A Woman’s Guide to Fly Fishing

Picture this: you find yourself along the banks of a creek on a sunny, warm, shorts-and-Chacos type day. Fly rod in hand, you gently wade into the river—the chilly water nips at your toes but it’s a refreshing relief from the warm sunshine. You’re casting gracefully, and feeling more in tune with nature than ever before. If this sounds like your kind of day, then I think fly fishing might be your cup of tea.

Why More Women Should Learn to Fly Fish

To any woman who is curious about fly fishing, but slightly intimidated or overwhelmed, you are not alone. The outdoor sports world has historically been dominated by men, but fly fishing in particular seems to be an activity that very few women feel comfortable enough to dive into. Why is that?

There are many barriers obstructing anyone, not just women, from getting into this sport. First, there’s a whole lot of information to digest that can sometimes be overwhelming to a new angler. It certainly was for me! Then there’s acquiring all the gear—we’ll dive deeper into this later on. Plus, there are some occasional dangers to consider, such as unpleasant weather, wading in cold water, crossing rivers, walking on slippery rocks, and being hooked accidentally.

Regardless of these obstacles, fly fishing is a sport absolutely worth learning; especially for women, and from all walks of life. It turns out, women tend to make better anglers than men! We’re patient, we listen, and our multitasking skills are great. Also, a common misconception about fly fishing is that you need to be strong to cast out far; however, in reality, casting is all about finesse, technique, and patience.

A female fly fisher casts a fly rod along the edge of a river near Park City, UT
Phoenix Morone gracefully casts her fly rod along the banks of a river near Park City, UT.

Getting Started

The goal in writing this article was to learn enough about fly fishing to go on my own, understand how to rig my own gear, select and tie the right flies, and catch fish without any help. To do that, I had to find someone to teach me. The mentors I found taught me so much more than just how to cast a fly rod, and that brings me to my first piece of advice.

Find a Mentor

Entered Bambi and Molly—both are experienced anglers with all the enthusiasm I was hoping to find in a teacher. Bambi grew up on a ranch, fished her whole life, and dove headfirst into fly fishing when she started working for Jans. The first thing she said to me when telling her story was how fortunate she was to have learned from a friend she trusted, and that she loves being able to pass that knowledge on to her 10-year-old son, River. Molly is a professional fly fishing guide, and has guided for Jans since moving to Park City last summer. She loves that the sport is seeing a surge of new female anglers and encourages more women to take up fishing by hosting Women’s Intro to Fly Fishing classes throughout the summer!

A female angler holds up a brown trout she caught in a river near Park City, UT.
Molly Winston landed a nice brown trout along the Provo River!

Learning any new skill can be daunting, and having a mentor to teach you in a comfortable and supportive environment could be the difference between picking up a new hobby or finding your passion. That’s not to say you won’t be able to learn on your own. With enough work, anyone can teach themselves a new sport; but it certainly helps to learn from someone you can trust. If you don’t know anyone who fly fishes, check out some online resources like the Orvis 101 Library, YouTube channels, and Facebook groups. There are hundreds of pages that provide space for female anglers to talk about fishing, meet friends, and learn from others in the sport.

Get Your Fly Fishing Gear

Like any outdoor sport, fly fishing can become expensive quickly. The key to not emptying out your wallet is to start with the gear you absolutely need and then build up your supplies as you progress. Here’s a list of equipment we recommend buying before you get started:

  • Fly rod and reel: You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg. Bambi says “All rods these days are amazing. Find your rod and reel that fits you.” I purchased my set for just over $200, and, while not top-of-the-line, it’s allowed me to get a foot in the door.
  • Bug box to carry your flies: It’s good to start out with a few flies and nymphs you know work in your area. You’ll acquire more as you learn about different rivers and types of fly fishing.
  • Polarized sunglasses: You’ll want to be able to see into the water without too much glare. These also come in handy to protect your eyes from errant casts, so they’re a must have for safety reasons.
  • Leader and tippet: The objective of a leader is simple—it connects your fly to your heavier fly line. The material is tapered to be thinner closer to the fly, which helps to deliver it to the intended target. The tippet is the part tied to the fly on the very end of your leader. Ask your fly fishing mentor or your local fly shop for advice on the leader and tippet you need to get out on the water.
A female angler stands in a river in northern Utah holding a fly rod
Find the rod and reel combo that best suits you–Phoenix is fishing with a Redington Vice reel and a Redington Trace rod.
  • Nippers and hemostats: Nippers are for cutting the ends of your tippet after you tie your flies, and hemostats are for gently removing the hook from the fish’s mouth without stabbing yourself or the fish. Attach both to a lanyard and wear it around your neck so they’re easy to reach.
  • Net: Having a net will allow you to scoop up your fish and land it quickly. This way you can release the fish in a timely manner so they can live to swim another day. It’s also important to buy one with soft rubber webbing that will not harm the fish.
  • Backpack or waist pack: You might already have a pack that could work, but you’ll need something to carry your bug box, sunscreen, bug spray, keys, phone, etc.
  • Waders and wading boots (optional): These items aren’t 100% necessary when you’re first getting started, but worth adding to your gear list. During warmer months it’s perfectly okay to fish from the shoreline or wet wade into shallow rivers wearing shorts and water sandals. When you decide you want to start wading into colder and deeper rivers, then it’s time to buy a set. Waders can range from $150 to $800, and brands are now starting to design women-specific fits! The key to purchasing waders is to buy from a brand with a great warranty. Patagonia and Simms are both excellent brands that stand by their products and will take care of you if your waders ever start to leak. This is one product Bambi recommended not buying used for this exact reason. You get what you pay for, and you’ll want your waders to last!

What to Wear

Similar to many outdoor sports, layers and quick-drying materials are your best friends when it comes to dressing for fly fishing. Keep in mind how quickly the weather can change in the mountains—from chilly early mornings to sweltering heat by noon. Start with a moisture-wicking tank top or t-shirt, and then throw on a polyester-blend long sleeve that can dry quickly if it gets wet. You’ll be in and around water while you’re fishing, so there’s a high chance you’ll end up wearing a bit of it. My body temperature tends to run on the warmer side, so I prefer wearing a lightweight and breathable sun hoodie to protect my arms and neck from UV rays while still keeping me cool.

During colder months, bring a few extra layers like a fleece, puffy jacket, and a waterproof outer shell in case some nasty weather rolls in. Similar rules apply to your bottom layers. Wear quick-drying leggings under your waders, and layer up with some wool base layers if you know the water will be super cold. On hot days, toss on some shorts and you’re good to go!

Two women stand in a river while casting their fly rods.
Bambi casts her fly rod while she watches Phoenix and offers advice as needed.

Types of Flies

We’ve talked about gear—now let’s get into fishing. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to break the entire sport of fly fishing down into three main categories: dry flies, nymphs, and streamers.

Dry Flies have been my favorite type to fish with so far. They float on the surface and mimic—you guessed it—a bug resting on top of the water! All dry flies are designed to closely resemble natural insects in a given area based on their size, color, and profile on the water. Some of these flies resemble their natural counterparts extremely well, while others draw fish in based on their bright attractive bodies. Some examples of this are grasshoppers, caddis flies, or ants. While it’s not the most efficient way to catch fish, it certainly is exciting to see a fish rise to eat your fly!

Nymphs imitate the young larva stage of an insect’s life when they live below the surface; and they’re considered one of the more productive flies because most fish predominantly feed underwater. Since your nymphs will be in the water as opposed to on the surface, you’ll need to tie an indicator float, or bobber, to see when a fish strikes your fly. Also, nymphs are extremely tiny and light, so you may need to add weights near the end of your tippet to ensure your nymphs are floating close to the bottom of the river.

Streamers also rate high on the excitement scale when it comes to fishing. They mimic larger types of underwater food sources such as leaches or minnows and therefore attract bigger and more aggressive fish. Fishing with a streamer requires a cast followed by pulling your line back in with short or long bursts. This is called stripping, and it imitates the natural pulsing movement of a small fish swimming underwater. Just make sure you use a heavier weight leader and tippet.

A woman smiles as she looks through a box filled with various types of colorful flies and streamers.
Bambi’s bug box contains no shortage of flies and streamers! Also, can we talk about how pretty they are?!

How to Choose Your Flies

Figuring out which flies to tie can have the steepest learning curve when it comes to fishing, and it offers the best opportunities to truly connect with the river. Here’s where your observation skills are put to the test. Watch the surface of the river for any lips (fish coming up to the surface to feed on bugs); if you see lots, this could be a great chance to fish with a dry fly. If the river surface is quiet, opt for nymphs or streamers. Now you want to pay attention to the types of insects in your area. What do the flies look like? How big are they? What colors?

If you decide to go with a nymph, the best way to choose a type or color is to turn over a rock in the shallow water and observe what kind of critters are crawling on the bottom of the river. Maybe you’ll see tiny mayfly nymphs, or perhaps lots of big leaches, which means it might be worth trying a streamer. Other than catching fish, selecting flies is my favorite part of fly fishing because it requires being present in and connecting with nature while essentially solving a puzzle!

Reading the River

This is arguably the most important discipline of fishing. Even if your rig is tied well and your casting is spot on, you won’t be able to catch any fish if you don’t know where to cast your flies. A good tip Molly taught me is to remember that fish are lazy, and you want to help them out by letting your fly float right in front of their mouth. Fish like to hang out in slow-moving deep pockets of water, which provide a steady flow of oxygen, food, and protection from bigger fish. Look for obstacles in the river such as rocks or logs that create those types of fish safe havens. Another clue to watch for are small bubbles on the surface—a clear sign that some type of critter is underwater.

A female angler holds up a brown trout she just caught in a river near Park City, UT
Bambi is all smiles after netting a gorgeous brown trout!

Gone Fishing

Now that you have all the gear, learned how to cast, know what flies to tie, and can read the river, it’s time to put your skills to practice! If you approach each day on the river with the hope, rather than expectation, of catching a fish and the eagerness to connect with the environment around you, then you’ll never have a bad time. So toss up that “Gone Fishing” sign, grab your fly rod, bring your girlfriends, and start the never-ending journey of learning to fly fish.

By Olivia Reed, Jans Social Media Manager