Updated: Apr 21
Getting started in fly fishing can be very intimidating. Knowing what fly fishing gear suits your needs and where to spend extra money along with where you can save money is valuable information. For beginners the initial investment in spending money on a fly fishing guide will often pay itself back in the money saving tips they can give you when starting off as well as what gear suits you. As someone too frugal to spend money on a guide when starting adventure into fly fishing, I know I lost out on several hundred dollars buying gear that I didn’t use much, or gear that I ended up upgrading. This article dives into all the must have gear and where you should spend more and where you can save.
Understanding WHERE you will be fishing is a great place to start, when you begin to look for gear. The equipment used on small streams vs larger rivers or tailwaters can differ substantially. Here in North Georgia, trout streams come in just about all sizes. I enjoy spending more time on the smaller water, therefore much of my gear is fine tuned to accommodate the situations I see most often.
Where to Start with Fly Rods
Choosing a fly rod is the first major step for most new anglers. The trustee 9’ 5wt rod will cover nearly every type of water, or scenario you may encounter while fly fishing. From making long casts on large rivers or tailwaters to the finesse needed in tiny brook trout streams, these rods will get the job done. You may hear arguments of smaller rods (7.5’ 3wts) being used on smaller water, and while they can be fun to cast and fight smaller trout on, the 9’ 5wt is every bit as accommodating. The bonus I find with these 9 foot rods, is they can add 5’-10’ of precision cast to a bow and arrow cast around dense cover. This can be a game changer when these already spooky small water trout are on edge.
When to Spend and Save Money on a Fly Rod
The two biggest variables that help answer this question is of course your budget, and how much do you plan on fishing. If your budget is low but you plan on spending a lot of time on the water, I would recommend saving and splurging a bit more on a better quality fly rod as you will likely be upgrading quickly as I did. This may be a higher up front cost but is a huge saver over time. If you have a tight budget and are unsure about the amount of time you’ll spend on the water, there are some great new options that have come along in the last decade that has made the entry cost much more feasible than it once was. The TFO NXT series, Redington Crosswater/Path, Orvis Encounter, and other combos made by Bass Pro/Cabelas will get you on the water and fishing for a low cost. For those anglers who would like to spend a bit more for a higher performing rod that will make their days on the water much easier and help refine their angling prowess, the mid-priced fly rods are the answer. This category gets much more competitive among brands, but the Echo Carbon, Orvis clearwater, The Drifter from Moonshine Rod Co, TFO BVK, and Sage Foundation are all great rods. My personal favorite of all fly rods (from low cost to the highest costs) falls into this category and is the rod we use on our trips at Georgia Wild Trout. The Redington Vice is an excellent rod which likely gets the best bang for your buck in terms of cost to performance. The rod can do it all for a very modest price and will likely be all you will ever need on smaller water. Where it can fall short is typically in the long distance casting and accuracy which is to the highest cost rods which achieve the peak performance of all fly rods. The Orvis Recon/Helios series, along with the high performance rods from Sage and Thomas and Thomas are fined tuned for peak performance. These rods are pushing the frontier of new technology and innovation in fly fishing. If you have the budget and skill/experience these rods will do just about anything a fly rod can do out on the water.
Where to Start with Fly Lines
For this article we will be focusing on floating weight forward 5wt (WF5F) lines, which is what most trout fisherman and beginning anglers will be using. Most fly fishing guides will argue the your fly rod is where to splurge when buying a new fly fishing outfit. While I do agree the rod is important and understand this argument, I believe that the fly line can be more important when buying a new outfit. My argument being that the highest performing fly lines paired with the most basic rods will outperform cheap fly line on the most expensive rods. While most fly lines look aesthetically similar, their performance can vary tremendously. While they all might perform well out of the package, their longevity and performance over time is what separates the low end and high end lines. Scientific angler, Rio, Airflo, and Orvis are the main fly line makers you will see. While I do have outfits with each of their line on them, I have found the newer Orvis pro line to outperform all of them. After using the several of Rio’s floating lines, usually Rio Gold, over the years, I ventured out to try the Orvis Pro fly line series and was very pleased. I have had the for over 3 years now and it still performs like new. This is twice as long as any other line I have owned, which is even more impressive seeing as how I have been on far more fishing excursions in those 3 years. I have certainly received the value from the additional cost. If the $100+ price tag is still a bit expensive for you, the Rio Gold fly line would be where I recommend starting. I would not skimp on anything more affordable here as it will end up hindering performance in the short term and more rapidly in the long run.
Where To Start with Fly Reels
Reels are certainly a place to cut costs. Whether you choose a reel with a drag or a click and pawl (reel without a drag), this is where money can be saved. The price of fly reels has always bothered me as the technology used to make them is far less than that of a conventional baitcast reel, yet they cost the same if not more. I know the reason for this is likely due to volume, but the issue still doesn’t sit well with me. For anglers looking to make the choice between drag and no drag, the answer comes down to two issues. Will you be fishing for or around big fish and is your coordination good enough to handle acting as the drag yourself? If you are around bigger trout, I do recommend going in on a reel with a drag from the start. This may save you the heartbreak of some complications occurring that causes you to lose the fish of a lifetime. If you are more commonly around smaller fish, such as in small headwater streams or seasonally stocked creeks, a click and pawl reel will be all you need. Though it may take a bit of practice to on stripping line in and allowing line to feather through your fingers from the pull of an angry trout, the click and pawl reels can be quite enjoyable.
Where to Spend and Where to Save on Fly Reels
The Click and Pawl reels are going to be less expensive than the reels with a drag system. They essentially only function as line holders, and balancing your rod is the only other factor that matters when purchasing. Most 5wt reels will be about the same weight, but be careful to make sure you aren’t purchasing a particularly heavy or light model. These reels can be found for as low as $50 for a plastic model and run to about $150 for one with a better look that may be more scratch proof. Reels with a drag differ much more in price and go from $100-$300. Lamson, Ross, Orvis, Redington, Hardy, Sage, and Nautilus are the major reel designers with many smaller companies making more niche products. On your 5wt rod I would stick to the lower end of the cost spectrum as it is unlikely that you will find need for a high performance drag. Lamson’s Waterworks/Liquid, Orvis’ Clearwater, and Redington’s new Run, are great low cost reels that will handle whatever you run into. Anything more expensive than these are just eye candy. I mainly use the new Redington Run, as they pair nicely with my Redington Vice Rods.
Where to Start with Waders
Waders can be a place to both skimp and splurge. Here in the southeast I do 75% of my fly fishing while wet wading. This will likely be the reverse for someone in Colorado whose season for wet wading is considerably smaller. Because I am wet wading most of the year and am relatively tolerant of the cold water, I don’t see the value of spending extra money on high performance waders that I may only wear 2-3 months of the year. I will get more value from a modest $100-$200 pair. Orvis Clearwater, Redington Escape, Simms Tributary, Magellan Freeport, or LL Bean Kennebec waders will all last two or three years and keep me comfortable on the tailwaters and in the winter months. For anglers who plan on spending most of their time in waders I do recommend spending as much as your budget allows. Know that performance won’t increase all that much once you cross the $300-$400 mark, and warranties will have the most value. Simms and Orvis have been the leaders in providing good warranty services to any manufacturing issues or other problems that may arise with their gear. Though Covid has thrown a wrench into nearly all companies turn around time, they still stand by their products. Another benefit from using a guide when you first begin to fly fish is that you can get a feel for your fit when it comes to wader sizes. Many people, including myself, just aren’t meant to fit in waders perfectly, so you may have to make some sacrifices where needed. Getting your bootie/foot size right should come as priority, followed by inseam length. These two factors will make sure your waders last longer and receive less wear and tear. Loose waders are typically better than those that are too tight. I recommend trying on pairs from each manufacturer to see what feels best for you. And always make sure you leave room for additional winter layering!
Where to Start with Wading Boots
The biggest decision in wading boots typically comes down to rubber or felt. Some parts of the country have outlawed felt due to environmental reasons making the decision easy. In other areas, it is only important to know if you’ll consistently be fishing areas with very slick bottoms. Tailwaters and the occasional free stone stream can have algae build up on rocks causing slick conditions where felt boots are a necessity. If you don’t find yourself facing these conditions or find yourself doing more hiking rubber tread is the way to go. Felt can turn against you in areas with wet leaves, or muddy banks where the felt on your boots can get choked. I do a lot of hiking here in Southern Appalachia where mud and wet leaves are far more common that the occasional slick rock and therefore still with rubber treads. I have used the Simms Freestone boots which have the bonus of being considerably more light weight than most wading boots making long hikes much more comfortable. Orvis has finally come out with a hybrid style similar to these called the Ultralight which looks promising. Where you spend money on wading boots typically comes down to comfort. Try on several pairs from each of the top manufacturers (orvis, simms, korkers, and redington) and find what works best for you. Remember to go up a half or full size to accommodate wool socks and wader stockings. If you want to use the shoes for both wet wading and waders, remember to keep a pair of Rubber support insoles handy to fill in any extra space in the boot.
Where to Start with Fly Fishing Packs
This decision is very much up to personal preference. Some people like fishing out of vests, some like waist packs, some sling packs, and some back packs. I certainly recommend trying them all on before purchasing, but also understand how you like to fish. If you use a wide range of body motion while fishing a bulky vest or chest pack may not be for you. If you enjoy hiking longer distances to fish, a geared down backpack or sling pack may get cumbersome. I do a bit of everything, but I’ve found that I am a minimalist most of all. I like carrying the bare minimum on the water, so there is little in my way while I’m hiking, maneuvering in the river, and casting to my target. I fished with a medium sized fanny pack for the first year or two of fly fishing until my fly selection scaled up around the time I began guiding. By this time I knew exactly what I was looking for in a pack and found the Orvis Chip Pack. This pack is a nice hybrid that keeps my gear in front of me when I need it, and lower on the waist when I need to maneuver more while fishing. Certain packs will also offer different levels of organization which can be important to some anglers. Less time spent digging through your pack to change flies is more time with your flies in the water.
Where To Start with Fly Fishing Leaders and Tippet
The number of options with leaders and tippet is daunting, but we will keep things very simple. The three major producers are Scientific Angler/Orvis and Rio. I personally use Rio for all of these as I like consistency. I recommend being brand consistent no mater what manufacturers product you choose to use. With leaders, we will keep things simple by using a 9’ 3x of 9’ 5x leader on larger bodies of water (50’ wide or more). Use the 3x if you plan on adding additional line while nymphing, and the 5x for dry fly presentations where you need more reach. On smaller streams 30’ wide or less 7.5’ 3x is the way to go. Monofilament is a must for all leaders as it will keep the line up on the surface.
For tippet, my confidence is in fluorocarbon line. I believe the added benefits far outweigh the additional costs. However, if you do wish to cut costs, buying fluorocarbon used in bass fishing will save you money so long as you are not targeting ultra-finicky trout. With out getting too in depth on fluorocarbon lines. Know that bass fishing fluorocarbon and fluorocarbon tippet are not the same. Tippet is much more higher performing. Most tippet will have both a smaller diameter and higher tensile strength that even the nicest/most expensive bass fluorocarbons. When looking to use the bass fluorocarbon as a substitute match the line diameters and not the pound test/strength. 6lb bass fluoro should land somewhere around 3x tippet which typically has 8lbs of strength. This can save you money while fishing for aggressive fish, newly stocked trout, or moving flies such as streamers.
Must-Have Gear for Your Pack
No need to overload yourself with tools you’ll rarely use or never even touch. These are the must-haves that will get you though your average day on the water.
· Forceps: Though they aren’t needed often, a pair of forceps is a must if you hook a trout deep. Some pairs can double as scissors alleviating any need for nippers.
· Flotant: A silicone flotant paste is a must have for dry flies. I have found that those with a thicker consistency perform best. I have found several that are consistent, the white river flotant from Bass Pro/Cabelas has always been good.
· Split Shot: If you’re having trouble getting down deep, this is an easy fix. The B and BB sizes should cover anything your weighted flies can’t.
· Indicators: Many styles to chose from, and everyone has a favorite. I prefer the AirLock indicators in ½” and ¾”. They are versatile, easy to adjust, and don’t cause too much surface disturbance.
· Fly Boxes: My advice for beginners would be to start cheap and simple. As you gain more experience, you will find which method of organizing your flies works best for you.
I hope these tips gave you an idea on what you’ll need and where you can save money on fly fishing gear. If you are planning a Fly Fishing Trip to North Georgia, check out our other articles on topics such as When is a good time and Where is a good place to start fly fishing in Georgia.