Getting started in fly fishing

There’s never been a better time to learn the art of fly fishing than the present. The barriers of entry are gone, the elitist reputation is gone and the technology is here.

A fishing pole rests on a boulder.
Albany River | Mark Melnyk

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Many anglers who have always wanted to pick up a rod and try fly fishing are now doing it. All because the sport is both affordable and accessible for anyone wanting to try something new.

Just like conventional fishing or spin fishing is compared to skiing, fly fishing can be compared to snowboarding. It’s cool. In both cases, enthusiasts are using different equipment and techniques to the same end, to descend a snow-covered hill or to trick a fish to eat.

The bottom line, fly fishing is an exciting way to catch fish and is considered different to that of conventional angling. Getting into the sport of fly fishing is a rewarding adventure that will last a lifetime.

What to catch fly fishing

Before any would-be fly angler invests a single penny on equipment, they should figure out if fly fishing is going to be a good fit. In Ontario, there is a vast network of fly-fishing lodges, outfitters fly shops and guides more than willing to introduce new fly fishers to the sport. 

As with many endeavours, the start of the journey begins with research. Start by researching what species to target on fly. Ontario, in particular, is chock full of incredible sportfish. Here are some of the easier species to target that would be a good fit for a beginning fly angler.


With many species of trout in Ontario’s waters, brook, brown or rainbow trout are usually a fly fisher’s first target species. They can be fished from shore, referred to as walk and wade, or from a boat, and are catchable from April through to September. 

Smallmouth bass

Found in most waters in Ontario, they are a good beginner species simply because they can be found in most lakes and rivers. Smallmouth bass are also aggressive, acrobatic and very willing to eat flies. They can be targeted from June through to November. 


Pumpkinseed, rockbass, bluegill and jumbo perch are all very fly-friendly panfish species and are caught on very light tackle. An added benefit of fishing these scrappy little fish is their sheer numbers. Anglers will almost always have guaranteed success.

Where to learn to fly fishing

Fly shops, fly guides and casting instructors are the easiest avenue to get into fly fishing. They specialize in education and will have the equipment any angler will need to get started. Outfits like the list below offer one-stop fly fishing adventures to any level:

Drift Outfitters Fly Shop

Southern Ontario fly shop specializing in multi-species angling, fly tying and on-water instruction. Species include trout, bass and northern pike in and around the Toronto area.

A Perfect Drift Guide Co.

Graham Bristow guides multi-species in southern and central Ontario including brown, rainbow and brook trout. He also guides spring and fall for great lake tributary steelhead. Located in Inglewood, Graham guides multiple rivers in a one hundred kilometer radius of his base. 

Grand River Outfitters and Fly Shop

Located in Fergus Ontario, Grand River Outfitters specializes in the waters of southwestern Ontario. Guided trips for trout, bass and steelhead are their specialty.

Metcalfe School of Fly Casting

Mikey Metcalfe is a certified fly-fishing instructor located in southwestern Ontario. His guiding service encompasses the southern Ontario creeks and rivers in search of trout, steelhead, bass and northern pike. 

John Giuliani’s Fishing Adventures

Located in Sault Ste. Marie, John is a full-time fishing guide specializing in the multi-species of the St. Mary’s River. He also guides for brook trout and bass around Sault Ste. Marie exploring the tributaries of Lake Superior.

Tyler Dunn Guiding

Tyler is a full-time fishing guide based out of Sault Ste. Marie. He specializes in the multi-species of Lake Superior tributaries and guides dream trips on Lake Nipigon and in the Nipigon River near Thunder Bay. 

Angling Algoma

Adam Vallee is located in Iron Bridge Ontario and is a full-time guide and tournament angler. He guides the vast region of Northern Ontario. He specializes in fishing multi-species including the bass and trout of ‘Trophy Alley’ along Superior’s north shore. 

Shops and guides also serve to accelerate the angler’s education in fly fishing. Much of the trial and error an angler might experience on their own is dramatically diminished. Angler’s pick-up techniques, tips and tricks as well as get to experience great locations to fly fish in Ontario. 

Fly fishing gear for beginners

Once an angler has determined fly fishing is right for them and something they’d like to pursue, the next step is to get fly fishing equipment that is right for the style and species they want to target.

This is where a fly shop steps in. All reputable fly shops will ask questions to set you up with the proper equipment for how you want to fish on your budget.  

Here is a basic list of equipment beginner fly anglers might consider if they are starting to fish for trout in rivers.

Fly rod: A three, four or five weight nine-foot fly rod will suffice. This will allow anglers to target small to large trout and more importantly be able to cast the flies trout might eat. Fly rods are specially designed fishing rods that work to deliver an almost weightless fly into the water. 

Reel: Small to medium-sized reel will do. Trout generally won’t pull line off the reel, so the reel’s main purpose is to hold the fly line.

Line: A floating line weight that matches that of the fly rod is all a beginner fly angler needs to get started. Matching the line and rod weight ensures the equipment works together the way it was designed. Lines and rods are labelled 0-12 weight. Anglers want to match a 5-weight rod to a 5-weight line for example.

Leader: Trout-specific leaders are designed to work with the rod and line setup. Generally, a six to nine-pound leader will do for trout.

Tippet: As anglers retie flies onto their leader, the leader gets shorter. Matching tippet material acts to keep the leader the designed length and is simply added onto the leader once it gets too short to cast effectively. Tippet comes in a variety of sizes on small spools that are easily stored in a pocket.

Waders: If an angler plans on fishing outside of a boat, waders are a great purchase. Waders keep anglers warm and dry while allowing them to enter the river or lake during most seasons. 

Boots: Wading boots are a vital partner to the wading system in that they serve several purposes. They protect the angler’s ankles from injury in rocky, woody or unstable lake or river bottoms. They also provide grip in the river on slippery rocks or wood and help to prevent wet socks due to leaks or holes in your waders. Wading boot soles are generally felt or rubber with metal studs embedded for maximum grip. 

Snips: Having a set of scissors to cut flies off your leader or tippet or to remove tag ends of a knot is a time-saving, teeth-saving tool. Anglers can purchase a fly fishing-specific pair of snips or they can simply raid their bathroom drawer and borrow a pair of fingernail clippers. 

Flies: A fly shop will be able to assist anglers in fly choices for the specific body of water they are going to be fishing. They can also educate anglers on what insects, fish or other food sources might be happening at that time of the season, called hatches. 

Polarized sunglasses: The polarization of the lens cuts glare improving an angler’s ability to see into the water. The tint also helps to lessen eye fatigue on long days of high sun. Most importantly, they protect the eyes from flies whipping through the air should a cast go astray, and they will go astray.

There are fly fishing companies out there that specialize in getting people started in fly fishing and have developed starter kits that come ready to fish right out of the box. Many species-specific starter kits will come complete with rod, reel, line, leader, tippet and a choice set of flies for that particular species. 

These setups are relatively inexpensive, and they serve as a great starting point for new fly anglers still figuring out what they want out of the sport and if the chosen fish species is something they want to pursue. If fly fishing isn’t a fit, the angler hasn’t spent a small fortune on equipment they won’t use. 

Benefits of being a fly angler

Now that new anglers have been bitten by the fly fishing bug, there are some unrealized benefits of being in the sport.


Fly fishing can take participants to some pretty incredible places. Fly fishing adventures in Ontario span from a day floating down an urban river to week-long, fly-outs to unexplored lakes and rivers. Fly fishing will expose anglers to beautiful places chasing remarkable species.


The opportunity to continue to learn is always present in fly fishing whether anglers are experimenting with new flies, new casts, presentation techniques or species of fish. There is always something to learn on the water. It keeps this game interesting.


The conservation work that goes into the sport of fly fishing is important. Organizations, groups and clubs in the fly-fishing space tend to give back to the sport in forms of streamside or lakeshore cleanup events, watershed protection projects and effective catch and release techniques. Fly fishers are invested in the health and well-being of their watersheds.


Many anglers fly fish for the peace, quiet and solitude of the sport. There is a calming effect that sweeps over many fly fishers when they step foot in the river or on the boat. Rhythmical casting is soothing, almost zen, that is until an absolute giant of a fish eats their fly and they get to witness the eat, that moment a fish is fooled to eat your fly. Then the peace is absolutely shattered and the chaos is welcomed.

Social benefits

The social aspect of fly fishing is unique, be it lazy days with a friend on your favourite river or tying flies (that’s a whole other topic) with a like-minded group of anglers at a local club. Fly anglers can be a welcoming close-knit community.

Fly fishing is a sport available to all who may want to participate. In Ontario, the water, the space and the fish are plentiful. Adventure is there, all anyone interested needs is to go and find it. And what better way than to do it with a fly rod in their hand. Getting started in fly fishing is easy, affordable and accessible.

Credit: Destination Ontario.

Photo Credit: Mark Melnyk-Albany River