A Complete Guide to Fly Fishing Gear

Basic Items Needed For Fly Fishing Spread On Wooden Floor

They say that a bad workman blames his tools and this is certainly true to an extent when it comes to activities like fly fishing. At the end of the day, you can have the very best fly rod, reel and fly – but if you don’t know how to set the hook, choose the best places to fish or cast out, then you’re not going to get the results you’re looking for.

First – Check Out The Infographic

Fly Fishing 101 Guide

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With that in mind, we highly recommend checking out our comprehensive introduction to fly fishing 101 that will fill you in on the basics and hone your skills. But at the same time, it’s also certainly true that the right fly fishing gear also makes a massive difference!

Man Fly Fishing in a Fast River

And it’s true that fly fishing gear will not only make you a better fly fisher but also help you to enjoy the experience of fly fishing all the more. With the right gear, the experience will be more pleasant, more peaceful and more fruitful.

If you get this wrong on the other hand, then you can expect to struggle get your line out, to reel in your fish or even to attract any bites to begin with!

Every Tool, Item And Accessory You Need For The Best Fly Fishing Experience

This post will solve the issues of your fly fishing gear and help you to kit yourself up with the ultimate arsenal for heading out and catching fish. You’ll be a better fisherman (or woman) as a result and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time of it.

Choosing Your Fly Rod

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The first thing you are going to need for your fly fishing kit is a fly rod. A fly fishing rod needs to be the right length, the right stiffness and the right weight for your intended line and type of fish.

Fishing Rod Next to a Caught Fish

The best way to understand the different options when looking at fly rods and anything else here, is to think about how the rod needs to be used and what it’s job is.

One of the biggest jobs of your fly rod is going to be casting. This essentially describes the process of launching the line and the fly into the water and the weight of the load is going to determine just how strong the line needs to be.

When casting, you bring the line up quickly and then stop. This transfers the weight into the line and you’ll be able to see the momentum travel down it. You then bring your arm forward, which does the same thing at the apex of its height and sends it flying toward the point in the water where you want to fish.

This means that you need just the right amount of bend in the line to carry that potential energy and transfer it down the line. If the weight is heavy and your line is too line, then it will have a hard time snapping back into place. If the weight is light and the rod is heavy, then it will remain rigid and there will be less energy to carry into the line.

Your fly fishing rod should also provide line control once the line is in the water and it should be strong enough to help you land the fish, while not so strong as to pull the hook out of the fish’s mouth.

Sometimes there will be a great amount of pressure exerted on the rod and like the willow bending in the wind, it’s the flexibility of the rod that allows it to withstand this.

Piscifun Graphite Fly Fishing Rod

Fly Fishing Rod Materials

Fly fishing rods can be made from different types of material, which will impact the rigidity of the rod as well as various other properties like the weight and strength.

Graphite

Graphite is the most popular choice for fly rods today. They’re relatively new and provide a great balance of strength and lightness. However, note that the quality of graphite can vary greatly. The lighter the rod (if it is graphite) the higher the quality and the more you can expect to pay.

For the most part, you get what you pay for. If you are willing to part with a little more cash, you’ll get a better rod.

Bamboo

The first fly rods ever made were reportedly made from bamboo and this makes a lot of sense. Bamboo is the perfect material in terms of its strength and its elasticity and it is also nicely light and readily available, making it a cheap and strong choice.

Fly Fishing Rod Made out of Bamboo

Today, bamboo rods are very easy to care for thanks to their natural material and they give you an even closer connection to nature. It really feels like you have crafted a rod using naturally available materials and used it to hunt. Which is great.

Unfortunately, bamboo rods also tend to be heavier than graphite and they can be quite expensive. As a general rule, you are usually better off selecting a graphite rod. You may wish to get a bamboo rod once you’re intimately familiar with fly fishing and consider yourself an expert!

Fiberglass

Rods were once all made from fiberglass but being slightly heavier and harder to work with, they are tending to go out of vogue. That said, fiberglass have the benefit of being the most affordable, which makes them appealing to beginners. They’re also virtually indestructible.

Fly Fishing Rods Made Out of Fiberglass

With all that in mind, fiberglass rods can be a good choice for a beginner’s fly fishing gear set. It is a big mistake to send a fortune on a beautiful graphite rod, only to realize that fly fishing isn’t for you!

This post will teach you more about the material choices for fly rods!

Factors to Consider When Choosing Fly Fishing Rods And Lines

When choosing your rods, there is a lot to think about. One thing to consider for example is the fly line weight.

Fly Fishing Line Weight

The weight of your line is going to directly impact your choice in fly rod, seeing as manufacturers will design specific rods to be suitable for specific line weights. Line weights go from 0 upwards (as high as 14+) and this will tell you whether they’re better suited to tiny trout (0) or big game (7 upward).

As we’ve seen, part of the role of your fly rod is to provide elasticity that you can use to propel your line and fly forward and across the surface of the water. To do this, you need a rod that will offer just the right amount of resistance for the weight that is attached.

And that means you need to ensure that the weight of the line is going to match the weight of the rod.

Man Fly Fishing with Heavily Bent Rod

Have a good think about what kind of fish you want to catch and consider this brief guide below:

  • Fly Line Weight 1-3: This will catch small trout and other small fish. Useful for areas with spooky trout and fly sizes that are 16 and below.
  • Fly Line Weight 4: This is suitable for medium sized trout and other fish around that size. Works for casts that are no longer than 40’ and can be used with tipped from 2 to 6lbs.
  • Fly Line Weight 5-6: This is the most versatile and weight and thus a very good choice for beginner fly fishing packs. This will work well with small, medium and large flies and allow both longer and shorter casts. Will work with tippets that are 3-10lbs and can cast large and weighted nymphs around 50 feet.
  • Fly Line Weight 7-9: This is for much larger trout and a number of other large fish like salmon. Used for itching large streamers and for longer casts. Not so good for shorter ones. Heavy lines also work well in heavy winds, especially with tippets of 6-11llbs.

You’re also going to choose a fly wheel weight that will match the fly rod weight and fly line weight. Simply put, the fly rod weight dictates the fly line weight you can use which dictates the fly reel. It’s important to have a good think about the type of fishing you want to do before making a purchase and then to ensure that everything matches up.

AFFTA Approved Fly Line Weight Specification

This will ultimately mean the fly itself will need to be the same weight. If the fly is too heavy for your line, then it will go wherever it pleases. If it is too light, it will be very hard to control and you won’t be able to cast it out very far.

Fly Fishing Rod Action

Another factor you need to take into account is the action of your fly rods. This tells you how flexible the rod is specifically and will be related to the weight of the line and rod, as well as the material – but it won’t be entirely tied to those specifications.

Slow action fly rods are also known as ‘full flex rod’. These are highly flexible which means that they can transfer a lot of energy into the line. It also means however that you can’t use very heavy weights and will instead be relegated to using lighter loads.

Using these types of rods, you’ll find that playing with a small 8’’ trout feels like a battle against a 5lb steelhead!

On the other hand though, fishing with light weights and a highly flexible rod gives you a lot of control of your casting and allows you to more easily perform feats like roll casts. Here, you jerk the rod forward and down more on the forward cast, which creates more of a curve and less height compared with a back cast.

This essentially lets you cast forward when you have less available space, especially overhead.

The bendiness of a slow action rod also makes it more resilient and incredibly hard to break or snap. It simply absorbs force very efficiently and returns it as energy.

Fly Fishing Rod Action Speed Illustration

Medium and moderate action fly rods are also known as mid-flex fly rods. These are the most popular because – once again – they can be used in the most varied range of different situations and scenarios. The result is that you can use them for catching bigger or smaller fish and that means you won’t be as limited by your rod.

Finally, you also get fast action fly rods or ‘flexy tip’ rods. These are stronger and heavier which makes them good for bigger fish and a lengthy cast. It’s also a good choice for very windy conditions. However, this rigidity is counteracted by a slightly more flexible tip, which allows the same energy transfer and some protection for your tippet and leader.

We’re getting into the fly fishing tippet and leader in a moment but for now all you need to know is that this is what connects the fly to the line. If you have no flex in your rod, then this could get snapped off. With flex, the energy will be transferred down the rod, rather than pulling at the tippet.

Here is a great guide to picking your fly fishing rod based on the action. Or why not check out the detailed information on this very site?

Extra Features And Considerations


These are the basics but obviously there are many more elements to consider when buying your fly fishing rod and any fly fishing accessories.

Stunning and Beautiful Fly Fishing Rod

One is the look. This might not sound important but if fly fishing becomes a big hobby for you and an important part of who you are, then you’re going to want a fly fishing rod that feels fitting and that looks the part. A good fly fishing rod should feel like a trusty partner in crime, it should have personality and it will come on lots of adventures with you!

Think too about the practicality. Some fishing rods will come in parts for example and this can be very handy if you are someone who wants to explore while fly fishing. You can disassemble these fly fishing rods into their constituent parts and then load them into fly fishing bags or a fly fishing backpack.

Fly Fishing Tippet And Leader + Other Features

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The next consideration is your fly fishing tippet and leader. This is one part of the fly fishing equation that is a little less self-explanatory but you can find plenty of information online or in our own guides.

Essentially, the fly fishing leader and tippet will be what connect your fly line to your fly. The aim here is to create an almost invisible connection, so that the fish doesn’t see that the ‘bug’ is actually connected to something else. Would you eat your dinner if you could see it was tied to a giant stick?

Diagram of Essential Components of a Fly Fishing Rig

But more importantly, the fly tippet and leader will help you to transfer energy from the fly rod and line to the fly itself. And in doing this, it should help the fly to roll in the air, so that it lands in the right orientation and actually looks like a bird, a bug or whatever else it has been designed to resemble.

If it just lands in an awful heap, then it’s not going to be very enticing to those fish!

So what is the difference between the fly fishing tippet and the fly fishing leader? Essentially, the leader is the main clear material that will be connected to the fly line and this material should have a fairly heavy weight but will also ‘taper down’ to get narrower and lighter toward the end.

In regular spin fishing terms, you can consider the leader to be essentially the same thing as the fishing monofilament.

Depending on your skill level, the kind of fish you are catching, the weight of your line and other factors, you will likely choose a leader with a 20lb test butt section of the leader to attach to the fly line, tapering down to around 4lb test.

It will usually be around 9 feet in length, so that means it will considerably extend the overall reach that you have available to you.

The tippet meanwhile is the lightweight portion that is attached to the other end and which will connect the fly. This is the lightest but strongest it can be without being visible to the fish. You’ll change the size of the tippet as with everything else to fit the type of leader, the type of line and the type of rod.

Crystal River Knotless Tapered Leader (5X 5-lb./9ft.) Package

Often, buying your fly fishing gear will mean investing in a fly fishing tippet and leader separately and then tying them together in a knot. This simply creates more confusion and work for you though, so a better option is to look for a knotless tapered leader that is already connected to the tippet right out of the package.

This will make life a lot simpler and ensure that everything should work together just nicely.

Another consideration is the material of your fly fishing leader and tippet, just as you had to consider the material of your fly rod. You can pick either monofilament or fluorocarbon. Flurocarbon has comparatively less stretch which gives you more sensitivity, allowing you to ‘feel’ the fish better.

It also sinks faster and is more durable and abrasion resistant. The downside is that fluorocarbon is more likely to come unknotted and will require lubrication when cinching knots down. Of course this isn’t an issue if your leader and tippet are pre-knotted. That said though, you should also consider that monofilament is considerably cheaper.

When looking at your options for tippets and leaders, you’re probably going to find that there are other stats mentioned for you to make heads and (fish) tails of. For example, you’ll see that there is an X denoted next to the product.

This represents the break strength and the higher the number with the X, the stronger your tippet and leader will be. If you go for a 03X, then you’ll get a tippet diameter of .015’’ and this will allow you to catch large game species up to 25lb.

Multiple Tapered Leader

At the other end of the spectrum, you have 8X, which has a diameter of .003’’ and is suitable for very small trout and panfish weighing up to 1.75lbs. Choose a 1X and you’ll be suitably versatile and mid-range to catch a wide variety of fish.

Find more on picking a fly fishing leader and tippet here, or see our reviews section for more.

The Best Way To Get Your Essential Fly Fishing Gear

If all this is sounding very complicated and daunting, then you might be reconsidering that plan to take up fly fishing!

Don’t let it deter you though: in reality it’s actually very simple and the trick is just to make sure that you keep the weights the same and follow our recommendations to choose items that are not too expensive and that are generally versatile.

We also have plenty of reviews to help you find the best choices for your fishing.

But if you want to make things easier still, then consider looking for a beginner’s fly fishing kit, which will include all the parts you need to get started – all of which should work together and be the right weight and size to match up. Read more about fly fishing packs or have a search for them.

Using the information you’ve learned in this comprehensive post, you should now be able to assess the contents of these packs and decide if they contain everything you need.

Basic Fly Fishing Equipment

If you’re really unsure, then ask a friend or a family member who enjoys fly fishing and get them to show you the ropes (and the lines). They will help you to pick the right parts to get started with and they’ll talk you through all the different fly fishing gear and accessories. You can also try asking store owners.

Remember, it’s often easier to get affordable fly fishing gear online, so why not check out your local store, identify what you need and then buy online?

Choosing The Best Flies For Your Fly Fishing

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As you might expect, choosing your fly is a very important decision when you first start fly fishing – it’s in the name after all!

Flies are quite marvellous creations and when you look closely at the craftsmanship involved, you quickly realize that these are essentially miniature works of art! What’s more, is that they are instrumental in helping you to catch your fish.

Your fly is what will attract the interest of your fish and by choosing something that looks like appropriate prey, you can ensure that the right type of fish is interested.

As with most things fly fishing, there are several different choices for your fly…

1

Dry Fly

The dry fly is one of the most exciting kinds that you can use for fly fishing. This is a type of fly designed to float on top of the water, which is similar to the way that some creatures would behave.

The great thing about the dry fly from your point of view, is that it means that the fish need to come up onto the surface in order for them to catch it. That means that you get to see the fish nice and close and this can even be useful in helping you to orient your line correctly when trying to set the hook.

Four Different Dry Flies

Dry flies can still come in a variety of different designs and styles however. The most common are those that have been designed to ‘match the hatch’. This means that they are trying to mimic the type of prey that the relevant fish will be looking for.

For example, they might be designed to look like mayflies, caddies, stoneflies etc. And this is why they are called ‘flies’ and in turn, why it is called ‘fly fishing’.

Of course the best way to use these kinds of flies is to do your research and to find out what type of prey your intended target will prefer. For example, when fishing for trout, mimicking flies rather than birds is going to be the preference.

Another type is something called an ‘attractor’. These are designed not to look like any particular insect but rather to look like something of interest and to trigger all of their predatorial instincts regardless of their breed. Often they’ll have lots of flashy colors and a few leg-type protrusions hanging from them.

Attractors can be versatile but don’t tend to work that well in over-fished waters where the fish will be more cautious.

2

Nymph

The nymph is perhaps the most effective form of fly and is often the preferred weapon of choice for fly fishers. This is because they remain under the water, which is how trout and many other fish will prefer to feed around 80% of the time.

Five Different Nymph Flies

These are intended to simulate mayflys, caddis or stonefly. These flies go through various developmental stages and will spend some of their time under the water along stream beds. This is what the nymph fly is for.

But with this submerged nature comes some specific challenges. There is a greater risk of snagging of course and you also need to pay more attention in order to be able to tell where the fly is in relation to the fish. One trick that you can use to this end is to have an ‘indicator’.

This is a float that will remain in the water above your fly, allowing you to keep an eye on where your fly is under the water and whether it is being pulled or eaten.

Using a fly fishing indicator then is another of the most important fly fishing accessories!

3

Streamer

The streamer is a very entertaining type of fly that is also rather productive. The streamer is designed to imitate foods like minnows and leaches that will move more quickly and you’ll then use short pulls to keep it moving in a pulsing type action.

A lot of fish can’t resist this display and that means that you’ll be likely to get a lot of attention and the fish are likely to attack it very aggressively!

Fly Fishing Streamer Fly

This is also a method that is a little more similar to regular spin fishing, which can be an advantage if that is what you are familiar with. It’s very important when using this type of fly to ensure that you also use a strong tippet to prevent it from breaking off.

For more on the differences between flies and for images of the different types, this is a very good post.

More Fly Fishing Accessories And Extras

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While the above fly fishing gear will get you started very nicely, there are a lot of extra fly fishing accessories and tools that can help to make the experience all the more fun.

We’ve looked at a bunch of this gear in our very extensive reviews section and this will help you to make the right selection.

This is all about making life easier for yourself and ensuring that the experience is as comfortable and as enjoyable as possible. A few items can make a big difference in these regards, including…

Fly Fishing Bags

The aim of fly fishing bags is of course to provide a place where you can keep all your fly fishing gear and accessories. This will allow you to store your fly rod, your line, your flies themselves and any other extra bits and pieces all in one bag that you can carry with you.

Man Wearing Maxcatch Fly Fishing Chest Bag

The aim with a good fly fishing bag is to find something that is big enough to contain your fly fishing gear while still being portable and easy to carry.

You also need to ensure that it is made from a water resistant material (fly fishing almost always involves water of some kind) and that it contains lots of convenient pockets and compartments that will allow you to store your fly, your line, your rod etc. each separate.

Remember that we also discussed the possibility of getting fly fishing rods that could be broken into multiple parts. This will allow you to fit a long rod with good flexibility into a much smaller bag and that means you can even look into getting a fly fishing backpack.

This way you can head out into the wilderness and do some hiking, climbing and exploring and then just get your rod out to catch yourself dinner. It’s a great way to really immerse yourself in nature and to enjoy an exciting camping trip!

A fly fishing backpack is also useful for wading, as it will give you easy access to all of your equipment, your rod, your lines and your flies all while you’re submerged in the water! Better yet are fly fishing chest packs which bring everything around the front for even better accessibility!

Wading Apparel

There are various items you need to help you wade into the water when you start fly fishing.

The first is your waterproof wader. Waders are designed to help you wade into the water without getting too wet and this is ideal for fly fishing. While fly fishing can sometimes be enjoyed from the side like spin fishing, you will normally want to wade into the water and get involved in the action.

Man Wearing Caddis Wader

Of course if you wade in your regular clothes, you are going to get very wet and have a cold, damp journey home! Using waders will help you to wade in while staying dry (relatively) and having something to change into.

Fly fishing waders can come in a variety of different styles and types. For example you can get a zip-front wader, or you can get wading pants on their own. Think about what will be easiest to get in and out of and what you’ll be happy wearing for hours on end.

There is plenty more fly fishing clothing to keep in mind too though. Fly fishing boots are a must-have for example that will keep your feet dry while you are wading.

It’s also important to consider which boots will protect your feet from sharp pebbles, glass and even fish in the water, while at the same time trying to avoid anything that is going to disturb the water too much.

You don’t want to disturb the water not only because it is bad for the fishing and will scare away your targets but also because it is bad for the environment and can upset the delicate eco system. Part of fishing well is to try and make sure you are eco-conscious and you leave the environment just as you found it – although perhaps missing a fish!

Fly fishing boots can come in a variety of shapes and sizes then but look for felt or rubber soled boots as a beginner and especially rubber soles to avoid nuisance species. As you become more adept at fly fishing, you may want to go further and consider studded boots.

These will provide traction which can come in especially handy when you are wrestling with the biggest and heaviest fish! You don’t want to get pulled over and land on your face in the water!

Finally, you should also get a fly fishing hat. There’s nothing special about your fly fishing hat, you just need to ensure that you have a fly fishing hat that will have some basic water resistance to protect your head from splashes and that more importantly will keep the sun off of your head and face.

A fly fishing hat can be considered as a ‘must have’ for fly fishing and good options include a baseball cap, longbill or brimmed hat.

Man in Fly Fishing Clothes and Hat

Fly fishing is not conventionally a fashion show but there’s nothing wrong with being stylish in an Indiana Jones-style way either!

Additional Fly Fishing Accessories

Some more things that will be very handy include:

  • Sunglasses: Polarized sunglasses will keep the sun out of your eye and make it easier for you to spot fish at a distance, especially when it’s bright and the water is reflecting a lot of light.
  • Clippers are also very useful for handling things like cutting the tippet or the tail ends of knots.
  • Net: You can bank your fish in many scenarios which means pulling them into shallow water and onto the shore to collect them. But often it will be better to try and lift them into a net – especially with the help of a friend.
  • Hemostat: These are clamps/forceps that you use to remove flies from the mouths of trout and they can also be used to flatten down the barb on the hook.
  • Fly flotant: This keeps your fly on the surface of the water and looks similar to an indicator.
  • Lamp: Having a lamp of some sort is great if you are fishing in the evening. You can use a head torch, or alternative a free-standing light so that you can keep your hands free.
  • Fly fishing vest: If you don’t have a fly fishing chest pack, then a fly fishing vest will be the next best thing and allow you to store all of your items right where they can be easily accessed.
  • Extras, extras, extras: You should store extras of everything when you go fly fishing so that you never find yourself having to stop fishing because you don’t have leaders, because your fly got lost or because your socks are wet.
  • Lubricant: Apart from all the other handy uses, lubricants can be helpful for getting tighter knots.
  • Lunch box: Need I say any more?
  • Fly box: Somewhere to keep your flies so they don’t get flattened in your fly fishing bag.
  • First aid kit: This is an absolute must.
  • Rod and reel case: To protect your most expensive tools.

Find more ideas here.

Conclusion

With all that, you should now have a complete guide to all the fly fishing gear you could possibly need. Head out and acquire these items and you’ll be good to go! Spend a little time deciding though, as getting the right fly fishing gear can make a huge difference to your experience of the sport.

And if you’re looking for guidance on which items to buy and what will be a good bargain, be sure to check our reviews section. Happy fishing!

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