A guide for the beginner.  Part 1. Rods. Reels. Fly Lines.

A guide for the beginner. Part 1. Rods. Reels. Fly Lines.

Where to begin?

    In my next series of blog posts, I'm going to try my best to outline what is needed to get started in the sport of fly fishing. This series was inspired by friends who have shown interest in learning the basics, what gear is necessary, and really what the sport offers vs traditional fishing methods. I'm sharing these tips based on my personal experience. Yours may differ. Please feel free to drop a comment below with any tips you'd like to share. 

 Why fly fishing? 

    So you're interested in learning the seemingly over complicated art of fly fishing? Let me just start by saying, "DO IT". You will not look back.

 Different Strokes. 

  There's something special about dead drifting a fly that's the size of an ant down the river, seeing the take, and hooking into a +20" trout.  In the end it's a showdown between a fish who wants freedom, and an angler who is praying his spiderweb sized line doesn't snap. A game of finesse at its finest.

  Not a finesse guy/gal? Try ripping some feathers tied to a hook through the water and then feeling the line go tight. There's no finesse here. It's a grudge match between rod and a writhing missile of solid muscle. 

  In the end, ask any fly fisherman/women and they will tell you there is a different feeling when you land a fish on the fly. A connection that can't easily be substituted once you've experienced it.

 Getting Started: Gear

1. Fly Rods

  In the beginning it can be a bit overwhelming choosing a fly rod. There's a wide spectrum of price points and advertised features that can make it a bit daunting to pick " the one".  Lets learn the fly rod lingo. 

 Fly Rod Weight  (WT)

  The first thing you'll notice is that every rod is classified by "weight" or "wt". This means you'll match your fly line weight to the weight specified on your rod. 5 wt rod? 5 weight fly line.

  Choosing a weight of fly rod is really dependent on the type of fish you'll be targeting. Generally, the greater the weight, the more power the rod has. You wouldn't want to fish for tarpon with a 4 weight. You wouldn't want to fish for trout with an 11 weight. 

  Smaller weight rods excel in smaller water. If you plan on fishing mountain streams for wild trout a 2-4 weight rod would be the ticket. 

  Generally speaking, a 9 foot 5 weight rod is what most trout anglers end up starting on. It's a versatile rod that can be used for trout, carp, bass, and other similar sized species. Is it the only option? No, just one of the most common due to its versatility.

   If you're going to be fishing salt water or for larger species in general you'll want to size up to a larger rod (think 7-9 wt). The larger weight rod allows you to cast meaty flies into the wind and gives you the added fighting power for bigger fish.  Something you'll find out quickly though, your fly rod collection probably won't stay at just one for very long.   

Fly Rod Action

 Slow/Classic. Moderate. Fast action. What does it all mean, Basil?!  The short answer is that it relates to the stiffness of the rod. Fast action rods are stiffer and unload fly line quicker. Slower action rods unload the line slower, and can be more forgiving to the novice caster.  For a complete breakdown on each action check out the write up over at Redington

How much to spend on a rod?

  That's a question I really can't answer for you. My best advice would be to visit your local fly shop and try some different rods out. Be up front and tell them your budget and that you're new to the sport. They'll most likely outfit you with something that you can grow with. Something that you won't regret buying in a month when your skills progress.

 No fly shop near you? Time to hit the interwebs. Although, the internet can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to fly rod shopping. What I mean by that is this, there are review sites out there that tend to sway towards high end rods and make cheaper options seem completely useless. Don't be deterred. For example, I remember reading a scathing review for a particular fly rod. I ended up buying it anyways, and it's now one of my favorite rods to use. 

   Read reviews on fly fishing forums from down to earth fishermen, ask friends, and find something in your price range that will suit your needs. Lastly, try to buy a rod with a good warranty. Fly rods are like promises. You never intend to break them, but sometimes it happens.  

What brand should I buy?

   One thing I've found is that happiness is not a label on a rod. It's whats pulling and the end of your line. However, I'm always looking for more bang for my buck.  In my personal experience Redington offers some great price points on rod and reel combos to get you up and running. I've broken a few and they always get me back on the water.  Here's a link to some of their combo rod/reels: Redington Rod + Reels. 


  While selecting a fly rod may be your most important initial purchase, don't overlook the value of having a solid reel. True, your reel will mainly serve as a line manager most of the day. A quality reel will show its true colors when you hook into a big fish and need a solid drag system to tire it out. 

  When selecting your reel make sure you match it to your fly rod. All reels have a weight rating that will coincide with your fly rod and fly line. 

  Look for a reel made out of quality materials that will hold up to weather, salt, or anything else you throw at it.  

  Find a reel with a smooth drag system. Most modern reels are equipped with a disc drag that will help put the brakes on that brute at the end of your line. The other drag type is a click and pawl system. With this type of drag you use the pressure of your palm to slow the fish down.

  One of my favorite reels is the Redington Behemoth. High quality, great price, and super smooth drag.


Reel Setup

  If you don't purchase a rod and reel combo, chances are you'll need to get your reel set up. To do so you will first attach backing, then fly line, and lastly a leader/tippet. 

Here's a link to some varieties of backing: Fly reel backing. 

Here's a link to fly lines ( discussed more in the next section): Fly Lines 

Here's a link to some varieties of leaders ( discussed more below): Leaders

Here's a link to varieties of tippet (discussed more below): Tippet


Fly Line Selection

   There is literally a fly line for every fishing situation. It can be a bit daunting when selecting one. They aren't cheap, and you'll really want to ask yourself what type of fishing you are going to be doing most.  Rio has created a fly line selector tool that can make choosing fly line a bit easier. Check it out here: Rio Line Selector 

   Personally I spend a ton of time trout fishing in low water situations. In that scenario my go to fly line is a weight forward (WF) floating line. If I'm fishing streamers in deeper water, I'll use some variety of a sinking line that gets my fly down in the water column. In the end it really does depend on what type of fishing interests you the most. Just for emphasis, remember to match the weight of the fly line to the weight of your fly rod. 


   Still with me? The last step in getting your fly rod set up is your leader and tippet selection. Again this is REALLY going to vary depending on your fishing.

For a full write-up on tippet and leader selection check out this read: HERE

In my next posts I'll talk wader selection, fly fishing techniques, and any other tips I can pass on to the beginner. Again to you more experienced anglers, please drop any tips or suggestions in the comments.

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  • Production fishing rods are typically designed and made for the average person with average skills and are manufactured using average components, all of which will provide reasonable performance. However, those who demand more from their fishing arsenal turn to custom rod builders to acquire that specific tool they require for the style of fishing they prefer and the performance they expect.

    Kevin Reeve
  • Good advice Zach!

  • Only piece of advice I can offer on this topic, start with something cheap. A TFO or Bass pro (White River) brand is perfect. Don’t start with an expensive rod. You will break, scratch, drown or lose it. Plus, if you decide fly fishing isn’t for you, it’s not gonna be a big wasted investment.


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