Let's Go Fly-Fishing!

By Bonnie Chasteen | March 1, 2020
From Xplor: March/April 2020

Are you wild about chasing water critters? Then give fly-fishing a try. It’s a fun way to fool wily fish with fake water bugs. Ready to gear up?

First, Make This Field Guide

  • Cut out the next two pages along the dotted lines.
  • Fold each cut-out down the middle.
  • Stack the cut-outs so the pages are in numerical order.
  • Staple the cut-outs together along the middle between pages 8 and 9.
  • Keep this field guide with your fishing gear.

Xplor Fly-Fishing! A Mini Field Guide to Fooling Fish With Fake Bugs

Friend a Fly-Angler

Nothing beats having a friend in the field if you’re just learning to fly-fish. Do you know an experienced fly-angler? They can help you choose the right gear, put it together, practice your cast, point out the best places to fish, and help you bring your catch to hand. If you’re keeping your catch, your fly-fishing BFF can also help you clean it, cook it, and celebrate your success.

Sign Up for a Workshop

If you don’t know any grown-up fly-anglers, you can register for a fly-fishing workshop at a Missouri Department of Conservation nature center. Many nature centers offer free fly-fishing workshops for beginners and their families. All you need to bring is a grown-up who shares your interest in learning how to fly-fish. The workshop leaders will provide everything else. Browse fishing events at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZWd.

Know your Flies

Flies are made to look like the critters they mimic. This look-alike formation, combined with your tricky fly moves, is what fools the fish into striking. To learn how to make your own woolly bugger, turn to Page 18.

  • Hada Creek crawler (crayfish)
  • Woolly bugger (crayfish, dragonfly nymph, small sculpin)
  • Mega worm (grub larvae/fish flesh)
  • Mop fly (grub/caddis larvae)
  • Popper (terrestrial insect or attractor fly — doesn’t mimic much but gets attention with sound/ movement)
  • Clouser minnow (minnow/shad)
  • Pheasant tail nymph (mayfly nymph)
  • San Juan worm (aquatic worm, leech, planaria, bloodworm)

Gather Your Gear


A 9-foot, 5/6-weight rod is a good fit for most beginners. It’s easy to handle and bendy enough to let you cast the line where you want it.


The reel’s job is to hold your line and reel it in after a cast. A simple reel will get you started.


This strong, braided line (pictured in orange) gives your fly line a base on the spool. It can also help you fight a big, strong fish.


This 9-foot length of strong, light, nearly invisible line has a thick end, called a butt end, and a thin end. The butt end attaches to your floating line, and the thin end attaches to the tippet.

Nail Clippers

To nip fishing line.


Looks like scissors, but it’s really a clamp. Good for pinching down hook barbs, which makes it easier to gently remove hooks from fish — or from yourself.

Fly Box

Keeps your bugs tidy and easy to choose.

Floating Line

This line is thin for most of its length, but one end is thick. You attach the thin end to your backing and the thick end to your leader.


This line is only a couple of feet long, and you tie your fly to it. Using a tippet will make your leader last longer.

Fly box

Keeps your bugs tidy and easy to choose.


Makes landing easier for you and safer for your fish (especially if you need to release it).

Nice but not necessary

  • Fishing vest
  • Gear lanyard

Put it All Together

Your fly-fishing BFF can help you put your rod together and load/attach the reel. Or the folks at the store where you buy your fishing gear are usually happy to do this for you.

Field tips

Thread your rod

Bending the leader line makes it easier to push it through the eyelets.

Tie a fly to your tippet first

The Davy knot is the simplest way to tie a fly to your tippet, but practice the knot before you go out. Using a piece of kitchen string and a keychain ring will help your hands get the feel for the knot fast.

Connect tippet to leader

The loop-to-loop system is the fastest way.

  • Tie a simple loop about two inches long in the end of your leader.
  • Tie another loop in the end of your tippet.
  • Pass the tippet knot over the leader knot.
  • Pass the leader loop over the fly.
  • Pull tight, and you’ve got a strong connection.

Field tip

Make up several tippets with a fly tied to one end and a loop in the other. This will save you time if you lose a fly or need to change flies quickly.

Practice Your Cast

Casting with your fly rod can be as easy as 1-2-3, but it helps to practice a bit before you head to the water.

What you’ll need

  • A rod and reel ready to go
  • A short piece of red yarn tied to the end of your tippet
  • A hula hoop or other target placed 15–20 feet away from where you’ll be standing

Grab the yarn, pull out about 20 feet of line, and lay it in front of you. Face the yarn, standing so that your rod shoulder is a little behind your free shoulder. This will help you avoid jerking the yarn (or hook) into your face.

  • Keep your eye on the yarn, and quickly raise the rod, bringing the yarn back past your head and above your shoulder.
  • When the yarn gets just above your shoulder, quickly bring the rod forward, aiming toward the hula hoop. Watch the line sweep out and sail toward your target.
  • Before the yarn lands, lower the tip of your rod toward the ground (or water).

Your fly-fishing BFF can help you practice this until you hit the target most times.

Field tips

  • To avoid snagging stuff (or people) behind you — watch your rod tip as you cast.
  • If you get snagged (and you will), try to free your hook by holding your rod tip high and jiggling it. Move around to change the angle. If the hook won’t free, you’ll probably have to break your line.

First, pull your shirtsleeve down over your hand to protect it. Then, wrap the line several times around your hand. Point the rod tip at the snag and steadily pull or back away until the line breaks or the hook pulls free.

Fish, Food, Mimics, and Methods

Knowing what kinds of food fish like to eat in the wild can help you choose what kinds of mimics to cast their way. Turn the page to learn where fish hang out in ponds and streams. Once you cast, make your fly act like a real critter.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass

  • Know their foods: Will eat whatever they can fit into their mouths: flies, frogs, tadpoles, minnows, crayfish.
  • Choose a mimic: Anything tied on a larger hook (a big woolly bugger or a crayfish pattern, for example).
  • Work this way: In still water, cast to weed beds, etc. Pulling in your line with short jerks will usually prompt a strike. In streams, cast across and upstream, letting the current carry the fly into fishy areas. Panfish like bluegill, sunfish, and crappie
  • Know their foods: Eat the same foods as bass, but they have smaller mouths. They can also be fearful of movement, so letting the fly settle before jigging it is a good idea.
  • Choose a mimic: Smaller flies like black widows, a small popping bug, or a Clouser minnow.
  • Work this way: In still water, let the ripples disperse before slowly moving the fly. In streams, cast upstream and let the bug float down to a fishy spot.


  • Know their foods: Nymphs, aka baby bugs, that generally float and sink instead of swim.
  • Choose a mimic: Hare’s ear nymph, San Juan worm, mop fly, or mega worm.
  • Work this way: Whether in ponds or streams, let the nymph sink. Keep your rod low and pull in your line slowly. Watch the end of your line. If it moves suddenly, set the hook!

Read the Water

Fish hang out near food and where they feel safe from predators. Try casting near things like rocks, root wads, sunken trees, or water plants. This is where fish can rest and still dart out to snatch prey. Other great places to find fish are labeled on the illustrations.

  • Ponds and lakes
  • Rocks
  • Points
  • Along the lake dam
  • Aquatic plants
  • Flooded timber and shade
  • Stair step along dropoff
  • Submerged stumps

Streams and rivers

  • Deep river bends
  • Riprap banks
  • Behind wing dams
  • Holes below riffles
  • Feeder stream mouths
  • Eddies

Find Places to Fish Near You

Wherever you live in Missouri, there’s probably a public pond, lake, or stream access near you. In cities, many lakes are stocked with trout, bass, and other popular fish. To find great places to fish, visit mdc.mo.gov/fishing.

Handle with Care

Decide if you’re going to keep your fish or release it immediately. If you’re fishing for trout, you’re required to release your catch at certain areas during certain times of the year. For this reason, it’s important to know how to handle and release a fish so that it has the best chance of surviving once it’s back in the water.

  • Try to avoid handling your catch, and wet your hands if you must touch it. Wetting your hands protects the fish’s skin.
  • Use a net.
  • Use hemostats to gently guide the hook out of the fish’s mouth.
  • Lower the fish back into the water as soon as you can.

Field tip

Sliding the fish gently back into the water as soon as you release it from the hook improves its chances of survival.

Know the rules

To angle for fish like largemouth bass and bluegill in Missouri, you won’t need to buy a fishing permit until you turn 16. But a Trout Permit is required to keep any trout you catch and for all winter fishing in Maramec Spring Park, Bennett Spring State Park, Montauk State Park, and Roaring River State Park. You will also need a Trout Permit any time you fish in Lake Taneycomo upstream from the U.S. Highway 65 bridge. In addition, many community lakes and other conservation areas have special fishing regulations.

For more information about fishing regulations, including permits, seasons, and limits, visit mdc.mo.gov/fishing.

Also In This Issue

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This Issue's Staff

Bonnie Chasteen
Les Fortenberry
Angie Daly Morfeld
Noppadol Paothong
Marci Porter
Mark Raithel
Laura Scheuler
Matt Seek
David Stonner
Stephanie Thurber
Cliff White