If I had to pick one thing that I think intimidates people the most about fly fishing, I’d have to settle on the gear. Where traditional fishing (spin or baitcasting) only requires a few items to get started – rod, reel, swivels, leader, and lures – fly fishing is much more gear-intensive.
That makes getting started in fly fishing a tall order, especially compared to other styles of fishing.
So, if you’re interested in fly fishing but don’t know where to start, I’d recommend getting comfortable and grabbing a drink of your choice. We’ll go through all the gear you need to get started fly fishing, in addition to diving into why you need everything on this list.
Beginner Fly Fishing Gear
This list is meant to be pretty comprehensive, so get comfortable.
While this might seem self-explanatory, you need to make sure you get the right rod for someone just starting in fly fishing. I often recommend that new fly anglers opt for a rod that has a relatively fast action, because those rods make learning fly casting a bit easier. And you don’t want to spend a ton of money on a rod, either, before you know what you really want. Trust me – fish a lot of rods before sinking $800 or more into a high-end stick.
In addition, the go-to length and weight for a beginner fly rod is a 9’ 5-weight. This is the .30-06 of fly fishing. It’s more than enough to fish for trout, bass, and other species, while still maintaining the delicacy you need for successfully presenting flies to fish.
Fly reels often get maligned as nothing more than fancy line holders. In many instances, that’s a fair assessment. However, the last thing you want is to tangle with a big fish and realize your reel isn’t up to the task. For beginners, any cast-aluminum disc-drag reel has the power you need to stop big fish, and shouldn’t be cost-prohibitive.
Aside from fly line, flies are the biggest difference between fly and conventional fishing. Where most lures are designed to solicit an aggressive response from fish, flies are meant to imitate aquatic insects. Picking the right flies is based largely on understanding what bugs are hatching, and which patterns imitate those bugs. This process is much easier if you have a wide selection of flies curated either for the species you’re chasing (trout flies vs bass flies, for example) or the water you’re fishing.
Line and backing
Fly line is the big differentiator between conventional and fly fishing. In conventional fishing, you use the weight of a lure to deliver the lure to fish. In fly fishing, you use the weight of a line to carry your lure to the fish. Thankfully, fly line is one of the more affordable items, and all you need is one spool of floating line. This attaches to fly line backing, which is essentially just 20-pound braided Dacron. Backing is then wrapped around the spool of a fly reel and tied off with a special knot.
This is the thin fishing line that tapers from thick at the butt end, to fine at the tip, that attaches to your fly line. Leaders are tapered so you can delicately lay down flies in front of fish. They’re offered in sizes that correspond to the final few feet at the tip end of the leader. A 9’ 5x leader is a standard size.
You use tippet to replace the thin end of a tapered leader as you cut off and attach new flies. If you plan on fishing a multi-fly rig – such as the hopper-dropper – then you’ll need tippet to tie another fly into your leader.
Forceps and nippers are must-have items. Forceps are most often used to remove small flies from fish while keeping them in the net and underwater. Treating fish that way during the release dramatically increases their chance of survival. Forceps are also invaluable for removing flies from vests, coating, hats, or skin.
Nippers are a must-have tool because they allow you to trim the tag ends of tippet and leader flush with the eye of a fly hook.
When fishing dry flies, you need floatant to keep them riding high on the water. You’ll have to reapply floatant as you fish to keep flies floating.
If you don’t fish dry flies, then you’ll likely need a strike indicator. These are most commonly used when fishing nymphs, and serve to help show you when a fish eats your fly below the water’s surface.
This is a valuable tool to help get your nymphs deeper in the water column.
Fly boxes keep all of your flies organized and in one location, so you can easily switch flies as needed.
Net and net release
A net is a must-have item, because it’s the tool you need to land fish in an ethical manner. Most fly anglers carry a net attached to the back of their gear pack, and a net release ensures that you’re able to use the net as needed, but that you don’t lose it.
Some anglers love the sling packs offered these days, while others prefer the classic fishing vest. Regardless of which one you choose, a gear pack is a must-have item so you have room to keep all of your various tools at the ready.
If that seems like a lot of gear, you’re not wrong. However, this is a pared-down list from what most anglers carry for a day of fishing. I’m guilty of carrying a bit too much gear myself, and I certainly have more stuff than what’s listed here.
Now, if you’re looking at this list and thinking that it’s likely too expensive for you to get outfitted with all the gear you need to fly fish, let me offer this suggestion:
Look at the Starter Pack we offer here at Ventures Fly Co.
The pack has all of the gear listed above, and clocks in at either $274.99 or $324.99, depending on what pack you order. That’s a rod, reel, line, and all the accoutrements I’ve gone over, for about $300. That’s a deal I wish was around when I started fly fishing!
The Starter Pack gets you set to hit the water literally from the day it arrives at your house. We designed the Starter Pack to meet any and all needs of anglers during their first forays into fly fishing. You likely won’t run into a fishing situation you can’t tackle with what we offer in our Starter Pack.