Fly fishing is a hard sport to get into. The expensive gear, learning to cast, finding the right body of water that you can actually access without getting chased off with a rake–that all adds up to a headache. In fact, the whole reason Postfly exists is to make getting started a whole lot easier. Your local fly shop is a good place to start, but before you buy everything on their list of “absolutely essential” gear, here’s what you need to get started without spending all your beer money.
Test out a few different rods before you buy them. You don’t need the latest and greatest rod to catch fish and you don’t need to buy the fastest rod in the shop to make sure your cast is accurate.
As much as I love the top of the line, lightning-fast graphite sticks, I still use an old, cheapo rod/reel combo, because I haven’t broken it yet and it still catches fish. Find the rod that fits your casting style, something under $75 will do for now, and make sure the fly shop throws in a quick casting lesson, or helps you sign up for a real instruction.
As much as it’d be great for you to hook into a fish that requires a drag strong enough to stop a Volkswagen beetle, that’s probably a few years away. For most people, unless they’re going after really big saltwater game fish or big trout on really light leaders, reels are just line holders.
If you’re going to be fishing the salt, make sure to get a reel with a sealed drag, otherwise you’ll be getting a new reel every year. Prices for good reels keep dropping, but you’re probably still going to have to spend a couple hundred bucks.
For an angler coming from the spin fishing world, fly line is going to seem crazy expensive. When you can spool your spinning reel for less than $10 and you see an $80 price tag on the latest fly line, the first reaction is to scoff and walk away (or just faint).
It’s fine to spend $50 or $60 on a cheap line when you first learn to cast, but then be sure to upgrade to something a little nicer and more specialized to the flies you’re throwing. Once you upgrade after you’ve learned to cast, the difference is huge. If you’re still freaking out over the price, think about the fact that you have to re-spool your spinning rod a few times a season, whereas good fly line should last for many years.
No, you don’t need that fancy braided backing anglers are raving about, (at least not yet), but make sure it’s high-vis and made from Dacron. This will prevent the backing from slipping on the reel spool and the bright color will tip you off that you’re running out of line for the fish to run with.
If you’re not getting into fish that will take you into the backing, it at least fills up the extra space on your reel to allow your fly line to smoothly unspool with a running fish. Don’t worry, backing is cheap.
Unlike throwing bass lures on straight braid, which will work the majority of the time, tying your fly straight to your fly line would be ridiculous. A leader will allow you to present your fly properly and actually catch fish.
For most warmwater species a six-foot leader should suffice, whereas saltwater and coldwater species will probably require a nine-foot, at least. The weight rating of the leader will depend on the species you’re chasing and how spooky the fish seem.
Though not completely essential every time you hit the water, tippet will help you adapt to the situation you’re presented. For example, if you’ve been nailing fish all day long, but you’re breaking off on fish (read: trees on your backcast) or you’ve been swapping flies all day, then your leader will start too be too small.
Tippet allows you to extend your leader a little while longer before you have to go to the bank and retie. It also allows you to extend your leader if a fish is acting finicky. Grab a few different sizes so you can be versatile and adapt on the go.
The most important part of the whole equation, the right fly is what dictates whether you catch fish and have fun or go home without seeing a damn thing. Don’t worry about trying to match the hatch exactly, or trying to learn the scientific name of every bug on your local stream, just keep an assortment of impressionistic patterns that will match the local forage enough to hook up. Don’t know where to start? Subscribe to Postfly now, we’ll choose your flies for you so you can start catching sooner.
Not everyone includes hemostats or pliers in their essential lists, but I make it a point to never hit the water without one or the other, even if I’m traveling on a plane to go fishing. I get some weird looks from TSA sometimes, but hey, you’ve got to do what it takes to keep those fish swimming away.
Without a tool to remove deeper hooks or hooks that are being stubborn and not coming out easily, then you’re forced to keep the fish out of the water longer. The more stress you put on the fish the less of a chance it will swim away unharmed. Let them go to let them grow.
Much like my hemostats or pliers, nippers are another essential I never hit the water without. I know there are many anglers that bite their line all day, every day, including many of my friends and guides I fish with regularly, but each time they do it my skin crawls.
Even if you have a knife, you won’t get a nice, clean cut like you do with nippers, which runs the risk of you either cutting your fingers, or worse, messing up your knot and losing a fish. Plus, try explaining all the dents in your teeth from biting heavy leader to your dentist.
10) Polarized Glasses
I’ve been on trips where someone forgets their polarized glasses back at the hotel room and we all have to turn around and waste more than an hour picking them up before we get on the water. I’ll turn around without hesitation though, because fishing without a good pair of glasses is torture. Not only will you strain your eyes staring at the water all day looking for fish, but the glare on the water can also cause damage.
Make life easier, invest in a high-quality pair of shades, which will not only protect your eyes, but it will also allow you to spot fish whether you’re on the flats, your local bass pond, or nailing rainbow trout halfway around the world.