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How Do You Start Fly Fishing? (Beginners Guide)

Fly fishing is one of those activities that intimidates people. It seems so foreign, and beginners don’t know how to start doing it.

To get started in fly fishing, you will need a fair amount of gear. You will also need instruction – whether that be from a mentor or a professional guide. You will also need a positive attitude because the early days on the water can be very frustrating. Getting past the beginner stage can be tough, but it’s definitely worth pushing through it.

It is totally okay if you get skunked (0 fish) when you are starting out. Even if you don’t catch fish right away, you are learning what works and what doesn’t work. By process of elimination, you can avoid bad habits and improve your skills.

This guide will cover the main gear you’ll need to start fly fishing. This will be based on trout fishing, but it’s applicable for other types of fly fishing, too.

Fly Fishing Rod Outfit

A complete fly rod outfit includes the rod, reel, line, leader, and backing. You can piece together these components, but for beginners – buying a full outfit is the easiest.

These outfits are relatively affordable, and they come ready to fish. Simply put the rod together, tie on some flies, and go fishing.

There are several companies making good beginner outfits

  • Redington
  • Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO)
  • Orvis
  • Sage

One of the best affordable outfits is the Redington Path. At $230, it is a great value. The rod is a fast action graphite build, the line is made by RIO, and the reel isn’t too bad either. For many fly shops, the Redington Path is their #1 selling outfit.

Temple Fork Outfitters NXT outfit is also a great choice. The reel is a bit nicer than the Redington, and the rod is good quality graphite, too. These come in around $220 depending on which model you choose.

Orvis makes an outfit called the Clearwater. It is a bit higher end than the other two, and comes in at $400. The rod, reel and line are more mid range quality. It is not just for beginners. For folks looking to spend a bit more, the Orvis clearwater is a great choice and it comes with a 25 year warranty.

Sage makes an outfit called the Foundation. This is not an entry level outfit like the Redington or TFO. It costs $650, which is pricey for starters. The Foundation rod is handmade at Sage’s factory in Washington. The reel is a Sage Spectrum C which has a lifetime warranty, and the line is a Rio Gold which is a premium $100 line.

Fly Fishing Box and Flies

For fly fishing, you’ll obviously need flies – the more the better. However, beginners don’t need too many flies. Your local fly shop can set you up with a dozen flies that are working well in your area. Start with one fly box and build it up. Fly boxes range between $10-$50. Standard flies are usually $2.50 – $3.00, streamers and hoppers can be more expensive. Streamers can cost up to $10, while hoppers are normally around $4.

So for less than $100, you can start your fly collection from scratch. See what patterns you like and build your collection over time.

If you’re fishing in the summer, dry flies (floating) are very popular. For winter fly fishing, nymphs (sinking) are more popular. Again, head to your local fly shop. The shops always have up to date fishing reports on what is working.

Fly Fishing Tippet

This is the clear line that you tie your flies to. You can use nylon tippet which is cheaper. Or you can use fluorocarbon tippet, which is more invisible to the fish. Usually 3x, 4x, and 5x is a good starter. This means roughly 8lb, 6 lb, and 5lb test tippet. Don’t get too caught up in the X’s, it is just our funky way of measuring tippet diameter. 5x is most common for trout fishing in the west. Some rivers you can get away with fishing heavier tippet, such as 3x. Remember, the smaller the number – the heavier the tippet is.

Forceps/Hemostats

This is a handy little tool that has many uses. You can pinch split shot on your leader, crimp barbs on hooks, remove hooks from fishes mouths, etc.

Forceps will run you between $7 – $40. I usually just go with cheaper pairs.

Forceps can crimp onto your shirt or zipper, which makes them easy to keep track of while you fish.

Split Shot

This is just like other types of fishing. We use split shot to get our flies down to where the fish are. You can use regular split shots such as Water Gremlins. These are cheaper and they sink fast, since they’re made of lead. You can also get nicer split shot like Dinsmores. These are made of tin which is easier on the environment. They’re also painted so they won’t spook the fish.

I use Dinsmores a lot, but i’m not opposed to Water Gremlins.

You will add or subtract split shot based on how deep and fast the water is. This takes practice, but after awhile – you can look at a run and know how much split shot to use.

Split shots will cost between $3 – $15, depending on the brand. You can either buy one size, or an assortment container.

Net

You can get away without a net, but it can be hard – especially if you hook a large trout. Nets make it easier to remove flies from the fishes mouth. It also gives the fish a safe place to rest while you are unhooking them.

Rubber net bags are much easier on fish than a mesh bag. The rubber protects the trouts slime coating very well. I highly recommend all anglers use a rubber net bag. Fishes slime layer is like our immune system, you don’t want to damage it!

Fishing License

This is non-negotiable. Fishing licenses help the department of wildlife manage our fisheries. Through the revenue they generate, our officers can be paid to manage our local waters.

If you don’t buy a license, you are poaching. So just buy one!

Most states will have online portals where you can purchase a license. Or you can head to your local fly shop. Most fly shops only accept cash for licenses, so be aware of that.

Many states allow you to buy a license online and screenshot it to your phone. This is convenient and will save you some time.

Non-residents will pay more for licenses, and local residents will pay much less.

Waders and Boots (optional)

If you are only fishing during the warmer seasons, waders and boots aren’t necessary. In the summer and fall months, we like to “wet wade”. This keeps you cooler and feels much better than wearing waders.

If you plan on fishing during the colder months, consider getting boots and waders. In terms of pricing, waders go between $200-$800. Boots go from $100-$400. There’s really a whole range of qualities you can choose from.

Some of the top wader and boot brands are Simms, Patagonia, Redington and Orvis. Nicer waders will generally last longer, and are built more rugged than cheaper waders. Simms even utilizes Gore-Tex on their nicer waders.

The best way to get fitted is to go to your local fly shop and try some pairs on. It is hard to order waders and boots online, since they must fit nicely to ensure you’re comfortable.

Fly Fishing Guide

If you have a mentor who can teach you to fly fish, that is awesome. However, lots of beginners will need to hire a guide. Local guides are on the river most days and they know exactly how to catch trout. Conditions vary greatly on trout rivers, and guides know how to navigate these conditions and still catch fish.

Spending a day with a guide is extremely valuable. It will allow you to pursue fish on your own with success. Hiring a guide is pricey, but the knowledge gained is well worth it.