A Novice's Guide to Fly Fishing Gear Fundamentals

From time to time, The Good Stuff Unlimited will highlight a guest writer to help us share different perspectives on their, well, Good Stuff!  We can thank these key members of the Good Stuff Unlimited Community enough and we hope you'll enjoy their contribution.  For this post, we've asked Wade V. to provide us a little wisdom for fly fishing newbies on what gear to buy.  We hope you enjoy it.

A few years ago I was invited to join a fly-fishing trip in Montana with my wife’s family – uncles and cousins but only guys. Images of Robert Redford in ‘A River Run’s Through It’ flashed in my mind and I practically ran to Orvis. To say I was excited was an understatement. Once at a local fly shop here in my home town, I instantly struck up a conversation with an experienced fisherman who regaled me with his own stories, insight and advice. I soaked it up and the excitement of taking on this new hobby continued to increase. And I wanted to buy everything in sight, cost be damned! Then I actually looked at the cost of items in the store and my heart sank just a little. There was no way I could begin to justify the cost of all I wanted to buy for a sport I didn’t even know that I would like. What if I didn’t? I’d never hear the end of it from my wife. She’d have enough ammunition for “jokes” to last years. Sigh.

After getting some advice from my wife’s relatives, I went back to that fly shop a little wiser ~ this time I had a better idea of where I wanted to spend money and where I could save.   Since I couldn’t have it all, at least not yet, I had to strategize.  I had to prioritize certain items on which I would spend the most money (i.e., investing in higher-end gear) vs. items which I would go with the more economical options.

So, based upon my experience, I have put together a brief guide for any of you who are exploring this wonderful outdoor sport for the first time.  In my experience, fly fishing, for the beginner or expert, is truly the Good Stuff!

1. Waders and Boots:

For me, the first step was to invest in high quality waders and boots. Think about waders like snow skiing pants, there are lots of options and they vary greatly in cost.  Like ski pants, you want them fit well, you don’t want them to be bulky and want a comfortable range of motion (remember, you are walking up and down a river, so range of motion is key).  I went with Orvis Ultralight waders and I have been really pleased with their durability and comfort.   


A few other comparable, highly rated options include:

As for boots, I wanted something similar, durable and comfortable.  Again, you are on your feet all day, so comfort is key and considering your feet are in the water, hitting rocks and rough terrain, you need them to be sturdy and from a brand that would last.  You will see several types of boot bottoms – felt, rubber and rubber with spikes.  Net-net, felt is the best as it gives you the best traction (and who wants to deal with spikes – you could catch your waders and rip them, or slip in the boat, etc.).  I went with Simms Freestone Felt-Bottom boots and I love them!  For me, as a middle-aged guy, my height and weight is not really changing (ok, I gain a few pounds during football season but try to lose it before spring) and my foot size is what it will be forever.  As I am not going to outgrow these items, the investment was well worth it.   


Other alternatives include:

2. Rod and Reel:

Rather than getting a top of the line rod to start with, I went a St. Croix Rio Santo Rod, which is medium priced.  Another reasonably priced option is the Redington VICE Fly Fishing Rod which includes a carrying tube.  

For the reel, I went with Waterworks-Lamson Guru Series II.  After years of fly fishing, both work great for me (except the days I don’t catch anything, it must be the rod and reels fault and not mine, clearly!).


A few other good options include:

3. Other Essentials (Nets, Backpacks, and Vests)

Now, you got a few other essentials to buy – a net and a backpack or vest. 

Net:  Initially, I went with a cheaper nylon net because the rubber nets with a nice wood frame seemed too expensive.  And stores will rip you off on these at the store (fly shops will charge $100 plus for these types of nets).  But after fishing with the nylon net a few times, and spending way too much time trying to pull this little fly hook out of my nylon net vs. fishing, I wanted an upgrade.  So, I went on a hunt to find a reasonable wood frame with a rubber net and now Amazon offers them and they are reasonably priced like this one or this one.

Backpack vs. Vest:  As for backpack vs. a vest, this is a personal choice.  I went with a small pack, and it works great but honestly there are a ton of options and all “do the job”. 

Here are a few highly rated options for both:

While I wanted to show up with a professional looking “array” of flies, l learned that it’s actually best to buy all your flies once you arrive at your destination. You want to wait and see what the fish are biting when you arrive as it changes day to day. Certain flies catch a lot but then something changes and the fish don’t bite at them at all.   Plus, fly shops are just cool and people who work there have tons of local intel (and it is an excuse to buy more gear!).  So, get to your destination, find a few fly shops and enjoy!

Back to my “initiation story” ~ I arrived in Montana armed with what I felt was the right gear, without looking like Chevy Chase in a classic comedy.  Thanks to the advice I received, I felt that while I had spent a decent amount of money (more than my wife knows, and what she does not know will not kill her), it was spent in the right way on the right items to get me started. The first day out I knew I was hooked. We floated all day down the river in our small boat, taking turns paddling and fishing and at times pulling over to wade fish as well. And while I had a lot to learn, the scenery was unbelievable and I was in awe of the River.

And at the end of the day, the victory beer never tasted so good.

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