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Fly Fishing Gear for Beginners

So You Want to Give Fly Fishing a Try. Good Decision

You already know you want to want to try fly fishing, or you wouldn’t be reading this. Fly fishing is fun. Fly fishing is highly rewarding. Fly fishing is challenging.

If you’re acquainted with any fly fishermen, you know they’re passionate about the sport. For many, it’s a way of life—a kind of outdoors religion—and it’s the only way they can truly relax.

Once you experience fly fishing, you may never be the same again. But, you may experience a few frustrating outings before you get to that point of relaxation.

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Fly Fishing Isn’t Like Conventional Fishing

You don’t use a conventional rod and spin reel, you don’t attach a hook and weight to the line, and you don’t cast and wait for your bobber to disappear.

Rather, you’re casting your line, not your bait (your fly is nearly weightless), using specialized equipment: a fly rod, fly reel, and weighted line. This is done gracefully (if you do it right). The process requires a casting technique of disciplined timing.

Selecting Your Gear: It’s Not As Hard As It Looks

For beginning fly fishermen, selecting gear may seem like a daunting task. There are thousands of models of rods and reels to choose from, each with a variety of length and weight options.

Our intent is to give you a basic gear overview to make it easier for you to make the best decisions when choosing a rod, reel, and line.

Before we get started though, a word of caution: while budget is always a consideration, the cheapest gear is often just that—C-H-E-A-P, low quality gear that will make casting difficult and quickly lead to frustration.

The point, after all, is to have a great fishing experience.

In order to make a good gear choice, you’ll want to keep in mind where you’ll be fishing, the type of fish you’ll be catching and the type of fly you’ll be using. You will need specific types of gear depending on fishing location and species being targeted.

Choosing a Fly Rod

The selection of fly rod models may seem endless, however the process of choosing one doesn’t need to be. There are three things you’ll want to consider:

  • Fly Rod Weight – Manufacturers design rods to cast a specific line weight, aimed at achieving specific results.
    • 2, 3, and 4 weight rods – Best for catching smaller fish, with relatively short casts, in small streams or fishing for small fish in lakes.
    • 5 and 6 weight rods – General purpose rods that can be used in a wide variety of situations.
    • 7 and larger weight rods – Suited for larger, heavier fish like steelhead or salmon where you are able to cast long distances.
    • Rods can be smaller too. Like the Sage Little One Fly Rod, one of a large selection of Sage Fly Rods. The Little One is an 8-foot, 2-inch rod rated at 0 weight that’s ideal for small stream fly fishing.
  • Fly Rod Length – Fly rods come in varying lengths, from around 6-feet to as long as 15-feet, 1-inch like the G Loomis Stinger GLX Fly Rod (one of a large selection of G Loomis Fly Rods available in a wide variety of models and lengths). Most fly rods fall into the 9-foot range. You’ll want to use a shorter rod if you’re casting short distances in tight areas, or a longer rod if you’re casting a long distance.
  • Fly Rod Action – Action is an important consideration when choosing a fly rod. Simply, the action describes how quickly the rod recovers from flex. Fast action rods bend nearer to the tip area and recover quickly; medium action rods bend nearer the middle; slower action rods bend deeper and recover more slowly. We associate fast action with power and slow action with control and finesse.
    • Extra-fast action rods are powerful, with less flex, and are less forgiving on timing and technique mistakes. They’re good in windy conditions, and are easier to cast for distance, but not so good on short casts. Extra-fast action rods are often considered “stiff,” and can prove difficult for beginners.
    • Fast action rods offer a mix of versatility and performance that works with several fishing situations and techniques, and allows more consistent casting accuracy.
    • Moderate-fast action rods are also very versatile, more forgiving, and offer improved line control and overall accuracy.
  • Moderate action rods, sometimes referred to as “slow” or “whippy,” are designed for fishermen looking for short, accurate, gentle casts, like you’d want in a small stream. They are very flexible, and are not good for long casts, or in windy conditions.

The first fly rods were made of bamboo, followed by the introduction of fiberglass rods. The next generation of fly rods, made from graphite, then revolutionized the industry. Today only the lowest end rods are made from fiberglass because graphite rods are stronger, lighter, and more consistent.

For beginning fly fishermen, a medium-action, 5-weight rod, 8’-9” to 9’ will likely provide the best combination of accuracy and versatility for a variety of fly fishing situations.

Choosing a Fly Reel

Unlike a spin reel, the main purpose of a fly reel is to store your fly line and backing, not to cast the line or to play the hooked fish. Rather, the line is manually “stripped out” to lie by your feet. Then, as you make several false casts leading up to the one you want, it becomes airborne.

You won’t use the reel to retrieve the line, either. Instead, it’s retrieved using your fingers, and when you hook a fish, the level of your grip serves as a “manual drag.” (Unless of course, you’ve hooked a “monster.”)

Start by determining which hand is most comfortable for you to use for reeling. After that, here are some other considerations when choosing a reel:

  • Your reel should balance with your rod, so don’t pick one that’s too heavy or too light. It also needs to match up with the line you’re using so you can be certain it will hold an adequate amount. So, the general rule is, if you have a 4-weight floating line, you want to get a fly reel designed for 4-weight line. (And then match that with a 4-weight fly rod.)
  • Drag system. Fly reels have either a disc-drag or a spring-and-pawl, which apply resistance and regulate the speed the reel sends out line when a fish is running away. Both are excellent, and you shouldn’t have to concern yourself with type as long as you are getting a well-made reel. You’ll likely want a disc drag model if you’re saltwater fishing for big ‘uns—plus a reel that is sealed against the saltwater.
  • Arbor size. In the early days, all reels had a conventional spindle to hold the line. Then came large arbors, but they often didn’t balance with a lightweight rod, so then we got mid-arbor reels. Large arbors reel up the line up to 3 times faster, which is great for saltwater fishing, but you’ll still want a smaller arbor for trout fishing with a lighter rod, for instance.
  • Rust-resistant. Your reel will be getting wet, so be sure it’s rust-resistant.

Reels can be made of many different materials ranging from graphite to titanium, though most are made from aluminum.

Choosing Your Fly Line

Believe it or not, many consider a fly line to be the most important part of your gear. After all, it’s the weight of the line that actually casts the fly, and carries it to the target. The wrong line could mean a frustrating day for you.

A good quality line will cast well using either an expensive or cheap rod. So don’t skimp on the line.

Typically, your line selection will be based on four factors:

  • Fly size
  • Species and size of fish
  • Fishing conditions
  • Skill level

Fly lines are rated by weight, from 1 (smaller) to 16 (larger). The heavier the line, the better it will cast large flies. Very light lines are suitable for small trout or pan fish flies. A line that is too light will not load the rod properly and similarly, a line that’s too heavy will simply overload the rod. Both will make casting more difficult.

On the handle of your rod there’s a code number indicating the line size the rod manufacturer suggests for use with that rod, based on the fishing situation and the average skill of the fisherman. So, under normal circumstances, you’ll want to use line matched to your rod. For instance, a #4 line for a 4-weight rod. As your skill increases, you may want to move up or down the fly line scale.

Fly lines come in many different tapers, densities, and colors. Other variations include floating, sink-tip, or full-sinking.

Beginners often find learning to cast easier with a floating line as it is lighter and more visible in the water. Fly fishing line with a weight forward taper is a great choice for the newbie fly fisherman, as it can be used in a variety of situations.

Fly Line Backing and Leaders

Backing is a thin but very strong section of line that provides an insurance policy of sorts when you’re hooking, playing, and landing particularly fast or strong game fish (like tarpon, steelhead, bonefish or permit). Backing is secured directly to the fly reel spool, then evenly wound on the spool, and attached to the back end of the fly line.

Since most fly lines are only 100 feet in length, a reliable backing selection is important.

Since it’s nearly impossible to get the end of the fly line through the small eye of a fly, you’ll also need a leader. The Leader, a tapered piece of monofilament presents your fly to the fish. Lengths and tippet size (the last few inches of the leader) will vary depending on fly size and fishing conditions.

So that’s a start. When you begin your fly fishing adventure with the right equipment, your experience will be better and you’ll be on your way to a lifetime of enjoyment.

If you have other suggestions for beginning fly fishermen, share your thoughts by commenting below.

3 comments… add one
  • fly fisher May 12, 2016, 12:28 pm

    clickbait on a fly fishing site… worthless paid blogging

  • rewader June 15, 2016, 5:44 pm

    Teach your friends or significant others to fly fish only after they bug you. Then read a few articles and blogs (more than 3) on the subject. Good luck!

  • Annika Larson June 26, 2017, 2:33 pm

    I have been thinking of trying fishing. It’s important that I get the right gear to make this a good experience. Thanks for the tip about making sure the reel I choose is rust-resistant since it will be getting wet.

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