Beginning Flyfishing Equipment
This FAQ is divided into several sections discussing the recommendations of
members of @FLYFISH to beginning flyfishers. It is not a substitute for a
flyfishing course or finding a mentor who can tailor your equipment choices
to your local conditions. The best tip I can give you is to join a local
flyfishing club or organization such as Trout Unlimited or the Federation
of Flyfishers. These are organizations which not only support the sport of
flyfishing, but also may have classes in flyfishing.
The recommendations that follow are by necessity generic and directed
toward freshwater flyfishing, mainly for trout in North America. They are
not appropriate for the larger migratory species such as steelhead and
salmon or for salt water species. They may not appropriate (especially the
flies) for the waters of Europe or Great Britain.
I have split the equipment into several categories. The first three
categories are basic equipment, flies, and necessities. Basic equipment
along with flies are the absolute minimum needed to flyfish. I would
suggest you also purchase the items in the necessities category, if they
pertain to the type of fishing you will do. These two categories comprise
what I would consider a basic flyfisher's outfit. I placed flies into its
own special category because they are the one variable which will change
with your local hatches.
After each item is a description. At the end of each category is a comment
section to help clarify the choices. Flyfishers are also fond of acronyms
especially where flies are concerned. They will be noted in parenthesis.
The final category is composed of miscellaneous items that could be
considered as "necessities" depending on the type of fishing you will do.
They are listed for your consideration.
You will find no recommendations on where to purchase equipment or what to
pay. The retail market is dynamic and any information would soon be out of
date. This is one area where you might pose a question to the list prior to
Another option is to purchase used equipment. Be careful when you do so.
Fly fishing equipment is highly technical, particularly fly rods. The
current "super rods" are soon replaced by newer models. This means that the
asking price on a used 3 year old "super rod" could be very near the cost
of the same rod new in today's market. Before you buy used equipment make
sure that the price is fair. This is one area where you will need an expert
to help you. Post your questions to the list if there is no friend to whom
you can turn for advice.
One final note before we start - It is impossible to answer or to
anticipate all the questions you may have regarding flyfishing with this
FAQ. Our motto is that there are no stupid questions. If you you have a
question which is not answered in this or other FAQ's, do not hesitate to
post it to the list. However, you are encouraged to read all the FAQs to
help keep common questions from being reposted.
Fly Rod - medium action, 5-6 wt, 8 - 9ft long. A medium action rod is the
easiest to learn to cast. A 5 weight rod is the best for all around dry fly
fishing and most nymphing. A 6 weight is heavier and should be your choice
if you are going to fish bushier or heavier flies, particularly weighted
larger nymphs or streamers. The rod length will vary with the type of water
you are fishing. Buy the longest rod you can handle for your local area. If
you will be fishing mostly from a boat or float tube, consider a 9 ft. rod
or even a 9 1/2 ft.
Fly Reel - single action, click and pawl drag, reversible right or left
wind with exchangeable spools. The reel should be large enough to hold 50
yards of 20 lb. dacron backing and a full fly line. There should be 1/4 "
of extra space at the top of the spool after the backing, line, and leader
Fly Line - double taper floating fly line (DTFL) of intermediate quality
such as the Cortland 333 or Scientific Anglers (SA) Air Cell Supreme. Do
not buy a lesser or off brand flyline. Purchase the premium quality
Cortland 444 or the SA Ultra line if you can afford it.
Leaders - a selection 7 1/2 ft. to 9 ft. tapered leaders in sizes 3x-5x.
The shorter 7 1/2 foot leader will be easier to cast but the 9 foot leader
is recommended if you can handle it. There is no consensus among list
members whether beginners are better off with knotless or knotted leaders.
Most prepackaged leaders are knotless, whereas those who use knotted
leaders generally construct them themselves. If you would like to try
constructing leaders, here are a set of leader formulas. (ADD LEADER
FORMULA SITE HERE)
Comments - Instead of buying each piece of equipment separately, you can
choose one of the various matched outfits containing rod, reel and line.
Orvis, LL Bean, Loomis, Sage, and Cabela's offer these package deals. The
crutial piece of equipment in all of these packages is the rod. You should
try casting all fly rods, including the package rods before purchase. If
this is not possible, you can seek some advice, but realize that you are at
the mercy of someone else's taste.
Some rods may have two line ratings such as "rated for AFTMA line weights
5/6" leaving you wondering which line to buy. For a beginner, the rod will
probably be easier to cast with the heavier line, in this case the 6
weight. The less expensive rods from the premium manufacturers such as the
Sage Discovery, Thomas and Thomas Emerger, or the Loomis GL3 are an
excellent value. They have less expensive components but the rod blank
itself is identical to what was their top line rod of several years ago.
St. Croix Rods deserves a special mention. They make excellent rods at well
below the prices of the premium manufacturers. Their Legend rods are their
premium line and their Imperial rods would make an excellent starter rod.
It is recommended that you use 20 lb. dacron backing on your fly reel. Do
not use monofilament since it stretches and will destroy the reel arbor.
Leaders have a "tippet" section which is at the end of the leader. The
tippet is usually a soft limp two to three foot long piece of monofilament.
As this tippet is used up, it can be replaced by tying a new piece of
tippet to the end of the tapered leader using either a bloodknot or a
double surgeon's knot. It is sized in an archaic "x" size system which has
carried on to this day. To convert the "x" size of a leader into thousands
of an inch, subtract the "x" size from 11. A 5x tippet would then be 11-5 =
6, or .006 inch. Note that the higher the "x" number, the smaller the
tippet and 0X tippet is .011 inch. Since tippet material and leaders are
sold by "x" size rather than strength, the strength of a given tippet size
will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Parachute Adams - the adams is by far the most popular mayfly pattern. The
parachute hackle provides the best compromise of good flotation with a
realistic mayfly silhouette. It is a good pattern for the dark bodied
Pale Morning Dun (PMD) sparkle dun - the PMD is a specific hatch but the
pattern will work for the light colored mayflies as well. The sparkle dun
pattern is another pattern with a very realistic shape.
Elk Hair Caddis (EHC) - the EHC is the most popular adult caddis pattern.
The color and sizes will vary with your area.
The Cul-de-Canard (CDC) emerger - the CDC emerger is an effective generic
emerger for both mayflies and caddises.
The Royal Wulff - This is the most popular of the upwing attractor
patterns. It should be in every flybox.
The Stimulator - This is a popular western downwing attractor pattern that
can be used in the large sizes for stoneflies and in small sizes for
The Humpy - This is one of the most popular attractors on the fast waters
of the west.
The Pheasant Tail (PT) Nymph - the PT is the best overall pattern for the
small mayfly nymphs
The Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear (GRHE) Nymph - the GRHE is probably the most
popular of the impressionistic nymphs. It can be tied large or small, light
or dark, and can imitate anything from a small mayfly nymph to a large
The Peacock and Copper or the Whitlock Red Squirrel Nymph - both these
patterns are excellent for imitating a cased caddis larva.
The Prince Nymph - one of the most popular stonefly nymph patterns.
Royal Coachman Wet - the most popular wet fly.
Partridge and Yellow/Green/Grey/Red - an effective soft hackle wet fly
pattern tied so that the body color is the color of the hatching insect,
eg, yellow for PMDs.
The Muddler Minnow - this pattern was invented by Dan Gapen and is one of
the most versatile of patterns. It can be fished dry as a grasshopper or
adult stonefly. It can be fished wet as a minnow, and it can be fished deep
as a sculpin.
The Wooly Bugger - the wooly bugger is the ultimate big fish fly. The most
popular color is black and it is an excellent minnow or leech imitation. In
smaller sizes it can imitate damsel fly nymphs. In brown, it can imitate a
Parachute ant - a good searching pattern when there is no hatch.
The Griffith's Gnat - this is the best overall midge pattern.
The WD-40 or Brassie - Both are excellent midge pupa pattern
The RS-2 - an excellent small mayfly or midge emerger pattern.
Jason's Scud - a scud pattern developed by Jason Borger.
NOTE: For other fly pattern push here. (PUT A LINK TO A FLY PATTERN PAGE
HERE - SUCH AS http://roadrunner.datasys.swri.edu/welcome.html 0R
Comments - Fly selection is one of the most difficult decisions a fisher
has to make. The first question that is asked of a successful fisherman is
"What are you using?" The 20 fly patterns above were selected from
thousands of possibilities, because they are proven patterns designed to
cover over 95% of the fishing situations. For those who want a more
abbreviated list, the top 6 flies would be the Adams, the EHC, the GRHE,
the Royal Wulff, the Wooly Bugger and the Griffith's Gnat.
The flies can be spit into two subcategories, attractors and hatch
imitators, The attractors are flies which imitate no particular insect and
are used as a "searching" patterns to entice the fish. They are most often
used when there is no dominant hatch occurring, but they can also be used
as a "hatch breaker". They are the "desert" in the middle of the main
The imitative flies are used when the fish are selectively feeding. The
fish are looking for a certain profile, appearance, and action which are
the key elements of the natural. These visual elements "trigger" the fish
to strike. The fish cannot help himself. His own selectivity literally
forces him to take the fly.
The goal in selecting the patterns was to choose flies which had these
"triggers" for all the major aquatic insects - mayflies, caddises,
stoneflies, and midges in all their various stages from pupa/nymph to
emerger to adult. Minnows, leeches, crayfish, and scuds are covered by the
pattern list. Dry flies, nymphs, streamers, terrestrials, traditional wet
flies, soft hackled wet flies, and attractors are all represented. The
purpose was not only to imitate all the major food sources, but to
accomplish it by using different styles of flies.
If one of the patterns above is unavailable in your area, substitute a
similar fly. For example, if you can't find a cdc emerger, substitute an
effective pattern from your local area. Or perhaps your waters do not have
scuds but are thick with cressbugs. Use a cressbug pattern. The purpose of
the list is to offer a wide selection of flies so that at least one of them
will work for 95% of the time.
You will notice that there are no beadhead (BH) nymph patterns included.
Beadhead patterns are very effective, and you may choose to use any of the
nymph patterns as beadheads. But because they are heavily weighted, they
are less versatile and cannot be fished as floating nymphs. To keep the
flies as adaptable as possible, I kept them as unweighted patterns. Should
you want to fish these as a bead heads, slide a bead onto the line so that
the large hole in the bead will be towards the eye of the hook. Tie on the
fly and the bead will slide down to the fly.
There are no sizes listed for any of the flies since that is best
determined by local conditions. Similarly, many of the patterns above can
be tied using different color combinations for the body and wings. These
should also be determined by your hatches. When choosing flies for a trip,
try to take along a dark, medium and light colored fly in the expected
sizes. For example, I would take size 14-18 EHC with light and dark grey
wings and body color of green, brown and grey.
Do not be afraid to modify your flies with a pair of iris scissors. For
example, a seasoned flyfisher would note that there are no mayfly spinner
(imago) patterns listed above. However, cut off the post of a parachute
adams and trim down the front and back hackle and it becomes a spinner
pattern. Similarly a size 14 EHC can become a size 16 with a snip of the
wings. Be creative and inventive.
The size of the tippet you should use is determined by the weight and bulk
of the fly you want to cast. A starting place is the "rule of three".
Divide the hook size by three and you will get the "x" size of the tippet.
For example, the tippet for a size 12 fly would be 12/3 = 4, or 4x tippet.
This rule of three is why the "x" sizing for tippets has survived to this
Waders - Unless you plan to wet wade, a pair of felt bootfoot waders or
stocking foot waders with felt bottom wading boots is recommended.
Wading Belt - for safety reasons.
Polarized Sunglasses - to see the fish and to protect your eyes from the
Hat - to protect your ears from the hooks and to shade your face.
Bandana - has multiple uses. Wipe off hands, wet and put around neck on hot
days, use as a mask robber style to keep from breathing bugs.
Fishing Vest - a "shorty" model if you are going to wade deep. A rucksak,
fishing pack or another means of carrying your equipment can be substituted
for the vest.
Fly Boxes - Foam lined for the nymphs and streamers and compartments for
Nippers or fingernail clippers - to cut leader and tippet.
Tippet Material - Spools of 3x - 6x. These are needed to rebuild or modify
your leaders and should be the same brand as your leaders if possible.
Fly floatant and fly drying crystals - to revitalize and waterproof your
dry flies and float your leaders.
Line cleaner and conditioner - Fly lines are expensive. This will make your
line cast better and last longer. The Scientific Anglers Line Treatment
system is recommended.
Lead or non-toxic split shot - Sizes B, BB and microshot are needed. An
alternative is lead or nontoxic putty.
Strike Indicators - these vary from small plasic floats, to polypropylene
yarn, to biodegradeable putty.
Hemostat - to remove flies and bend down barbs.
Trout net - the shallow "catch and release" models are popular. Make sure
the net you buy has a soft net bag to protect the fish.
Mosquito repellant and sun tan lotion - self explanatory. I mention these
two items together because you must keep them off of the fly line or they
will dissolve the plastic covering. Wash your hands after using either.
Diaper Pin - Use the pin to help you untangle knots and get the head cement
out of the fly hook eyes.
Fishing License - self explanatory.
Comments: The above items are not absolutely necessary but if you continue
in flyfishing you will probably buy them in the future. The sunglasses are
a must because they protect your eyes. The rest of the items should be
purchased if you need them.
Extra fly lines and spools - sink tip or sinking lines.
Rain Jacket - for foul weather.
Tape measure - to measure fish.
Camera - for pictures.
Flashlight - for evening or night fishing.
Fly drying patch - a place to put those used flies.
Piece of chamois - it can be used as a leader straightener by folding it
over and pulling the leader through it. It also can be used to absorb water
from dry flies that have gotten wet.
Notebook - for memos.
Creel - if you are going to keep fish. You can carry your lunch in the
creel, but most vests have a back pouch that is used for that purpose.
Wading Staff - highly recommended for serious wading. A recycled used ski
pole can be used as a wading staff. Attach the pole to your belt with a
section of rope.
SOS suspenders - an emergency flotation device.
Leader guage - to measure the thickness of the leader you are building onto.
Thermometer - to measure water temperature.
Sampling net and bottles - to find out what insects are hatching and to
save them for later examination.
Magnifying lens - To examine insect samples.
Iris Scissors - to modifly flies.
Swiss army knife or Leatherman- Multipurpose tool to repair equipment.
Compass, maps and first aid kit - if you plan on hiking or bushwacking
across the backcountry.
Comments: None of the items above are "necessary" for the beginning
flyfisher. They are listed to give you some idea of other pieces of
equipment you may want to consider as you become a more accomplished
There are now many excellent instructional videos on flycasting and
flyfishing. There are four videos on casting with "The Essence of
Flycasting with Mel Krieger" recommended. Somewhat more advanced is
"Flycasting with Lefty Kreh". The Scientific Anglers series "Basic Fly
Casting" and "Advanced Fly Casting" feature Doug Swisher. Recommended
videos on flyfishing include "Skills of Flyfishing", "Fishing the Dry Fly",
and "Nymphing" by Gary Borger; "Anatomy of a Trout Stream" by Rick Hafele;
and "Strategies for Selective Trout" by Doug Swisher.
Good introductory books on flyfishing include "Trout Fishing" by Joe
Brooks, "The Trout and the Stream" by Charles Brooks, "The Orvis
Fly-Fishing Guide" by Tom Rosenbauer,and "Flyfishing for Trout -- A Guide
for Beginners" by Dick Talleur. "Tactics for Trout", "Tackle and Techniques
for Taking Trout", and "Reading the Water" all by Dave Hughes are for
beginner/intermediate reading. More advanced books are "Nymphing" and
"Presentation" by Gary Borger, and "Fly Fishing Strategy" and "Selective
Trout" by Swisher and Richards. Lest we get too serious, I recommend a 50
page monograph called "The Curtis Creek Manifesto" by Sheridan Anderson for
For an introduction to trout foods I recommend "Dave Whitlock's Guide to
Aquatic Trout Foods". "Hatch Matcher" by Bill Fisher is a pocket edition
that can be taken with you on the stream. Then you can go on to the more
specific books as follows:
Mayflies - "Hatches II" by Caucci and Nastasi
Caddis - "Caddisflies" by Gary LaFontaine
Stoneflies - "Stoneflies" by Richards, Swisher and Arbona
Midges - "Fishing the Midge" by Ed Koch
Terrestrials - "Tying and Fishing Terrestrials" by Gerald Almy
I would like to end with a few words about flyfishing courtesy. When you
become a flyfisher, you are beginning a sport which has a tradition dating
back hundreds of years with a code of conduct which is largly unspoken but
understood. In the past, this code was passed from mentor to student. Now
with videos, books, three day flyfishing courses, and professional guides,
this code is often not only ignored, it is sometimes broken even by
professionals in an attempt to put their clients onto fish.
The code is a variation of the Golden Rule, do nothing to lessen the
experience of your fellow fisher. This means leaving enough spacing for him
to fish undisturbed. This means walking out of the stream to go by a fellow
fisher. This means maneuvering your drift boat away from the the wading
fisher. This means leaving the loud talking and radios at home. This means
Finally, remember that the list is available to answer your questions
either through the archives or by posting a question.
Copyright 1995 by Henry Kanemoto.
No reproduction, electronic or otherwise, is allowed without permission of