Beginning Fly Fishing Gear

Fishing is a simple proposition. You just need bait, a hook, some line, a rod, and a reel, and you’re set – right? Well, if you’ve ever seen someone fly fish, you know that’s not quite the case. Fly fishermen can sometimes look like a walking tackle shop, their vests and packs bulging with the weight of all their gear. The sight of anglers with that much gear can be intimidating to someone who wants to fly fish, but never has.

If you’re in that boat, we have some great news for you – the amount of gear you actually need to start fly fishing is minimal. There’s a fine line between something you need for fly fishing and something you might need. If you’re ready to get started with fly fishing, then sit back, relax, and read through this list of the essential fly fishing gear for beginners.


The Fly Rod

The biggest difference between fly fishing and spin or bait casting is the type of rod you use. A fly rod is typically longer, lighter, and more flexible than a spinning rod. Fly rods are built this way to properly cast a fly line (which we’ll get to in a moment) and to help you land fish quickly.

With a spinning rod, you’re generally using a heavier pound test line to your lure or bait. That, coupled with a spinning rod’s stiff butt section and soft tip, help you set the hook and net a fish without breaking the line. Fly rods work under the same principle – they’re just longer and use the line that’s almost always lighter than what you’d throw on a spinning rod. There are some other considerations you need to make before purchasing a fly rod such as rod weight and rod length.

Rod Weight and Length

When you shop for a fly rod, you’ll see that they’re classified by their length and line weight. A fly rod line weight isn’t a breaking-strength rating. Instead, it refers to the weight of fly line that rod is built to cast. The most common fly rod, by far, is a 9-foot 5-weight. These rods are like the .30-06 of fly fishing. They’re able to do just about anything, and they’re perfect for beginners targeting trout, bass, panfish, and other freshwater species.

The St. Croix Rio Santo Fly Rod is one of the most popular entry-level fly rods, and for good reason. It’s an inexpensive rod with great performance. For $199.99, it’s tough to beat the performance of the Rio Santo.


St. Croix also makes a handful of other rod series that are fairly priced for an entry level fly rod. The imperial and Avid rod series, in particular, are great rods for the price.

Fly Reel

Reels are used much differently in fly fishing. Instead of using them as the primary source of line retrieval, reels usually hold the line while a fly fisherman pulls the line in with his free hand – a technique called “stripping.”
However, for the fish that are too big to handline in, you’ll need a reel that can put the brakes on as the fish runs. Something simple like the Okuma Sierra 4/5 wt. is a great choice. With an alumalite reel and stainless steel drag system, the Okuma is a reliable entry-level fly reel to accompany your standard 9 ft. 5 wt. rod.


Fly Line

When you first look at the fly line, you might end up with a bit of sticker shock. Some lines sell for $120 or more! Fly lines are more expensive to make, and some of them are worth the extra money. However, for beginners, there’s no need to dump tons of money on a line. More often than not, expensive lines are for specialized, highly technical forms of fly fishing.
Lines are built to weight specifications and correlate directly to the line rating on your rod. If you buy a 9’ 5-weight fly rod, you’ll want to buy some 5-weight line with it. Using 4-weight or 6-weight line won’t let the rod cast correctly. For most beginning level applications you will want a floating fly line, which gives you the option to fish dry flies and topwater poppers, yet also run shallow subsurface patterns.
Cortland Fly Line is a popular fly line that is fairly priced. The line offers an all-purpose application that happens to cast better than most other entry level lines.


Leader/Tippet

You know that long piece of line that connects a fly to fly line? That’s called a “leader.” They come in a lot of different lengths and sizes, all with different applications. For beginners, you don’t need anything more than a 9’ 4x and 5x leader. These leaders are tapered, which is where the “X” in their classification comes into play.
A 5x leader, for example, tapers from its thick butt section to a diameter 5 times smaller at the tip. Generally, a 4x or 5x leader will work for fly sizes 10 – 20, and is all you need to get started. Tippet is classified by the “X” system as well, although in this case, a spool of tippet is a uniform size. It’s like buying a spool of 4-pound monofilament test for a spinning rod. You’ll want a few spools of tippet to replace the end of your leader as you cut it while changing flies.


Flies and Fly Boxes

Books have been written on the subject of picking the right fly. It’s a crazy in-depth topic that you’ll learn about over time. The quickest way to explain flies is this: they’re made (tied by hand) to look like aquatic insects. Certain bugs – like caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies – live most of their lives in the water. Most of them return to the water to lay their eggs.
That’s what your flies are imitating – different “river bugs.” For beginners, you should make sure to stock your box with some size 14 caddis, size 14 Adams, size 16 pheasant tails, and size 18 zebra midges. Those 4 flies will catch fish in nearly any river in the world. If your targeting bass, your fly selection will shift to streamers, clousers, poppers, and crawfish patterns, and depending on the water slightly bigger flies. Of course, if you start throwing bigger patterns you will need to bump up your line, rod, and reel wt. size.
You don’t need a fancy box to keep your flies in, but it is nice to keep the flies organized and water tight to avoid rust and normal wear and tear. A small fly box is just fine for the beginning fly fisherman, something that is easy to put in a pocket or vest.


Nippers/Forceps

Most fishermen have a war chest’s worth of interesting gadgets for their time on the water. The most important, though, are nippers and pliers. The nippers are used to cut your tippet when changing flies, and the forceps are used to help remove a hook from a fish’s mouth. Both can easily be purchased in a package together and attached to your vest or shirt.


Waders/Boots

Fly fishermen spend a lot of time in the water, which is a bit different from other styles of fishing. If you're starting in the summer and warm water you can fish wet, wearing pants or swimming trunks and sandals or water shoes. To stay dry and comfortable in the colder water or for all day fishing, you’ll want a great pair of waders and boots.
You could easily spend more than $1,000 just on waders and boots, but there’s no reason to do that. For beginners, a simple pair of waders with boots such as the Frogg Toggs Cascade Bootfoot Felt Chest Waders is a solid purchase.


Fly Fishing Vest/Pack

While you certainly don’t need a vest or a pack to hold all of your new tackle, it is recommended to make your first go at fly fishing more enjoyable. Vests have been popular for years, though sling packs are starting to become more popular.
Just like with everything in fly fishing, you can spend a lot of money on a vest or a pack. Cheaper options work just fine, though, for beginning anglers. And vests are generally more beginner-friendly, too. The Allen Big Thompson Fishing vest comes in a variety of sizes and offers plenty of storage.

Beginning Fly Fishing Gear

For less than $400 - $600 dollars you can be fully outfitted for fly fishing. Of course, you can go much cheaper than this if you simply want to buy a fly fishing fly rod, reel, and line combo and a couple of flies. That purchase might only set you back around $100 or so.
At least walk away knowing that fly fishing doesn’t have to be an awfully expensive sport…you can get started without a huge investment. This blog covers all of the gear you need to head out to the water today and start catching your favorite fish species. Other than the gear, the next thing you might want to learn is the tactics to catch those fish!