Hey guys, Travis here with Noses Up! I've written this article as a fly fishing equipment checklist for beginning fly anglers. I hope it helps you determine what equipment you'll need to start fly fishing, as well as save you some money by helping you avoid purchasing unnecessary items.
What do you need to start Fly Fishing?
To get started fly fishing, you’ll need the following:
What to look for in your first fly rod: The important attributes to consider in buying your first a fly rod are: durability, versatility, and size to match your style of fishing.
Durability: You don’t need to break the bank to get a high quality rod, but some that are on the low end of the pricing scale are cheap for a reason.
Versatility: What I mean by versatility is the rod can be used effectively in several different fly fishing situations. Before buying a “specialty” fly rod, it’s important to first figure out what type of fly fishing you'll enjoy and will be doing the most of. A highly versatile rod will help you explore your angling options.
Best fly rod size for trout: The best size fly rod size for trout are 2-6wt. Each size is best for specific situations.
2-3 wt. Best for narrow streams holding smaller trout. Can be used to cast delicate dry flies as well as lightweight nymphs.
4-5 wt. Best all around fly rod sizes. Can be used in larger as well as smaller streams, and suitable to cast almost any dry fly or nymph.
6 wt. Best for casting big streamers, or in extremely windy conditions.
A good fly rod for a beginner needs to be affordable, easy to cast, and versatile enough to fish several different angling situations. My fly rod recommendation for a beginner is the Echo Base Fly Rod kit. This kit includes the rod and the real, so you wouldn't need to worry about trying to match and balance them together like you would if you bought them separately. Click on the link below to check out current pricing on Amazon.
The most important attributes to look for when purchasing your first fly fishing reel are the range of drag settings and balance with the fly rod.
Drag settings: Fly reel drag settings determine how hard the fly line must be pulled on before it will be released from the reel. The higher the drag setting, the harder the line has to be pulled. A wide range is important because it allows for more versatility in the situations it can be used in.
Balance with the fly rod: Balance with the rod is primarily determined by the reel’s weight. There are 2 options to help determine if it's balanced correctly with the rod.
You can take your rod into a fly shop and try out various reels.
You can buy a rod/reel combo specifically designed to balance each other out.
If you are going to go with the combo route, my recommendation would be the Echo Base Rod and Reel Kit. It was the 3rd fly rod I ever owned. (The first two were cheap rods that broke because of low quality). To check out current pricing on Amazon, click on the image below:
This is the “string” material that connects the fly line to the reel itself. Backing is very basic and I haven't found a brand that’s better than any other.
This is the thicker, usually brightly colored line that connects to the backing on one end, and to the leader on the other. There're several different designs (known as tapers) in the world of fly lines, and while the details of tapers are beyond the scope of this article, you can click here to read our in depth article and learn more about them.
When selecting your first fly line, 2 things are important to take into account:
It matches the size of your rod (known as "weight", no to be confused with the actual wt. in ounces or lbs. of the rod).
It’s an all purpose line.
Matching the line to the rod's size: One way a rod is measured is by size, which is also known as "weight". In order for a rod to function best, the size (weight) of the line needs to match the weight of the rod. All fly line manufacturers indicate the line's weight on the line’s package, so you won't need to worry about trying to figure this out for yourself.
Example: A 4 weight rod should be paired with a 4 weight fly line
All purpose fly lines: There're dozens of options for “specialty” fly line designs. When starting out fly fishing, it’s best to get an all purpose line so you’re not limited to only certain situations.
Fly line can be expensive. Especially because most of the time you won't be able to try it out on your own rod before purchasing it.
My top pick for an economical fly line option is the Maxcatch ECO floating line. They offer a few different color options, but these have no impact on the performance of the line, so just choose the color you like best. Click the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon:
My top pick for a more expensive fly line would be the Rio Premier Gold. It's more expensive than the Maxcatch option mentioned above. The main difference is the durability and extended life expectancy. Click on the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon.
A fly fishing leader is the section of material that connects the fly line to the tippet or fly. Leaders are made from various materials including; nylon, fluorocarbon, thread, or silk.
When beginning fly fishing, the two best types of leaders are: tapered monofilament and furled.
Tapered Monofilament (nylon) Leaders: Tapered leaders have a thicker end that’s attached to the fly line, and decrease in diameter as they move toward the end that’s attached to the tippet or fly. Some people tie their own leaders for specific fly fishing situations, but when starting out, it’s best to use a standard tapered leader that gradually gets thinner as it moves closer to the end the tippet or fly will be attached to.
The best leader size for a beginning trout angler is a 9.5 ft 5x. This allows for extra tippet to be added to the leader without becoming too long to cast effectively.
Furled Leaders: Furled leaders are created by "braiding" materials together. Fly line is connected to one end of the leader, and tippet to the other using a built in tippet ring.
For starting out fly fishing, braided (furled) thread leaders offer 2 distinct advantages:
They last much longer than a monofilament leader. (You can fish a braided leader for multiple seasons without having to change it).
They're more forgiving during casting. The added weight and shorter length of the furled leader make it easier to load on the back cast and unload on the forward cast.
My favorite furled leader is the Featherweight Dry Fly. It seems to me to be more abrasion resistant than others I've tried. Click on the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon:
Tippet is the section of monofilament or fluorocarbon that’s attached to the thinnest end of the leader. When you first take the leader out of its package, you won’t need to add tippet to it.
Tippet needs to be added to the leader after 3-4 fly changes. At this point, enough of the leader has been clipped off to cause the tip to be too thick in diameter.
Tippet can be attached to the leader by using a double surgeons knot as shown in the video below:
Tippet can be made of either monofilament or fluorocarbon. It’s important to buy at least one spool of each as they are used for different fishing situations.
Monofilament tippet: Is lighter in weight and floats better. This is ideal for fishing dry flies.
Fluorocarbon tippet: Sinks faster and is more difficult for the fish to see underwater. This is ideal for fishing subsurface flies.
The best size tippet for dry fly fishing is 5x-7x supple monofilament. Sizes of flies you'll be fishing are the main determinate in which size is best for you.
Tippet size table:
5X: Fly sizes 12-16
6x: Fly sizes 18-20
7x: Fly Sizes 22-24
My recommendation for tippet is Rio's 6X Supple Flex. It's the most supple tippet I've found, which helps create the slack line casts needed to fool suspicious trout. Click the image below to see Amazon's current pricing.
WHAT FLIES DO I NEED TO START FLY FISHING
To get started fly fishing, you'll need dry flies and subsurface flies. You'll want to have 4-6 different patterns in 2-3 different sizes.
Flies are the “bait” used in fly fishing. While there're hundreds if not thousands of fly patterns available, only a handful would be needed to get started. Flies can be broken down into 2 broad categories: Dry flies and subsurface flies.
Dry Flies: These are the flies that drift on top of or in the water’s surface. They're made of materials that increase the fly's surface tension and helps them float.
The 3 dry fly patterns I would recommend when starting out would be:
Elk Hair Caddis
Subsurface Flies: These represent any fly that’s designed to be fished below the water’s surface. They're made with materials that add weight to the fly to help it sink.
The 3 subsurface fly patterns I would recommend when starting out would be:
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Hare’s Ear Nymph
Fly floatant is used when dry fly fishing to help the fly stay floating longer. There're 2 types of fly floatant: Silicone gel and powder. Both are important to have when starting out fly fishing.
Silicone gel fly floatant: This comes in a small “tube” containing a thick liquid that’s applied to the fly prior to fishing it. It increases the surface tension on the fly to delay the amount of time it takes for the fly to become waterlogged.
Powder fly floatant: This comes in a small container and often includes a brush to help apply the power to the fly. ( I would recommend getting the type with the brush because it makes application 10x easier). Powder floatant should be applied after the fly's been fished and has become water logged. The powder helps bring the fly back to life by drying out its material so it can float again.
Nippers refer to the tool used to cut leaders and tippet when fly fishing. They have an opening on one end that the leader or tippet goes into, and sharp edges to cut unwanted excess.
A few things to look for when picking out a pair of nippers:
Size: Small nippers work best. The less room they take up in your pocket, vest, or lanyard the better.
Hole on one end: Some nippers have a hole on the opposite end of the opening. This is very helpful if you decide to hook it on to a retractable zinger or other clip.
Sharpness: This may sound obvious, but I've bought expensive pairs in the past the were dull from the get go. The best thing to do is to take a small bit of tippet with you into the store/fly shop and try the nippers out on it to test their sharpness.
Most nippers look very similar to finger nail clippers. In fact, using a set a finger nail clippers is often better than others you can find!
Fly box refers to the carrying case for you flies. It's the small square container that opens and closes to keep your flies from falling out. Things to look for in a fly box:
Size: When beginning fly fishing, a small (7x4 inch) slim fly box is best. You won't need one that holds more than 40-70 flies, and a smaller box takes up less room to allow for other gear you might need.
Tight seal: Make sure the fly box closes tight enough that water won't get in, as well as one that won't become loose over time. The only way to get an idea if it will become loose over time is to handle it yourself to determine the quality of materials used.
My recommendation for a fly box for a fly fishing beginner would be the Aventik Silicon Super Slim. To check out current pricing on Amazon, click on the image below.
Polarized sunglasses reduce the glare caused by light reflecting off of the water’s surface. By eliminating this glare, fly fisherman are able to more clearly see objects under the water's surface.
What's the best color of lens for trout fishing?
The best colors of lenses for trout fishing are: amber, green, and yellow. Each of these three are best used under specific lighting conditions:
Amber: Amber lenses are the most versatile and work well on sunny as well as overcast skies. These would be the best color for someone starting off fly fishing.
Green: Green lenses are best for fly fishing on bright sunny days when lighting conditions create a high degree of color contrast.
Yellow: Yellow lenses are best for low light conditions such as dawn and dusk or overcast days. Yellow lenses let in up to twice as much light as darker lenses, which increases an angler's ability to distinguish the outline of objects under the surface.
Most non anglers (and even some anglers) don't realize it, but having a quality pair of polarized sunglasses is a big deal! Being able to distinguish the outline of fish is a key component to trout fishing, and using a pair bought at the gas station typically won't cut it.
Fly fishing glasses can range from $15 to $500. For a beginning angler, I would recommend a "middle of the road" pair. I've owned and used my pair of StrikeKings for 3 seasons now, and would recommend them to anyone looking for a good pair without overspending. Click the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon: (Make sure to select the pair with the Amber colored lenses.)
This is what will be used to hold all your gear while out on the water. There're several options available, each with pros and cons. We've written a very in depth pros and cons article about this topic you can check out, but I'll go ahead and give an overview as well as my opinion for the best option.
Fly fishing vest:
- Handy because worn on your body so no "extra" straps to put over your shoulders
- Most have far more pockets than you'll need
- A more expensive option for a beginner
- Have a good amount of storage that will easily fit all the essentials
- Can be pricey
- Sometimes uncomfortable when moving around or bending over
- Lightweight and don't take up much room
- Very limited on storage. This is fine for someone who's fishing familiar water and can pair down their gear to the bare essentials, but when starting out, they won't have enough storage for you to take what you need.
- Worn behind your back so it won't get in the way of casting or landing fish
- Most have enough storage to take the essentials you'll need
- Holds water which prevents you from having to take up room with a water bottle
In my detailed article outlining whether or not vests are necessary, I mention one of our favorite hydration backpacks for fly fishing. That option's great for an experienced angler who can pair down their gear to a limited amount of items based upon the specific location they are going to, but it probably doesn't have enough room for all the essentials you'll need when starting out.
The one listed below is made by Teton and does have enough storage to fit all the essential gear. To check out its current pricing on Amazon, click on the image below:
DO YOU NEED WADERS TO FLY FISH?
You can fly fish without waders. The alternative to wearing waders is referred to as wet wading. Instead of waders, anglers wear shorts or quick drying pants with boots or shoes for footwear.
I often hear people ask if they need a pair of waders for fly fishing. When fly fishing for trout, one option is to wear waders, but they aren't essential. I spend at least as much of my fly fishing days without waders (wet wading) as I do wearing them.
If you'll be fishing in temperatures below 55° or 60°, you WILL want a pair of waders. Waders in these temperatures will help keep your body heat in, meaning there's a higher likelihood you'll enjoy your time on the water, and a lower likelihood you'll turn into a popsicle.
If you're going to fish in the summer months with temperatures above 60°, wet wading's a great option that I would recommend for someone beginning fly fishing. While it's possible to where gym shorts and tennis shoes, pants and boots made specifically for wet wading are a much better option. (See the next 2 checklist items for recommendations on footwear and pants.)
Whether you choose the wader or wet wading route, I would invest in specialized wading boots instead of relying on tennis shoes. I wear the Chota Hybrids while wet wading, as well as with my waders (they have a cool adjustable size system). I like them for many reasons (you can read my in-depth review of the Chotas here), the one downside is they are a little pricier than other wading boots. Click the image below to check out Amazon's current pricing of the Chota Hybrids:
I wish I could also mention a more budget friendly option, but I haven't found any worth recommending.
Pants for wet wading:
I would recommend a convertible pair of pants made by Columbia for wet wading. They easily change from long pants to shorts by unzipping them at the knees. I've had mine for 3 seasons now, and there's no wear and tear other than the usual. Click on the image below to see current pricing on Amazon:
*Note about pants for wet wading: Don't worry about how many side pockets they have. Everything in pants pockets will eventually get wet!
If you choose to wear waders while fly fishing:
I would recommend a warm pair of wading pants with foot straps. One thing that annoys me when fishing in waders is the tendency of my pants to "bunch up" and my ankles. It makes walking and wading very uncomfortable. I haven't found any on Amazon that I would recommend, but the link below will take to you the Cabela's product webpage that shows the pair I've used and had success with:
An economical option to wading pants with foot traps are ankle garters. They defiantly prevent your pants from "bunching up", but the one downside is they are another piece of equipment to keep track of. Click on the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon for the pair I've used in the past.
Many beginning fly anglers don't realize that the right shirt can be a valuable asset. If you have a shirt with breast pockets (especially Velcro), it can act as another storage compartment.
Make sure your wearing a neutral colored shirt. Trout can see bright colors extremely well above the surface. For an in depth article about hiding from trout, read our article here.
For a beginning fly fisherman, I would recommend the one in the image below. It has UPF sun protection, velcro pockets for easy access, and is quick drying. (Make sure to select the khaki colored one). Click on the image below to check out current pricing on Amazon.
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So, do you need to break the bank to have all the fly fishing gear you'll need to get started? Not necessarily, but I think it's important to make enough of an investment upfront so you can get the full experience. I hope this article's helped you determine what the essentials are to start fly fishing, and maybe save you from spending some money on those things you won't need.
*Note: As with any hobby, you can spend as much as your budget allows. There are always new "must haves" coming out on the market. But instead of filling up closet space with things that will collect dust, it would be best to use this checklist as a starting point.