What Do I Need?
Fly fishing can be as simple or as complex as you wish to make it. No matter how many years you spend on it there will always be new things to learn and new experiences to be had. On the other hand, all you really need to be successful is some basic equipment, water, fish and a little luck. This basic simplicity is often lost on newcomers, however, as they are bombarded with the incredible amount of fly fishing information available and the many different gear options.
Walk into any good fly shop throughout the world and you will likely be treated to the sight of row upon row of long, perfectly tapered fly rods, jewelers cases full of reels, and an amazing number of gadgets whose uses may seem a complete mystery. Figuring out what you need might appear to be an impossible task. Fortunately, getting started is not nearly as complicated as it might seem and fly fishers, whether working in a shop or wading a flat are generally very friendly and more than willing to help.
Where Will You be Fly Fishing?
The first order of business will be to decide on what type of fishing you will be doing and under what conditions. Rods and reels are relatively versatile and most can be used for a wide variety of species and conditions. There is, however, no perfect “all around” rod that will work for everything. When starting out, the “ideal” rod is one that will work well for the majority of the fishing you’re planning on doing and that you will enjoy owning when you move past the beginner stage. The two most common sizes we sell are 5 weight and 8 weight. A 5 weight is ideal for a wide variety of freshwater fish. It will work great for panfish, shad, small bass and freshwater trout. It is hard to beat an 8 weight for all around saltwater fishing. An 8 is perfect for redfish in the Mosquito Lagoon, boneifhs in the Bahamas, baby tarpon and most other inshore saltwater species. It is also a good choice for throwing big flies at large Florida bass.
Most of us, especially when learning to fly fish, do the majority of our fly fishing close to home. If you don’t already have a good idea of what kind of fishing is available near where you live, now would be a good time to find out. If you are in the Orlando area come see us and we'll help you figure out what you need. if not, hopefully you have a local fly shop you can visit. You should also be able to find some good information in books, magazine articles and on the Internet.
Selecting Your Rod and Reel
Once you have an idea of what species you will be targeting and under what conditions, you will need to decide on what fly rod and reel to purchase. The services of a local fly shop will be invaluable at this point.
You will most likely want to start with the rod. The shop staff will be able to suggest several rods to try. You should cast each rod they suggest (a good fly shop will have an area nearby where you can try out rods) and buy whichever one seems like the best fit to you. If you are a complete beginner you most likely won't be able to tell the difference. If possible, take a lesson before buying. The cost of the lesson will be much less than the cost of buying the wrong rod and will get you started off right. If a lesson isn't a good possibility then you'll have to trust the salesperson.
After deciding on a rod, you will need to select a matching reel and line, and everything that goes with it. For most freshwater fishing, the main purpose of a reel is to hold line. Most fish will not be played from the reel, but by taking line in and letting it out with your hands. For this reason, it’s often not necessary to spend a ton of money on a freshwater reel. A good rule of thumb is to spend 70% of your budget on a rod and 30% on a reel. Of course if you do hook a trophy you should have a reel that can handle it. You will want a reel that is well made, reliable, and operates smoothly. Especially if the reel doesn’t have a drag it should have an exposed rim to which you can apply pressure with your palm to help slow a larger fish.
A saltwater reel or a reel that is intended for some of the larger and stronger freshwater fish will need to be very well made and have a smooth, reliable drag system with some real stopping power. Especially in saltwater fishing, the reel is not a place to scrimp. Watching your reel melt down in front of you as the 160 pound tarpon attached to your line speeds off across a flat is not a fun experience. Spend what is needed in order to get a good reel. If you're on a tight budget you might spend 60-70% of your budget on a reel. Keep in mind that 10 years down the road you will probably no longer be fishing with the rod you started out with but, if you buy a quality reel, it will likely be one you're happy to use as long as you are fly fishing.
If you have a tight budget or just don't want to spend that much until you're sure your going to enjoy fly fishing, a packaged outfit may be the perfect option. Be careful of making a choice based only on what is cheaper. If you are buying an entry-level kit then the least amount you should expect to spend to get something you can learn on will realistically be in the $150 to $250 range. There are options available for much less and most of them don't work and/or won't last. Buy one of these and you will most likely quickly get frustrated and give up fly fishing altogether. If you already have a rod that doesn't cast well it is sometimes possible to add a new line and get your rod throwing like it should.
You will need to get backing, and a matching fly line to go along with your rod and reel setup. A huge variety of fly lines, seemingly one for every possible condition, are available. Most fly fishers start out with a good weight forward floating line matched to their rod weight. A well made fly line makes casting easier and much more enjoyable, so make sure you get a good one. If you haven't looked before, you will probably be surprised by the price of fly lines. Just remember that a good line will last for years if well taken care of and is integral to the proper functioning of a fly rod. A leader and tippet (the end of the leader to which the fly is attached) will complete the setup.
There are, of course, a few other things you will need before you’ll be able to head out to the water. The most important of these is flies. Make sure you get a good variety and several of each type. You don’t want to lose the only fly that seems to be working and not have another to put on. You will also need a box to put your flies in, extra tippet, some nippers, hemostats for removing your fly from a fishes mouth and pinching down hook barbs, a pair of polarized sunglasses, a cap or hat with a brim, and something to carry your gear in. A local fly shop should be able to set you up with all these items and will probably suggest a few more.
Once you’ve got your equipment, spend as much time as possible using it. Time on the water is the best teacher, but a few hours spent on the lawn practicing your cast can be invaluable. If you’re new to fly fishing or if you feel that you need help learning the basics or perfecting a more difficult skill, it will probably be worth your time and money to get some lessons or go fishing with a guide who is willing to spend a little time on instruction. You should be comfortable and catching fish in no time.
As you spend more time on the water, your skills will improve and your confidence will grow. Once you’ve got a grasp of the basics of fly fishing, you will probably start to look into what else the sport has to offer. What you will find is enough opportunities to keep you busy for the rest of this lifetime and several more besides.