Fly Fishing Gear for Beginners

May 17, 2022 By: Marshall Cutchin

Fly Fishing Gear for Beginners

Starter gear for new fly fishers isn’t as complicated as you might think

What Fly Fishing Gear Does a Beginner Need?

To the uninitiated, fly fishing seems to require a large amount of equipment. From picking fly rods to fly reels, to choosing fly lines, fly fishing flies, and tippets, the amount of gear you need looks daunting! However, it’s much simpler than it looks, and you don’t need to buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment to enjoy fly fishing. You can get away without spending much money at all if you know what you’re doing. And remember that most of the world’s top fly fishers started with the basics.  An inexpensive fly rod, reel and line, along with a basic selection of flies, will work perfectly well while you’re learning the sport.

If like most fly fishers you’re beginning your fishing in freshwater, for trout or bass or panfish, a standard-sized rod and reel will work great. As you become more skilled, you may want to experiment with fishing for larger freshwater fish and even saltwater fish that need a bigger rod and a heavy-duty drag to deliver larger flies and to fight stronger fish like tarpon, redfish, and bonefish. But the same skills you learn with a basic setup are your stepping stone to angling for more challenging fish.

But assembling your first fly fishing outfit isn’t always simple, especially if you think you’ll just go to a store and find everything laid out in simple terms.

Do You Need a Special Rod for Fly Fishing? Which Type Is Best?

In short, yes. Fly rods are different from other types of fishing rods. Fly rods can be made out of many materials such as bamboo, fiberglass, or graphite. Fly rods also come in a variety of lengths, weights, and colors, and with different grip shapes.

Fly rods range in price from under $100 to well over $1000, and just as with conventional rods the most common type of fly rod today is made from graphite. We recommend a lower-priced 9-foot graphite rod for beginners. It will have the flex characteristics, or action, required to help you learn basic casts.

What Type of Fly Reel is Best for Beginners?

Fly reels are somewhat different than conventional reels in that, although they typically have a drag or “pawl” system, the drag is the least important aspect of the reel, unless you are fishing for large fish that would be fought on the reel.  So fly reels can be very simple in both construction and design. But they still need to be well-made and durable.

One key thing to keep in mind is that with fly fishing gear, you need to match the reel to the rod size and the line weight. You’ll hear of rods and lines referred to by “weight,” which just means that a 5-weight rod (an average size for trout and other freshwater fish), for example, should be matched with a 5-weight line. And manufacturers design reels that are meant to work with a specific range of rod/line weights, for example “5-6,” which means it can accommodate a 5- or 6-weight line.

Since the fly line is usually at most around 100 feet long, your reel will also need to hold some “backing,” which allows a fish to run farther than the length of the fly line.  Reel makers consider this when specifying the size range, and usually expect you’ll add around 30 yards of backing.

What Type of Fly Line and Leader Do I Need for Fly Fishing?

Unlike in conventional fishing, the essential principle of fly fishing is that the line, usually a braided core covered with a PVC coating, is what carries your “lure” (the fly) to the fish.  Fly lines are specially tapered to deliver the kinetic energy from your cast to the fly line and then the leader and finally to the fly.

The leader also needs to be extremely light and invisible to the fish, so that neither the cast nor the leader on the water will spook the fish. So the weight and the taper of the fly line and leader are keys to success.  Fortunately again, a standard line that matches your standard rod and reel, as well as a standard 9-foot leader, are great starting points.

What Types of Flies Do I Need for Fly Fishing?

It takes some skill to choose the right fly fishing flies for different situations. Fishing flies are used to imitate both the immature stage of insects and their adult stage, as well as many other types of fish prey, including juvenile fish and worms. But there are many types of aquatic insect species. Fish tend to focus specifically on those insect species that are local to their home water.  For trout fishing, for example, there’s an entire field of study around flies that are most effective, depending on what insect the fish are feeding on and at what stage of life (e.g. nymph or winged adult). The idea is that by “matching the hatch” you can be sure you are presenting the flies the fish are most likely to eat.

But it really doesn’t have to be that complicated.  Fortunately, fly fishing has a long legacy of designing flies that work for many species of insects.  There are several general patterns that work well 90 percent of the time, on 90 percent of the fish, as long as they are the right size, and these are all you need in your first fly box.

If you do want to jump into the details, freshwater flies can be grouped into five different categories: Dry Flies, Nymphs, Streamers, Wet Flies, and Terrestrials. Most beginners start out by fishing with dry flies for two reasons: it’s fun to see a fish rise and take your fly off the surface, and it helps you know when to set the hook. Besides, it’s the most traditional form of fly fishing.

But it is fascinating to learn more about what fish eat, and a fly box full of a variety of patterns that imitate everything from Mayflies, to Caddis, Midges, Stoneflies, Terrestrials, Worms, Eggs, and Streamers will not only help you catch fish, but will also keep you constantly growing your knowledge and becoming a more successful angler on all types of waters.

How Much Does It Cost to Get Started in Fly Fishing?

Here’s the most surprising part: it doesn’t cost as much as you think to get started in fly fishing.

The gear that used to cost an arm and a leg to buy is now not only much less expensive than it was 10 or 20 years ago, it’s often superior in terms of quality and performance. Some brands have even gone to the trouble of putting all the gear together in a single package, whether that’s a rod and reel and line, or a package that includes everything.

Our Advice: Keep It Simple

Our suggestion: Do what we did when we got into fly fishing and start simple.  Here’s what we recommend:

  • 5-Weight Fly Rod
  • Fly Reel (5-6 Weight)
  • 5-Weight, Weight-Forward, Floating Line
  • Basic Leaders and Tippets (5x)
  • Nippers and a Retractor
  • Floatant (for Dry Flies)
  • Fly Box
  • Assorted Flies Selection, Including a Few Dry Flies, Nymphs, Streamers, Wet Flies, and Terrestrials

Get a basic, well-rounded setup and don’t fret over the details. It’s just as important to get out and fish.

Follow this list of fly fishing basics. It’s your entry ticket to one of the most enjoyable and rewarding sports there is.