A Beginner's Guide to Fly Fishing

A Beginner’s Guide to Fly Fishing Gear

Standing in the shadow of the ghostly brick mill along the banks of the Presumpscot River at Mallison Falls, I watch a cold breeze blow over the water’s surface. The cool air, along with the 40-degree river water flowing over my waders, is a welcome surprise on this unseasonable 88-degree day in early May. I’ve waited all winter for the chance to drift my fly line for trout in one of southern Maine’s tapestry of rivers; the electric anticipation of each cast makes my fingers tremble.

I don’t know it yet, but I’m about to catch the biggest brown trout of my life.

A Beginner's Guide to fly fishingLet’s rewind three weeks earlier to a raw day in April. As the snow banks in Maine receded this spring, my mind naturally drifted from skiing to fly-fishing. That’s when I start talking to anyone who will listen about the transcendent nature of this sport. But the rod, reel, line, and tackle necessary for fly-fishing can sometimes overwhelm beginning anglers. 

But, let it be my mission to demystify the world of fly-fishing gear and get you on a river in Maine catching trout and salmon this summer and fall.

On a dreary afternoon, I escaped the cruel April rain and stepped inside All Points Fly Shop + Outfitter in South Portland. Over the soft hum of an electric line spooler, owner Josh Thelin was talking to a customer about an upcoming fishing trip he planned to take to Labrador, Canada.

This July, Thelin will celebrate one year of being open on Route 1. To say his shop is small doesn’t quite capture the closet vibe of All Points. Despite the cramped feel, the walls and shelves are loaded with fishing gear that Thelin has carefully curated for trout fishing in Maine. In addition to the storefront, a portion of his business comes from Internet sales and guided fishing trips.

Thelin grabbed two chairs from a back office, and he and I sat in the middle of his quaint shop to talk fly-fishing. 

“About 15 years ago, fly fishing turned into a crazy obsession,” said Thelin, a Cape Elizabeth native. During our conversation, he was excited to talk about fishing, revealing a deep knowledge of the sport. 

Thelin explained that fly-casting—the most poetic and challenging part of fly-fishing—is all about physics. A medium-flex, nine-foot rod gives a fisherman more force to send a weightless fly through the air.

As far as a reel, Thelin stated, “A beginning fisherman doesn’t need a high-end reel. Mainly, the reel is just a home for the line.”

He walked me around his shop pointing out a beginner’s outfit: Redington Classic Trout Rod ($120), Rio Gold Fly Line ($80), and a Redington Zero Fly Reel ($90).

“That combination will last you a lifetime,” he said, before adding, “Unless you get really into fly-fishing—then the rabbit hole is deep.” It was clear from his wry smile that he was speaking from experience.

Before leaving, I asked what flies he recommended to beginning anglers. To be successful at fishing in Maine, he argued, an angler has to fish everything: dry flies, nymphs, and streamers.

Here’s a quick-and-dirty overview of flies. Dry flies drift on the surface and mimic bugs that fly in the air. Nymphs are fished below the surface and resemble bug larvae. Streamers are imitation baitfish largely meant to mimic smelt.

To catch trout in Maine he suggests starting with an Elk Hair Caddis dry fly, Caddis and Stonefly nymphs, and Grey Ghost and Wooly Bugger streamers. 

So that’s it. For about $300, you can get outfitted with a rod, a reel, a line, and a box of flies that will open up a vast new world, one offering a deeper connection to Maine’s landscape that on its best days I can only describe as spiritual.

Back on the Presumpscot River, I drift my Caddis nymph through the fast moving current. I strip the line and feel a hard tug on my rod—the ancient dance between man and fish has begun. I pull in some line, but the fish runs toward the current. I let it run, then tighten the line. I keep my rod tip high; my arm starts to ache. This fish is big. The dance continues, until finally, a slick body breaks the surface. I slide my net under its belly and an 18-inch, four-pound brown trout settles into the webbing. Goosebumps prickle my skin. From the black surface of this river, I have coaxed a giant trout with a tiny fly. 

As I cup the prehistoric fish, I think of an old adage made new: “Buy a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and, maybe, just maybe, he’ll catch an 18-inch brown trout on a size 12 Caddis nymph.” 

— Text & Photos: Dave Patterson. Dave is a novelist and freelance writer from Cape Elizabeth with a penchant for fly-fishing, craft beer, and all things Maine.

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