Looking for the best fly fishing gear for beginners? One of the biggest barriers to getting started in fly fishing is the gears needed. If you are just starting out or you are an experienced fisherman, this guide will help you get started pretty fast .
Even if you’re an avid spinning angler, fly gear is often a whole new realm. Not only are there things that aren’t used in other types of fishing, but things that are common across the board often have different names when referring to fly fishing specifically.
If you want to get into fly fishing for the first time, or you’ve already done it and are ready to get your own gear, here’s a guide to all the basic equipment you’ll need, what it’s called and how it’s used.
Fly fishing rod
One piece of equipment that most people are probably at least moderately familiar with is the fly rod. But it’s not necessarily immediately obvious what makes it specific to fly fishing.
First of all, most experienced fly fishermen will scoff if they hear it called a rod. Regardless of the apparent pomposity of this fact, fly rods differ from standard fly rods, or spinning rods, in a few notable ways. The biggest of these is that they are usually long, lightweight and built to carry a fly line. Although it is possible to get longer spinning rods, a typical fly rod is about 8 feet, with some double-digit styles.
A fly rod also usually has small, unobtrusive guides, with one or two closed eyelets near the base, as opposed to the bulkier, closed guides of a spinning rod.
There are rods of different weights and actions. Weight does not really refer to how much the rod weighs, but can be thought of as the size and strength of the rod. Lighter weight rods are used to cast smaller flies and fish for smaller species, while heavier weight rods can handle larger flies and fish. Action is essentially the stiffness of the rod. Fast-action rods are much less flexible when casting than slow-action rods.
Fly fishing reel
Another piece of equipment that appears in other styles of fishing, but is noticeably different in fly fishing, is the reel.
Many trout anglers have jokingly referred to fly reels as “line carriers,” since fishing for the average trout tends to cause the reel to remain inactive. Unlike a spinning reel, which is active on every cast, a fly reel, on the other hand, sits still and keeps the line retrieved. Saltwater anglers, on the other hand, use the reel much more frequently because they target species that can run.
Most line maneuvering (casting, line pulling, etc.) is done with the hands, and only occasionally do trout anglers put the fish “on the reel,” meaning that all the excess line is taut, and the angler directly uses the reel to drag and reel in the line. For larger fish, the reel does come in handy, as a good drag can make or break the fight of your life.
Even when fighting a fish with the reel, there is an important difference with spinning fishing: spinning reels have a higher gear ratio. A gear ratio simply means that the reel uses gears to spin the spool several times for every turn of the crank. Spinning reels can have a gear ratio of about 5:1 (the reel spins five times for each turn of the crank) and up to about 8:1, with options in between. In contrast, fly reels have a 1:1 ratio. You manually turn the spool of a fly reel, so it spins only as fast as you can spin it.
The fly line is the real distinguishing feature of fly fishing. Many people, seeing A River Goes By for the first time, have probably noticed this, and it is one of the most confusing aspects for beginners.
Fly line is thick and often brightly colored, two qualities that at first seem undesirable to spinning anglers. However, the usefulness becomes apparent as soon as they attempt to cast a fly with conventional tackle.
The flies are so light that they are incapable of pulling the line with their own momentum. Therefore, attempting to cast one with a normal fly line results in extremely short casts. Instead, the line, which is rubbery and heavy, pulls the fly to its destination. When fly fishermen cast back and forth, called a false cast, they are building up the fly line to shoot the fly to its destination.
Fly lines come in a lot of different styles. They vary by water type, technique, and presentation depth, among other things. Most people start with a weighted floating line, which means the line is tapered to be heavier at the casting end, and it also floats on the surface of the water.
The fly fishing reel backing.
A unique piece of fly fishing equipment, the backing is put on the reel before the fly line. It is usually made of Dacron, which feels like a thick, strong rope. It is attached to the reel at one end and to the fly line at the other.
The meaning of backing is obvious to those who have been fly fishing for a long time, but it can be confusing to those just starting out. Because fly line is so thick, it takes up a lot of space on the reel. You can’t fill a reel with hundreds of feet of fly line, as you’ll quickly run out of room.
Since the front of the fly line is where most of the casting power comes from, you also don’t need to have super long line taking up space in the back. Backing allows enough line on the reel to handle a running fish without taking up excess space. Most trout anglers rarely have enough line to actively use backing.
Fly line leader
The line leader is a piece of transparent line, usually tapered, that is tied to the end of the fly line. It serves several purposes.
One of them is to present the fly gently to the fish. A well-sharpened and properly lengthened leader will turn properly so that the line falls straight down on the water with the fly extended. This is exactly what you want when targeting a wary fish.
Another thing is to leave some space between the thick, flashy line and the fly. Without a long enough underline, many skittish fish, such as trout, would not give the fly a second glance, as they would immediately notice the huge fly line. The leader puts an invisible length between the fly line and the fish’s target.
The exact specifications of the leader you choose will depend on what you’re fishing for, the style of fishing and the conditions. Although a wide variety of factory tipped bass lines are available in stores, many anglers opt to build their own from tippet (see below). Using lengths of tippet, the angler can build the perfect bass line for the depth, water speed, species and technique of his or her choice.
The equivalent of a lure in spin fishing, a fly is an iconic piece of fly fishing equipment.
Flies are usually quite small, although they can be quite large for some species such as bass, pike, musky and saltwater fish. Flies are tied by adding material, natural or synthetic, to a hook. These materials include fur, feathers, thread, wire, and foam, among many others.
They most often mimic insects, but can also mimic baitfish, crustaceans, worms and other small critters. The art of fly tying is an activity in itself, and anglers range from never tying their own flies, to tying a few, to tying them all.
There are numerous categories and subcategories of flies, but the most basic ones a beginner should be familiar with are dry flies (which float), nymphs (which sink) and streamers (which also sink, but are large and usually imitate baitfish rather than insects).
Waders for fishing
Although waders are not specific to fly fishing, they seem to be worn more often by fly fishermen than by other anglers.
This may be due to the fact that people often fly fish for trout, which live in cold water, making waders the de facto uniform of the fly fisherman. If you’re strictly a warm water fisherman, you can get by without them. But, if you live up north or regularly fish for cold-water species, you’ll probably want a pair at some point.
Most anglers opt for lightweight chest waders, which usually have some inside and outside pockets, neoprene booties on the feet and a wading belt, which is used to keep out excess water in the event of a fall.
A good pair of waders with some soft layers underneath will keep you warm and toasty even in the dead of winter.
Although some waders come with built-in boots, most serious anglers opt for separate waders and boots. This allows the boots to hold more securely and fit better. The boots are worn over the neoprene feet of the waders, but they are not waterproof by themselves. Instead, the feet of the waders keep your feet dry, and the boots are only there for traction, protection and stability.
Wading boots come with several sole options, the two most common being felt and rubber. The advantage of the felt sole is better grip on slippery rocks. The disadvantage is that they can transfer organisms from one body of water to another while wet and, because of this, their use is illegal in some states. For winter anglers, they can also be a nuisance because snow sticks to the felt like glue.
Rubber-soled boots don’t have as much traction on slippery rocks underwater, but are generally considered more environmentally friendly when moving species from one area to another. They also perform better in snow.
Backpack or fishing vest
Almost all types of fishing involve some type of tackle support. Gear boxes and fishing vests are two of the most popular options. Although some fly fishermen also use vests, backpacks are more common.
A fly fishing backpack is essentially a small canvas bag that holds everything you need. It holds fly boxes, leader, tippet and any other accessories. There are several styles, the most popular being hip packs, sling packs and chest packs.
Many come with cup holders, loops and attachment areas for accessories that clip on the outside. While a fishing backpack isn’t totally necessary to go fishing, small ones are affordable and make life on the water much more comfortable.
The float is quite specific to fly fishing, as the goal is to keep delicate flies on the surface of the water.
When dry, floating flies are fished for long periods of time, they become waterlogged. Once this happens, they will stop floating. To combat this problem, the angler can apply floatant to bring them back to the surface.
Some people use the word “floatant” to refer specifically to a gel product, but in this case I will use floatant as anything that is used to keep flies dry in the air. This varies from a desiccant powder, to a gel, to a paste and numerous other products. Powder and gel are two of the most commonly used options.
Gel is best applied before you start fishing a dry fly. This is because the oily substance is meant to repel water. If you put it on first, it will keep the water away from your fly. Put it on after the fly is soaked, and it will only fix the water on the fly.
Dust, on the other hand, is intended to make a wet fly dry. It is usually used after a fly has become waterlogged and needs some help to get it back to the surface.
Fly fishing indicators
Indicators or marker buoys, simply put, are bobbers for fly fishing.
There is some debate over whether calling them indicators is evidence of pretentiousness by fly fishermen who don’t want to admit they use bobbers. I disagree with this argument, because although indicators perform an almost identical function to bobbers, they generally differ in terms of their physical characteristics.
The standard fishing bobber that most people picture is a large red and white hard plastic ball. Although indicators come in many different styles, that classic hard plastic bobber is not one of them.
Instead, to be the right size and weight for light flies, indicators are usually small balls of soft plastic or other nearly weightless materials, such as foam or thread.
Indicators are most often used to fish nymph flies on rivers, another slight difference from the typical bobber, which is often used on a lake to hold twitching bait.
While it’s definitely helpful to think of an indicator as a bobber if you’re new to fly fishing, I think it’s also good to understand the slight differences between the two. You probably don’t want to grab that red and white monster out of your tackle box to cast your first nymphs.
Fly Fishing Accessories
Now that most of the main gear is out of the way, the last thing to cover is the fly fishing accessories that most anglers carry. These include fly boxes, pliers, hemostats, split shot, nail knot tying tools and more. Here’s a quick rundown of each.
Fishing fly box
A small box, usually made of plastic, that holds flies. The flies are usually enclosed in a piece of foam or rubber.
Fly fishing net
Although I consider the net to be more of a “real” piece of tackle than an accessory, I’ve included it here because nets don’t really differ between conventional and fly tackle. A net is a net. Rubber nets are better for fish.
Fly fishing pliers
A tool similar to a nail clipper (nail clippers are actually excellent pliers), which is used to cut line leaders and tippet.
Although they look like scissors, hemostatic pliers are basically a small pair of pliers used primarily to pinch hook barbs and pull stubborn hooks out of fish (and shirts!).
These are not specific to fly fishing, but are used frequently. Shot heads refer to small metal weights that are added to a rig to make it sink faster. Fly fishing pellets are usually smaller than those in conventional tackle.
Nail knot tool
Nail knots are an unfortunate reality in fly fishing, and are often used when setting up a reel. Nail knots get their name from the fact that they were originally tied using a nail for support, but the nail knot tool is a much more efficient way to get these stubborn knots tied. If you’re lucky, your life will contain very few nail knots.
A pair of polarized sunglasses could be a mandatory piece of equipment for all types of fishing, including fly fishing.