The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Fly Fishing Gear
For beginners, choosing fly fishing gear is like picking up after a 6-year old’s birthday party.
Where do you even start?
When I was just a beginner in fly fishing, I remember the variety of gear and terminology used by experienced fly fishers was overwhelming.
Tippet? Gravel guards? Midges? I had no idea what these things were and whether I needed them.
Over time, I figured out what gear is important, and I've helped a lot of people get started in fly fishing.
You can pick the right fly-fishing gear, save money, and learn how to fly fish. I'm going to show you how.
In this article, I'm going to:
- List the basic pieces of fly-fishing gear you might encounter as a beginner.
- Describe what each basic piece of fly-fishing gear is used for.
- Explain why you do or don't need each piece of gear.
Article OutlineNeeds, Wants, and Luxuries
The Fly-Fishing Beginner's 7-Piece Essentials
Wants, Not Needs, for Beginners Fly Fishing
So what do you think?
Needs, Wants, and Luxuries
If you look at pictures of experienced fly fishers or walk into a fly shop without any idea of what you need to get started fly fishing, you might end up with an empty checking account and a bag of stuff you can't make sense of.
I went through my gear the other day and counted 32 different pieces of gear, tools, and accessories. And that's not including flies. Just look at all this stuff!
You don't need 32 things to begin fly fishing. You need 7.
There are of course some pieces of fly-fishing gear a beginner cannot do without.
Then there are a bunch of nice-to-haves, accessories, tools, and more that you'll collect as you grow in the sport.
Some of those nice-to-haves may turn out to be necessities, depending on your situation.
Others are undoubtedly luxuries that you’re welcome to use as a beginner but by no means will make or break a successful day on the water.
Let’s start with the absolute bare minimum necessities. Here are the 7 pieces of gear you need to begin fly fishing.
The Fly-Fishing Beginner's 7-Piece Essentials: Rod, Reel, Backing, Line, Leader, Tippet, and Fly.
It doesn’t matter where or when you’re fishing, you can’t fly fish without the seven pieces of gear listed above.
The rod and reel are the heart of every fly fishers’ gear. You can buy them separately, but you can also find high-quality outfits or combos that will have, at the least, a rod and reel already paired for you.
In addition to the rod and reel, some outfits come complete with everything except the leader, tippet, and fly.
If you decide to go this route, buying an outfit can dramatically simplify your initial gear shopping.
Typically fly-fishing outfits are designed for beginners like yourself.
Buying an outfit will save you the hassle of learning how to pick a rod and reel to match your line weight.
Here are my three favorite fly-fishing outfits for beginners. Each comes with a fly rod, fly reel, backing, fly line, and leader.
All that's left to get is some tippet and flies and you're good to go.
Beginner Fly Fishing Outfits
- Best: Sage Foundation. $650.
The Sage Foundation Outfit is an expensive beginner's fly-fishing set at $650 but if you're planning on doing a fair amount of fly fishing, you won't have to upgrade for a very long time (if ever).
My son uses an older version of this outfit and I've fished with it too. When I bring people fly fishing for the first time, this is what I put in their hands.
- Better: Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label Kit.$220.
Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO) has two different outfits, and this is the more expensive of the two.
TFO has a long history of providing good value for fly fishing gear without spending a fortune. If you look across their range of fly rods, the most expensive rod they carry is just under $400.
If I have any reservations about an outfit from TFO, it would be that they're not known for their reels.
- Good: Orvis Encounter. $169.
If I was a beginner on a budget this would be a no-brainer. If you don't know Orvis, you soon will.
Orvis is the alpha and the omega in fly fishing.
The Orvis Encounter Outfit is the least expensive and Orvis stands firmly behind everything they sell. I know because my first four rods were Orvis.
Over the years, I broke every one of them. And every time, Orvis replaced the broken parts for free.
If you don't want to start fly fishing with an outfit, here's how to choose your components.
Choosing a fly rod is the most important decision you can make as a beginner. But that doesn't mean you have to buy a brand-new, expensive fly rod.
There are plenty of great value rods for beginners just getting into fly fishing.
If you want a higher quality setup than an outfit will give you, I recommend spending between $200 and $400 for your fly rod as a beginner.
This price range will allow you to be introduced to the sport without the frustration of poor-quality gear.
To a beginner, fly rods look a lot like any conventional fishing rod. Fly rods however are longer, lighter weight, and more flexible.
You shouldn’t plan on using any old fishing rod for fly fishing. You’re going to need a fly-fishing rod.
Just because you need a fly rod doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune. If you want to buy something new, here are my three favorites:
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Rods:
- Best: Douglas LRS. $249.
If I was a beginner, I would choose the Douglas LRS. Douglas has made some incredible in-roads in recent years, winning a variety of fly rod shootouts.
This rod is safe for saltwater, with corrosion-resistant parts, and of course fresh water. It's also made with components generally found in higher levels rods, like Fuji guides.
- Better: Orvis Clearwater. $229.
Anytime there are beginner fly rod discussions, Orvis is going to be in the mix. The Clearwater is their classic line.
My first four, yes four, fly rods were Orvis Clearwater so I can attest that they will get you through several years of fishing before you're ready to upgrade.
- Good: Echo Boost. $249.
Echo is another brand that's always in the mix in discussions about fly rods for beginners.
Alongside TFO, Echo does a good job of offering something fishable before you get down into the frustratingly cheap rods (like Eagle Claw and Shakespeare).
Used Fly Rods
If you're the type of person that wants a high-end fly rod as a beginner, the best you're going to come by are here on Outfishers.
Outfishers doesn't carry many of the value-based fly rods, but all our fly rods are very high quality.
You can buy high-quality fly rods here for less because they're used.
The value Outfishers provides used fly rod buyers is our lifetime warranty, 30-day return period, free shipping, and TradeOut™ guarantee.
I'm trying not to toot our own horn here but you’re simply not going to find these benefits on any rod you buy off eBay or Craigslist.
If you want to gamble a bit to try to save a bit more money, you might be able to find a needle in the proverbial eBay and Craigslist haystacks. Just keep in mind you may not have recourse for return if you get a lemon.
Fly reels are significantly simpler than conventional fishing reels.
They have shorter handles, less moving internal parts, and are designed to allow you to cast and retrieve your fly line.
This is different from a conventional (i.e., spinning or bait caster) fishing reel so you're going to need a reel specifically for fly fishing.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Reels:
- Best: Lamson Liquid. $129.
The best reel of these three, the Lamson Liquid is the best beginner fly reel on the market.
Lamson’s are well known for being lightweight and the Liquid falls in line with that reputation. As with each of the other reels, there’s a market for these used reals (we’ll buy them).
- Better: Orvis Clearwater. $98.
Produced alongside the Clearwater rods, the Clearwater reel is one step above the Echo Ion in quality.
It’s a large arbor reel that can widen its use as you progress towards different species in your fly fishing.
- Good: Echo Ion. $80.
The Echo Ion is a good place to start with a fly-fishing reel. It’s got all the basics you need like a positive position click-drag, alloy construction, and a warranty.
And it's valuable enough that if you find fly fishing isn’t for you, you can sell it on eBay.
The 4 Parts of Fly Fishing Line
There are four parts to the fishing line on a fly reel. I know, four sounds ridiculous.
I mean, how much string do you need just to hook a trout? Let me explain.
Your tippet is what you tie your fly on to at one end.
The end of your tippet ties to your leader which ties to your fly line which ties to your backing.
At each tie point, there are a variety of specific knots that work well and are generally accepted.
The backing is the first part of the fishing line and is the only line that will be attached directly to your reel arbor.
The rest of the fishing line will attach to other pieces of the fly line itself. The purpose of the backing is to widen the circumference of the reel arbor.
This will allow you to reel the line in faster because each revolution of the reel will consume more line.
The remainder of the fly line is usually about 80 feet in length. So, if you have a fish that is running with your line, you’ll need the length of the backing to spool off so you don’t lose the fish.
There are only a few makers of high-quality fly line backing and if you stick to one of the well-known brand names, chances are you’ll be fine.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Backing
- Best: Rio Dacron
Rio is part of a larger fly-fishing conglomerate called Far Bank Enterprises. Far Bank owns Sage, Redington, and Rio.
They manufacture and distribute nearly anything related to fly fishing and as such have access to a wide talent pool that continuously churns out outstanding products, including Rio’s fly lines, and backing.
Scientific Anglers has been around since 1945. They were a part of 3M for a long time which led to the innovative development of several fly-fishing products.
I can only imagine having the brainpower, patent library, and resources of 3M to develop fly fishing gear. 3M sold Scientific Anglers to Orvis in 2013.
These two brands are the only brands I ever use for backing or fly lines. In either case, the minimal 100 yards length and 20 lb test is probably going to suffice for most beginners fly fishing in domestic rivers, streams, and lakes.
The fly line attaches to the backing. The fly line carries your cast forward.
In conventional or spin fishing, the weight of the lure or bait carries the fishing line forward. Not so in fly fishing.
In fly fishing, the weight of the LINE carries your cast forward since the fly, leader, and tippet are too light to carry the cast themselves.
As is the case with backing, I depend on Rio and Scientific Anglers for fly lines but to be fair there are a host of high-quality fly line manufacturers.
The variety of fly lines is also dramatically greater than with backing. There are fly lines for every type of fly fishing you can imagine and they vary by all kinds of situational needs including:
- Freshwater or Saltwater or Spey
- Dry Flies, Nymphing, Streamers, General Purpose, Indicators, and More
- Sinking vs. Floating
- Rivers vs. Lakes vs. Creeks
Like anything, you can go down a rabbit hole here and get as detailed and specific as you want. But for beginners, there are several good general-purpose fly lines. Here are my favorite:
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Lines
- Best: Rio’s Mainstream Trout WF. $39.
The WF stands for weight-forward which describes the taper profile of the fly line. In my experience, even for beginners, you can benefit from packing a bunch of weight at the front of your fly line. This makes casting easier.
- Better: Scientific Anglers Aircel Trout. $39.
The SA technology in this fly line makes it ideal for cold weather conditions. Often in cold weather, fly lines will become stiff and less flexible which can impede your casting.
The Aircel manufacturing in this line prevents some degree of that. So if you think you'll fish in colder climates, this is the one for you.
- Good: Orvis Clearwater Fly Line. $49.
Again, the Orvis Clearwater line delivers a solution for beginners in fly lines in addition to the rest of the Clearwater line.
I can't say that I think it's worth the extra ten dollars but if you're an Orvis enthusiast, have at it.
Keep in mind these are beginner-level fly lines.
If you’re the type of person that wants to start with something other than beginner-level gear, you can upgrade to any of these brands' higher-priced fly lines.
Your leader connects to your fly line.
The leader tapers from its initial thickness down to a very thin material towards the end.
The purpose of the leader is to begin the transition into a presentable fly that will land softly on the water.
There are so many variations of leaders.
If the terms euro-nymphing and French slow-action aren’t familiar to you, you’re in the right place.
The following three leaders are great general all-purpose leaders for beginning fly fishers.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Leaders
- Rio Powerflex Trout. $13 for a 3-pack.
This Rio line is my favorite all-around leader. I pick some up routinely in my local fly shop and prefer its lack of memory and ease of tying.
- Scientific Anglers Freshwater Leader. $5 for 1-pack.
The SA Freshwater line is a close second to Rio in my experience.
The butt section, closest to the rod, is thicker and longer than most lines but the advantage for SA has always been in their material science.
- Orvis SuperStrong Plus Leaders$9 for 2-pack.
According to Orvis, this stuff has the highest knotted strength of any leader on the market.
Keep in mind, those results come from testing in very controlled environments.
All bets are off when you get out in the elements, casting through brush and over rocks.
Nonetheless, Orvis makes an above-average quality line. Don't be afraid to give it a try.
A couple of notes:
First, Orvis sells a looped leader and tippet combination that saves the user from having to tie the tippet.
I’ve used this and while it works and works well, I would not recommend beginners use this system.
- You need to learn to tie leaders and tippets.
No other leader or tippet is compatible with this pre-looped system.
If you’re out on a river and run out of these tippets and need to use another brand or borrow a different brand from a friend, you’ll need to know how to tie tippets to the leader.
- It’s expensive.
Second, just like your rods and reels, you’ll need to specify your line weight when choosing your leader and tippet.
It matters to your cast so pay attention and buy the matching weight.
Third, when choosing the length of the leader, I typically recommend that beginner fly fishers use 9 ft. long leaders if they’re fishing smaller waters and 12 ft. only if you’re fishing big rivers.
As a beginner, you’re still going to be learning how to handle your line. So, make it easy on yourself, and pick a leader length that you can keep under control, like a 9ft.
Your tippet is your final piece of line.
The tippet comes in a variety of lengths and thicknesses.
Tippet is the ultimate finesse point that delivers a stealthy and soft landing of the fly on the water.
Tippet is inexpensive and doesn’t vary much in quality or material across the top manufacturers.
But it is HIGHLY important because the tippet is what delivers the fly to the water.
It needs to have very little line memory, be extremely lightweight, strong, and nearly invisible.
There are two basic types of material tippet comes in: nylon and fluorocarbon.
As a beginner, the choice of tippet material is unlikely to affect your fishing.
Nylon is less expensive at roughly 1/3 of the cost of fluorocarbon.
For you, I’m going to keep all the recommendations here nylon.
If you’re the type of person that likes to use higher quality gear right from the beginning, you can try fluorocarbon.
Here are the three tippets I recommend beginners start fly fishing with:
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Tippets
- Best: Orvis SuperStrong Plus Tippet. $6.
We're splitting hairs at this point because the difference between each of these three top tippets is very small.
I've personally had better luck with the Orvis tippet not pig-tailing, which is code for spiraling up when you go to tie a fly on.
It also comes in a crazy-wide range of options from 0X to 8X.
- Better: Scientific Anglers Freshwater Tippet. $5.
Now that Orvis owns the Scientific Anglers brand, there's an increasingly smaller difference between the two but this tippet has some leftover patents from the 3M days of Scientific Angler which seems to give the line a slightly softer feel.
- Good: Rio Powerflex Tippet$5.
Rio's always has a good line and their Powerflex tippet is no exception.
The company purposefully colors the tippet in a muddy grey that supposedly camouflages the tippet.
I can't vouch for that improving your chances of landing a fish but it can't hurt.
Yes! After all that time and expense, it's finally time to tie a fly on.
So, here's the scoop on flies. I can't recommend a single fly that you can pick up, go out, and catch fish with.
The fly is determined by the environment, the weather, the stream, and a variety of other factors.
What I can do is point you to some basic concepts about fly choice and link you to a few good starter packs.
The best piece of advice about flies I received as a beginner fly fisherman was this: Start fishing with the biggest ugliest thing in your fly box and work your way down to the smallest and most natural-looking bug.
The theory is that if the fish are feeding aggressively they may go after something like a wooly bugger but if all else fails, nymphing will usually catch you something.
Now, for beginner fly sets the only two I trust that have a broad enough set of flies to stretch across most conditions in North America are the following from Orvis:
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Fly Sets
My only hesitancy about these collections is that they're expensive.
If you go to your local fly shop, you will almost undoubtedly get equal quality flies with more localized patterns and quite possibly less expensive.
This brings me to my next point: The importance of fly shops.
The Importance of Fly Shops
With all the guidance above, it might seem simple to go online, choose your gear, watch some YouTube videos, and cast your line.
And you're right, that can be done.
But another way to gear up AND gain local knowledge is to find your local fly shop and stop in.
I'm not going to give you the 'buy local' speech. Shopping local here matters because it's valuable to you, not because it's altruistic. Here's why.
Fly shop owners, employees, and guides are a treasure trove of information about what to fish, when to fish, what flies to use, local regulations, and getting geared up properly.
Even if you don't buy your gear at your local fly shop, I highly recommend you get your fly reel and line set up in a fly shop for two reasons:
- You want it done right.
The variety of knots in the backing, line, leader, and tippet and initial complexity may be more than you want to handle as a beginner.
- You want to get acquainted with a fly shop.
Folks working in fly shops have tons of experience. So, in addition to getting your reel set up properly, introduce yourself and let them know you’re just a beginner.
They may have tips about what flies to cast, where to go, local regulations, and all sorts of other fly-fishing knowledge that will be tough to come across anywhere else.
Alright, that's it. These seven essentials are all you need to catch a fish.
1,000 situations may call for more than these pieces of gear. I want to offer a little perspective on some of those items for you.
Wants, Not Needs, for Beginners Fly Fishing
Just to reiterate, the items I discuss below are not 100% needed to go fly fishing and have an enjoyable time.
They are wants, not needs.
These items will, however, find their way into your arsenal if you decide to follow through in the sport so take note either way.
The purpose of a fishing net is to help you bring in, or 'land', the fish faster and safer.
Any fish in the water may still fight and do everything it can to spit the hook out.
The sooner you have the fish in a net, the less chance there is your hook will come loose and the fish will get away.
The other benefit of a net, which is worth mentioning, is that it's safer for the fish.
Nets help fish by allowing you to hold the fish securely but keep the fish in the water.
Nets also help fish by keeping the fish out of your hands. The more you touch a fish, the more dangerous it is for the fish.
They can catch a disease and if the natural slime of the fish rubs off on your skin, the fish is less protected. So nets are good for fish too.
Now, a net isn't necessary.
When I was young and broke, I fished for several years without a net. Sure, I lost some fish that were able to get off the hook as I was reeling them in.
But I wasn't concerned with keeping or photographing my fish so that didn't bother me.
If you want to keep your fish or get a good look at your fish, a net will help you out significantly.
This is one place where your grandpa's old fishing gear may work just fine.
There's nothing particularly special about fly-fishing nets.
Some are shaped and sized well for trout or other fish or fly fishing situations but if you have a net, chances are it'll work.
If you get into fly fishing, there are some nets I can recommend. Here are two I own.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Nets
- The Measure Net. $45.
I liked this net a lot because to see how big your fish is, all you have to do is land it in the net.
The natural contour and flexibility of the fish will allow you to measure it and take a picture to show your friends.
But I ripped it after a few years because the material isn't the strongest.
- Fishpond Nomad Emerger. $160.
Alright, there's a HUGE price difference between the two.
But I will tell you, get in almost any fly fishing guide's boat and you'll find a fishpond net.
They are awesome. Lightweight, strong, and will last a lifetime. I love mine. But it isn't cheap.
A fly box is nothing more than a container to help organize, protect, and keep your flies.
If you order flies off the internet or buy some flies at your local shop, you'll probably receive a clear fly 'puck' or 'cup'.
You can also get cheap fly boxes for a few dollars, used fly boxes from family, friends, or eBay.
Lastly, you can buy expensive fly boxes made of exotic woods and fancily carved.
Many fly fishers have more than one fly box and separate their flies by types into different boxes: midges in one box, streamers in another, dry flies in a third, etc.
I go that route. I find it easier to carry small boxes that fit in the front chest pocket of my shirt.
Of course, after a while my fly boxes get all mingled with streamers, dries, and midges need a re-org. Like this.
But I know plenty of fishers that have massive fly boxes with multiple layers.
Either way, here's an inexpensive but decent starter box variety from Amazon.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Boxes
- Dr. Fish Fly Boxes. $12 - $16.
I have several of these boxes and they're fine. What you're looking for in a fly box, if all else fails, is for the thing to stay closed and hold your flies. This will do just fine.
- A. L. Swanson. $200+.
I thought I'd throw the Swanson fly boxes at you in case you're a vanity type of person.
These fly boxes are more like gifts for passionate fly fishers than something you'd want to bang around the inside of your truck.
But I just couldn't help myself, they're so damn pretty!
Some fly fishers would put waders in the must-have section of gear but there are some situations that you may find yourself fishing in when you don't need them. Let me explain.
Waders are meant to keep you dry while you're fishing.
If you're going fishing for the first time in a cold environment, you're probably going to want a pair.
But if you're fishing in a warmer climate, or you're fishing from a boat, or even from the shoreline or shallow water, you may not want a pair of waders.
In the summer, I commonly wear a pair of quick-drying shorts and 'wet wade' as they call it.
The only downside I find is that if my exposed legs are above the water, I can get a fair amount of bug bites.
But depending on the water temperature, it's the most comfortable way to stay cool. In the spring, fall, or winter I almost always wear waders.
When it comes to waders, I would recommend that you splurge a little here. If you're going to invest in fly fishing enough to drop a few hundred bucks on some waders, do it once and do it right.
The three best names when it comes to waders are Simms, Patagonia, and Orvis.
There's a second-level wader quality in Redington, Frogg Togg, and Hodgman. If you stay within these brands, you'll be alright.
I don't recommend Cabela's, Bass Pro, or other store brands and nor do I recommend waders you can only find on Amazon and nowhere else.
Those are typically knock-off designs from better brands and you won't stand a chance at a warranty claim if and when they start to leak.
I need to address two important debates about waders. There is no right or wrong answer here, merely preferences.
First, waders come in both stocking-foot and boot-foot.
Stocking-foot waders have neoprene socks sewn on the feet that require an additional purchase of wading boots to be worn on your feet.
Boot-foot waders come with boots sewn onto the feet of the wader and require no additional equipment.
Most fly fishers prefer stocking-foot waders with separately purchased wading boots.
They're more comfortable, tougher, and provide better traction when wading through streams, assuming you get a decent boot.
I have always fished stocking-foot waders for the above reasons.
Second, waders come in both hip and chest height.
You might have a hard time finding stocking-foot hip waders as they aren't common.
Again, most fly fishers prefer chest waders. They simply provide more versatility as you can get into deeper water and stay dry.
I had a pair of boot foot hip waders in my teens, and they worked fine for a while.
But knowing how I planned on fishing more, I went ahead and invested in stocking-foot chest waders when they were worn out.
Best Beginner Fly Fishing Waders:
- Best: Simms Tributary Waders. $180.
Simms is THE name in fly fishing waders. I've never owned any other brand of chest waders. They're comfortable, breathable, and Simms has (in most people's opinions including mine) a great warranty and repair reputation.
- Better: Orvis Clearwater Waders. $229.
Come on, by now you had to have known that Orvis was going to make a quality entry-level wader and call it Clearwater.
I have not worn these but know some people that have been happy with them.
- Good: Frogg Togg Sierran Waders. $180.
There are less expensive Frogg Toggs but I'd stick with these for the functionality of the front pockets.
Fly fishing footwear falls right alongside the logic for and against waders.
Fly fishing footwear is designed to protect your feet, grip the riverbed, and make wading more comfortable.
To accomplish these goals, most fly fishers wear wading boots. I, for example, wear a pair of Simms G3 Guide Boots.
They're large and heavy. I even wear them in the summer because they aren't waterproof.
The second part of fly-fishing footwear is gravel guards. Gravel guards are neoprene material that bridges your legs and your wading boots.
They prevent gravel, pebbles, sand, and all the river grit from getting down in your boots.
When I'm wet wading, I wear my wading boots and gravel guards.
One important note about wading boots: They come in felt or rubber soles.
In terms of grip, felt bottom boots are great.
But felt bottoms are also illegal in many places now because bacteria and other living organisms can get caught in the felt and transported from one body of water to the next.
In terms of versatility, rubber bottom boots are the way to go. They are legal everywhere and they last longer than felt bottoms.
Best Fly Fishing Wading Boots for Beginners
- Simms Tributary Wading Boots. $130.
These are hands down the best entry-level wading boot out there.
I do realize that at $130, it's a bit of a stretch to call these 'beginner' or 'entry-level' but if you're the type of person that likes to go for higher-quality gear right from the outset, these boots are tough to beat.
My son has spent all day wading up and down the Bitterroot River in them without complaint.
- Orvis Encounter Wading Boots. $130.
The Orvis Encounter boots are another great place to start. Wading boots can feel tight over a pair of neoprene wader socks but Orvis recently widened these boots to be more comfortable.
If you've got wide feet, give these a shot.
- Redington Benchmark Boots. $120.
If there's a common complaint about wading boots, it's that they're heavy, bulky, and clumsy feeling. Not so with the Redington Benchmarks.
These are lightweight and soft. If you're going to be hiking or walking for extended periods in your wading boots, you might want to consider these.
One last option I'll throw at you.
If you're in a pinch, you can stop at your local Walmart, pick up the cheapest pair of high-top basketball shoes, and make them work.
It's not ideal obviously because the soles can get very slick and they don't offer much support.
But if you're wading in streams with a gravel bed, they'll get you through a few days.
Polarization on sunglasses removes a lot of the glare off of the water. This in turn allows you to see better into the water as you look for fish.
Polarized sunglasses aren't cheap. So if you don't want to spring a hundred bucks for a pair of Costa's, do yourself a favor and pick up some non-polarized gas station cheapies to fish in.
If you are in the mood to spend some serious money on a nice pair of polarized sunglasses for your next fly fishing trip, you can’t go wrong with any of Costa’s sport shades.
Sunglasses are a key piece of safety gear in fly fishing.
During casting, lines and hooks fly around in the air.
If you're around other fishers, the air space can get crowded and in case one of those hooks gets cast towards your eyes, your sunglasses will keep a hook out.
One of my favorite guides insists on his clients wearing glasses of some sort and even goes so far as to carry a bunch of cheapies around in case his client doesn't have a pair of shades.
Packs and Vests
If you plan to fish for any length of time, a pack or a vest to store, place, and hold your gear accessories may be a good idea.
One feature I want to be sure to point out to you is waterproofness. I've had packs that are and aren't waterproof.
If you're going to be advancing in fly fishing, I would choose to get a waterproof pack.
There is no downside to the waterproof packs and I promise you that if you plan to fish for years to come, you're going to run into situations where you want to take something with you that you don't want wet like your phone or a sandwich.
Fishing packs come in a variety of forms including backpacks, sling packs (i.e. over one shoulder), and fanny or hip packs.
The choice between these three is your personal preference.
I've owned all three. Here are my thoughts.
Backpacks can hold more gear, slings slightly less, and a hip pack holds just the basics.
Lastly, I use a Patagonia backpack on longer day trips or overnight camping trips.
I also use my backpack as a carry-on bag when I'm flying to and from fishing locations.
I use a Simms hip pack for days when I'll be fishing for 3-4 hours.
It's enough room to pack a small water bottle, some snacks, and the variety of small fishing accessories you're likely to acquire if you continue fly fishing like fly floatant, nippers, pliers, fly boxes, and more.
I've tried sling packs and I didn't care for the asymmetry of the weight on one shoulder. Sorry, no recommendations here.
Just uncomfortable hips and shoulders at a days end but your experience may be different.
Vests are the other category of wearables that will hold your gear while you're on the water.
Decades ago, vests were the standard for carrying fly fishing accessories. In the past twenty years or so, packs have taken their place as the preferable way to carry fishing gear for many.
Vests accomplish much of the same tasks as a pack, albeit with less space but more accessibility with your accessories attached directly to your chest.
I wore a Simms vest until I was about 20 years old. I switched to packs and never went back to vests. But again, it's just a personal choice.
So do you need a pack or a vest to begin fly fishing? No. They're simply a way to carry stuff.
If you have a backpack of any sort, it'll do. It may get wet, but it'll hold your stuff just as well as any fishing-specific pack.
I think you know what a hat is and why it's useful. The only reason I want to mention it specifically is that I consider it a safety piece.
If you're in a boat or proximity to other people fishing, there's going to be lines and hooks swinging around through the air.
You'd rather have a hook in your hat than your scalp. The same goes for a collared shirt or jacket and your neck.
I personally just stick with a baseball-style hat.
My father fishes with a classic fisherman's bucket hat.
And still yet, have a friend that fishes with one of those safari netted hats that keeps the burning sun off his pale skin.
It's just personal preference here.
The only consideration aside from personal preference you might want to think about is color.
Fish have pretty good eyesight. So avoid bright unnatural colors like hunter orange, or fire engine red.
There's a reason most fishing gear is some shade of grey, blue, or green. Stick with those colors and you'll be fine.
Pliers or Forceps
If you're going to stay with fly fishing, you'll probably eventually want pliers or forceps to remove hooks from the mouth of your fish.
What's wrong with your fingers?
Well, nothing. But advanced fly fishers use either of these tools for two reasons.
First, sometimes hooks get swallowed fairly deep by the fish.
To quickly remove the hook and do the least harm to the fish, a thin pair of forceps with allow you to reach down the fish's throat and remove the hook safely.
Second, the less you touch a fish with your hands, the safer it is for the fish.
Your hands remove the protective slimy coat of the fish and can carry bacteria and viruses.
I have both pliers and forceps. I use forceps for small fish and pliers for the big ones.
I can't honestly recommend a pair of pliers or forceps.
The tools made specifically for fly fishing are just ridiculously priced and overengineered for 95% of fly fishers, let alone beginners.
Trust me, I own a pair of really expensive fishing pliers and I have half a notion to sell them on eBay.
I simply don't use them in a way that justifies their cost.
If you're just in the mood to blow some dough, there's plenty of them out there even up to the $200 mark.
But a cheap pair of needlenose pliers from the hardware store will honestly work just as well.
Save some money here for something else.
Nippers (a.k.a. Nail Clippers)
The most useful and least expensive tool in your arsenal. Tie a pair on a string and tie it to your pack or vest.
When you're standing in the middle of the stream and tie a new fly on, nippers will cut the excess line quickly and easily.
Here, I have the same message as I do about pliers.
There are some crazy-expensive nippers out there for sale.
And again, I've used them before. And again, they're just not worth it.
Grab a pair for $3 from Walgreens and move on.
The only thing you want to look for is a pair with a hole on the end to tie a string through, so you don't drop them in the water.
But even if you do, here's a secret: most fly-fishing guides don't even use these things.
They just bite off the excess line with their teeth.
Retractors or Zingers
These snazzy little doohickeys are nothing more than fancy safety nets.
Attach a zinger to your shirt, belt loop, vest, or pack and the other end to your nippers, pliers, or forceps.
When you need to use your tool, pull it. When you're done, let it go. You'll never drop and lose your gear in the water.
Do you need these? No. Are they helpful? Yep. And this is a place where I would spend some money. So here are two choices.
Best Fly Fishing Retractors for Beginners
- Best: Fishpond Arrowhead Retractor. $29.
Fishpond doesn't have a broad product lineup but what they do, they do well. These retractors are no exception. I have a few of these and they've stood the test of time, holding up to thousands of pulls.
- Better: Orvis Flow Zinger: $13.
I've also used these and they worked for two or three years before the spring inside gave out. But at less than half the price of the FishPond Arrowhead Retractor, you might want to consider these if you're looking for a place to save a few bucks.
So there is the most long-winded exhaustive list of gear and recommendations for anyone that’s just beginning fly fishing.
I want to be clear that these recommendations are for you if you plan on continuously fishing as a hobby.
If, on the other hand, you are simply going on a one-time fishing trip, these recommendations probably aren’t the best for you.
This gear is expensive and often you can rent much of it from a guide or fly shop for a one-time trip.
But if you’re serious about fly fishing, you won’t go wrong with any of the gear listed here.
So what do you think?
What did I leave off?
What should be here that isn’t?
And what did I list that you have a different opinion about?
Let me know, I’m always interested in what other fly fishers have to say.