how to fly fish ben rowell

How to Fly Fish
Written by Ben Rowell

Know someone who has wanted to learn how to fly fish but for one reason or another hasn’t taken the plunge? I do. I’ve had so many people tell me they want to learn and then go on to tell me all the reasons they can’t. Well, there is no better time than now to get that friend out on the water and here’s why. 

One perceived barrier to learning to fly fish is a concern about being judged by others. If that’s your friend, than this is their time. With fewer tourists around this summer, popular spots, such as local lakes and roadside gravel bars, will be quieter than normal. That means less eyeballs watching (most people really don’t care anyways) as your friend starts practicing moving the rod tip back and forth. As they become more comfortable and build up confidence, they’ll stop worrying about what they look like and who is watching (again, usually no one) and can start enjoying the art of fly casting.

Father and son doubling up on pink salmon in the Susitna Valley. Photo credit: Ben Rowell

When teaching someone to fly fish, it’s always a good idea to take them to a place where there is a high probability of catching fish. A lake stocked with rainbow trout, a river with a strong return of pink salmon, or a small stream with grayling are the perfect classrooms.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has been stocking lakes most of the month of May. These fish may be small but they’re hungry and have never seen a fly. Find a school of stocked fish and have your friend cast dry flies. Seeing a fish rise to a fly will fuel their excitement for fly fishing.

The year 2020, an even-numbered year, is what many anglers call a pink year. Even-numbered years often see much larger returns of pink salmon than odd-numbered years. If you take your friend fly fishing just once, take them to a creek with pink salmon. Pinks are the smallest of the five salmon species and will aggressively take a fly. While there is no such thing as a guarantee in fishing, taking your friend fly fishing for pinks is one of the best opportunities to hook, fight, and land an Alaska salmon on a fly rod.

Hire a Guide

If you’d like to pass on being the teacher but still want to help your friend learn to fly fish, consider hiring a professional guide. A guide can get you to a quiet spot where you’ll have a gravel bar all to yourself and have plenty of room to make mistakes, learn, and catch fish. And they will appreciate the business!

Did you know that Alaska is home to at least five Fly Fishers International Certified Casting Instructors and has a club that’s purpose is to teach fly fishing to Alaskans

teaching son how to fly fish

Daddy, will you teach me how to whip that thing back and forth like you do.” Photo credit: Kathlene Rowell

Not all fishing instruction happens on the water. It can be at a park or even in your yard. Find a local casting instructor and your friend will be ready to tackle other aspects of fly fishing when they hit the water. 

Helping a friend learn to fly fish may sound like work, but from my own experience, you won’t regret getting a friend started in the sport. It’s of course a great way to spend the day or weekend, and you’ll have a lot of influence on your friend as they go through the learning process. Think of it as a way to create your perfect fishing partner!


Ben Rowell in the owner of Highway 3 Angler, a fly fishing guide service in Alaska’s Susitna Valley. Loving to fish is not why he is a guide. Loving to fish with other people is. Ben can be reached at