend like a champ. So if you are struggling at all with your 5wt thinking you might need a six now that you want to target bigger fish with bigger flies…or have a six and want a seven, this might be $100 well spent…and dare I say, the only floating freshwater line you need.

There are lots of great lines to choose from in today’s market. And some for specific purposes. This may not be the best line for high-pressure, picky trout on technical tailwaters, but delivered with a decent casting stroke, it certainly does a lot of things well. This is my current favorite…what’s yours?