Fly Fishing Gear For Beginners


We get a lot of questions from anglers that are just getting into fly fishing. Most are asking us about the fly fishing gear for beginners, set up to get started in the sport.

Fly fishing gear for beginners begins with a rod, reel, line, backing, tippet, sunglasses, hat, flies, wading boots, waders, vests and some other accessories that you might need.

Fly Rods:

Fly rods started out years ago built out of basic materials like bamboo. This is pretty much what all the rods were being built out of in the past. Then what happened is fiberglass came along and they became the popular rod. Today, about 95 percent of all rods today are being built out of graphite. By using graphite they became lighter, stronger, and faster so that’s the real benefit of the graphite rod.

Each Rod Has A Weight and a Length On it. Here is a picture of the weight and length on each rod.

Rod Size Chart

Each Rod Has A Length and Weight On it

 Rod Weights:

  • 0 to 3 Weight rods are good small streams and ponds for small trout and panfish. It’s going to be very delicate and be good for good tight presentations
  • 4 to 6 Weight rods are usually very good for the average size trout and panfish. Usually in an 8 foot to a 9-foot length also you can cast bigger bugs and flies.
  • 7 to 10 Weight rods are almost always used for Steelhead, Salmon, big Bass, and other semi-large fish and other saltwater game.
  • 11 and up Weight rods are good for large saltwater fish like King Salmon, Tarpon and other larger species.

The average beginner should start with an 8.5 or 9 foot 5 or 6 weight rod. This is going to be a great all around rod for pan fish or trout.

Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combos:

Fishermen can save a lot of money by purchasing their fly rod in a combination package. These include not just the rod, but also the fly reel, the fly line, backing and either a rod tube or rod sock.

At one time, most of the fly fishing combos contained gear that was, not of the “best quality.” Back in the old days, the fly rods that were part of the fly fishing combo were generally made of fiberglass. They contained a terrible fly line and a fly reel that was more than likely ready to fall apart when the angler hooked into a big fish.

But the times have changed, outside of the combos sold at the big box stores. Most fly fishing combos now contain a quality rod, reel, and line. While there are still “junky” combos that still exist. There are some that will work ok for kids to chase pan fish at the local pond. Most anglers now have an excellent selection of fly rod combos and fly fishing outfits to choose from.

There are several different fly fishing rod and reel combos on the market today. Some will only have a rod and reel with line in the combo

But there are some that will even come with fly boxes and flies along with a few other items

Fly Fishing Reels:

I get asked a lot about the difference between fly fishing reels and spin fishing reels. The biggest difference is with spinning reels is that you use sinkers or heavy spinners to cast your line. With a fly reel, you do not have any sinkers or heavy spinners to carry your line out. So this is where you get the reel with a line attached to cast your fly out.

The first kind of reel you are going to find is a single action reel with a palm drag. These reels are usually made of plastic, graphite or a resin composition and are usually less expensive. You will still be able to see what kind of a rod it will fit. This is because on the side it will usually be marked with like a 35. This means you can use this reel on a 3 or 4 or 5 weight rod.

Reel Material:

Fly Reels are usually made out of some kind of metal or is cast. These are usually more durable and not likely to break if you drop them or take a fall. I know the feeling very well as I have damaged a few of my own.

Premium fly reels are usually made out of aluminum or bar stock and then machined to a perfect fit. These are usually for the bigger weight rods like 8 and up. I have done some saltwater fishing with my regular reel and then I take it apart and clean it real good. Do not forget to clean the line and the backing as well. Remember if you do any saltwater fishing you would be better with a premium reel to stop the corrosion.

Fly Lines:

The first thing that you are going to need is about 100 yards of what they call backing for your line. You can usually buy it from where you get your reel, or sometimes they have it in bulk and will do it for you.

Fly lines, unlike many items used for fly fishing, aren’t generally considered a “personal taste” item. This helps make shopping for fly lines pretty simple once you have figured out all the technical details.

When you are shopping for a fly line, you should probably follow the below list in order to buy the right, fly line for your needs:

You should determine what kind of fish you are going fishing for (trout, salmon, bass?)

If you already have a fly rod and fly reel, find what the fly rod weight and the reel weight is. Then look for fly lines that have the same weight. The fly rods weight should be the same as the fly reel weight and the fly line weight.

Type of Lines:

You should also decide if you want a floating line or sink-tip or full sinking line.

Then decide what type of taper you want the fly line to be. For most people that fly fish, the weight-forward (WF) taper is the fly line of choice. If your fishing for trout, the WF taper should be one of the first fly lines any angler buys.

You should then decide which color of the fly line will be the easiest for you to see in a wide variety of daytime lighting conditions.

Once you have decided on all of the different things, then you can go shopping. There are a lot of brands of fly lines they include those from, Orvis, Cortland, Scientific Angler, Fenwick and RIO.

There is one common question new anglers face when they are buying a fly line. This is whether or not they need a second fly line.

Many new anglers wonder if, besides a weight-forward floating fly line (best for trout fishing), they should also purchase a sink-tip fly line (for nymph fishing or bass fishing).

My suggestion to new anglers is to wait before you go on and purchase a second line. By simply adding a few small sinkers on the leader can turn a floating fly line into a sinking line so you can fish deeper in the water.

A sinking-tip or full sink fly line is only needed if you frequently fish “down deep” and find that weights on the leader either don’t provide the depth needed or bring it down deep quickly enough.

For trout fishing, you should stay with a weight-forward floating or sinking line. They will likely be the only fly lines that you’ll ever need.

Tapered Leaders:

The leader is attached to the end of your fly line and gives you a connection between the line and the fly. Most commercial leaders will come in a variety of lengths with 7.5 to 9 feet being most common.

Most of the leaders are tapered monofilament. This means they are a bigger diameter at the end that attaches to the fly line, and is smaller at the tip, where the tippet or fly is tied.

During the cast, the taper allows the leader to shoot through the air more efficiently and rest more softly on the surface of the water. Leaders come in different weights and strengths. The correct leader weight is primarily determined by the size of the fly.

Tippets:

People ask what a tippet is. A tippet is a specific gauge monofilament line that is attached to the end of your leader, to which you tie your fly. The tippet is usually the smallest gauge line on your rig and is virtually invisible to the fish. Tippet is also very flexible and this will allow your fly to float or swim more naturally.

Normally the tippet is 2 to 4 feet in length and matches or is smaller than, the diameter of the leader’s tip. The biggest advantage of using a tippet is that it extends the life of the leader. Leaders can be expensive and if you change flies often, little by little the taper of the leader is cut away. By tying on tippet, you can avoid losing taper. 

The fly is tied to the end of the tippet. What type of fish you are angling for determines the type and size of the fly. Flies come in all different sizes and range from very small #28 to large #2.

To help you determine what gauge of leader and tippet to use with a particular size fly, many leader manufacturers will insert a small chart inside their packaging.

Flies:

It will all depend on the species of fish you will be going after when you first start fly fishing. A small selection of some of the classic patterns should be enough to get you started. If you’re going for trout, you should take a small assortment of nymphs, dries, and streamers they will cover the main bases. If you are just starting out it is better to have a smaller variety of flies but in several different sizes. Here is a good tip: you should visit a local fly shop to find the hottest flies for your area.

Fly Boxes:

I prefer foam boxes to compartments. The reason is with foam fly boxes I find it quicker and simpler to put the flies in the box and to take them out.

While a compartmentalized fly box “seems nice,” in actual practice I’ve come to have a healthy dislike for them. When you are using fly boxes that have enclosed compartments for flies.

I have found myself spending far too much time opening and closing tiny compartments in a frustrating search to find a specific fly. If you have a foam box, you can always see all the flies the box contains at a glance and avoid having to open and close several compartments.

Another reason I’ve come to dislike compartmentalized fly boxes is that they hinder the drying out of the flies once the day is done. A fly in an enclosed compartment inside of a fly box will take forever and a day to dry out.

Worse, it is all too easy to “forget” to open up all those enclosed compartments to allow the flies to fully dry.

Fly Assortments:

If you plan to buy a fly assortment, here are some things for you to keep in mind:

You should buy small fly assortments where the odds are good you’ll have use for most or all of the flies.

Better to buy an assortment of one fly in multiple sizes then it is to buy an assortment of dozens of flies in just a handful of sizes.

Large fly assortments are like going to buffets. They look pretty but have very little practical use for new anglers.

Before you go out and buy any fly assortment. You should know what you’ll be fishing for and where/when you’ll be doing it.

Fly assortments might be fine for some anglers and a bad investment for other anglers. It all depends on what are you fishing for…and when.

Don’t buy a fly assortment just because it comes in a pretty fly box.

In general, it is better to have fewer types of flies in multiple sizes. Rather than it is to have a bucket full of different types of flies but in limited sizes.

If you do buy a fly assortment, be sure that you know what each fly in the assortment is called and what it is used for. Some of the assortments come with a fly box

Sunglasses:

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A lot of people don’t think about sunglasses as being a part of a fly fishing gear setup.

Sunglasses not only provide protection for beginners but also advanced anglers as well. A missed place cast can pose a real danger to every fisherman’s eyes. Besides, polarized sunglasses can be really helpful to spot fish and keep your eyes from being fatigued after a sunny day on the water.

Fly Fishing Vests:

To begin, let’s start with what a fly fishing vest actually does. It holds those things the fly fisherman needs. Things like clippers, flies, leaders, tippets, various tools, line cleaners, fly floatants, weights and an array of other little things.

Since the fly fishing vest is a piece of clothing designed to hold all the little stuff inherent to the sport of fly fishing. It’s not particularly surprising that a good fly fishing vest should have quite a few pockets to hold it all.

Now, that being said, you should have a good supply of pockets on any vest that you get. But remember there is such a thing as having too many of them.

After all, having a vest that has fifty pockets will do little good since everything will soon be lost among the jumble of pockets. The result is that instead of spending time casting towards a rising trout after you attach an accessible fly. 

You’ll end up on a fruitless search through your vest for the fly you know you have but can’t for the world find it.

Mesh Vest or Traditional Vest?

One other thing that needs to be decided is whether to get a mesh fly fishing vest or a standard fabric one. A mesh vest is basically a stretch mesh with fabric sewed on where the pockets go.

The nice thing about having a mesh fly fishing vest is that, since they are mesh, on hot days the angler will stay a bit cooler. I’ve also found that mesh fly fishing vests tend to stretch a bit more with your movements while you are fishing.

In the end, whether you get a mesh fly fishing vest or just a standard fabric one. You decide on a fabric one you should get a good fabric one if that is the way you decide. Whichever way you decide it is more of a personal preference than anything.

Fly Fishing Waders:

When you start fly fishing you don’t really need waders for you to go out and start fly fishing.  But if someday you’re planning on not just fishing from the bank but stepping into the water it might be an option.

Some things you might want to think about.

When fishing in warm weather and the water is warm, anglers frequently avoid using waders. If you’re fishing in very warm weather and where the water is warm you. Then going “wader free” can be a very enjoyable way to fish.

That is unless the angler needs the protection a wader provides (such as to prevent from getting stung by something or to avoid picking up leaches).

Fishing in Warm Weather & Shallow, Cold Water (sometimes)

Yes, it is possible for you to try wade fishing in colder water if the weather is warm. The tactic I describe next will limit the anglers flexibility.

Here’s how to do it. You should buy a high-quality wading boot that has excellent traction. Also, buy quality a pair of quality neoprene wet socks that are thick and designed for very cold water.

The use of wet socks is vital for this method to work. What happens is that the neoprene socks trap the water around the foot and keep the feet toasty warm, sort of functioning as a heated sock.

I discovered that by keeping my feet warm, I can wade comfortably in cold water (down to around 50 degrees temp). That is provided I don’t wade in water that is deeper than mid-thigh level.

If I wade in water deeper than that (waist level), I immediately start to freeze and that isn’t much fun – even on a nice, warm, summer day. Needless to say, the air temperature needs to be comfortably warm outside for this tactic to work, too.

If you’re only going to fish from a boat then, there’s no reason for you to buy waders. There are some boat anglers who do fish from shore at times. So to stay warm during that time just use the tactic described above to fish in colder water when the weather is warm. I use this method a lot during the summer months and it works very well.

There are Two Types of Waders:

Neoprene Waders:

Most often neoprene waders are normally used when you are fly fishing in colder weather and water. The problem with neoprene waders is that, like nylon waders, they are not breathable. So in warmer weather, neoprene fishing waders can become quite warm for the angler wearing them.

Since these types of fly fishing waders are not breathable, anglers can get left with condensation in the waders. The insulating properties of neoprene go a very long way towards keeping the angler warm in despite of this.

If you plan on fly fishing in very cold water or in very cold weather, neoprene waders are an excellent choice. If not you should stick with the newer, breathable type of waders.

Breathable Waders:

Today breathable waders are made out of different compounds, such as Gore-Tex, that are designed to keep the water out. But they still allow the anglers body heat and sweat to escape. The result is that an angler wearing breathable waders will stay warm, and generally dry for a full day of fly fishing.

These different materials all work extremely well in keeping the water out while still allowing the waders to breathe. The material you choose for a breathable wader will depend on what is available when you go shopping.

It also depends how much you are willing to spend the (gore-tex waders, if everything else being equal. They do tend to be more expensive than other breathable and waterproof materials, such as dry-plus).

Any angler that is going to be spending a lot of time in waders or will be fly fishing in a wide range of environmental conditions. Then a good pair of breathable waders can be an extremely important piece of equipment.

When you are wearing breathable waders, and if they are fitted correctly the angler is likely to not even notice they are wearing them. This is because they are so much more comfortable than neoprene waders. Or even the old style rubber or nylon waders.

Wading Boots:

Wading boots are one of the most important pieces of fly fishing gear that an angler owns. The reason is if you don’t have a good wading boot (or shoe). Then the angler is as likely to end up swimming with the fish instead of trying to catch them. Without a wading boot, anglers greatly improve the likelihood of visiting a local hospital to fix a broken ankle or leg.

There are several reasons why wading boots are so important. The first one that I want to mention is safety. The traction that is provided by wading boots allows anglers to walk among wet rocks and other slippery conditions with relative ease.

The second one is for the comfort. Since an angler is likely to wear their wading boots throughout the day, a heavy and bad fitting wading boot is a recipe for a not-so-pleasant day of fishing. Sore feet and tired legs aren’t what fly fishing dream days are made of.

You should know that anglers will not need to break the bank to buy a pair of quality wading boots. The price difference between poor quality, bad fitting, and not-very-good draining boots is very nominal. The quality boots that will last years and are more comfortable is relatively small. The price difference is immaterial compared to what the angler spends on their fly fishing outfit, flies, and accessories.

So, the angler should spend whatever is needed to buy a comfortable fitting and quality wading boot right out of the gate This is so true regardless of their skill level.

The Different Types of Wading Boots:

Now that this article has shown the reader the importance of the wading boot, let’s explore the different types of wading boots available.

Rubber Sole Wading Boots:

Most anglers in the years past had a dislike of rubber sole wading boots and not without good reasons. The rubber sole wading boots of the past had poor traction. They were known for having “issues” with the rubber staying attached to the boot as time went by.

And perhaps just as importantly, rubber sole wading boots aren’t on the verge of maybe being banned. Especially by whatever state they happen to be fishing in. As such, the angler who has a rubber sole wading boots won’t have to worry about an important part of their gear being outlawed.

Felt Bottom Wading Boots:

If you are talking about pure traction on wet, slimy surfaces, felt wading boots probably still provide the best traction. Most people love the traction felt wading boots provide on wet, slippery rocks. Most rubber-soled boots today will provide almost the traction, in my opinion. The traction still isn’t “equal” to what a quality pair of felt bottom wading boots provide. This is especially true on “slimy rocks” or when stepping on wet leaves that are stuck to the side of wet rocks.

The typical felt wading boot. The bottom of the wading boot is felt, which allows for great traction on slimy surfaces.

But, that superior traction also comes with a few problems.

The first problem is that felt wading boots work very poorly when you are “out of the water.” This is so true for an angler that does lots of walking along a river bank. Then felt soles that work so well on wet rocks suddenly don’t work so well on dry tree trunks, dirt and everything else an angler might encounter when walking alongside a river or stream.

The second problem is that felt on wading boots wear down quickly, particularly if it used outside the stream. While the felt is replaceable, it is still an annoying expense. Worse, yet the felt might fail right when an angler needs it to work the most.

Water Sandals for Wade Fishing?

Yes, it’s true, water sandals can be used for wade fishing.  Are water sandals ideal for wade fishing? The answer is no. Truth is, they are dangerous to use and I most definitely do not recommend using them for serious wade fishing.

Still, water sandals – and by that, I mean a water sandal that provides superb traction on slippery rocks. These can be used with relative safety to wade fish in certain conditions.

When I am out fishing in my boat during the summer months I will leave my waders at home. Moreover, since I’m boat fishing, I don’t usually “fish from shore.” And since wearing a pair of big, heavy boots while in my boat all day isn’t very comfortable.  I use a pair of water sandals that will provide excellent traction on wet rocks.

If I want to fish outside of the boat, I will usually try when along some islands. There are sometimes I’ll stop the boat and wade fish.  This is especially true when the water is slow moving and shallow (knee deep or less).

To keep my feet warm, I’ll usually wear neoprene booties. You should limit this type of “wade fishing” to shallow and slow-moving water. I do usually try to find gravel bars to do this type of fishing from. I’ve found that I can wade, fish with very few problems besides having to pick out rocks that work their way between the sandal and my foot.

I want you to know that water sandals can work for wade fishing. But never wade, fish with them in deep or fast-moving water. Instead, use them where the water is shallow, very slow moving and where the river bottom is consistent (such as a gravel bar).

Make Sure They Fit:

If you decide to try using water sandals to wade fish, be sure that your sandals fit your foot snugly. Be sure that the sandals cannot move and squirm around on your foot.

If the sandals move around like flip flops, even in shallow water you’ll be inviting problems to find you. Remember, most sandals are not designed to provide good traction on slippery surfaces. So you need to buy water sandals that have been designed specifically to provide traction on wet, slippery surfaces.

You always want to be sure that you buy water sandals that have an “enclosed toe.” The reason for is to prevent a “stubbed toe” or peeled off toenail due to unpleasant encounters with submerged rocks or obstructions.

 Here is a good pair KEEN Men’s Newport H2 Sandal You can check their price on Amazon

Hats:

Hats or a cap is also very necessary when you are out fly fishing. They can keep the sun off of your head and neck and keep you from getting sunburned. It will also help to keep the glare off of your face and out of your eyes. They can also help you to see the targets and protect you from miss cast flies.

Other Accessories You Will Need:

  • Don’t forget you might need some tweezers.
  • You might need some clippers.
  • Remember, you might need a net to help you land the fish.
  • Equally important is a Jacket in case it gets cold. Also, remember as well as a dry set of clothes in case you fall in and get wet.
  • What is the most important thing that you need to remember?
  • Go out and enjoy the great outdoors

If all of the above seems a little overwhelming then you might want to check out the items below.

Setting up A Basic Fly Fishing Package:

There are many different fly fishing combo sports packages available today. If that is the way you would like to go you can go to your favorite sporting goods store. But read below for my preferences.  Below are a few

Related Questions:

Dean Jensen

I started fly fishing in 1972 and I have learned quite a bit about this wonderful sport called fly fishing and I want to share some of the things that I have learned.

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