So you want to start fly fishing? That’s great; it’s an incredibly enjoyable hobby that you can do for your entire life. That being said, time to bust out your credit card… (I would’ve said checkbook, but that would’ve really dated me.) This post will hopefully help anyone new to the sport decide what they need to pick up immediately and what they can save up for. Also, with Christmas right around the corner, if you know someone who’s interested in the sport this is a great place to start your Christmas present research. So let’s start with the most important piece of equipment, your rod.
You can’t fly fish without a rod and reel so they are essential and you have to have them. Now rods can cost over $1,000 if you want to throw away money like that, but a perfectly serviceable rod and reel can be had for around $200. When I started out I got a Redington Pursuit 5wt combo for less than $200, which is still serving me quite well. I also advise getting a 8’6”, 5wt rod. It’s kind of the all purpose rod and is strong enough to handle big trout and even some larger warm water species like bass, but still small enough to use on little streams. And if you’re just starting out get a combo setup which will come with a reel and rod, these are perfect for beginners and will save you money.
Now you need some type of line to attach to your new rod and reel. Most combos will come pre-setup with backing, fly line, and a leader or two if yours doesn’t you’ll need all three. Backing goes on your reel first and adds extra line should a big fish ever really run on you. I suggest getting backing that is a different color than your fly line so you know when you’re about to run out of line when that monster fish is making a run. Also, 20lbs test backing is more than enough for the beginner. Backing isn’t too expensive and you can get a 100 yard spool for around $10.
Next you’ll need some fly line. The weight of your line should match the weight of your rod and reel. If you purchase a 5wt rod you need to use 5wt line on it. You can likely get away with using 4wt or 6wt line on a 5wt rod but more variation than that will cause issues when you try to cast. If you’re new to fly fishing I suggest purchasing weight forward floating line. There are tons of variations on lines (weight forward, double taper, level, floating, sinking, sinking tip, etc) but don’t let that freak you out. These variations are made to help you make different presentations and casts, weight forward floating line is, like the 5wt rod, the all purpose line. It works great for dry flies and nymphs and can even work with streamers if you’re not trying to fish really deep water. If you’re new to the sport you can’t go wrong with this type of line. Prices for fly lines vary drastically but as a beginner, a line in the $30-$50 range will serve you well.
Now you’ll need some leaders to attach to the end of your fly line. If you’ve fished before with conventional gear, leaders will look very familiar. Essentially, leaders are lengths of monofilament line that connect your fly to your fly line. Trout leaders are organized by size (0X – 7X are the most common sizes), the lower the number the thicker and stronger the line, the higher the number the thinner and weaker the line. Leaders further break down by length; 9’ and 7.5’ are the most common lengths. What size to get depends on the fishing conditions and the type of water you’re fishing. Small ponds and streams won’t have big fish so 5X and 6X will be more than enough. Huge rivers with 20”+ fish will require a bit more strength, maybe 3X or 4X. Also, remember that the thicker the line, the more likely it is that a fish will see it in the water. For smart finicky fish smaller leaders, 6X and 7X, work best. For the beginner, again, I recommend going with the middle of the road all purpose size of 5X with a length of 9’. But it wouldn’t hurt to pick up a few 4X and 6X to expand your options a little. Leaders are typically sold in packs of 3 and will usually run about $10 – $20 per pack depending on the brand.
Tippet could be considered as not essential to a beginner but if you want to fish a dry dropper (which in my opinion is one of the most effective setups) tippet is a necessity. Tippet is essentially spools of monofilament line that can be used to lengthen leaders or used to rig up a multi-fly setup by connecting flies to each other and to the leader. Just like leaders, tippet is categorized by size, 0X – 7X again being the most common. Also, similar to leaders, a beginner would be well off with a spool of each 4X, 5X, and 6X. Tippet is sold in 30 yard spools and varies in price from $5 to $15 a spool depending on the brand and line material. Don’t feel like you need to fork out the extra $10 a spool as a beginner, the $5 stuff will work just fine.
Finally, you’ll need some flies to tie onto the leaders and hopefully hook fish with. If you thought fly lines and leaders were complicated for a beginner you haven’t seen anything yet. Flies come in all shapes and sizes, and a million and one different patterns. As a beginner it’s nearly impossible to know where to begin. There are dry flies, terrestrials, nymphs, bead heads, streamers, egg patterns, and many more, in hook sizes varying from itty bitty, to huge. However, if you’re just starting out a few dry flies and a few nymphs should be enough to catch you some fish. As you get more into the sport you can expand your horizons and pick up more patterns as well as some streamers and terrestrials.
I firmly believe as a beginner, less is more. This sport can be very complicated and the easier you can make it on yourself the better. You can fish and be successful with as few as 4 fly patterns. The following are tried and true patterns that will catch you fish just about anywhere. A combination of four dries and four nymphs out of this list is a good start for any beginner: Adams or Parachute Adams, Royal Wulff, Prince Nymph, Hare’s Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Copper John, Blue Winged Olive (BWO), and the Elk Hair Caddis. Those 8 flies (pictured above) are the quintessential flies every fly fisherman has in their box; they will serve you well wherever you go. If you really want to fill your box with more options I’d put these patterns (pictured below) on the next tier: Stimulator, PMX, Woolly Bugger, Griffith’s Gnat, San Juan Worm, Dave’s Hopper, and the Salmon Egg. It’s best to get a few of each pattern because you will lose flies on a regular basis (snagging on trees, rocks, etc.), also hook sizes ranging from 12 – 18 will cover most of your needs as a beginner. The cost of flies varies greatly from retailer to retailer, but I find I get the most bang for my buck at Ascent Fly Fishing. I find their prices to be very reasonable and the quality of their flies is top notch. They also sell excellent assortments like these, which will get you as many as 48 of the flies I listed in various colors and sizes and is a great jumping off point for beginners. In fact you can even get 15% off their starter fly kits as well as their “Rope & Float” kit right now if you use the promocode “FLIESNOTTIES”. I’d strongly recommend the “Search and Destroy” kit, it’ll hook you up with 48 of the most productive flies, plus a case to store them in, all for less than a dollar a fly. Just use the code I mentioned above, and tell them Andre sent ya!
So there you have it; rod, reel, backing, fly line, leaders, tippet, and flies. Those are the essentials, the bare minimum you need to get started fly fishing. If you add it all up you’re looking at roughly $350 total. It’s not a cheap hobby but it is a fun one. Next time I’ll dive into the second tier, the items that aren’t essential but definitely help out in the field (ie; waders, boots, vests, nippers, leader straightness, knot tying tools, etc.) I know it’s a lot to take in but stick with me, fly fishing is a wonderful hobby and something you can do your entire life and pass on to the next generation. Until next time, happy fishing!
– A. Egli