5 Step Guide to Selecting Beginner Fly Fishing Gear
Undertaking the serene and enriching journey of fly fishing can be one of the most rewarding experiences for any angler let alone beginner fly fishing enthusiasts. As you stand amidst the gurgling streams or tranquil lakes, the world seems to take a breath with you. However, having the right gear for your skillset and desires is a first step in the right direction. For those just starting out, the array of equipment choices can be daunting. Fear not, because I have broken down your first steps into the world of fly fishing into five essential stages, complete with detailed suggestions for your gear selection in beginner fly fishing.
I know how important this is because I started later in life and was fortunate enough to have good guidance from a myriad of friends and family but there are tons of options and you can way overdo it or way undervalue and waste your time and money.
Step 1: Selecting Your Beginner Fly Fishing Rod
The fly rod is your primary tool and choosing the right one is like picking a wand that chooses the wizard. For beginner fly fishing, a mid-range 9-foot rod with a 5-weight (5wt) rating offers versatility for various environments. Brands like Orvis and Sage offer excellent starter rods that balance quality with affordability. The Orvis Clearwater and Sage Foundation series come highly recommended for their durability and ease of use. Other rods like Hardey are excellent choices but they are priced for advanced anglers and may not be the direction you want to go.
Look at your decision in several ways. I suggest asking yourself these questions. “Is fly fishing an experiment that I will likely spend little time doing and is a once-in-a-while thing for me? Is fly fishing something I’m passionate about but I have to make it affordable and know it will likely be my number 2 or 3 hobby? Is it something I know I will do for a long time and often because it is a number one passion of mine?” When you ask the questions here are my suggestions for a rod selection.
Before we answer these questions let’s look at a few features to help you along the way. The recommendations below are an easy step towards selecting a beginner fly fishing rod that will be perfectly suitable for your needs. When you begin to look the features are endless and frankly, the most important thing is to get a decent rod and get out on the water so don’t lament and overthink it. Here are a few additional features to consider and more so understand on a higher level when choosing the rod to start with in beginner fly fishing.
- Reel Seat - The reel seat is how you connect your reel. Some have beautiful and ornate wood, etc. but more importantly, does it have a second locking ring to ensure your reel doesn’t come loose? That is something worth looking for.
- Number of Sections - Go with a four-piece rod. Two-piece rods are way too cumbersome and five-piece rods are backpack rods. Don’t fall for any telescoping models.
- Eyelets - Some rods have high-tech eyelets that are flexible and will bend back. 90% do not. This is a nice addition but not necessary in any way shape or form in my opinion. Rods are meant to be cherished and taken care of so treat them respectfully. Think of it this way. We have had rods with stiff eyelets for years and it isn’t a major problem.
- Materials - Be very careful here. You want a general graphite rod. Do not get a bamboo or fiberglass rod in my opinion unless you are willing to try many rods, and practice with all of them. They all have limitations and differences that can take away from your variable functionality of being a first rod. These are third, fourth etc. rods for your quiver.
- Handle - Handles are worth looking at. I suggest cork, it wears well and has a great feel. You don’t need a fighting butt and foam isn’t my selection of choice. Some corks do have more filler in them than others. Look closely and you’ll see that the cork looks like it has small sections of paint in it. Filler is essential, glue with small bits of cork dust in it to fill the small gaps and crevices. The higher-quality corks will have fewer instances of this.
- Is fly fishing an experiment that I will likely spend little time doing and is more of a once-in-a-while thing for me?
- If Yes, the rod selection type for you is an affordable quality rod that will not cause you a fit when you go out. Your time doing this is limited so when you go consider getting a rod that is capable of performing the job without causing you to feel like you are beginner fly fishing every time with add additional headaches to make things more complicated.
- Go with a 5-weight (5wt) medium-action rod that will facilitate catching multiple sizes and species of fish so no matter where you go you can be armed to tackle the situation.
- Go with one of these -
- Is fly fishing something I’m passionate about but I have to make it affordable and know it will likely be my number 2 or 3 hobby?
- If Yes, the rod selection type for you is similar to the above recommendation. An affordable quality rod that will not cause you a fit when you go out. Your time doing this is limited so when you go consider getting a rod that is capable of performing the job without causing you to feel like a beginner fly fishing angler every time and add additional headaches to make things more complicated.
- Go with a 5-weight (5wt) fast-action rod that will facilitate catching multiple sizes and species of fish so no matter where you go you can be armed to tackle the situation. The faster action will allow you to develop more speed in your cast and take on heavier winds, larger flies, and a few more advanced techniques.
- Go with one of these -
- Is fly fishing something I know I will do for a long time and often because it is a number one passion of mine
- The rod selection type for you is more than just another arrow in the quiver. You’ll likely cherish this rod as you first purchase it and want something a bit more unique. The unique qualities can come in several forms but most importantly, will you want to come back to it after you have picked up other rods, and what would it mean to pass it along as a heirloom and memory for you to share?
- I recommend a 5-weight (5wt) rod hear as well. This weight rod is extremely versatile. Go with something that has faster action so you can use it for many situations. Your casting ability will help you adjust to the rod's capabilities. When selecting the rod, select something that is of higher quality, will last, has an excellent warranty and you have an emotional connection with.
Go with one of these - From least expensive to most. The quality will raise slower than the price but they are all fantastic rods and respectable manufacturers. Resale value is also there on each one and they all have similar warranties. Frankly if you move on I would highly consider keeping the rod and getting another. Each one is a fantastic rod for the boat, a friend or family member to borrow.
Temple Fork Outfitter (TFO) - NXT Black Label Rod or Rod and Reel Kit 9ft 5wt - Rod, Rod and Reel Kit
Orvis - Clearwater Fly Rod or Rod and Reel Combination -9ft 5wt - Rod, Rod and Reel Combination
Sage - FOUNDATION 590-4 Rod or Rod Reel, line and Leader Outfit -9ft 5wt - Rod, Rod, Reel, Line and Leader Outfit
Hardy - Hardy, Aydon Single Hand Rod - 9ft 5wt - Rod
OK, Write it down…are you a 1, 2, or 3 and it is ok if it changes a bit for each item but you want to have those angler-type scenarios in your mind as you select the rest of your outfit. The idea is that you can narrow it down, make a selection, and go fishing. Honestly, any which way you go here is a good choice for beginnner fly fishing but a slight difference may save you a few dollars or more. Lastly, always share your list with your gift-givers…that’s the easiest way to save a few bucks! ;-)
Step 2: Matching Your Beginner Fly Fishing Reel to Your Fly Fishing Rod
Your reel holds your line and helps you manage the tension with a drag system so you can effectively fight to land a fish. When starting out, look for a reel that matches the weight of your rod to ensure balance. This is a recommendation and matching weight for balance is relative. The weight is going to change when you line it so don’t get over complicated here. Reels are designed and labeled with line weight numbers like your rod. Instead, look at function and form. A good starting point is a machined aluminum reel for its strength and corrosion resistance. The Orvis Battenkill reel is a classic, known for its reliability and smooth drag system, making it a solid choice for those new to the sport.
Features to Consideration When Shopping for a Reel
Arbor - Size and reel substitution should be considered. For beginner anglers, a single floating line is going to set you up and be more than substantial for 99% of the situations you will be in. If you are an advanced angler you may want a reel that allows you to purchase a second spool later in your fishing adventure. Having a specific line of different density, etc. will allow you to purchase and quickly switch to lines that are specific for certain situations such as indicator nymphing, streamer fishing, etc.
Temple Fork Outfitter (TFO) - NXT II Black Label Reel or Rod and Reel Kit - Reel, Rod and Reel Kit
Orvis - Clearwater II Fly Reel or Rod and Reel Combination - Reel, Rod and Reel Combination
Sage - Spectrum C Reel or Rod, Reel, Line and Leader Outfit - Reel, Rod, Reel, Line and Outfit
Hardy - Hardy, Marquise 5/8 LW Reel - Reel
Step 3: Choosing Your Beginner Fly Fishing Line
A good quality line will improve your casting distance and accuracy. For starters, a weight-forward floating line is recommended. It's easier to cast and works well for a variety of conditions and species. Companies like Rio, Scientific Anglers, Airflow, and Monic offer beginner-friendly lines like the Rio Gold or the Scientific Anglers Mastery series, designed to help improve casting efficiency with minimal effort. As mentioned above, weight-forward floating lines are a great first choice. Most importantly, they are designed to have little line out of the end of the rod to effectively activate the rod into a flexed position and accelerate your cast.
Again let’s explain fly lines a little. Look there are a thousand different kinds of lines and the intricacies can be mind-boggling. Even advanced anglers are often way overconfused so please don’t dive in until you are feeling it is necessary. Otherwise, you’ll be down a rabbit hole that is far beyond what Alice encountered.
Instead here are a few basics. Let’s look at floating lines only for now and define the differences between the line types and materials so a beginner can understand them to make an educated purchase.
When considering floating lines there are mainly two things to think about: the type and the material.
Types of Floating Fly Lines:
- Weight Forward (WF): This type is heavier at the front end, which means it can shoot out further and easier, kind of like a slingshot. It's good if you want to cast far away or if the wind is blowing. As a beginner, this is the easiest to use for casting to a location. It has the disadvantage of being a faster and heavier line to the location which can lead to a heavier presentation but you can slow that down with your cast types. It is considered the easiest to cast so I think it is the best choice for a beginner to start with.
- Double Taper (DT): This line is like a twin – it's even on both ends and gets thinner in the middle. It's nice for gentle casting when you don't need to throw your line too far, and you can flip it around when one end gets worn out.
- Level (L): This line is the same thickness all the way along, kind of like a straight road. It's the simplest and cheapest, but it's not as fancy or easy to cast as the other types.
Materials for Floating Fly Lines:
- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) with Additives: This is the most common material. It's like a plastic, but it's mixed with special ingredients that help it float better and stay flexible.
- Polyurethane: This material is tougher and can handle different kinds of weather – hot or cold, it doesn't matter much. It's like wearing a jacket that's good for all seasons.
- PVC-Free Lines: Some lines skip the PVC and use different materials that are kinder to the environment. They still work well but can be a bit more expensive.
When you're picking a floating fly line, people think about these items. However, we are picking a beginner line so we are almost ignoring these items to simplify our efforts and put us in the best place for variability and success. We aren’t necessarily sure about all of these things and will often be fishing in locations close to home more often than not. The changes here to your fly fishing are minuscule so again, don’t overcomplicate it but be aware so you can consider these things next in your fly fishing life cycle.
*The Sage Rod and Reel Outfit comes with a line and leader so do not get an extra line.
Step 4: Beginner Fly Fishing Flies, Leaders, and Tippet Selection
Flies are what we use to lure and catch the fish, and the tippet is the fine line that connects the fly to the rest of your leader line. Start with a selection of basic flies: dry flies like the Adams, wet flies like the Woolly Bugger, and nymphs like the Pheasant Tail. As for leaders and tippets, a 9-foot leader with a 5X tippet is a versatile combination. The Umpqua leader and tippet pack is a great option for beginners due to its quality and ease of use. Tippet is interesting because you’ll want a range to ensure you can extend your leader and fish different types of flies. In this case, I suggest separate spools of monofilament and fluorocarbon sizes 2x, 4x, 5x. Monofilament will be used for your floating flies and fluorocarbon will be used for your wet flies as it is more dense and will sink.
All of you should go with these as starting fly selections - Two Assortment Packs by Fly Crate
Step 5: Beginner Fly Fishing Accessories and Gear Selection
Your pack, vest, waders, and boots are not just about style; they're about function and comfort. For waders, look for breathability and durability. The Patagonia Middle Fork Packable Waders are light and ideal for those just starting. Boots should offer support and traction, and I recommend Korkers Boots as an industry benchmark. Lastly, a comfortable pack or vest with plenty of pockets will keep your essentials organized and within reach. Personally, I’ve moved back to a vest. Its comfort and versatility is beyond what I’ve been able to find in various pack, hip packs, sling packs, etc.
The key to accessories and gear is to keep it simple. When I first started I wanted all the gear! Gear, gear, and more gear. Look at me I’m a walking retail store! Honestly, don’t make that mistake. Get a few basics and keep it simple. Here is a list of items I personally recommend that will keep you fishing instead of fiddling with gadgets, pockets, over complicated fly boxes, etc. My focus is to provide you with suggestions that are high quality, not overpriced, and will last a long time. I want you to be able to go to a reputable dealer, grab your gear and simply go fishing without worrying about failure, wearing out, and to much junk! I've taken into consideration, all of those items along with warranty and environmental friendliness as best I can.
Sun Shirt - I prefer a nice medium to light shirt with a hood.
Fly Boxes - I prefer smaller boxes with selected patterns by hatch that are waterproof. I use them to separate out my dry fly patterns for the day and my nymph patterns for the day. I prefer silicone, it is heavier but it lasts longer and tends to hold my flies better. Get multiple colors so you can quickly decipher which box is which.
Selecting the items above can certainly be preferential. However, having gone through a number of them at various times in my fly fishing days I’ve selected what I feel are the best choices for any angler regardless of stage. All of you should go with these as a starting selection point and I promise you will be happy and productive for a long time.
With the right gear tailored to the beginner, you can focus on honing your skills and enjoying the peacefulness of fly fishing. Remember, the investment in quality gear is an investment in the quality of your experience. So, take these five steps, get equipped, and step into the soothing currents and rhythmic casts of fly fishing. Welcome to the fold, and may your flies always float and your lines forever be tight. Most of all avoid getting caught up in the marketing of extreme products that often over-promise and under-deliver. Keep in mind that you are catching pea-brained-sized fish. More importantly, you are enjoying yourself and a big part of that is feeling prepared and comfortable in any situation. The above items will start you off way better than I did so I can only assume you’ll have a fantastic beginner experience in the world of fly fishing!
By Christian Bacasa
Host of the Fly Fishing Insider Podcast