Getting Started: Fly-Fishing Basics

Learning to fly fish does not have to be intimidating, difficult or expensive. There are lots of opportunites for classes with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), local fly shops and fly-fishing organizations around Colorado.
DID YOU KNOW? Fishing in Colorado contributes roughly $1.9 billion to the economy. Become an angler today and be an active participant in wildlife management and help our local economies. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW

Why Learn to Fly Fish?

Fly fisherman by © Howard Horton/CPW

When most people think of fishing in Colorado, fly fishing is one of the first techniques that come to mind. Like all types of fishing, it can be a fun group or family activity or it can be your way to find peace and tranquility — an escape from our busy lives.

Learning to fly fish does not have to be intimidating, difficult or expensive. There are lots of opportunites for classes with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), local fly shops and fly-fishing organizations around Colorado.

People in Colorado love to fish. Colorado sells more than 900,000 fishing licenses each year! There are so many fishing choices in Colorado with 9,500 miles of streams 2,000 natural lakes and 800 reservoirs. Your new favorite fishing spot may be just around the corner.

Where to Begin?

DID YOU KNOW? Every time you buy fishing equipment you support fishing restoration through Federal Excise Taxes and the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program. Photo © by Howard Horton/CPW.

Walking into your local sporting goods store or fly shop and seeing an entire wall of rods would be enough to intimidate anyone new to fly fishing. Now throw in reel choices, line and all the little accessories and you can start to feel overwhelmed! Don’t worry, below is an excellent starting place for what you need to get out on the water and be successful today.

Rod, Reel and Line

You can spend a lot of money on a rod. In the hands of an experienced caster, an expensive rod will feel different and cast better. For most beginners, you will not notice the difference and do not need to spend a lot of money to get a good rod. The extra money for a high-end rod is usually there if you break the rod. They will fix or replace it at a lower cost.

Rod — A 9-foot, 5-weight rod is a good general purpose rod for Colorado.

In general, you will not use your reel as much as you would with a spinning rod. Again, you do not need to break the bank here. At the distances most anglers fly fish in Colorado, and the size of most of our fish, a basic reel will be just fine. Pick a reel with a good disc drag system.

Reel — Any basic reel matched to your rod will be fine. For example, a size-5 reel should be used for a 5-weight rod.

There are almost as many types of lines as there are rods. A great starting place is a weight-forward floating line. This will handle most of the common fishing situations in Colorado. Look for one in the mid-price range.

Line — A weight-forward fly line that is matched to your rod and reel will be perfect. For example, a 5-weight line for a size-5 reel.

The Best Option?

Several manufactures sell entry-level combos that will have everything you need to get started at a fraction of the cost. These kits will have a rod, reel, line, backing and other extras all for around $150.

What Do I Need?

Horton-fly-fishing-Flies Photo2
These flies are good, all-around patterns that will catch fish all over Colorado. Photo by © Howard Horton/CPW.


When starting out, it is a good idea to have a few flies that can catch fish no matter where you go. Below are 10 good, all-around patterns that will catch fish all over Colorado. Some of them you can get with beads and flash or in different colors.

Dry Flies — sizes 14-18

  • Parachute Adams and Mosquito
  • Nymphs – sizes 12-20
  • Pheasant tail, hares ear, zebra midge, RS2, Prince Nymph, San Juan Worm

Streamers — sizes 4-8

  • Woolly Bugger and Leech


You will need a few extra tools to make your day of fishing a success. Below are just the basics.

  • Hemostat (small, fine-tip pliers)
  • Nippers
  • Small fly box
  • Split shot – variety of sizes
  • Leader – 7-foot, 5x
  • Tippet size 5x

Optional Gear

  • Net — rubber nets protect a fish’s slime
  • Small pack or vest
  • Indicators
  • Floatant
  • Waders and boots

What About Knots?

There are many fishing knots in the world. Fortunately, you only need to know a couple before you go fishing. Make sure you take time to practice your knots at home before you hit the water. When you make it out to fish, you want to maximize your time fishing “not” tying knots. There are a bunch of tutorial videos on the Internet with step-by-step instructions. Below are three easy knots that will get you fishing fast.


Leader to fly line — loop-to-loop knot. Illustration by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

Triple-Surgens-KnotTippet to leader — triple surgeon’s knot. Illustration by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.


Tippet to fly — clinch knot. Illustration by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.

More Resources

Beginner fly angler. Photo by © Howard Horton/CPW.

Fishing classes, tips, stocking reports, videos:

Find a spot near you with the fishing atlas:

CPW also has a feature-length video journal on major fly-fishing events and top destinations for all species. Available at our offices or online:                           

Become a Volunteer Instructor!

CPW is always looking for enthusiastic anglers who are passionate about fishing and want to share their angling heritage with new people. If you enjoy teaching, and are committed to helping the next generation of anglers, please contact the statewide volunteer office at:

DID YOU KNOW? Colorado has more than 40 game fish species — both warm- and cold-water. Photo by © Howard Horton/CPW.

By Howard Horton. Horton is the angler outreach coordinator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


✉ Follow for Updates

Subscribe to Colorado Outdoors Online by Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

More Posts

Translate »