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Beginners Take: Fly Fishing

They say fly fishing is the new bird-watching, not sure why they say that, but it sure is a worthy endeavor. Fly fishing has a calming, almost meditative quality to it that’s hard to find in everyday life. Maybe it’s the setting. You can fly fish from just about anywhere there’s water—on a creek or riverbank, floating along in a drift boat or bobbing to the rhythm of the lake. Casting that first fly is all it takes to become an angler.

There’s no reason to be intimidated by this style of fishing, because at its heart it’s truly just a fly rod, some line and an imitation fly. These items are at the heart of what you need to get started. A few more odds and ends will ensure you have what you need to bring in your fish and release it efficiently (catch and release is often required by regulations—always check first). Once you get the bug (pun intended), you’ll find that there’s always something you need to add, but here’s our suggestion for the minimum gear to get started. (Note: saltwater fly fishing demands unique gear apart from the recommendations below.)

person fly fishing


Start with a rod.

Rods are rated by weight, from one through 10. As you might guess, a five-weight rod right in the middle is the best choice to get started. Rods vary in length as well, nine-feet is the suggested entry length.

Rods break down for storage into two, three or four-pieces. Think about how you’ll be using your rod, if you’ll be fishing close to home, a two-piece rod will work fine. However, if you plan on hiking or traveling with your rod, consider a more packable four-piece model.

Save money on your first rod. As you start fishing, you’ll learn what types of water you like and be better positioned to buy a more expensive specialized rod.

Hot tip: Don’t call it a pole.

You’ll need a reel.

The main thing to know when shopping for a reel is that it should match the weight of your rod. If you have a five-weight rod, you’ll need a five-weight reel. No need to spend big bucks on your first reel, just be sure to buy the correct weight and a reel specific to freshwater fishing (as opposed to saltwater). The majority of reels are convertible for either right or left hand reeling.

You’ll need backing, fly line, leader and tippet.

The weight of the line corresponds with the weight of the rod and reel. If you purchase a five-weight fly rod, you’re best off with a five-weight fly line. You’ll also need backing, which is the heavyweight line that attaches directly to your reel (if it isn’t already spooled). It’s best to have this done in a fly shop as they have the equipment and expert knot-tying know how.

The final line is leader and tippet. The leader is tapered line that allows you to make graceful and accurate casts, you can buy packaged leader that easily connects to your line at your fly shop. Tippet is the very fine line that connects directly to your fly and is sold in spools of varying sizes, beginners can focus on a range from heavier 1x through extremely fine 4x. Your skills at selecting the appropriate tippet (and tying it to your leader) will need to be developed over time.

Flies and storage!

Fly choice is specific to where you’ll be fishing. The goal in fly fishing is to match what is hatching at that moment, and thereby what the fish are eating. In general, there are dry flies (flies that float on the surface of the water), wet flies (flies that sink below the surface) and streamers (larger flies that are “stripped” below the surface of the water, similar in style to fishing with lures). We suggest starting this search at your local fly shop as they’ll know best what the fish are taking in your area. You can also pick up a selection of strike indicators and weights.

And you’ll need a fly box to store your flies in, choose a size that works for you, no need to spend big bucks here.

Polaroid sunglasses…

Are these crucial? It would be a shame to get all the way to the water with your new gear and then miss the action because you can’t see past the glare on the water. So, yes, polarized sunglasses are crucial.


You’re Going to Want a Net

Nets have evolved and improved over the years, and the industry standard is now a rubber mesh net, which solves the annoying problem of flies and fish scales snagging in the old fiber netting.


A good pair of forceps will help you free the hook from your fish cleanly and efficiently. Many also include scissors to trim excess line after tying, as well as a sharp poker aka a hook-eye cleaner, which you can use to clean the glue or gunk in a fly eyelet so you can more easily thread your flies.

This collection of fly fishing gear should get you on the river or lake fishing. Down the line (ha!), depending on your style of fly fishing, you’ll likely want a vest to keep all your gear close by, possibly waders and boots, maybe a flotation device from a float tube, to a pontoon boat, to rafts and drift boats. Oh boy, here we go…

annie fastAnnie Fast writes about winter sports and outdoor adventures from her home in Bend, Oregon.You can read more about her and her work at




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