Fly fishing basics

Take a good supply of patience

Fly fishing on the Piscataquog in New Boston

Photo by Ernesto Burden

If you’ve ever seen the iconic film ‘“River Runs Through It,” directed by Robert Redford, then you likely, if only for a brief window of time, fell in love with fly fishing. The 1992 Academy Award winner for cinematography was shot in Montana and on the nearby upper Yellowstone, Gallatin and Boulder Rivers and features pristine scenery as it follows the true coming-of-age story of two young adult men, their father and their mutual love of fly fishing.

They make it look easy, and I can tell you from personal experience it is not. Shortly after I first met my husband Ernesto, he took me fly fishing. I had never been and he was anxious to share his passion for it with me. I’ll admit it was a strange sort of first date. Didn’t know quite what to make of it initially, but as I watched the sine wave of fishing line dance back and forth over his head, I began to understand what he loved about it, why he would come to the river to do this.

I’ve still no idea why he brought me, as he never did let me fish, or maybe I just said “no, thanks, I’m good” when he offered me the rod to try a cast.

Like most passionate fly fishermen, he gets out to fish when he can, which is never often enough, I am sure. Having tried it many times since, I can tell you a steady supply of patience will serve you well if you are determined to try your hand at fly casting.

With a few lessons, and perhaps a trip out with a guide when you can afford it, you can be well on your way to fishing bliss. New Hampshire offers some glorious fishing areas, from brooks and rivers to lakes and salty shores — everything you could want and more.


Fact: The Androscoggin River, located in the Great North Woods region, is home to some of the most popular and picturesque fly fishing in the state. Fifty-three miles of the 178-mile Androscoggin flow through forests and rolling hills of New Hampshire. It  contains species including brook, brown and rainbow trout and landlocked salmon.

Expert Advice: Ernesto Burden

In addition to being a fly fisherman for more than 20 years, Ernesto Burden is also a writer, guitarist and an avid student of the Web, technology, literature, the Catholic faith and the Spanish language. He is vice president of digital for Newspapers of New England (NNE) and lives in New Hampshire with his wife Kristen, their daughters Sofia and Isobel and sons David and Gabriel. 

How did you first fall in love with fly fishing? I grew up in a fishing family. We lived practically on the banks of the Mettawee River in Dorset, Vt., not far from the legendary Battenkill. My grandfather was an avid sportsman and passed that passion on to my mother, who handed it on to me. I have a vivid memory of catching my first trout on a cold, rainy day from a deep pool on the Mettawee. In those days we weren’t fly fishing, but using nightcrawlers that we’d collected by flashlight in the front yard the night before. But with Orvis right in Manchester, it wasn’t hard to get tied up in the romance of fly fishing.   

Spinning reel fishing can be tricky. What are the obstacles to overcome so you don’t get too frustrated at the beginning? The wind is going to tie a knot in your line every once in a while. If you get mad and start shaking the rod, the knot becomes a snarl and you’re going to have to stop and cut the whole mess away and start again. Slow down. Enjoy the process. Better to be standing in the middle of a river fiddling with knots than sitting in traffic. For me, the aspects that might seem difficult if you’re watching from the outside are the parts that make it bliss. It’s focus, observation and science married to rhythm, intuition and perfect patience. If you’re fishing well, you’re there, in the moment, and there isn’t anything else.

Where does someone begin if they want to try fly fishing for themselves? If you can afford it, take a class. If you can’t, buy a book. Or try the web. YouTube wasn’t around when I started, but if it had been, I would have been in heaven. From knot tying to casting to reading the water and understanding the life cycles of the insects the trout are feeding on, there’s a lot to learn. The gear manufacturers have a ton of resources on their sites.

Do you have any spots in New Hampshire you would recommend specifically for beginners trying their luck? No. Stay out of my spots. Just kidding. (Not really.) Here are a couple that spring to mind — I like small streams and the Piscataquog in New Boston, near the center of town, has good fishing early in the summer. Archery Pond at Bear Brook State Park always has fish — it’s fly fishing only — but they are tough to catch.

What gear do you really need to get started and what can wait as you progress? I don’t think you need a lot to get started. I had a second-hand rod and reel and a few flies that I kept in something; I want to say it was an old match box, but that sounds so folksy I must have made it up. Basically, if I were starting from scratch but was earnest in my commitment and had a bit of money, I’d go to a reputable fly shop and have the staff set me up. 

Gear Box

To get fully geared up right off the bat, a good start-up kit can be an economical way to go. You can get the essentials for what you need and add on as you progress. The Orvis Streamline Fly-Fishing Outfit 906-4 Tip ($225, gets you the beginner rod and reel you need at a great price. This 9', 6-weight rod is perfect for taking in bluegills or brook trout. You just need to know where they’re rising. It includes a reel case and “The Orvis Guide to Beginning Fly Fishing.’”

A good vest can make every fishing trip a bit easier. Cabela’s Willow Creek Vest ($45, is great for both novice anglers and seasoned experts alike, offering two large, zippered cargo pockets, four interior pockets and three D-rings to attach tools and a net.

You may not always know what the fish are biting on, but you’ll know where to find all your flies neatly organized in the SRO Easy Grip Fly Box ($16, from Stone River Outfitters. Made from impact-resistant polypropylene and featuring a positive locking latch to ensure it stays closed when need be.

You will not regret having on hand a good guide book when beginning in fly fishing and the “Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide” ($20, is essentially the fly fisherman’s bible. This full color, revised edition features instructions from fly selection to casting and presentation techniques to help you catch anything from “bass to bonefish, from tarpon to trout.”

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