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The Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing Gear (Part 1): Getting Started

This is the first post in our series on fly fishing gear, where we dissect all the gear you really need for a successful day on the water. To read all the posts in this series, click here

By Spencer Durrant

Have you ever been to a really good buffet? Like, one that left you legitimately paralyzed by the endless options? A buffet so fulfilling, so complete, so thoroughly satiating that you threw out any and all thoughts of being in shape?

If you haven’t been to that kind of buffet, let me offer my condolences. It’s truly wonderful. But if you’ve ever walked into a fly shop as a new angler, you’ve gone through a strikingly similar experience. Everywhere you look, there’s something new, shiny, and fancy, and it all looks important enough that you need it if you want to have a good day on the water.

The trouble with fly fishing gear when compared to a buffet, though, is price. Even in today’s world of over-inflated food prices, a buffet doesn’t nickel-and-dime you out of your savings the way a fly shop can.

Which brings us full circle to this series here at VFC. As you probably know, we’re all about helping anglers have a better experience on the water. Part of that experience comes from knowing what gear you need, and why you need it. This series will dive into every piece of fly fishing gear you actually need, and it’ll explain why you need that gear.

In Part 1, we’re going to look at a high-level overview of the gear, before getting into the details on specific items.

Essential Fly Fishing Gear

I want to preface this list by saying that, while it looks like a lot, it doesn’t have to be terribly expensive. Other than a set of waders and boots, you can buy everything else on this list in one complete, high-quality package! Yes, we have an entire Starter Pack filled with everything we’re about to talk about.

Anyways – let’s get down to business here. I’ll give a quick explanation as to why you need each piece of gear on this list. We’ll dive into a ton more detail on upcoming posts in this series.

Rod, Reel, Line, and Backing

You can’t go fly fishing without a fly rod, and a fly rod is specifically designed to cast fly line. You need a reel to hold the line, and backing on the reel itself. These are absolutely non-negotiable items if you’re headed out fly fishing.

Leaders and Tippet

You can’t attach a fly directly to your fly line. For that, you’ll need leader. This is a tapered (thick to thin) piece of fishing line that securely attaches to your fly line. Since it’s tapered, though, you’ll need spools of tippet (extra leader material) to replace the thinnest section of the leader as you cut and replace flies.

Flies and Fly Box

Flies are rather integral for fly fishing, and so is a place to keep those flies organized. This should be another really obvious need for anyone going fly fishing.


Any sort of cutting tool will work here, but it’s common to use nippers. You need something to trim the tag ends of your knots, or to cut tangles out of your leader and tippet while on the water.

Indicators, Split Shot, and Floatant

For most beginning fly anglers, nymphing is one of the easiest ways to put fish in the net. Some sort of strike indicator, along with split shot, is necessary for constructing an effective nymphing rig. If you do end up fishing dry flies, though, you’ll need something to help those flies stay floating, which is what the floatant is for.

Polarized Sunglasses

I might catch some flak for this recommendation, but I believe in it wholeheartedly. Fishing without good eye protection can really damage your eyes. All those reflected UV rays bouncing off the water directly into your corneas can’t be good. Plus, polarized glasses help cut the glare so you can see fish more easily as they swim beneath the surface.

Fishing Pack and Net

You’ll need something to carry all of this gear in, so a pack of some sort is a must. Fishing vests were hugely popular when I got into fly fishing, but the tide has changed to favor sling or chest packs. Regardless, pick one that has an attachment to carry your net, because a net is a must-have piece of gear if you plan on practicing catch-and-release fly fishing.

Waders and Wading Boots

You’ll have an easier time getting into fish if you can wade through a river. While you can fly fish from shore, standing in the water usually gives you more room to cast, and puts you in a better position to present flies to fish. That’s why you’ll want a pair of waders and boots.

Frequently Asked Fly Fishing Gear Questions

To round out this first post in our series, I wanted to tackle some FAQs surrounding fly fishing gear. If you have any other questions for us, let me know in the comments!

Q: I got some hand-me-down fishing gear. Can I still use it? Will it still work?

So, this sort of depends, but largely, the answer is yes. For instance, if you get a hand-me-down reel from your grandpa, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use that reel, so long as it’s not broken. That eliminates the need to buy a reel, saving you some money in the long run. Most old fly fishing gear was well-made, so it should still be fishable. I use rods and reels that were built back in the ’70s and ’80s, with no problems. So long as the gear was well-kept, you definitely can use it.

The only thing to be careful of here is hand-me-down flies, leader, and tippet. Hooks can rust over the years, and fly tying materials can fall apart if not properly stored. Check the condition of those items before using them. With line, leader, and tippet, the same rules apply. All those items can degrade over time, so you need to inspect them before using them on the water. If the leader, tippet, or fly line is brittle or cracking, you don’t want to use it.

Q: I’m worried I might not like fly fishing. Do I really need to buy ALL of this gear to try it out?

If fly fishing is your first time ever fishing, then it’s normal to be worried about whether you’ll enjoy it. And why spend $500 or so on something that you might not like?

Well, we do have a 100% money-back guarantee on our Starter Packs. You can try out everything in the Starter Pack for 30 days, and if you don’t like it, you can return the items for a full refund. To further help out, you can often rent waders and boots from a local fly shop for a cheap price.

Q: What rod should I buy?

I hear this question more than any other, I think. Of course, the answer here depends, but I can’t recall one instance where I told someone to get something other than a 9′ 5wt rod. The 9′ 5wt is the .30-06 of fly fishing. It’s dependable, it can handle just about any fishing situation, and it’s versatile. As you explore different types of fly fishing, you’ll start looking for different rods, but virtually every trout or bass angler who’s just starting fly fishing should pick up a 9′ 5wt rod.

Q: Do I really need a tapered leader?

Early on in my fishing career, I used level pieces of monofilament fishing line for my leaders. Not surprisingly, I had problems with my casting. A tapered leader helps you present your flies in the most natural way possible, and aids in your casting. They’re a necessary piece of equipment.

Q: What flies do I need?

Again, this really depends on what part of the country you’re in, what river you’re fishing, and what fish you’re targeting. Generally, though, a good mix of trout flies (like our Essential Collection) usually has a good enough assortment of bugs to get you started.

Hitting the water

In the coming weeks, we’ll go in-depth on each piece of gear. We’ll discuss how to use it, why you need it, and what your best options are for outfitting yourself on an affordable budget. Make sure you stay tuned, and if you have any gear-related questions, drop them in the comments!

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