Freeport, ME, March 7, 2021
The Novice's Guide to Fly-Fishing
Waking up before the sun, Matt Bickford travels two hours to a tucked away riverbank in the mountains of northwest Maine. His truck humming, he carries a fishing vest loaded with freshly threaded flies that have yet to see water. It’s April 2020, and the start to fishing season feels different that any year before.
When he arrives – to a spot that is, of course, a secret (anglers’ code) – daybreak is peeking through the fir trees, casting a morning glow on the current. He knows this river well. It’s one he’s come to since he was a boy – where he learned to fish with his father, long before he mastered the craft of fly-tying.
Bickford is a professional Maine fly-fishing guide, and nevertheless, he spent the day prior casting a new fly rod in his backyard – a routine he says is best practice for both beginners and seasoned anglers. The cast is everything.
A professional Maine fly-fishing guide and U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain, Matt Bickford specializes in fishing for striped bass and inshore charters as well as drift boat float trips for salmon, trout, bass and pike. He is also a fishing merchant at L.L.Bean, ensuring we create and carry the best gear in the industry.
PANDEMIC SLOWS FLY-FISHING SEASON OPENING
But in March 2020, just before the start to fly-fishing season, everything had changed. At a time when hardened hands would typically be tying flies and threading lines, the lights went off at L.L.Bean's Flagship store. Faced with the realities of the Covid-19 pandemic, what would typically be a thriving start to fly-fishing season was all but halted. Bickford and the team of L.L.Bean fishing merchants felt it hard.
As the weeks crept into late April and then early May, L.L.Bean stores eventually reopened. And despite the delay to Maine’s fly-fishing season – which typically stretches from April 1 to September 30 – L.L.Bean began to see a spike in fly-fishing interest as spring blossomed and the summer sun settled in. The slow start to the season was countered by Americans taking to the outdoors, seeking adventure in nature as the global pandemic forced the exploration of new open-air activities.
GROWING INTEREST IN FLY-FISHING
“What we noticed was that despite all of the challenges 2020 presented, Americans connected with the outdoors in massive numbers, with many people of all backgrounds and experience levels flocking to fly-fishing,” Bickford says. In fact, sales of L.L.Bean fly-fishing gear saw a sharp rise throughout the 2020 season, up 60% compared to 2019 (May-Sept.) – significant growth given the circumstances. “That growth,” Bickford adds, “is a credit to both experienced anglers finding more time to get on the water and beginners seeking new adventures in the outdoors.”
According to the Outdoor Industry Association, freshwater fishing added 3.4 million participants in 2020 – substantial annual growth for a sport that can appear quite technical to beginners.
“That’s the fascinating thing about fly-fishing – it can look intimidating, but you really don’t need much to get started. My best advice is always to find someone who can show you the ropes,” Bickford says.
TAKE IT FROM OUR GUIDES
That’s where our L.L.Bean guides come into play. Leon Leonwood Bean himself was a dedicated angler, so fishing in all forms has long been part of L.L.Bean’s DNA. When you walk into any full-scale L.L.Bean store, you’ll find a dedicated fishing section with L.L.Bean guides offering advice on the best gear for anglers of all skill levels. L.L.Bean expert guides also teach a range of classes and courses for those getting started, from “How to Tie a Fly” to “How to Cast a Line” – all offered through our Outdoor Discovery Programs.
THE FLY-FISHING LIFESTYLE
In talking with Bickford, what’s evident is that dedicated fly-fishing transcends the sport itself. It’s an incredibly connected and intricate web of decision-making. Anglers pick a fly based on the type of fish they’re trying to catch, which is determined by when and where they’re going to fish, down to the time of day and weather. The type of gear needed varies greatly between freshwater and saltwater, as well as the size, depth and pace of the waters you’re fishing.
But despite the options for intricacies, Bickford keeps coming back to this: “fly-fishing can be as complicated or as simple as you make it. There are countless resources – from how-to YouTube videos to our L.L.Bean fishing experts – to show new anglers the most basic steps for getting started. The only requirement is to have a desire to connect with nature, and, even for just a few hours, to allow yourself to be present on the water. The rest takes care of itself.”
Here, Bickford shares the top gear and equipment beginners need to get started. Shop online or visit a local L.L.Bean store to talk with one of our fly-fishing experts. We’ll see you on the water.
FLY-FISHING NOVICE GEAR GUIDE
Recommended: L.L.BEAN QUEST FOUR-PIECE FLY ROD OUTFIT
Our L.L.Bean Quest Four-Piece Outfit comes in a wide range of actions for everything from small stream trout to inshore saltwater gamefish, like striped bass and red fish.
Waders and Boots
Our angler waders and boots are a quality pairing that keep you dry and warm at a comfortable price.
Recommended: L.L.BEAN ANGLER FISHING VEST
Every angler needs a fishing vest, with a variety of pouches, pockets and compartments for fly-fishing essentials.
Not only do polarized sunglasses cut down on glare, allowing you to more clearly spot fish under water and reduce eye fatigue, but sunglasses of any kind are an important safety measure as they could prevent an eye injury from an errant cast.
Recommended: BRODIN CLASSIC STEALTH FISHING NET, ECO-CLEAR
Not only do landing nets make it easier to land your catch, they contribute to lower mortality in released fish by allowing easier handling and keeping the fish submerged under water. Catch and release!