Determine your budget
Not everyone can afford name brand fly fishing gear at the full price tag. I certainly didn’t when I started out. So you’ve got to work with what you got. Start out with the absolute essentials and add to your collection month after month. Grab yourself a nice affordable fly rod, reel, line, and flies that fit within your budget.
Purchase state fishing license
Don’t leave home without a registered state fishing license within the state that you are fishing. The Fish and Boat Commission don’t typically let people off easy for forgetting one’s license on the kitchen counter. Fines are at least double the cost of the license and can be over a couple hundred dollars. I probably don’t have to say this but fish legally and get a state fishing license. Your purchase will support conservation and the active management of your local streams.
Select a fishing destination
When you’re going to spend a few hours fishing a local stream, river, pond, or lake it’s a good idea to scout it out and get to know the area. Even if it’s a quick Google search, see if it people in the past have done well there or if it has sufficient casting room. Take some time and look at the weather, water level, and temperatures to see if it’s in good condition to fish. You can find this online simply by searching the name of the water and then add “water level” into your search such as, “Little Lehigh River Water Level.”
Another reason why this consideration is important is that where you choose to fish will influence what type of gear you need. If I go to a small mountain stream in search of 9-inch brook trout I won’t be needing a 10 ½ foot Spey casting rod. Bringing that monster of a fly rod would be overkill. The stream is much too small and much better suited for an 8-foot 3 weight fly rod.
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Find out whether you need permission from the land owner’s to fish
Worst thing to do is illegally trespass onto someone’s land to access some water. Avoid any streams with “no trespassing” or “no fishing” posted signs. That being said, many streams have public access points that the land owners or state have made available to all anglers.
Research public access points to the water
You’ve picked out a trout stream and know you can fish it but where can you actually go in there and access the water. Best bet is to call a local fly shop or fishing shop to get some intel. Even a quick search online could reveal some detailed directions to fishing the water.
Find public parking areas and driving directions
Without any prior research finding a place to park that is often a struggle in the moment. Before heading out in the family car have a place in mind you know you can publicly park. Having your car towed because you parked on private property is a worst case scenario. Fortunately, there is usually a public parking zone near the access points and are sometimes marked by fishing authorities. Other times you’ll need to ask around at local shops and see where other anglers go.
Decide what fish species you will be fishing
Will you be fishing for bass, trout, pike, panfish, tarpon, etc.? Knowing what fish you are targeting decides your equipment and what fly fishing supplies you need. Once you focus on, say, fly fishing for trout then you can move on to selecting the proper gear you’ll need to catch them. Fly fishing for different fish may require totally different gear. If I were to go fly fishing for bass I would prefer a heavier weight rod, like a 6-7 weight 10-foot fly rod, and some bigger streamers or popper flies. On the other hand, if I were to go fly fishing for trout I would prefer a 4-5 weight 9 ½ foot fly rod.
Choose the right fly rod and reel
Each fly rod and reel are made a particular purpose in mind which makes them better suited in specific conditions than other fly rods and reels. The different set of fly rod weights and combinations of length do matter. Here’s a helpful basic guide to choosing the right rod.
- Fly Fishing for Bass — 5 to 8 weight fly rod to help cast heavy bass bugs or streamers great distances. Choose a fly rod that’s at least 8 ½ feet long.
- Fly Fishing for Trout — 2 to 7 weight fly rod. Lighter weight rods for lighter patterns and heavier fly rods for bigger fish and heavier flies. Depending on the stream width you may need a long rod. Fly rods for trout are commonly at least 8 ½ feet.
- Large heavy flies — Heavy flies are more difficult to cast on light weight rods (1 to 4 weight) and are controlled much better on rods with weights of 5 or more. Think heavily streamers and big popper flies as ‘large heavy flies’.
- Small light flies — Typical ‘small light’ flies are nymphs, streamers, and dry flies that weigh very little. Think an Adams Parachute or Prince Nymph or Woolly Bugger. These flies are cast accurately and controlled well on fly rods from a 2 weight or more.
- Small streams/rivers — Small streams don’t often require longer rods. But nothing’s going to stop you from using a longer fly rod. It’s really up to you. However, if spaces are cramped and there is brush along your back, having a longer rod might make it more difficult for you to present your flies. With a shorter length you can still reach the trout pools and worry less about getting tangled in trees. Shorter rods make fly fishing a little more manageable with small streams.
- Large streams/rivers — Longer fly rods are a necessity on large rivers and streams. That extra few inches or feet will make a noticeable distance in how much water you can cover. You’ll be able to cast farther and get the reach you need to nymph large pools effectively.
With all that being said, you don’t have to have a different rod for every little thing. Many fly anglers have but one rod and use it in all situations. It’s really up to you and your budget. Having the proper equipment only makes it easier. Personally, I only had one fly rod for years until I began to fly fish larger rivers and required a longer rod. I went from using an 8 ½ foot 4 weight to a 10 ½ foot 4 weight. Why the change? Those extra two feet of rod length help me cast farther and reach pools when nymphing that I couldn’t otherwise get to with the 8 ½ foot.
Decide whether you’ll need waders or not
This is a simple question of will you need to enter the water at any point and do you mind getting wet? In the heat of the summer it might be enjoyable to dip your toes in the cool water. On the other hand, wet-wading during the winter is absolutely crazy. In other cases, you will only be casting from the bank or from a boat so waders wouldn’t be necessary.
Familiarize yourself with the state fishing regulations and limitations for that water
States and specific sections of streams have varying rules and regulations. Many times, streams will have a designated “Artificial Lures” only section that prohibits the use of baitfish or fishbait. Regulations often post of a “Delayed Harvest” or “Catch And Release Only” for sections of water that are carefully managed by the state. They may even have limitations on how long your fly leader can be or how many flies you can have tied to your line. Some states allow up to 3-flies while others restrict any more than 2-flies. Knowing all this can be the difference of a couple of hundred dollars in fines and a bad headache. Read up on the local regulations before leaving so you can prepare properly.
Fly Fishing Gear For Beginners:
Fly fishing leaders are a tapered section of line that is attached to your main colored fly line. Whether you hand-make your leader or buy a pre-tapered one from a fly shop, these are absolutely necessary. The tapering of this line from a stiff butt section to a thin front end helps carry the energy from your cast into the presentation of your fly. Without the tapering, your line would be a limp noodle and your presentations would fall short.
There are many different sizes of leaders from 0x, 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x, 6x, and 7x. The lower the number the thicker and more stiff the line is. For example, the 0x would be ideal for large fish and heavy flies while the 6x would excel in presenting light dry fly patterns.
Fly boxes are there to make it easier for you to carry your collection of fly fishing flies and keep you organized enough to find the flies you need. Having a decent fly box keeps you organized and your investment of flies safe.
Fishing pliers are a necessary tool that gives fly anglers extra reach and a better grip to unhook tricky fish and get us out of sticky situations. For more ‘idealist’ fishermen fishing pliers are used to pinch hook barbs.
Line nippler are a necessary tool for all fly anglers. They are used to snip the excess line off when attaching flies, new tippet, or leader onto your line. Simple nail clippers from the dollar store can do the trick, or if you prefer to get the Rollex of fishing equipment you can purchase hundred dollar clippers from large brands.
Strike indicators are the fly fishing communities version of a conventional fishing bobber. Wool yarn, dense foam, and dry flies are common fly fishing strike indicators. Fly anglers use these in what’s called ‘suspension rigs’ where flies are placed below the indicator. When the indicator makes an abnormal movement or twitch, the hook is set on what can be a fish or structures in the water. In most cases, people who are fly fishing nymphs, or the act of ‘nymphing’, use strike indicators.
Polarized sunglasses are sunglasses that remove the reflective glare and polarized light from the water which will allow you to see more vividly into the water and see water depth, rocks, fish, and more. This is an edge you can have when fly fishing that helps you catch more fish.
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When you are fly fishing nymphs or streamers, split shots are additional weights that can be added to your fly line to help your flies punch through the currents, dive faster, and sink deeper into the water. For experienced fly anglers, split shots are a fundamental tool in their arsenal for giving the best presentation possible.
Hats are a simple piece of equipment that requires very little effort. For sunny days, having a good hat that covers your face and or neck from sunburn is something you don’t leave at home. It can also keep you cold, warm, and protected from the weather and insects.
Rubber Fishing Net
Rubber nets not only look awesome in photographs, they are the most fish-friendly type of net available. The rubber net doesn’t get stuck or tears apart delicate fish gills. Traditionally, conventional fishing nets with knotted netting tears through fish gills like a saw and ends up fatally injuring the fish that is already under a lot of stress.
Snacks for long days on the water are a must. Nothing is worse than having to cut your day short for a hungry stomach. Bring a few protein bars, fruit, sandwiches, and a few hard candies.
Your body always needs plenty of water so pack one into your travel pack and leave a few extras in your vehicle for emergencies.
For those blue skies and sunny days sunscreen is a simple solution to not showing up to the office on Monday with silly tan lines and a sore neck. Wear environmentally friendly sunscreen to help prevent the leaching of more harmful chemicals into the water. Aquatic ecosystems are incredibly fragile and already have enough pollution to fight as is.
Fly fishing tippet is transparent line that you connect to your fly leader from your colored fly line to your fly. As compared to fly fishing leader, tippet is not tapered and is consistently the same thickness all the way through. When your leader wears down nearing the thick end attach some tippet to continue tying your flies on.
First Aid Kit
Be prepared for the worst or even the simplest of injuries. You don’t have to pack it in with you, but it’s always recommended to have one in the vehicle. Throw in a few rolls of toilet paper, too. When nature calls there isn’t always a public bathroom around for quick access.
Have a solid selection of dry flies, flies that float on the surface, for when trout are keying in on insects on top, such as midges, mayfly duns or spinners, adult caddis, stoneflies, beetles, frogs, mice, cicadas, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and ants. Just have a few patterns of each insect hatch that are expected during the time you are fishing. Makes sense right? Don’t waste space and pack grasshoppers in the winter — bring flies that imitate insects that are actively present.
Nymph larvae and pupae are the number one source of food for trout. Generally, trout aren’t always feeding off the top, either. They lay low right along the bottom and lazily pick up insects drifting by in the water. Since they won’t come to your dry flies on top, bring your flies to them by fishing nymphs. Target deep pools, runs, riffles, seams, and troughs.
Streamers are meaty patterns that imitate protein-rich baitfish, minnows, leeches, and other large underwater prey. This flies are incredibly effective when stripped or swung through deep pools, runs, riffles, and along shelves. Larger fish love to take distressed minnows and lonely baitfish whenever they get the chance at an easy meal. They didn’t get that big by eating just tiny insects.