Learn The Fly Fishing Basics and How to Fly Fish!

Essential Equipment to Get Started Fly Fishing – Fly Fishing Basics

When starting out on the path to learning how to fly fish, you can easily become overwhelmed by the amount of equipment it seems is necessary in order to get started fly fishing. I’d like to go over the essential items that can get you out and on the water in no time and leave all of the extra accessories that just plain aren’t necessary at home.

1. Fly Rod

I won’t get into the details of choosing the right fly rod to get started fly fishing right now.  More on that in a future article. But in order to start fly fishing you need a fly rod. There are many different brands, models, sizes, etc. that you can choose from. These can range in price significantly. I’ve seem some people spend $500+ on their first fly rod and then never pick it up again. To me that’s a shame. If you have the means, then go for it. Just don’t think that it is necessary in order to get started.

Fly Fishing Rod - Get Started Fly Fishing

A good rod to start with in my opinion is a rod that is nine (9) feet in length and either a four (4) or five (5) weight fly line. I’ll get further into the weights and lengths down the road but the basic idea is that the lighter weight rod (all the way down to 0) is typically used for smaller fish or smaller streams. With a lower weight rod, you can make a six-inch trout feel like a twenty-incher! By starting with a four or five weight nine-foot fly rod, it can be used to fish for anything from small panfish, bass, and trout. I call it an all-around weight that can accomplish just about everything you want to. Disclaimer: I’m strictly dealing with freshwater. If you’re looking to get started in saltwater fly fishing, contact me and I can direct you to some great resources.

You’ll also notice a few options in regards to sections of the rod. These days you will find 2, 3, 4, and 5-piece rods common. The more sections, or pieces of the rod, the smaller it will be able to pack down to. So if you’re a backpacker, you may be interested in the 4 or 5 piece models. In years past the more sections could potentially impact the way the rod cast, but with the improvements in fly rod construction today that is nothing to worry about. A few decent starter options can be found below, or visit your local fly shop or sporting goods retailer.

2. Fly Reel

The fly reel is the next item you’ll need to get started fly fishing.  Again you can find these ranging anywhere from $20 all the way over $1,000. Since I am dealing with freshwater fishing, the fly reel isn’t going to be of utmost importance and primarily used just as a holder for the fly line. If you are fishing for larger species of fish, then the fly reel becomes more important. The basics you’ll need in the fly reel is one that will match the weight of the rod you purchase. By doing this, it will allow for enough room for backing and the fly line itself. With fly reels I have used great entry level models from Ross Reels and Cabela’s. I’ve included some links to others that will work for your needs.

Fly Fishing Fly Reel - Get Started Fly Fishing

3. Fly Line and Backing

To go along with the fly reel, and probably one of the most essential pieces to get started fly fishing is the fly line. There are many different types from floating, sinking, sink-tip, etc. In the future these will be explained more in-depth. A basic line I would recommend to get started is the Weight Forward line. This tends to be the easiest to learn to cast on as the bulk of the line weight is built into the front part of the line. Another type of line is the Double Taper. You could use this to start out as well, and might not notice a huge difference, but I find double taper lines to be more specialized in what they can do.

Fly Fishing Fly Line

The weight of the line corresponds with the weight of the rod and reel. If you purchase a five-weight fly rod, you’ll need a five-weight fly line. Some of the best lines I’ve used are made by the companies Scientific Anglers and Rio. However, you can find some lower priced options that will work as well. Some of these options are listed below.

The backing is used for when that fish of a lifetime takes your fly. Typical fly lines are only 80-90 feet in length. When this line runs out from a fish pulling it all out, the backing takes over and gives you an additional 200+ yards of line. Another purpose of the backing is for a layer to go below your fly line. The fly line’s slick coating doesn’t allow it to wrap around the hard spool easily without spinning and the backing resolves this problem. Backing choice isn’t complicated. A good option is this:

Fly Fishing Backing Material

4. Leader and Tippet

The leader and tippet is what connects from the end of the fly line to your fly. The necessity for the two parts is to enable you to cast and have your line straighten out by transferring the energy through the fly line and down to the fly. The leader and tippet are tapered to allow this process. If you have fished with traditional methods previously, you’ll probably be familiar with a pound test rating of line. This also applies to leader and tippet, but also with the introduction of an X system. I’ll get further into that later on.

Fly Fishing Leader

To get started fly fishing right off the bat, I highly recommend picking up some tapered leaders that are premade and ready to go right out of the package. These will combine the leader and the tippet into one with the proper taper to allow your casts to straighten out. If you’re starting out fishing for trout species, I would recommend picking up a 7.5 to 9-foot tapered leader that ends in a 5X tippet (stay tuned for more in-depth information about just what that 5X is and how to choose different types down the road). If you swing by your local fly shop or sporting goods retailer, they’ll be more than happy to help you find what you’re looking for. Some good options online include brands by Scientific Anglers, Rio, and Frog Hair. Some can be found below.

Or if you’re looking for some tippet material to add to and extend your existing leaders, I highly recommend the following option(s):

5. Flies

A good assortment of basic fly patterns is essential for you to get started fly fishing. You can purchase packages that will include a range of dry flies, nymphs, and streamers to get you started. More information will be coming to elaborate on the flies that are great to help you catch your 1st or 50th fish. Some packages to start can be found here.

Fly Fishing Fly Assortment

Those pieces of equipment will get you started and on your way to learning how to fly fish and catching your first fish on a fly.  In looking for these items, you can also find some decent kit options that come complete with everything you would need.  The only other option I could recommend to get you going is a good beginners book to learn how to fly fish. A great option is The Orvis Fly-Fishing Guide, Completely Revised and Updated with Over 400 New Color Photos and Illustrations.  You can also check out your local bookstore or fly shop for information.

Stay tuned though for more information to help you get started learning the fly fishing basics and be sure to sign up for my future newsletter and follow me on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Tight lines!

About Clint Losee

Clint Losee is an avid fly angler of 25+ years, web developer, and Utah Landscape & Nature Photographer. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

  • Jay Panagos

    I reside in Milwaukie, Oregon. Have not fished since 1993. Was a primarily steelhead and salmon fisherman on the Rogue and Umpqua rivers. Want to learn how to fly fish and your basic info on the introduction to fly fishing was beneficial. As soon as I gather more info I will visit my local fly shop and purchase a beginner package. My goals are to fish initially for trout and as I learn and get better, fish for steelhead.
    Jay Panagos

    • Glad the information has been beneficial Jay. I’d love to get up to the Rogue and Umpqua sometime. Definitely on my bucket list. Let me know if you have any questions along your way.

  • Mike Farrell

    Looking to fly fish for Pacific Coho out of the Capilano River here in Vancouver, BC. I’m currently looking at a combo =

    Pflueger Trion Fly Rod – 2pc – 9ft , 10 Weight, W/case
    Pflueger 1990 Trion Fly Reel 9/10 Weight

    Do you think this set it what I should be looking for ??

    I have fished coho tons of times via motor mooching, but this will be my first time from shore.

    Any advice all around related to this type of fly fishing would be most appreciated.

    • Hi Mike,

      I haven’t fished for Coho before so I’m going to be making some educated guesses based upon talking with some people I know who have. The 10 weight may be a bit much, unless you are planning on running into some really large fish. I would say something in the 8-9 weight would be more suited for this. The Pflueger products are great entry-level products. I don’t think you’d go wrong with them. One main point to watch for is the drag system though. Hard fighting fish can overpower a weak drag systems easily. The Pflueger reels have a disc drag setup, which is a good thing and should hold up to the fish. If you’re interested in some other options in the 8 weight range for fly rods, check out the TFO fly rods or Cabela’s LSi rods. Those two rods are great options at reasonable prices too. One other tip I was given was that of using a fly line that is easy to switch between floating and sinking. This allows you a quick way to target fish at different levels. I believe RIO has a versi-tip system that I’ve heard great things about. Hopefully that helps out. Good luck up there and tight lines!

      • Mike Farrell

        Thanks so much for the informative response !

        Before you had mentioned I was taking a look at the Redington Path 890-4 set (formerly the Pursuit), featured for $189 ! Do you think this reel will have an adequate drag system ? Been trying to find reviews on it, but all the comments are for the rod only.



        • I don’t have any experience with the Redington Path rods, but what I’ve heard is that they are slightly slower action than what the Pursuit rods were. They will be a bit easier to load and cast because of that, but you may lose some of that extra punch of a faster action fly rod. The reel again I don’t have any experience with, but the specs do state it has a disc drag, which is what I would definitely look for in a reel for fighting large, hard running fish. That’s about the extent at which I can comment on this setup. I haven’t even seen one in person, so I’m going off from what can be found online. Hopefully that helps out a little bit. Thanks!

          • Mike Farrell

            Well I ended up finding a Pursuit Combo w/ an extra spool for the same price, so I am pleased to hear that this rod has more action.

            Thanks again Clint for your help, it is much appreciated.



  • Chris Inscore

    Hey Clint,

    I realize this post is quite old, but its the best one I have found on the web for someone who is just beginning their fly fishing journey. I have been an avid fisherman my whole life (mostly saltwater) but traditional rod/reel methods. I have decided I wanted a new challenge, and living in NC, I have access to amazing trout waters in the Appalachian Mountains. I have fished them before using ultra light spinning gear, but really want to go the fly route. The problem, the a lot of our streams are tight quarters. What gear would you recommend to start fishing in these areas?


    • I’m glad it has helped you Chris. It is a bit older now, but my hope was the the information would highlight something that doesn’t change often in the sport. Hopefully it is doing just that. As for your question, I have fished some of those small streams in Western NC a few years back. It was a blast! If I remember correctly, I switched to some of my smaller rods to handle just what you are dealing with. I believe I was either using a 7’9″ 2wt or an 8’3″ 2wt rod. The fish size wasn’t a huge concern so the 2wt worked great. However, you could find heavier weight rods in those same sizes. Even here in Utah I find myself using those shorter rods when fishing some of the smaller streams and it works fantastic! Aside from the shorter rod length, pretty much all of the same gear applies. It’s just making sure you don’t spend most of your time trying to get a longer rod out of the branches. There are a few other tips out there for casting and actually fishing in tight quarters that can be helpful as well. Look into bow and arrow casts for one along with roll casting. They’ll help you avoid snagging up in the trees a lot. Maybe I’ll post a new article on some tips like this as well. Thanks and let me know if you have any other questions.

      • Chris Inscore

        Thanks for the detailed reply Clint! Glad you enjoyed fishing out this way, I hope to get out west sometime in my life for both hunting and fishing. Will definitely seek out a shorter rod. Thanks for putting the time and effort into these detailed articles. They are such a great resource.

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