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Start With Fly Fishing: A Full Equipment Guide

Updated on August 5, 2019
Fly fishing rod set on a rock.
Fly fishing rod set on a rock. | Source

Don’t start and buy expensive equipment… You never know if you will like the fly fishing experience. So if fly fishing is not something for you, you won’t have to feel bad that you have about 2500$ worth of gear on your attic.

Fly fishing reel
Fly fishing reel | Source

Rod and Reel:

You can start out with a complete combo pack. But these HAVE to contain the following items:

  • A 9 foot (about 3 meters) rod. This is the most classic size for fly fishing rods, so this is the perfect length for a beginning fly fisherman.
  • The rod should be an AFTMA 5 weight, this is an overall weight that should be okay for all types of waters and fish. AFTMA stands for ‘American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association‘. It is a scale of line weights, the heavier the line, the greater the number. So a rod with AFTMA #5 is made to fish with #5 weight fly fishing line. So the fly line and rod should match in number.
  • A -#5 floating ‘weight forward’ fly line, in short WF-5-F. The ‘Weight Forward’ fly line is the industries standard ‘taper’ line for fishing trout. It is a fly line that had additional weight and thickness added to the first 10 yards of the line. After the first 10 yard the line will have a uniform weight and thickness.
  • Reel Backing line. This line is the base for your fly line. The reason for this line to increase the spool diameter so your fly line does not suffer too much ‘from memory’. If you ever go fishing for big-game fish then your backing will have another meaning.
  • A reel to roll up your backing and fly line, the reel doesn’t have a lot more function.

These are all needed to start with fly fishing. Please do keep in mind that the cost for these items can go up really fast! So try to look for a nice combo pack or if you combine them yourself try not to go to high in cost.

Back of a fly fisherman.
Back of a fly fisherman. | Source

If you plan on buying a combo pack don’t buy it at a supermarket or a random website! Try to look up famous well known fly fishing brands like Orvis, Guideline, Sage, … and look if they have any combo packs available at the moment.

Or go to a specialised fly fishing shop and ask if they can help you find the right set for you. You should be able to give them a target price so can combine a set for you.

Fly fishing from a boat on a lake.
Fly fishing from a boat on a lake. | Source

Leader & Tippet:

A leader is what connects your fly to the fly line There are a lot of variations! Some are solid or braided and they can be tapered or straight. They all have various thicknesses and lengths. You have to select a thickness and length according to the situation where and how you are going fishing.

There are many factors to determine what leader you have to pick. The water condition, the type of fly line used, the fish you are fishing for, the type of fly you will fish with, …

Sinking fly lines are usually fished with short 5ft leaders, while floating fly lines are usually fished with long 9ft (or longer) leaders.

You have to select a thickness and length according to the situation where and how you are going fishing. There are many factors to determine what leader you have to pick. The water condition, the type of fly line used, the fish you are fishing for, the type of fly you will fish with, …

Sinking fly lines are usually fished with short 5ft leaders, while floating fly lines are usually fished with long 9ft (or longer) leaders.

For normal fly fishing lines the starting butt section of the leaders should be 19/00 – 20/00 thick.

The tip of the leader should be lower than the butt section, but it depends on what type of fish and how shy they are. I would recommend 15/00 to start.

So a good leader for the WF-5-F fly line would be a 9ft long tapered 4X or 5X leader.

Fly fishing in a river.
Fly fishing in a river. | Source

The tippet is another thin fishing line that you would use to connect the fly to the leader. You would pick the lightest but strongest line possible without having the fish notice the line. We add a tippet to the leader so we can quickly change the thickness, add or shorten the length or when we break the line we still have the entire leader left. Also every time you change a fly the tippet will shorten , if you do this with your leader you would have to change the leader a few times a day.

A good tippet for a 9ft tapered 5X leader would be 4X or 5X fluorocarbon tippet material.


There are hundreds of different types of flies and yet the type of fly you pick can determine everything.

As a beginning fly fisherman picking the right fly is difficult. It’s like riding a bike, you will learn it with falling and getting up again. Fly fishing is not an exact science!

Man holding a fly.
Man holding a fly. | Source

There are 4 main types of flies: Dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and streamers.

  • Dry flies will float on the water surface and fish will have to come to the surface to strike it. These imitate insects that fall on the water or live on the water surface.
  • Wet flies stay barely under the water surface. These could imitate hatching nymphs.
  • Nymphs are flies that are fished deep in the water. These imitate nymph insects that live on the bottom of the water.
  • Streamers imitate small fish or other small aquatic animals like shrimps, squids, …

You will select the type of fly depending the weather, the waterbody (lake, river, …) and what fish you want to catch and what.

Man clipping a fly.
Man clipping a fly. | Source

Fishing Net:

I would not recommend anybody to fish without a fishing net. If you handle a fish with you (dry) hands you will injure and stress the fish. Keep in mind that the fish is a living creature and while fly fishing is a sport we shouldn’t treat the fish in a bad way.

Go for a short rubber fishing net. You will mostly be fishing while standing in the water so a long net will be difficult to use and keep with you. There are special magnetic systems you can buy to hang the fishing net on your back, but I just hang it on my belt. I advise to buy a rubber net as it will put less stress on the fish and will less likely injure the fish. So it will increase the survival rate of the fish.

Man with a rubber fishing net on his back.
Man with a rubber fishing net on his back. | Source

Just a quick tip, whenever you hold a fish with your bare hand always make sure your hands are wet. When you touch a fish with dry hands you will be removing the protective slime from the surface of the fish.

Fishing Vest:

A fishing vest is optional but it will come in handy to hold all your small fishing gear: the tippets, your flies, extra leaders, …

Man wearing a fly fishing vest.
Man wearing a fly fishing vest. | Source

Wading Suit and Boots:

If you plan on going in the water while fishing you will need a wading suit and wading booths. There are a lot of different suits and boots dependent on the temperature of the water, the type of bottom in the water (rocks, mud, …).

Man wearing a wading suit.
Man wearing a wading suit. | Source

Polarized Sunglasses:

Do not go fly fishing without polarized sunglasses! The polarizing effect will help you spot and find the fish in the water. It will also protect your eyes from the sun and even protect you from fishing hooks.

Man wearing polarized sunglasses.
Man wearing polarized sunglasses. | Source

Positive Attitude and Respect:

The last bit of info I would like to give you is keep a positive attitude. The beginning will be difficult and hard but once you catch that first fish it will be worth all the trouble! Also respect nature, don’t leave trash and garbage around. I hate standing in the middle of the water and see plastic bottles floating around and I bet you would also hate it. Respect the fish, without the fish there would be no fly fishing, so keep that in mind.

Two fly fishermen standing in the river.
Two fly fishermen standing in the river. | Source

Thanks for reading and good luck!


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