What do I Need to Start Fly Fishing?

What do I Need to Start Fly Fishing?

If you’re planning to pick a new hobby, then you should consider fly fishing. This involves walking into the water or standing beside it, casting your line attached to a small fly, and mimicking the movements of a fly. Fly fishing is a great fishing style, but do you have everything you need to get started?

What do I Need to Start Fly Fishing?

If you’re planning to pick a new hobby, then you should consider fly fishing. This involves walking into the water or standing beside it, casting your line attached to a small fly, and mimicking the movements of a fly. Fly fishing is a great fishing style, but do you have everything you need to get started?

To start fly fishing, you will need to get your hands on the right fishing gear. The primary fly fishing gears include a fly fishing rod, fly line, fly reel, landing net, leader, tippet, flies, a fly vest, forceps, and split shot. You may also need polarized sunglasses, a fly fishing hat, and floatant.

Fly fishing may seem overwhelming at first. But don’t worry, the rest of this article will discuss in detail everything else related to this question, including the basics of fly fishing, what you will need to start fly fishing, and how to choose the right fly fishing equipment.

Fly Fishing Basics

So you want to start fly fishing? Wonderful! This type of fishing is a unique and fun hobby and sport. It brings you closer to nature while providing you a challenging sport of outsmarting the fish. But before you can start fly fishing, you may want to learn the basics of fly fishing and how it's different from other types of fishing.

With other conventional fishing methods, you need to cast the heavier weight with the rod and then the line. However, with fly fishing, you will almost always do the opposite. You will have to cast the heavy line, and then the fly follows.

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Similar to conventional fishing methods, fly fishing has some variations. The different types of fly fishing include dry fly fishing, nymph fly fishing, and streamer-fly fishing.

Dry fly fishing: This is a fishing method that involves first casting a buoyant fly to imitate an aquatic insect and use it to catch trout. With this type of fly fishing, you cause the floating dry fly to move naturally with the current. This type of fishing makes it easy to tell when you have a strike, making it ideal for beginners.

Nymph fly fishing: This fishing method is mainly used to catch trout and other cold-water species. To use this method, you cast a fly that can sink or add more weight for it to sink. Then you drift the fly at the same pace as the current. Therefore, this technique may be more complicated for beginners.

Streamer fly-fishing: To start using this technique, cast a sinking fly that imitates the natural bait and then strip it across the water currents. This is also a more complex fishing method, and it is mainly used to catch larger varieties of fish.

Now that you know the three fly-fishing varieties, you’re ready to cast your fly-fishing rod. To get started, you need to load your fly-fishing rod and let some of the lines from your reel. Keep in mind that the more lines you release, the more weight you add. Additionally, the amount of line you can let out will depend on the weight and length of your rod.

What Kind of Fly Fishing Equipment do you Need to Get Started?

While fly-fishing may seem like a complicated sport that requires a carload of gear, it is easier than you think. You won't require special equipment to get started. All you need is to purchase the basic fly-fishing equipment and get out into nature. Always remember that you stand to learn more from experience. It is also good to start with simple fishing gear and invest in more complex fly-fishing equipment as your skill level and confidence increase.

If you’re a beginner, ensure that you include the following fly-fishing equipment in your kit:

Fly rod

The length of the rod you choose will mainly depend on the type of fishing you want. For instance, in Stillwater fishing, you can use a 9ft rod. Fishing rods come in various weight classes. However, 6 and 7 weight classes can suit most purposes.

Tips on how to choose the most suitable fly fishing rod

Your rod is an essential tool in fly fishing, and when it comes to choosing the right fly fishing rod, you have to consider a few factors. To begin with, there’s your personal preference. Most newbies prefer mid-action rods because they’re easy to handle. Other factors that you should consider include:

What you will be fishing for

You’re obviously looking forward to starting fly fishing, but have you stopped to ask yourself what you’ll be fishing? Ensure that you answer this question honestly because the answer will determine everything else.

Large Steelhead Trout

For instance, you will need a different fly fishing rod for trout fish than you would use for small or giant fish. Similarly, a fly fishing rod designed for freshwater fishing may not be a good choice for saltwater fishing. Therefore, you should carefully think and decide the fish species you want to fish.

Fly rod action

There are numerous confusing aspects in fly fishing than the fly rod action. However, the fly fishing rod action simply means the flexibility of the fly rod. With this in mind, it's important to point out that you can only measure a fly rod's flexibility by measuring the backcast. The more a rod can bend, the more flexible it is.

There are three types of fly rods that should concern you as a beginner, including:

Fast Action Fly Rod

Tip-flex or fast action fly rod

This type of fly-fishing rod has the least flexibility. You may choose this type of fishing rod if you intend to catch larger fish. Additionally, it is the most suitable rod for making long casts. Because a fast action fly rod gives you more control, you will be able to bring in fish faster. Although a fast action fly rod may sound like the most suitable option, it is not ideal for areas with smaller fish and is the most challenging fly rod to learn as a beginner.

Medium Action Fly Rod

Mid-flex or medium action fly rods

These are the most versatile rods. They can perform well in different conditions, and they're easy to learn with. The backcast of a medium action fly rod begins from halfway to the rod. Therefore, it falls in-between fast and slow fly rods. If you can only afford to own one action fly rod for freshwater fishing, it should be the mid-flex fly rod.

Full Flex FLy Rod

Full-flex or slow action fly rods

This type of action fly rod has similar features to the original bamboo fly rods. They are designed for short and accurate casts that can easily hit the water, especially if you're fishing in small rivers or streams. Slow action fly rods are flexible, and they're ideal for using small nymphs and dry flies. What's more, these action rods are forgiving for those who aren't strong casters.

Fly fishing rod weight class

If you’re new to fly fishing, then you can easily get confused in determining the right weight class of your fishing rod. The length is more straightforward. However, it pays to understand the different weight classes, whether you’re on a fishing trip or just fishing trout. To determine the right rod weight class, you need to consider two factors: the type of fish you want to catch and where you’re fishing.


Rod Weight

Grayling or Brownies

#2, #3, #5

Rainbow trout and Brown trout

#5, #6

Blue Trout and Salmon


Large trout, Steelhead, Bass & Pike


Saltwater fish

#10, #11, #12

Picture of Fly Fishing Reel

Fly reel

This is the next essential item that you will need for you to start fly fishing. You should purchase a fly reel that matches your rod's weight. This will help to create enough room for the fly line.

Tips on how to choose the right fly reel

There are numerous fly fishing reels out there, making it complex to find the ideal one for you, right? Therefore, which fly fishing reel will not only look fancy but also do its job? Below are some of the factors that you should consider:

Weight and size: Just like fly fishing rods, reels are also rated by their size or weight. When searching for the right reel, ensure that it matches the size of your rod to ensure that you have a well-balanced outfit.

Material: Today, most fly fishing reels are made using machined bar-stock aluminum. This means that aluminum is carved using a machine into the shape of a reel. While cast-aluminum reels work fine and can last a long time, the highest-quality reels are machined aluminum reels.

Picture of Fly Reel in Mans Hands

Drag: This is a vital part of a flywheel as it provides the braking power to prevent a large fish from pulling the line off the reel. There are several different drag systems in the market, but the most common ones use disc drag or the click and pawl. The disc drag fly reel has a more adjustable stopping power than the click and pawl. Therefore, the click and pawl are more suitable if you're on a budget or if you want to catch smaller fish. On the other hand, disc drag is an excellent choice for catching large fish.

Arbor size: While fly fishing reels used to have a conventional and straightforward spindle at the center for attaching the line, today, there are large arbors with a much larger diameter. A large reel can take up more lines quickly than small reels, making them more suitable for saltwater fly fishing.

Trout and Fly Line

Fly line

Once more, the weight of your rod will dictate the most suitable fly line to use. Ideally, you may want a forward floating line when starting. Once you gain some experience and develop your fly fishing technique, you can progress to the sinking lines. It's vital that you invest more time to be sure of the quality, which can significantly affect your experience.

How to buy a fly line

Fish lines are the most confusing fly fishing equipment than any other category. Which is the best type of fly fishing line? Or which taper or brand is suitable for my fly fishing rod? These are some of the questions you will have to ask yourself as you go shopping for a fly fishing line.

The fly line is an essential part of fly fishing, and it also determines whether you will be fly fishing or doing another type of fishing. The fly line is provided with the weight used to load the fly rod, and it extends kinetic energy to deliver the fly to the target.

Picture of Fly Line on Fly Rod


The shape of your fly line or taper will determine how kinetic energy is transmitted when casting. Tapers have varying diameters and lengths on specific parts, which accentuates the performance of each line. When you go shopping for a fly fishing line, you will have several options to consider. Below are the types of taper you will find in the market today:

Level (L): This type of taper has no design at all, and it is often associated with low performance. It distributes kinetic energy erratically, and it’s complex to control during casting.

Catch More with Drifthook Fly Fishing Flies - Click Here

Double Taper (DT): This is a reversible fly line that comes with an identical taper. This type of taper is easy to patch and roll cast, and it is beneficial for moving water. However, it is suitable for short to medium casts, approximately 20 to 50 feet.

Weight Forward (WF): This type of taper is suitable for making long casts ranging between 20 and 80 feet. These tapers are adaptable and work well in different conditions. The weight-forward taper also comes in various configurations that can help to meet your particular situation.

Ideally, any fly fishing line that is fitted with a head, as well as a running line area, is a weight-forward fly fishing line. Therefore, rocket tapers, saltwater tapers, triangle tapers, and steelhead tappers are all weight-forward fly lines. 

Flies for Fly Fishing

The terms fly fishing comes from the bait used when fishing: artificial flies. These flies are designed to imitate what fish eat. There are several types of flies in the market, including:

  • Nymphs: They are often larvae that resemble other aquatic creatures, and they float at or below the water surface.
  • Dry flies: These are the most common baits, and they’re designed to look just like other flying insects that can float on the water surface.
  • Streamers: Similar to nymphs, streamers are designed to mimic other aquatic creatures. However, they’re larger than nymphs.

What you decide to use will depend on the type of fish you want to catch. If you use a specific fly and the fish don't bite, you may have to change it and note down what they are after. As a fly fisherman, you should be prepared to learn more about the types of fish and bugs they eat.  To learn more about fly fishing entomology check out our beginner series video below.

Tips on how to choose the right fly

While it's necessary to purchase all other fly fishing equipment, you will need to be careful when choosing the fly because it can significantly affect your fishing experience. There are three key considerations that you can make to determine the flies to purchase.

Size of fly fishing fly


The first and most important thing to consider is the shape of the fly on the water. If you want to catch trout, start by categorizing your insects. In a typical scenario, the water surface will potentially have caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies.

Caddisflies have wings that lay flat on their bodies, stoneflies are often high riding in the current and have sail-boats like wings, and stoneflies appear to be larger and have two distinct tails. Therefore, it’s vital that you understand the group of flies you will need.

Copper John Fly Fishing Flies


After determining the shape of the ideal bugs, you will also need to select the fly's size. While you don't have to be precise, you must choose a size that is as close as possible to imitating the insects' natural size on the water. While you may have a general size in large hatches, you may want to consider having various sizes. In large hatches, imitating the size or shape of a fly may not be as important as the size of the fly.

Zebra Midge


After determining the shape and size, the last step is to match your flies with the natural bugs swarming around you. Shade means the overall color of the fly. While you may want to replicate the shade of the natural hatches, it shouldn't be exact. For instance, if the naturals have a tan color scheme, then choose a tan shade.

Man holding leader on fly line


Are you wondering what fly fishing leaders are? Leaders are thinner lines that sit between the fly and fishing line. The leader starts thick like the fly line and then tappers to a smaller size. The leader's main purpose is to keep the line from falling and slapping onto the water, which can scare away the fish.

How to pick fly-fishing leaders

Leaders are among the basics that you will need before you can start fly fishing. However, most casters blame their cast when they land off-target or when they can’t find a drag-free drift. But the problem is most often the leader. To choose the best performing leader, consider the:

Length: Three factors can influence the decision on what length leader to use: the type of fly, water condition, and the fish you intend to catch. For sinking lines, you can use short 3 to 5-foot leaders. On the other hand, if you're using floating lines, use leaders that are 7 to 12 feet long. If you plan to catch spooky fish in low and clear water, you may want to use long leaders of about 9 to 12 feet.

Butt section: To transition from a fly line to the leader, ensure that the butt section is the right size. Leaders that have too large or too small butt sections fail to lay smoothly. Ideally, the leader butt diameter should be two-thirds the diameter of the edge of the fly line.


The Tippet

This is an additional fluorocarbon or monofilament line that attaches the fly to the leader to extend the line. This makes it possible to present the fly without making the line visible. Tippets come in different sizes, but the secret is to choose the strongest and most unnoticeable one. It is also a good idea to add a weighted putty when you want to get the flies down below the water surface to the feeding area.

How to choose the right tippet size

The tippet size is often described in X’s. This scale is similar to a wire gauge scale. This is because the size of the tippet will get larger as the X rating gets smaller. Use a small diameter tippet when using small flies and larger tippets when using larger flies. To determine the right size of the tippet, divide the size of the fly by 3 to get the size of the tippet you should use. For example, to use a size 18 fly, you should use a 6X tippet.



You will need this tool when fly fishing to help you remove the hook after you’ve landed a fish. You will also use it if you have to de-barb a small fish and you want to release it back into the water.

Tips on how to select the best forceps

Forceps are essential when fly fishing because they can cut line. When fly fishing, you will need forceps that can trim the lines effortlessly. But how can you choose the best forceps in the market for fly fishing?

To get the best forceps, you will have to think about the size. Most forceps are about 5-inches long, but you can still find smaller and bigger forceps. Additionally, you need to consider your storage space before you make a final decision.

Forceps are made from various materials. Yet, most fly fishing experts prefer using forceps made from stainless steel. Before you purchase, make sure that you analyze the jaw appearance. Some types of forceps are more suitable for specific tasks like trimming lines or de-barbing hooks. Additionally, forceps have different opening mechanisms, so you may want to consider that too.

 Fly Fishing Vest

Fly vest or fly fishing pack

This is a sleeveless jacket with multiple pockets or a bag, which you can use to stash your flies and other things that you will need when fly fishing. The fly vest or fly pack is necessary because it frees up your hands and allows you to use the rod and still have access to everything else that you will need.

Tips on how to choose the right fly fishing vest or fly fishing pack

Finding the right fly fishing vest is not an easy task as there are different options in the market. Before you can start fly fishing, make sure you choose the most suitable one because it is the second most used fly fishing equipment. It is also necessary to choose the right fishing vest for your type of fishing.

When buying a fly fishing vest, consider the following:

Budget: Can you afford an expensive fly fishing vest? Consider it if it is durable and has all the features you desire. However, focus more on quality than other features because not all vests that can stand the test of time will have all the features you want.

Durability: If you're shopping online, it may be challenging to determine how long a fly fishing vest will last. However, there are a few ways that you can evaluate the quality of a vest. Start by reading the product reviews from other shoppers. Another way that you can determine the quality of a vest is by checking if they have a warranty. Jackets with lifetime warranties are of higher quality.

Space: As you progress into your fly fishing career, you’ll want to get deeper into the water. Therefore, you will need a vest that can fit your fly boxes and some candy bars.

Fly Fishing Hat

Which Other Fly Fishing Items Will You Need?

Apart from your rod, reel, and the above fishing equipment, you may also want to consider adding other fishing accessories that will enhance your fly fishing experience. These may include:

  • Polarized sunglasses: They help to ward off glare from the water and also protect your eyes.
  • Fishing hat: A fly fishing hat will help to keep the sun away from your eyes and also weatherproof you.
  • Floatant: As you dry fish, you will need a floatant to keep your dry flies on the water and prevent them from sinking. Floatants can either be in liquid form or dry powder.

Final Thoughts

Going fishing with a rod, line, and artificial bait designed to imitate fish – that's fly fishing. While fly fishing may look complicated, it's an easy and fun sport and hobby. All you need is to ensure that you have all the right equipment, including the fly rod, fly reel, fly line, fly leader, fly tippet, the right flies, and forceps. There is additional fly fishing gear that you may need, like a landing net, a fishing hat, floatant, and polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes. 

Matthew Bernhardt

Matthew Bernhardt, a third-generation Coloradan, grew up at the forefront of the state’s fly-fishing revolution, enjoying time on the water, side by side with experienced guides and lifelong anglers.

By combining his passion for fly-fishing with input from other experienced fly-fishers and guides and his fine arts degree from Colorado State University, Matthew spent five years carefully developing the Drifthook Fly Fishing System, built to help every angler catch more trout.

When he’s not spending time with his wonderful family, you’ll find him out on the water catching MONSTER trout, and he anxiously looks forward to the day when his kids are old enough to join him there. 

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