Dry Fly Fishing: Essential gear to get started

Updated: May 24

I was “organizing” my fly room the other day and realized how much fly fishing gear I have that I rarely, if ever, actually use. I’m sure there were reasons for the purchases at the time, I just can’t recall them now.

The truth is, there’s so much gear available on the market it's hard for people getting started in dry fly fishing to know what they need, versus what might be just a shiny object that’s meant to catch more fishermen than fish. I have a closet full of “stuff” that will probably gather dust until the day I move house. (Or my kids can deal with it when I’m gone!)

If you are looking to get into dry fly fishing but don't want to break the bank on gear you'll never use, start with this list.

What’s the basic gear needed to get started in dry fly fishing?

  1. 3-6 wt Rod/reel/fishing line

  2. 3 Monofilament Leaders

  3. 3 spools of monofilament tippet

  4. 12-18 Dry Flies

  5. Small Fly Box

  6. Floatant

  7. Nippers

  8. Polarized Sunglasses

  9. Pack to carry your gear

Rod, real, and fishing line

This one may seem obvious, but here’s a common question: “Is there a special type of rod, reel, and line combination I need to cast dry flies?” While some rods will fit your style of fishing better than others, as long as you have a 3 to 6 wt fly rod, reel, and fly line that matches the rod, there is absolutely NO REASON to go out and buy a new rod when starting to dry fly fish. Trust me, if you enjoy it enough, you’ll have plenty of time to buy one, and by the time you do, you'll have a much better idea of what you're looking for.

3 Leaders

When dry fly fishing, presentation is king. This comes down to making the appropriate cast given a specific situation. Effectively delivering the fly to the trout becomes much easier when using a leader that fits you and your rod. The best way to determine which leader works best for you and your rod is through trial and error. Once you find one that fits, take at least 3 of them on the water with you. 3 is probably 2 more than you’ll need, but I distinctly remember the trout who was rising in front of me when I tangled up the last of my packed leaders. Without having any spares, all I could do was watch (and mutter a few choice words).

Here’s a good place to start when buying your first leader for dry fly fishing:

  • - A 9 foot 4x monofilament leader

  • - A 7 ½ foot 4x monofilament leader

Both of which you would attach 12-36 inches of 5-6x tippet to

If I could go back to my early days of fishing, one thing I would do differently is to learn how to tie my own leaders sooner than I did. By doing so, I’ve not only learned a lot about casting and presentation, I’m now able to modify my leaders depending upon the situation. But the biggest benefit to tying my own leaders, is the impact on my bank account! It's considerably less expensive than buying pre-built leaders (which in those early days of fly fishing, I probably would have spent the money that was saved on leaders on shinny do dads that I didn’t really need anyways).

If you’re going to tie your own, here‘s a good recipe to start with. You can modify it from here to create what works best for you.

- 9.5’: All sections tied with monofilament leader material which can be found in most outdoor stores and fly shops.

  • 38” of .17 of Maxima Ultragreen

  • 30” of .13 of Maxima Ultragreen

  • 11” of .10 of Maxima Clear

  • 8” of .08 of Maxima Clear

  • 30” of 4x, 5x, or 6x monofilament tippet depending upon your preference

Click here for a great resource on leader formulas

3 Spools of Tippet

Whether you're fishing emergers, parachutes, or caddis patterns, the primary presentation is a dead drift. Using a supple tippet material makes this much easier. I prefer Rio Suppleflex in 5x, 6x, and 7x. If you’re used to nymph fishing, you might be familiar with fluorocarbon tippet. For dry fly fishing though, monofilament tippet is preferred because it floats so much better than fluoro.

alt="spools of fly fishing tippet"

12-18 Dry Flies

Very few anglers who've been fly fishing for more than a year carry only 12-18 dry flies with them while they’re on the water. But to get started, 4-6 different pattern