Have you ever watched a video, heard a story or even just seen a picture of somebody who caught an enormous fish using a fly rod and thought to yourself, “I want to do that!”.
Typically after this thought comes; “What do I need to fly fish”? There are so many different types of fly fishing that it is easy to get blurry eyed when shopping for fly gear. Let’s talk basics. In my opinion there are five items (Categories) that you will need to think about obtaining when making the leap to fly fishing.
1. Fly Rod and Reel
The first and most important is the fly rod and reel outfit. I bundle this all into one item, but really its two components.
Let’s start with the fly rod. Your rod is going to be matched to the flies you are planning on casting. This in turn is based on the type of fish you are after. The bigger the fly needed for the fish, the bigger the rod needed to cast the fly. For most trout fly fishing you will want 5-6 weight fly rod. An 8’ 6” - 9’ medium-fast action rod can be the easiest to handle while learning to fly cast.
The fly reel plays a slightly less important part in the system for a beginner. A heavy drag system probably won’t be needed as you are catching your first fish. The size of the reel needed is matched to the rod you purchase. This is really a glorified line holder when you first start fly fishing. However you should always try and manage your fish on the reel rather than stripping them in by hand. This will teach you good technique in managing your bigger fish to come. When making your purchase of the two, invest more in the fly rod as it will only benefit your new casting motion.
Some styles of fly fishing throw out the reel all together. With Tenkara fly fishing you manage a long rod, (typically 11-13 feet) with the line strung directly off the tip. This is also a good place to start as it is a more simplistic version of fly fishing and can help to develop your cast.
2. Fly Line and Backing
Now how are you going to get those flies out on the water? First you need a fly line. The real difference between fly fishing and conventional tackle fishing is the cast. In conventional fishing you are casting using your rod loaded by the lure or rig you have attached to the end of the line. In fly fishing the rod is loaded primarily by the fly line. This allows you to cast the tiniest of flies and present them very delicately.
With all the fly fishing styles today, there are 50 times the fly lines available to fish those styles. If you are a beginner fly fisher my guess is you aren't going to jump right in to spey, skagit, euro nymphing or any of the more niche specialized fishing styles.
Like I said I’m going to try and keep this simple. Try starting with a basic weight forward floating (WF#F) fly line. This will cover your dry fly fishing needs as well as some different nymphing styles. Match the weight of the line to the rod that you are going to be fishing with.
When attaching your new line to your reel fly line backing is needed. This is line material that is used when you have a large fish that runs down the river or out into the lake you are fishing. Typically you want a 20lb backing for your 5wt fly line. It's a good idea to have a fly shop or experienced fisherman spool up your fly reel for you the first time.
3. Leaders and Tippet
Let’s face it, most of the places you are going to be fishing have been fished before by many others. The best way to stay ahead of this sort of pressure is by getting the appropriate size leaders and tippets. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is the material that combines your fly line to your flies. This is the stealth behind fly fishing. The only way to make your fly look real on the water is by keeping the material attached to it as close to invisible to the fish as possible.
Buying leaders and tippet can also be a complicated purchase to make as there are many styles on the market. From nylon and fluorocarbon to more specific items like wire and euro / czech indicator style materials.
Again for trout you will want a range of selections for leaders and tippets as you can greatly increase your fish by switching up your fishing styles. When fishing for trout, consider carrying a range of sizes from 4x-7x. The larger the number leader/tippet, the smaller the diameter of material. The 7x is great for presenting your fly to the wariest of fish but won’t handle your 20” brown trout unless you wear him out very carefully.
4. Pack and Accessories
Truth be told if you were to buy the first four items on this list you would be ready to fish. Tie on a fly and start swinging. If you really want the full experience though, you will need a small assortment of tools and accessories. You may want to think about carrying a pair of pliers or forceps to help remove hooks from fish’s mouths. A box to keep your flies in is more than necessary. Maybe even a net to help you land the monsters you catch.
To make managing all of this new equipment a pack or vest can be very helpful. From the traditional style vest to the newly popular sling packs. This is a more personal item as it will be based on the functionality you need. I recommend making this one of your last purchases so that you have the gear you are going to be placing in the vest or pack.
If you want to fish, and catch fish, you will need a starter fly kit. After all it is called fly fishing. A great way to get started is by buying a pre-built fly assortment. This way you save yourself a little research and end up with flies proven to work in your area. Look out for deals with fly selections and fly boxes combined.
Another great way to learn what flies are going to be productive where you are fishing is by visiting your local fly shop. Getting the expertise from the people who are out on your home waters on a regular basis is very valuable.
Don’t be intimidated when researching your fly fishing needs. Remember to try and keep things simple. Start with your rod and make this your most important purchase. Then follow by acquiring a reel with the needed line, backing leaders and tippet. From there you can tie on a fly grab your gear and hit the water. Master this set of gear and you will be hooked, or hooking fish soon.
Be good to the fish and the fish will be good to you.
About Brady Laehr
Brady Laehr is a passionate outdoors lover and category manager here at AvidMax.com. In his free time he enjoys all things outdoors -- fly fishing, camping, backpacking, hiking, and snowboarding. He also enjoys cataloging all his gear and exploring the newest gear trends.
The evening was coming to a close, and I was reflecting of the events of the day. The fish that I caught and released, the eagle that circled the lake in search of its meal, the beauty of the mountains with the aspens in full glory. I was at peace. Fly fishing is a way [...]