Beginner’s Guide To Fly Fishing Ohio

How to outfit and where to start your fly-fishing journey in the Buckeye State.

Tippet, dry fly, wet fly, blood knot, hopper-dropper: The fly-fishing lingo alone can intimidate a newcomer. And then there’s the amount of gear needed, not to mention the price, multiplied across rod, reel, flies, waders. But don’t let all that bog you down, says Skip Nault, former president of Ohio’s Clear Fork River chapter of Trout Unlimited. Just start simple. “You want to get a decent fly rod and reel,” Nault says. “You’re gonna need to spend about $200.” Once you’ve accepted that up-front cost, he adds, quality gear can last decades.

Basic Gear 

It’s more than possible to start fly fishing with the preliminary essentials in hand: a rod, reel, line, a few flies, plus a hemostat (basically, pliers) and nippers. In Ohio, you can quickly begin fly fishing for bluegill and bass—though you’re probably envisioning yourself as Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It casting for trout. That’s fine, too; Ohio and western Pennsylvania have their share of quality trout streams. Select a rod and flies accordingly. “The first fly I would use is a woolly bugger,” Nault says. “It’s an easy fly to fish. You can fish it in a stream, you can fish it in a lake.” He also warns that a new (or even experienced) fly angler will lose flies, so purchase a handful to get started.

Begin fishing in the summer to avoid the cost of waders right away. You can wet wade—that is, wade right into the water in quick-dry shorts or pants. And if you decide to continue fishing in the winter (after trout are stocked), you can invest in waders then. Plus, you can always rent or borrow gear to try fly fishing before making the commitment to buy (online marketplaces are also a good place to find used gear).

Fly fisherman fishing for trout in Ohio

Where To Cast 

Technically, you can fish just about anywhere there are fish. Nault recommends starting at a stocked pond or lake before moving on to a river. “It’s easy to get to them, you don’t have to have waders…you don’t have trees to hang you up,” he says. Just west of Columbus, try Prairie Oaks Metro Park, whose Darby Bend lakes are stocked with bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie and perch. 

But back to you as Brad Pitt: A couple of beginner-friendly trout rivers include the Clear Fork of the Mohican River in northeast Ohio and Clear Creek in southeast Ohio. “Here in Ohio we have absolutely gorgeous places to fish,” Nault says. “Clear Fork River, that goes through Mohican State Park, is exquisitely pretty. The same is true of our Lake Erie tributaries—the Ashtabula River, the Conneaut, the Chagrin, the Rocky River.”  

Trout stocking generally occurs in November. Be sure to purchase a fishing license from ODNR online or in a Public Lands store before you head out. 

Get Help Learning the Basics 

Whether it’s a friend, a class or a YouTube video, there are lots of resources to get you started with fly fishing. Once you’ve determined where you want to fish, search for a shop like Public Lands, outfitter or club that offers lessons. Multiple organizations in Ohio help beginners get into the sport. Those include local chapters of Trout Unlimited or Ohio Women on the Fly. In the Columbus area, Central Ohio Fly Fishers and the Trout Unlimited Madmen Chapter host workshops and group trips. They also do a lot of conservation work for the rivers and streams that they fish.

Once you make the decision to start fly fishing, be warned: You may become an obsessive. “It’s more than just fishing,” Nault says. “It’s a beautiful art form.”

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.