Choosing Fly Fishing Gear and Supplies

How to Choose a Fly Fishing Reel, Rod, Line and Leader.

Fly Fishing Reels

Choose the Right Fly Fishing GearThere are many different brands and styles of fly fishing reels. You will determine the size you need by the size of fish you plan to catch.  Most people will be fishing for trout while hiking, so a smaller sized reel is all you need. Another factor that will determine the size of the reel is the size of your fly fishing rod, You will need to match it. For instance if you have a 5 weight rod, you will need approximately a 5 weight reel and 5 weight line. Although if you are using a longer rod than is typical, such as as a 10′ there are times where it would be beneficial to go with a slightly larger reel to balance your outfit.

Standard Arbor vs Large Arbor

Another Variation in fly reels is the size of the arbor. This is the spool part of the reel. The larger size will allow you to reel up line faster with less effort. Give you a more consistent drag and reduce line coiling. The more traditional style is the standard arbor. You will need to put more backing on a standard arbor reel. I would personally recommend the large arbor reel.

Drag Systems

There are several types of drag systems on Fly reels. There are also a lot of reels that have no drag at all. You will need to determine the size of the fish you plan to catch. The larger the fish, the more important a drag system is. For most trout fishing you will not need any drag. You can control the pressure on the fish manually, by applying pressure by hand on the reel.(this is called palming) Drag is the amount of  resistance that your reel will put on a pulling fish. For instance, if a fish is pulling really hard, your reel will allow the fish to take line. If the fish starts to get tired, it will no longer be pulling line from your reel. It is essentially a setting that will prevent too much tension from being put on the fish. This will save you from fish breaking your line. You might need yo eat these fish on your hiking trip in the backcountry!

The Prices Of Reels:

The Prices of Fly fishing reels can vary wildly. It would be easy to go out reel shopping and get a little sticker shock. They range about 20$ up to 800$ and beyond. The higher priced ones usually have good drag systems and are made for larger fish, but not always. Some brands just fetch a really high price (and people pay it). The highest priced ones generally are made from one solid piece of aluminum. This makes them fit together perfectly, and creates better tolerances. The one piece frames are usually stronger than the die cast reels. But in reality, it is hard for the average angler to tell the difference. You should be able to get a good reel, that will work well for you for many years for around 70-100$  You don’t have to overpay here, especially for smaller trout. You will need an expensive reel when you start to get into larger fish like salmon and tarpon, But for the average hiking fly fisherman you surely do not.

Choose the Proper Fly Rod

There are a ton of different brands, shapes, and sizes of fly rods. For hiking it would be a good idea to choose a rod that is 4-6 pieces. This will allow it to fit into a backpack much easier. Some rods can be as small as 12″ when they are all broken down. Most rods these days come in 4 piece. You can find two piece rods all over the place. They do tend to be a little less expensive, but they are cumbersome to carry around on a hiking trip.

Rod Weight

The rod weight is an important factor to consider. They vary from 0 weight all the way up to 12 weight and beyond. The weight isRod Weights There are a lot of different sizes of fly fishing rods. essentially the stiffness of the rod. A good all around size to buy for the average trout fisherman is 5. It is big enough to land most trout, and is also good for bluegill, grayling etc. I have even caught plenty of smaller sized steelhead on 5 and 6 wight rods. (I would not advise going after steelhead deliberately with a 5 weight though).  For most people hiking and fishing in the Rockies a 9′ 5 weight is perfect. Most of the mountainous streams are not large. You won’t have to cast far, and the fish won’t be huge. Most national parks and hiking areas are loaded with smaller rivers and trout.

Fly Rod Length

The length of a flyrod will play a role in the distance you can cast, the ability to fight larger fish, and your line control ability. 

Most fly fisherman start with a 8-9′ rod. They are long enough to cast a good distance, and short enough to easily manage. They also tend to be easier to learn on. You have less margin for error with a longer rod. The shorter your rod, the closer the line is to your body.  However if you are planning to do most of your fishing on very small streams, with lots of overhead cover, a shorter rod might just be for you.

Prices Of Fly Fishing Rods

Fly fishing rod prices start at around 30$ and go upwards of $1000.  One good thing about high end fly fishing rods is they are actually something that has not been outsourced. Almost all companies that make good fly fishing rods are based and make the rods here in the US. When you purchase a good fly fishing rod they will usually come with a good warranty. It is standard practice to offer a lifetime unconditional warranty. This means that you can break the rod by slamming it in a car door, tell the company that, and they will still ship you another rod. Some companies have changed that policy in recent years due to abuse.

Fly Fishing Lines

Fly Fishing Lines This Diagram shows the different styles availableThere are several types of Fly lines. I will only cover a few of the most common here. Fly fishing lines can vary in price significantly. They start at about 10$ and go all the way up to $100. Flyline is not something you should go cheap on. There are a lot of good lines in the 40-50$ range. I would recommend them. Do yourself a favor and don’t go to a bigbox store and buy the cheapest you can find. There is a big difference in quality, and castability. If you try to learn to flyfish with inferior equipment you could easily get frustrated.

Weight Forward Line

Weight forward line has a very thin back end and becomes larger and heavier towards the head of the line. This allows you to cast longer distances and will be any easy line to learn to cast with. This is especially good for windy conditions and fishing larger water.

Double Taper

Double taper line is just as the name suggests, double tapered. Each end of it tapers down, and it has a large midsection. This is good line for smaller streams. It’s tapered design allows you to make gentle presentations to spooky fish. For shorter casting distances, and a slightly more advanced caster this is a good line choice. This line will not “load” the rod quite as much on shorter casts and tends to make beginners not be able to tell when to make a forward cast.

Sink Tip Fly Lines

Sink tip line has a floating body and a sinking tip. This is a good choice for some areas. On some days it it best to get your flies down to where the fish are. There are different weights of tips for sinking fly lines. They all sink at different speeds. The deeper you want to get, or the faster the water is the higher the sink speed of line you should choose. There are also full sink lines available. They are for mainly fishing deep lakes.

A kayak and a small trout fishing lake can be pretty fun if they are loaded with mountain cutthroat trout. They will be easy to catch if you have sink tip or full sink line available. I recall fishing a small lake in grand Teton National Park, without sinking line I am not sure I would have caught all the trout I did. This was on a long summer hiking and camping vacation in 2002.  The sinking lines are very heavy fly fishing lines and tend to be difficult for beginners to get the hang of, but with good casting techniques you should have no trouble.

Leaders and Tippets

All of the Parts of a fly fishing setup. How to assemble it. This includes the line leader, butt section, rod, reel, and backing.

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A fly fishing leader is a tapered piece of fishing line. It starts out at the Flyline quite thick. It gradually tapers down to a thin piece of monofilament, or flourocarbon. At one end it will typically be close to 40# test after slowly tapering to the other end it can be as light as 1# test. It used to be that you tied these by hand, tying up to 10 knots to create a leader. They are now made totally knotless at the factory. Knotless leaders tend to tangle much less than a home made leader full of knots. It is a good idea to carry all of the sizes of lines to make your own leaders. If you are in the backcountry there will be no stores to buy them. Without this gradual tapering the fly would not roll out properly. It would sort of flutter down and land close to your fly line. Another benefit to this tapering is that when your line breaks, it will break at the weakest point, usually near the tip of your leader. This will allow you to easily add another piece to the end,  called “tippet” and re-attach your fly to that.

Butt section: This is generally a heavy piece of monofilament that attaches to the end of your fly line. You then tie your leader on to this section. It is not really necessary.  It just makes the attachment of your leader easier. ​

There are a few different materials that tippets and leaders are made out of. There are materials such as monofilament, dacron, and flourocarbon. Flourocarbon is relatively new and is the best. It is nearly transparent underwater, and usually has a high breaking strength. Monofilament is pretty good and is fairly inexpensive. You should be able to buy a decent monofilament leader for a few dollars.

Tippet Sizes

Tippets are sized by numbers.  The lower the number is, the thicker the material is. The sizes range from 0x to 12x The Various Tippet sizes available for fly fishing

In the diagram below I only show down to 8x. There is very little need to go any smaller. As a matter of fact I rarely ever go any lighter than 5x. The extra small tippets from 6x- 12x are for really small fles, and small fly rods and extra picky fish. If you are using a stiff 6 weight, chances are you will break off any fish on anything lighter than 5x.