There are many many anglers out there, experienced or otherwise, who have looked into trying their hand at fly fishing but found it to be a daunting prospect at first glance. The standard line of thought is usually something like this “First off you need to spend around $500+ just for the proper fly rod, at least another $300 for a decent quality reel that looks good and does amazing things with the upwards of $100 of fly line that is attached to it. Of course you need that fancy new pontoon boat to get you around on your favourite Stillwater lakes or streams; That will add another $750 or so to the bill. And we can’t forget waders, boots, fins and a wading jacket. Those will add roughly another $1000 to the tally.” All that without even talking about the abundance of other gear you’ll require like leaders, tippets, forceps, nippers, strike indicators, split shots, and of course flies. And just about anybody will tell you you’ll need 100 or so of those.
That may be what some will say but I’m here to tell you that is not the case at all.
The truth is you definitely do need some things to get started in fly fishing. Here is a list of your basic essentials:
Line with backing (I recommend both floating and sinking lines)
Misc. tools for line maintenance etc.
You simply don’t need to spend an arm and a leg but its very easy to get caught in the marketing of the products themselves. As with a set of golf clubs, or really any sporting product, companies have a knack for making things that perform very similarly look “pretty.” Your first setup should be something that will get you into the sport, not something that will leave you stressed about taking out and getting scratched or damaged; things do happen out there after all!
That being said, you do need to spend some money on equipment. When we get down to brass tacks, one can easily get into the sport spending $500 or less and I would bank on less. You won’t have the fanciest setup that makes people go “oooh,” and “ahh,” but really when it comes right down to it, does it matter? It will catch fish and get you out there, and when you find yourself advancing and find the need for certain gear and tackle for particular situations, then you can upgrade where you see fit.
When you really think about it, the rod is simply a tool to deliver the line to the fish. For those people just getting into the sport, the rod doesn’t have to be all that specific or high quality unless you have an unnaturally high level of finesse and coordination from the beginning. A general, usually Medium Action fly rod will do just fine. Honestly, watching people casting for the first time is, to say the least, interesting; It takes time and patience to figure it out. Looking back, It took a lot of knots in the line, and various other mishaps (piercing my own ear for one!) to get a grip on my own casting.
In most cases, the reel is a system that holds the line and is rarely used for actually reeling. The vast majority of the time you will be using the line to bring in your bounty. The leader and tippet are necessary to “camouflage” the line in the water. Adding tippet to you leader is a smart move as it increases the life of your leader by not removing the need to clip it down every time you change your fly.
Flies, well that is a given. It is Fly Fishing after all! Which fly? Well only the type of water, time of year and alignment of the stars will determine that. If you are fishing uncharted waters, check your local shop and ask what would be the best suggestion for the time you’re heading out. The bottom line is you simply don’t need a lot…yet.
There are a multitude of fly rods to choose from. There are various different lengths and weights that will drive a person crazy unless you do a little research prior to buying your rod. Fly rod weights for freshwater fishing can vary from 1-10 weight. Keep in mind this does not refer to the weight of the rod. It refers to the weight of the line. Tackle companies created the “Weight #” terminology to differentiate between rods/lines.
Everyone will have their own opinion about this, but here is mine:
For general purpose trout fishing the most widely used weight of fly rod is a 5wt. I think, if they only had one rod, most people would choose this one. However, as you will find if you stick with the sport, you will likely accumulate more than one rod; I know I have. If you are unsure, your local shop will ask you a variety of questions and fit you with the proper rod and if they don’t, you may want to consider another shop. I would love to say that all shops are equal; Some are there to help the customer while others are only there to make a sale. Trust your gut when unsure and don’t be pressured.
Some more general rod guidelines:
For small streams and smaller fish, a 1-4 weight would be ideal.
Larger streams and still water lakes a 4-6 weight is ideal.
Stillwaters/rivers with larger fish (big trout, salmon, walleye) 6-10 weight.
For salt water, you’ll need something a little stiffer. 10 wt+
As you can see there is a wide array of choices based on preference, ability and the type of fishing that will be done. For myself, I went with a 9’ Redington Classic Trout 6wt Medium Action for my first rod. I bought this one specifically because I fish for bigger rainbows, sometimes from a boat, sometimes from shore and sometimes from a float tube. The length seemed to be perfect for all 3 situations. The rod responds well to casting with and without a Chironomid rig on it and I have caught anywhere from 8” pan fryers, to 4-5lbs Pennask Rainbows. You can feel the slightest take and the fight that these fish deliver and bringing them in is a breeze. I have taken this rod to small streams, and it is a little stiff for that application. I foresee a new lighter weight rod in my future.
If you want to fish streams, a smaller length rod is ideal. If you want to get into Chironomiding (I will explain later) a longer rod works better as you need to launch all the tackle you attach to your line without causing a nasty birds nest of a knot.
As I mentioned above, the reel, in most cases, is really more of a line storage system. You can spend hundreds or under $100. I would recommend getting a mid-range reel. Something that isn’t too fancy, but something that will not break it’s internal parts the first time out. For the reel on my rod, I went with a Ross Fly Start. The drag is nice and it reels in great. I would like to say that I am gentle on my gear and tackle, but honestly, it usually takes a beating. This reel has not let me down yet. If you are intending on salt water, you will need to spend a bit more because they will need to be corrosion resistant, etc.
I recommend buying a WF line for newcomers to the sport. WF stands for Weight Forward, meaning that most of the weight of the line is in the front 1/3 of the line making it easier to cast farther. It is probably the most used line for general purpose fishing. You can buy fly fishing line from $15 up to $100 or more. The final choice depends on the application and personal preference. Personally, I bought a couple of higher end lines from RIO. It was merely based on their reputation for producing a quality line and the local shops recommendation and I have yet to be disappointed with either my Floating or Sinking lines. You do not need to spend as much, because as I stated, lesser priced lines are available: Stay within your budget!
For newcomers to the sport, I would avoid Intermediate sinking lines and stick with a floating and a sinking line (general purpose is about a Type IV, meaning it sinks about 4”/second). Remember that you will need a separate spool for your reel if you get both a sinking and a floating line. Ultimately, The most important thing to remember is match the Rod to the reel to the line. If you get a 5 wt rod, get a 5wt reel with 5 wt line.
Your leader and tippet don’t have to be anything fancy, but keep in mind that fish do see lines in the water. Depending on the situation, I use a 9-12’ tapered leader with a length of Monofilament or Fluorocarbon tippet attached to the end. Fluoro is not visible to fish. However that comes with a price. Monofilament tippet has caught me a fair number of fish as well.
Waders, wading boots float tubes and boats are very useful and have their place. However they are not needed…not immediately anyways. People can and do wade in water without waders. Float tubes, boats and pontoon boats are very useful. However, they come with an obvious cost. They do open up the variety of water that you can fish, but you can still always fish from shore, or wade in a stream. If you do feel the need to purchase one of these, you do not need to buy new. “Buy and sell” classifieds both in paper and online are a great resource. If you have the funds then great, but it can be overwhelming when dishing out a large sum of money for something you’re just getting into.
General tools are a must. I always carry nippers to cut the line, forceps to retrieve the hook from the fish and a knife of some sort. Depending on where on how I fish, I may take bear spray as well.
Equipment needed as shown. Left to right, top to bottom- Fly Rod, Reel (with extra spool for different line), Leader, different weights of tippets, Knife, Forceps, Nippers, various assortments of flies.
Lastly, get out and join a local fly fishing club! The members are usually more than willing to take a newcomer out or simply share some tips. If you can, take a casting clinic, it will help ease a lot of initial frustration when it matters.
Fly fishing can be some of the most relaxing times out on the water and It can also be some of the most frustrating. If I have a bad day of fishing, I call it a good day of casting. If you get into it like I did, you will be fixated on why the day out on the water unfolded like it did, be it good or bad.
Welcome to your new obsession!