Fly Fishing Checklist

By Jac Saltzgiver

May 16, 2019 - It's springtime in Colorado, and if you're like me, you spend every minute you're not working thinking about fishing. A very wise man once told me that there are four very distinct phases of the fly fishing angler that unfold in a natural progression:

1. You want to learn how to catch a fish
2. You want to catch a lot of fish
3. You want to catch a hard to find, VERY big fish
4. You don't care about catching fish at all, you're just happy to be on the river

No matter which stage of fly fishing you may be in, it's important to approach the river with intention, ensuring you are ready for a great day of fishing. Here are a couple of tips for a successful day on the river. 

1. Plan Your Trip

Weather: You'll want to check the weather, especially if you're a fair weather angler. Fish are caught in all weather conditions, but when it rains, it can get cold, so I always have a rain jacket and mid-layer in my dry bag. You'll also want to ensure the wind isn't going to hamper your ability to cast. I'd say anything over 15mph is going to be tough, especially for a beginner. I like to use a combination of weather apps. Dark Sky and Weather Underground are my current go-to's.

Flows: It's important to understand how the river flows will affect your fishing. If the river flows are low, fish will be holding in deeper pools, hiding from predators and hanging out in cooler water. If the river is higher than average, the water may be muddy and murky, and harder to fish. The USGS is a good place to start for flow information. Check with your local fly shop and ensure the flows are good for fishing. Not to mention, high flows can be dangerous. 

Water Temperature: In short, when the water temperature rises in a river or stream, oxygen decreases, increasing the level of stress placed on a fish. If you are fishing for trout, a general rule of thumb is to not fish in water over about 68 degrees (F). I always carry my Fishpond Thermometer with me and check water temps on warm summer days.

2. Gear

Sun Protection: Fishing long days on the river means most of us are spending long days in the sun. Make sure you bring sunscreen and a lightweight, breathable shirt with a hood is a good place to start. I use my Duck Camp bamboo hoodie. Don't forget a hat too. And remember to re-apply throughout the day. Be careful though, I try not to let the sunscreen touch my flies.

Waders: Waders are a good idea most of the time. Redington has good waders for the price and will get the job done. You can also wear your duck hunting waders as I do when I need a little more insulation in the early spring, late fall, and winter. However, if the temperatures are 80 degrees or higher, you will not need that much insulation.

Rod: To catch a fish, you're going to need a rod. A 6-weight rod is a good all around rod that can land most bass, trout, carp, etc. If you're new to fly fishing, I typically recommend buying a relatively inexpensive rod. Orvis and Cabela’s are good options.

Net: A net is also a good idea. Nets vary in shape, size, and material. To each their own. I like Rising Nets, and I generally recommend rubber mesh for the netting as it's easier to untangle your line in the event your fly/line gets tangled. 

Fly Fishing Net
Fly Line: Getting the right fly line for your purpose may be the single most important thing to get, "right," when setting up your rod. Scientific Anglers and Rio Products fly lines are two well-respected brands. You'll first want to ensure your line matches the weight of your rod. From there, there are generally two types of lines. Floating line and sinking line. Floating line should be used if you plan to fish dry flies or for nymphing. Sinking line should be used if you're streamer fishing. Consult your local fly shop to make sure you're buying the right line for the right situation. It will significantly help your cast and ability to catch fish. 

Sun Glasses: Polarized sunglasses are a must. They will help you see the fish in the water. There are plenty of brands who make great glasses. My advice is to steer clear of the white framed glasses. They simply don't make you look cooler. 

Pliers: You'll want pliers for those fish that completely swallow the hook, or for when the fly is stuck and difficult to remove from the fish’s mouth. 

Water: Make sure you bring plenty of water. Hydration is key. The average male should drink about 3-3.5 liters of water per day. A day fishing on the river is no exception. Or, bring one of these and filter water right out of the river or lake using a Grayl.

Fly Fishing Checklist - Flies
3. Flys


In general, the best thing you can do to ensure you are using the right flies (besides becoming a biologist) is to consult your local fly shop. Talk to them about when you plan to go fishing, what river you plan to visit, and what type of fishing you prefer (see below). There are three main categories of flies that imitate different types of bugs and allow for three distinct types of fishing in freshwater rivers and streams:

Topwater: Topwater flies, often referred to as dry flies, are meant to be fished on the surface of the water. Dry flies can imitate a range of different bugs, from terrestrials (bugs that get blown in to or fall into the water - things like ants, beetles, grasshoppers, etc) to adult flies (mayflies, stoneflies, caddis, etc.).

Subsurface: Most fish feed near the bottom and middle of the river, thus, subsurface flies, like nymphs and midges, regularly produce more fish than any other type of fly. Subsurface flies typically imitate fly larva and immature baby insects. 

Streamers: Streamer fishing produces less fish, but generally bigger fish than typical subsurface fishing. Streamers can imitate all kinds of things, from small minnows to leeches, to crawfish, to mice and everything in between. 

I hope this fly fishing checklist has provided you with a starting point for a great day on the water. Now go pick up a Duck Camp fishing shirt and enjoy the beautiful outdoors! Oh, and one more thing, when you finally catch that big fish you've been gunning for, remember to “keep it wet” as holding a fish out of the water for more than 5-10 seconds causes undue stress to the fish! Go…get out there!

Fly Fishing in Colorado

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