What fly fishing gear do you need?
How do you get into Fly Fishing?
Interestingly, understanding the gear goes a long way towards understanding the sport.
So here goes.
Some basic fly fishing rules
I should start by laying out some basic rules with respect to fly fishing. These may seem silly and even random, but as you get into the gear and therefore the sport, you’ll begin to see how they really make sense.
- Always choose darker and non-shiny items. Why? Your goal is to be a stealth hunter of wild trout. They’re smarter then you may think and all efforts to be covert are necessary so as to not tip off these extraordinary creatures.
- Anything that protrudes can and will get caught on your fly line. Murphy’s law will further complicate this in that your line will be hung up at the most inopportune times – such as when you have a trout on your line.
- Anything not secured will potentially drop into the river. Lines and zinger are necessary to ensure that your precious, and sometimes expensive gear, does not fall into the river. This includes such items as sunglass straps and retainers.
- You goal is to trick your wild competitor into taking your imitation of natural insects. Once deceived, your goal becomes landing the quarry quickly and safely so that they can live and compete another day.
Why wild trout?
There are a number of fly fishing quarry – from bass to salmon to ocean fish to wild trout. The most common, at least in the U.S. is trout which generally include Rainbow, Brown, Brook, Cutthroat and Lake Trout.
The concept of wild trout is important to understand. You see, most fly fishing of trout deploy catch and release of wild trout.
Why catch and release?
And, why wild trout?
Normally you can manage a fishery via one of two means – maintain the wild fish population (which requires a catch and release policy) or periodically stock hatchery fish.
Combining the two is disastrous. Stocking fish into a wild fishery will result in a dead river. Essentially the wild trout will be killed and driven off by the stocked fish and the stocked fish will be caught and killed or simply die off due to their inability to assimilate into a wild stream or river.
Significant gear companies
There are a number of significant manufacturers which are specifically devoted to fly fishing. You may want to review the following to get an idea of the major players.
- Simms – Probably THE major player in fly fishing gear and covers everything from boots to waders to vests to you name it.
- Orvis – Orvis has been around for years and covers it all. They are, however, more of a consolidator vs a manufacturer of gear.
- Sage – Sage is another rod, reel, and clothing designer which plays a major role in fly fishing gear.
- FishPond – One of the newer and truly innovative fly fishing gear companies.
Fly Fishing gear from the top down
So, what gear is necessary to pursue wild trout, catch and release, fly fishing? Here are my suggestions from the top down.
- Hat – although the sky’s the limit here, consider a hat with a black underbill to reduce reflections from the water. Simms makes a number of these type hats as does 12wt.
- Sunglasses – It’s absolutely critical that polarized sunglasses be used while fly fishing. Again, there are a number of options but two of the most common are Smith and Maui Jim.
- Fishing Vests – You have the option of carrying your gear in a vest, waist pack or even on a lanyard. Look at what fits your need. After years of going back and forth, I’ve standardized on a vest, and here again, Simms makes some of the best – like their Guide Vest.
- Waders – Throughout this article, I will refer to George Anderson’s Yellowstone Angler Reviews. On an annual basis, and for a number of years, this company has conducted extensive reviews of various fly fishing products. Additionally, the reviewers have seasoned fly fishing guides with essentially no ax to grind. In 2013, Anderson conducted a review of 10 waders which is extremely illuminating. Additionally, I would highly recommend waist vs chest waders. As A.K Best states in his “Fly Fishing with A. K.” –
..if the water is too deep for waist high waders, I should be in a boat.
- Boots – Some of the best boots, again, are made by Simms. Although felt bottom boots are easily the most secure, traveling fly fishers have unfortunately captured various parasites in their felt which have transferred such things as “whirling disease” to U.S. streams and rivers. Consequently, most states prohibit felt bottoms and most boots now are rubber and possible metal cleats. Try on your boots with waders on and ensure that they are big enough to be comfortable.
- Rods and Reels – As with waders, Anderson has done a number of gear reviews for fly fishing rods and reels. If you intend to fish most small to medium size rivers and streams you will be well served with 5-weight and 4-weight rods and reels. Check out the Anderson reviews to get an idea of which ones to choose. They not only cover the top gear but also make recommendations based on best values.
- Miscellaneous Gear – Fly fishermen tend to carry too much gear so this is an effort to suggest the minimal amount of gear needed.
- Leaders – leaders can be smooth one-piece tapered construction or of a tapered knotted construction. I prefer the latter because it is more precise and transfers energy more efficiently. I like the Anderson hand tied leaders and recommend that again with small to medium-sized rivers, an 8 foot 5x is optimal.
- Tippets – The brand of tippets I like are Trout Hunter and again, Anderson has a shootout that compares a number of tippets. I would recommend as few as possible – which would be 4x, 5x, 6x and 7x. Tippets are effectively 1/3 the size of the fly. Thus, a 12x fly would use a 4x tippet and a 21x fly would use a 7 x tippet. Additionally, you may want to keep the tippets out of the sun on you vest since UV rays will deteriorate tippets.
- Fly Boxes – There are thousands of different fly boxes, from wooden to aluminum to plastic. Some of the best, and the ones I use are the Tacky Fly boxes which are available in different sizes for both nymphs and dry flies.
- Nymph fishing – Nymph fishing requires only two additional items, weights and strike indicators. I try to keep only two sizes of weights in my vest and really like the Thingamabobber strike indicators.
- Dry Fly fishing – With dry fly fishing you only need two additional items as well – some kind of dry and wet floatant – such as Umpqua Dry Shake and Gink.
- Barb Crusher – You need a good, dark and non-shiny, barb crusher to de-barb you fly hooks. Don’t worry about a forceps, there are better tools to release the hook.
- Hook Release – The easiest and best tool to release the hook from the fish is the Waterworks Lamson Ketchum Release. This is the best way to quickly and safely release trout.
- Nippers – You can run the gauntlet from cheap to luxury. The Able Nipper is the latter with replaceable blades and is a great gift idea for the fly fisher who can convince another to make the leap.
Net – Nets range from artistic to utilitarian creations such as the Fishpond Nomad Carbon Fiber and Fiberglass composite hand net. Choose a net that big enough without being too large and consider using a retractor such as the Gear Keeper from Orvis. Also, get a seine from Home Depot (just a paint seine) or purchase from Amazon the Sci Fly Seine to sample the stream and “match the hatch“.
Not unlike photography, fly fishing gear is specific and extensive, it’s also not inexpensive. As with photography, that’s another reason to know what to purchase so that multiple purchases are not necessary.
Fly Fishing and Landscape Photography are a marriage of advocations that result in years of satisfaction. Both survive in the wilderness and both are artistic endeavors with a deep history. Enjoy.