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Gear: Getting a Bang for Your Buck

by Philip Monahan

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Question: I started fly fishing for trout last year and really want to get into it this coming season. However, I don’t have enough money to buy top-notch everything. What’s the best way to spend the money I do have to get the most bang for my buck and have adequate gear?

Jason T., Franconia, NH

Inexpensive Fly Gear

Jeff Feverston photo

Answer: The good news is that there is a ton of excellent gear in the mid-to-low price range. Focus the lion’s share of your available funds on the essential pieces of equipment—rod, waders, and reel, in that order. Let’s assume that you have $600 to work with, but you can use these ratios based on any starting amount.

The largest portion, say 1/3, should go toward purchasing the rod. That means you’ve got $200 to spend. Ten years ago, there were hardly any good fly rods to be had at this price, but over the last decade the offshore rods have improved immensely. For most of the large manufacturers, this price will get you their low-end rod, but that doesn’t mean it’s crap. These companies are trying to develop brand loyalty, so they give you a good product at the low end in hopes that when you’re ready to trade up, you’ll buy one of their fancier models. Other manufacturers specialize in this price range. Take the time to work with your local fly shop to find a rod that fits your casting stroke, and this will help you learn the sport faster and easier.

Next come the waders and wading boots. You’re obviously not in the market for the $600 all-the-bells-and-whistles bombproof products. Instead, you’ll want to focus on waders made from technology that’s a few years older. As companies bring new products to market, they usually shift the older ones down the price ladder. So the $150 waders you can buy now were top-of-the-line five or six years ago. That means they’re still pretty good. You’ll end up sacrificing some durability, breathability, and a few pockets. And maybe a zipper. But if you tread carefully, they should last several seasons. You can find a comfortable pair of wading boots for around $100.

Based on where you live, I assume that you won’t generally be casting to really large fish, so you won’t need a reel that will stop a truck. High-tech disc drags using space-age polymers are neat, but most fly fishermen rarely get a trout on the reel in the first place. Don’t spend more than $100.

That leaves you $50 for a floating fly line and some tippet material. Add a pair of nail clippers, and you’re good to go.

The most important thing to remember is that no piece of fly-fishing gear is going to make you cast or fish better. Yes, good equipment makes the process easier or more comfortable, and there is definitely pleasure to be derived from a beautifully designed and built rod or reel. But never forget that, even if you had top-of-the line everything, Steve Rajeff could probably outcast and outfish you using a curtain rod and 100 feet of clothesline. No gear will substitute for skill.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • David Danenfelzer

    I’d add the following tips:

    1. Shop on Craig’s list for used gear that you can go look at and feel. That’s the only way you can tell it won’t fall apart.
    2. For fly lines and leader look at big retailers (Dicks, Academy, etc…) that don’t typically target fly fishing, and check out their clearance sections. I got $100 dollars worth of fly lines at Academy last month for around $10.
    3. Finally, shop eBay and Etsy for flies. There are a lot of fly shops and home tied product that seem to drop older stock and I regularly pay less than $10 for a dozen decent flies.

    Good Fishing, DD

    • AW

      I have to disagree on some of this. Buying used is fine, although an original-owner warranty often makes purchasing a new rod and reel the right decision. If you look around, you can find close-outs on new, name-brand rods and reels for very reasonably prices. For $200, as the article suggest, you can easily find a decent new rod with warranty. Maybe even a reel too.

      Discount lines can be a good buy so long as they are the right taper and balance the rod. There are a lot of crappy lines out there that can make learning to cast unnecessarily difficult–and if someone’s new to the sport they shouldn’t rely on advice from the relatively clueless staff working at places that don’t target fly fishers to purchase a line. I say it’s worth the extra $25 to buy a line from a real fly shop that can help ensure you get the right line.

      All the flies I’ve bought on Ebay have sucked. There are some on-line discount sellers that offer screaming deals on decently-tied flies, but it’s a crapshoot on ebay. I’ve never bought from Etsy.

  • Nate

    Check out LL Bean’s outlet in N. Conway: at times throughout the year they have some good deals on fly fishing equipment: waders, rods, reels, lines.

  • scott

    Buy Cabelas labeled rods and reels, my friends with cheap sage rods say that my mid priced Cabelas rod feels just as good. If I was buying a new setup today I would buy this:

    $160 for a rod, reel and fly line. This will be a great rod, and if you decide you need something fancier then you’ll have a backup for when you break the new rod or to loan out to your friends who WILL also want to get into fly fishing.

    For waders I have heard good things about Orvis’s return policy. . .

  • slipstream

    About eight years ago Cabelas stopped carrying Scientific anglers reels.(They have since started selling them again). I bought six systems 2LA reels, two in 234 two in 567 and two in 890 for over half off. At the same time they stopped selling their SL 9 weight rods in two piece and went to a three piece rod. I was able to purchase a two piece $700 dollar rod for $300 dollars with a life time guarantee. In all honesty I walked in only looking to buy a 9 weight rod, reel and spare spool, but they sold me the reels for just over the price of a spare spool so I upgraded and replaced all of my reels. By the time I was done I saved over thousand dollars on a quality rod, and reels that will last me a life time. The point is if you are patient and look around you can save a bundle.

  • Siler

    Work with your local fly shop. Almost exclusively, these folks know the waters you will be fishing and will get you into the most appropriate gear. They have the experience that you need as a new angler so you get it right the first time. Buying the wrong rod or line is very expensive.

    In my experience, they will also offer significant discounts to new anglers suiting up or those buying a complete outfit. If you are loyal to them, not only will they speak to you by name, but they will likely continue to cut you deals into the future as they can afford.

    Think of it this way, the vast majority of small, local shop owners are accountable only to themselves and they are looking to build a local customer base that will spend a couple hundred bucks with them each year. Face-to-face, they want you back. If you work with them and are considerate of their unique place in the industry, you will be rewarded with far more than just a good deal on a fly rod.

    And if you can, pay cash so that they have one less set of hands in their pockets.