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Best Fly Fishing Gear: Essential Gear for Fly Fishing

A successful fly fishing excursion starts with the right gear. From fly rods to vests and everything in between, these are the essentials you’ll need to start fly fishing.

person fly fishing on a lake

Choosing the best fly fishing gear can be difficult, with multitudes of buying options and a huge variety of fly fishing-specific gear.

We’ve compiled a list of the essential fly fishing gear you’ll need, along with information to point you in the right direction when it comes to choosing each item.

Top Rated Fly Fishing Gear

For those new to fly fishing, we’ve listed the fly fishing gear you’ll need to get started or new fly gear to update. Check out our fly fishing gear list and pack for your next fishing trip today!

  1. Fly Rods
  2. Fly Reels
  3. Fly Line
  4. Leaders and Tippet
  5. Flies
  6. Vest & Packs
  7. Sunglasses
  8. Waders

Fly Rods

Fly rods are perhaps the most important piece of fly fishing equipment. Fly rods come in a host of shapes and sizes. Typically, smaller rods are best for smaller fish.

man fly fishing in a river in northumberland county pa

The most common fly rod is a 5wt which is great for trout, small bass, and many other freshwater species. Larger fly rods, like a 10wt for example, work well for larger fish like Tarpon or Giant Trevally.

Rods also come in different rod ‘actions’. A fast action rod is stiff and flexes in the tip of the rod when an angler casts a fly line.

A medium-action rod flexes in the middle of the rod and is considered a slower action. Medium action rods are ideal for delicate presentations with dry flies, and fast action rods are great for casting big streamers into high winds.

steelhead trout caught fly fishing

Fly rods also come in a variety of lengths. Longer rods provide the angler with more reach and increased mending capabilities, while shorter rods are ideal for small water and tight cover.

Fly Reels

A fly rod may be the most important piece of gear in fly fishing, but a rod without a reel is useless. Fly reels also come in different shapes and sizes; all reel sizes match up with a rod size. If you’re fishing with a 5wt fly rod, a 5wt fly reel typically works best.

fly reel in a fishmans hand

Contemporary fly reels have adjustable drag for improved fish fighting capabilities. Heavy drag is required for wrangling larger fish, while trout and smaller fish don’t need a reel with a huge drag.

Saltwater fly reels are made with corrosion-proof drag systems to protect the reel’s interior from harmful saltwater.

saltwater fly fishing

Other important considerations when choosing a new fly reel include line retrieval rates (how fast the reel picks up fly line, dependent on the reel’s spool size) and fly line capacity.

Similar to fly rods, larger reels are made for larger fish and often include a stronger drag, faster line retrieval rates, and larger reel capacity.

Fly Line

Fly line ties the rod and the reel together. Again, an angler’s choice of fly line should match his or her choice of rod and reel.

amazing man fly fishing in huntingdon county pa

A 7wt rod and a 7wt reel fish well with a 7wt line. Fly lines come in two distinct categories: freshwater lines and saltwater lines. In each category, there are sinking lines, intermediate lines, and floating lines.

Sinking lines work well when streamer fishing or saltwater fishing, when the fish are feeding in deep water far below the surface.

man fly fishing in blount county al

Intermediate lines target fish feeding in the middle of the water column. Intuitively, floating lines are most commonly used for fish feeding on the surface. Fly lines also come in a variety of colors and designs.

Leader and Tippet

Leaders and tippet connect a fly line to a fly. Leaders are a clear piece of Monofilament or Fluorocarbon that generally start with a thicker end that tapers down to a thinner end.

closeup of man casting fly fishing tippet

The thinner end is classified by size; thicker leaders have stronger breaking strength and are used for larger, more powerful fish.

Tippet is also either Fluorocarbon or Monofilament. Tippet is used to add extra length to a leader.

steelhead eating a fly

If you’re fishing over spooky fish and decide your leader is too large, tippet continues the taper of the leader and offers increased length for tricky fish. Tippet can also be used to build a leader by tying together short pieces in consecutive sizes.

Flies

Flies fool fish. After you’ve chosen a fly rod, reel, line, leader, and tippet, tying a fly on to the end of your line is the final step before venturing out on the water. Flies come in three main categories: nymphs, streamers, and dry flies.

trout eating a fly fishing fly

Nymphs imitate insects and small baitfish below the surface of the water. Nymphs make up roughly 70% of a trout’s diet and are often the most efficient method of catching fish.

Because nymphs are fished subsurface, many anglers often utilize an indicator that floats on the top of the surface and jumps quickly underwater when a fish has eaten the fly.

fly fishing tackle box

Streamers imitate small baitfish, crayfish, sculpin, and other swimming fish food. Streamers are also fished subsurface, often with a stripping or swinging technique.

When fishing a streamer, it’s important to give the fly movement in the water to replicate the movement of a small baitfish.

Finally, dry flies float on the water’s surface. Perhaps the most popular method of fly fishing, dry flies offer a visual experience to the angler. Fish rise and sip a dry fly from the surface, which can be pretty fun to watch.

a fly tying kit

Gear Bags and Vests

A vest or pack to carry all necessary fly fishing gear on the water is also important. Perhaps the most classic on-the-water gear storage device is the vest.

Vests have pockets for fly boxes, tippet, leaders, and other fly fishing tools. Most vests are lightweight, breathable, and spacious.

netting a brown trout

Many anglers also use backpacks or sling packs to store gear on the water. A backpack provides more room for storing lunch and other necessities during long days on the water.

Many companies make waterproof backpacks and sling packs to keep your gear dry in stormy weather. If you’re carrying the best fly fishing gear, you’ll want to store it safely and securely..

Sunglasses

A nice pair of sunglasses is also important when spending time on the water. Sunglasses work to cut down the glare on the surface of the water to help anglers spot fish. They also act as eye protection when casting small flies.

Flyfisherman fishing with sling pack

Most sunglasses are polarized and lightweight to maximize functionality and comfort. Most sunglasses companies make low light, bright light, and moderate light lenses to cater to any fishing scenario in any environment.

If you’re spending any time wading the flats or sight fishing for trout, sunglasses will help spot more fish and make a day on the water more successful.

flys and guides at copper johns

Sunglasses and fishing hats are also essential to protect you from the sun’s harmful effects.

Waders and Wading Boots

Waders are used by many anglers to stay dry on the river. Fly fishing waders allow anglers to spend long days in cold water without getting wet or cold.

person in fishing waders

Most waders offer a durable barrier to the elements, pockets for storage, and a fitted design for comfort.

Wading boots or durable shoes also help make a fishing trip successful and comfortable.

River or ocean environments are often rocky, sandy, and uneven, and wading boots help anglers traverse these tricky walking scenarios so they can focus on the fish.

alaska fly fishing tours

Some wading boots have studs or felt for increased gripping capabilities on slippery river rocks. Other shoes are designed for sand or coral in saltwater.

Final Thoughts

These categories should be at the top of every angler’s gear list. For beginners, buying the most expensive gear isn’t necessary.

Find the gear that best suits your needs and your budget, and later upgrade as you spend more time on the water.

The range of gear in fly fishing is huge, but if you’ve got these basic categories covered your time on the water will be more productive and more enjoyable.

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