New to fly fishing? Before you head out into the water, check out our beginner fly fishing checklist to learn more about the must-have equipment for your first adventure.
The Essential Items Every Beginning Fly Fisher Should Have
While your individual preferences and needs will vary, there are a few absolutely crucial items you’ll need for the most basic fly fishing excursion. You don’t have to break the bank for these items, but consider investing in the basics so that you don’t find yourself ill-prepared upon your first cast. This list should be considered your “must-have” packing list, so make sure you take the time to research the best products for your budget and skill-level.
Do You Need a Fishing License or Permits
Don’t even consider buying a fly rod until you have your fishing license or other necessary permits. Requirements for these vary widely by state and locale, but most are less than $50 for a full season and let you fish (within reason, and within certain bag limits) to your heart’s content. Contact your local Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation for more information on requirements and fees for your state. While you’re there, it’s also a good idea to see if there are any restrictions on tackle or fishing activities (such as catch and release practices), as well as on daily or seasonal catch limits.
Fly Rod, Reel and Matching Line – It’s not Fly Fishing without This
It should go without saying that you can’t go fishing without a fly rod. You don’t need the latest, most technologically advanced rod to catch a fish. After all, don’t bears fish with just their paws and jaws? (Just kidding–we know you’re not at that level yet). All kidding aside, you do need at least an elementary fly rod in order to catch a decent amount of fish.
Test out a few styles of rods before you buy them. Most sporting goods stores or outfitters will let you do this. If you prefer to buy a rod online to save a bit of money (although with shipping factored in, this isn’t always the case), make sure you go to a local store first to try out the rod in person. Many local shops will often offer casting lessons to help drum up business as well.
While the newer, faster graphite sticks are a favorite among many competitive anglers, cheaper and simpler rod/reel combinations work just fine, too. You don’t need to spend more than $100 on a good rod.
Unless you’re planning on fishing for large, saltwater game fish or huge, record-setting trout, you don’t need a fancy reel, either. The point of the reel when you’re just starting out is really just to hold your line. Once you become more skilled and start tackling larger game fish, you may consider a sturdier reel that has a sealed drag.
I always recommend spending more time and energy on purchasing a reel. The rod tends to get all the attention, but the reel is really where the magic happens. You need a reel that is strong enough to hang onto whatever type of fish you are angling for, yet delicate enough not to snap your rod while you’re reeling it in. A good reel should cost you around the same amount–if not more–as a quality rod.
Finally, line is a crucial element of your foray into fly fishing. If you’re already an avid spin fisherman, you might be a bit surprised by the higher price tag affixed to line designed for fly rods (up to ten times the price of line for a spinning reel, in fact). Feel free to spend a little less on your first box of line while you’re first experimenting with fly fishing. There’s a rare chance that you’ll decide not to stick with this hobby, but the real risk with dropping a lot of cash on your first batch of line is that you’ll end up with a lot of expensive casts into the trees. Spend about forty or fifty dollars on your first set of line, and then experiment with other types of line as you become more skilled.
Once you’ve gained experience and are sending fewer of your casts into the weeds or tree line, you can upgrade to line that is customized to the types of flies you are using. These lines will be of different weights, textures, and consistencies to help make your casts more well-adapted to the species of fish you are angling for, as well as the prey you are using to attract them.
As far as the color of your line goes, don’t worry too much about this feature to start with, and focus more on whether the line fits in your price range. The color really only benefits you, as it will allow you to see it in varying light conditions. The fish don’t care what color the line is.
Leader and Tippet – A Must for the Beginner
As you likely know, leaders connect to the end of the fly line and give you a location to visually pinpoint between your line and fly. These generally range from around seven to nine feet, but you can get them outside of those common ranges as well. Aim for leaders that are made out of tapered monofilament nylon, which lets your leader move through the air and come to rest more efficiently.
Tippets are attached to the end of the leader and provide a spot for you to tie the fly. This mechanism is usually not visible to the fish, so it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. These let your fly “swim” in a more natural way, helping to attract more fish. Aim for the smallest tippet possible (no more than four feet in length). A good tippet will extend the longevity of your leader and prevent you from losing taper.
Neither of these items have to break the bank, but it can be frustrating trying to find the perfect fit for your rod and flies. The best suggestion, if you are using store-bought flies (versus tying your own) is to examine the inside of the packaging. Most manufacturers will insert a handy chart inside their packages with information on the best gauge leader and tippet to use with that exact fly.
Flies to Start out in Fly Fishing
Again, another important component of fly fishing is–you guessed it–the fly. The right fly determines your overall success in the fly fishing game. While there are millions of flies on the market–and you can even learn how to tie your own–the best way to select your flies is to find out what kind of forage is present in the area in which you will be fishing. Once you find out what the fish will be feasting on naturally, it will be easier to match your artificial lure. Consider a visit to your local fly shop to see what they suggest based on the region, species of fish, and current climate.
Fly Floatant and Line Dressing – A Couple Things go Along Way
Fly floatant and line dressing materials can be some of the least expensive items on your checklist, usually only a few dollars apiece. These help treat dry flies, leaders, and fly lines to make sure you line runs clean and smooth. They also help enhance flotation. There are several types on the market, including gels, powder shakes, spray on, brush on, paste, and dip and dunk varieties. Gel floatants are the most recommended and most widely used kind of floatants, largely because they are applied as a pre-treatment instead of when you are actually out on the water.
Waders, Boots and Belt – Be Safe and Comfortable
These pieces of equipment are your best allies in a safe, dry fly fishing adventure. When you’re looking for waders, you have a choice between chest waders, hip waders, or waist-high waders. Chest waders have the most amount of coverage, while hip waders are for the shallowest waters. If you’re fishing in a cooler climate or deeper waters, always err on the side of more protection and purchase chest waders.
Waders include several other features, including material and foot design. Some are designed to be worn with boots or shoes, while others can be worn with just socks. Waders can be made of neoprene, nylon, rubber, or other synthetic materials. While rubber waders are less expensive than other types, they are also bulkier. Consider your weather and fishing needs when purchasing waders. Regardless of the type you purchase, make sure you coat them with durable water repellent coating to help them last longer. A good pair of waders can last you several years if you take care of them properly.
A belt will not only help to hold up your waders (if you’re wearing hip or waist-high waders), but also to store your equipment. Look for one with plenty of loops and pockets to stash your equipment so you don’t have to worry about it getting swept off into the river. Similarly, customize your boot choices to your waders so that you don’t have to worry about leaks or mishaps.
Nippers and Nail Knot Tool – Simple but Effective
Don’t hit the water without a good pair of nippers. Some people prefer to clip their line with their teeth, but this is an unhealthy habit that isn’t good for you or the line. Others use a knife, but again, you won’t get as clean of a line as you will with nippers, and you risk losing the fish that you worked so hard for. Good nippers cost less than twenty dollars and are well worth the investment.
Similarly, a nail knot tool will help you fly a wide variety of secure nail knots in just seconds. Instead of fumbling with your flies, you can use one of these tools (best purchase din stainless steel variety) to help make quick work of this mundane task.
Should You Start with a Sling Pack
Sling packs give you easy access to your fishing equipment without having to take off a cumbersome backpack or worry about getting it wet. You can wear one of these packs over your shoulder and well out of your way, and then just swing it around when you need to access its contents. Look for one with a cushioned shoulder strap and a foam-padded exterior to make your fly fishing experience a bit more comfortable.
Easy to Get Start Fly Fishing with a Hat
Look for a wide-brimmed hat to help protect your eyes and face from the sun. Even on a cool, cloudy day, the sun will be reflected back up at you from the water, so you want to give yourself as much coverage as possible. Good fly fishing hats are made of durable, semi-water resistant materials so you don’t have to deal with wearing a soggy, waterlogged hat all day if it accidentally blows off your head and takes a bath.
Polarized Sunglasses for Fly Fishing – These are Essential
While this item may seem like a luxury, it absolutely is not. Fishing without a good pair of sunglasses not only hurts your eyes, but it can also make it more difficult to catch fish. Polarized glasses contain unique filters that help block the amount of intensely reflect light and reduce overall glare. You’ll see better, and also protect your eyes from irreversible sun damage.
So Why Are These Part of a Starter Fly Fishing Outfit?
There is no shortage of fly-fishing equipment on the market. Outdoor shops targeted towards anglers have doubled their efforts to create the most outrageous, flashy gear possible, all targeted towards novice anglers who want to make sure they are as well-prepared as possible for their first excursions into the sport.
However, you don’t need much more than the basics. What I have outlined is a simple list of all you need for an enjoyable, successful experience on the water. With a little luck and a lot of enthusiasm, you’ll be reeling in monster trout in no time.