Essential Fly Fishing Gear

Essential Fly Fishing Gear

Before wading into the sport of fly fishing, you should first be aware that it is a gear intensive sport!

In fact, while the average fishermen gets along just fine with one or two conventional rods, fly fishermen tend to have rods for every purpose imaginable.

It is not uncommon for a fly fisherman to have four or five fly rods and, a few of us even have as many as fifteen or twenty!

You commonly need a separate fly reel for each rod and, of course, at least one fly line for each reel.

There is all of the other gear and paraphernalia required by the fly fisherman.

So, while you can approach the sport of fly fishing from a minimalist's point of view, why would you want to?

Essential Fly Fishing Rods

It has been my experience that no matter which fly rod you bring along on any given day, you will always encounter a hole or a prime lie where you really wish you had "that other fly rod" instead!

In fact, fly rods are like golf clubs in that each one is specifically designed for a given purpose and, while you might be able play eighteen holes of golf with nothing but a putter and a driver, it probably wouldn't be very much fun and, the same principal also applies to fly rods.

Consequently, I have a running joke with all of my fly fishing buddies that fly fishermen need to hire a rod caddy to follow them along on the stream so that when we encounter different lies, we can simply turn to our caddy and say "seven foot, four weight please" or, "eight-and-a-half foot, five weight please". That way, we would always have the perfect rod at hand for each hole!

But, in all honesty, different fly rods do serve specific purposes.

For instance, fly rods tend to range in length from 6 ½ ft. to 14 ft.

You have fast action fly rods for casting over long ranges, medium action fly rods for versatility, and slow action fly rods for casting at short ranges.

Fly rods are commonly made from split bamboo, tubular fiberglass, tubular graphite, or a graphite/boron composite and they are distinctly divided into categories consisting of:

  • Fly rods specifically designed for freshwater fish species.
  • Fly rods specifically designed for saltwater fish species.

There are fly rods specifically designed for single-handed use, others that are specifically designed for double-handed use (called Spey Rods) and, some that are designed for either single or double-handed use (called Switch Rods).

However, according to fly rod manufacturer's sales records, the 9 ft. 5 wt. is the single most popular fly rod sold in the U.S. although, most experienced fly fishermen tend to feel like the 8 ½ ft. 5 wt. is the single most versatile fresh water fly rod available.

In my opinion the 9 ft. 9 wt. fly rod is the single most versatile saltwater fly rod available.

So, as you can see, when it comes to choosing a fly rod, there are many different choices available and each one has a specific purpose.

It is imperative that you choose the right fly rod for the right purpose and it’s therefore easy to see why the fly fisherman’s tendency is to end up with more than one fly rod.

Essential Fly Reels

In addition to an appropriate fly rod, you will also need an appropriate fly reel and, there again, fly reels are specifically designed for either fresh water fish species or saltwater fish species.

Fly reels commonly feature either a spring-and-pawl drag system, or a disc drag system. These are commonly constructed from either a molded composite material, cast aluminum, or aircraft grade aluminum bar stock that has been meticulously machined to create a work of fly fishing art.

Consequently, the type of fly fishing reel that you choose will need to be based upon your intended purpose and your available budget.

For instance, composite reels are inexpensive and rugged, but are seldom aesthetically pleasing to look at or use.

Cast aluminum reels on the other hand are often much more aesthetically pleasing to both look at and to use, while machined aluminum fly reels are the ultimate choice and, some of them could arguably be classified as the pinnacle of fly reel designer's art.

Spring-and-pawl drag systems are often preferred by fly fishermen who prefer vintage-style and/or ultralight fly reels.

Disc drag systems are most often preferred by fly fishermen who fish for larger fish species, and need greater stopping power.

Fly Lines

Of course, in order to complete your fly casting system, you will also need an appropriate fly line.

You should first be aware that fly lines range in weight from 1 to 14 with one being the lightest and fourteen being the heaviest.

You should also be aware that fly lines are available in two basic types of tapers called:

  • Double Tapers​
  • Weight Forward Tapers.

These are available in:

  • Floating
  • Sinking
  • Floating/sinking (called a Sink Tip)

These different fly line types are for fishing at different depths.

Consequently, each fly line is designated first by the type of taper it has, then by the weight in grains of the first thirty feet of the fly line (440 grains = one ounce), and last, by whether it's a floating or a sinking line.

Example 1:

  • DT-3-F Designating a Double Taper, 3 weight, floating fly line

Example 2:

  • WF-7-I - Designating a Weight Forward, 7 weight, sinking line with an Intermediate sink rate

Furthermore, in addition to the classic weight-forward tapers, there are also many different types of specialized weight-forward tapers such as:

  • Small Mouth Bass tapers
  • Carp tapers
  • Bonefish tapers
  • Tarpon tapers
  • Etc…

You should definitely take advantage of this new diversity by carrying additional fly lines on extra spools so that you can quickly and easily adapt to changing conditions on the water.

Last, use the following guidelines to choose an appropriate fly rod, fly reel, and fly line outfit for the particular type of fly fishing you intend to pursue:

  • 1- 2 weight lines - Excellent for delicate dry fly presentation to skittish fish in crystal clear water.
  • 3- 4 weight lines - Best for general purpose presentation to trout with small flies at short to medium ranges.
  • 5- 6 weight lines - Best weights for general purpose, freshwater use and especially for long distances or casting large flies.
  • 7- 8 weight lines - Excellent for small to medium saltwater species.
  • 9- 10 weight lines - Excellent for strong wind or casting large flies over long distances and for larger saltwater species.


Of course, in addition to a fly rod, fly reel, and fly line, you will also need a pair of waders.

You should first be aware that although waders used to be made from neoprene rubber, they were heavy and hot to wear in all but the coldest weather.

Consequently, most waders these days are made from a breathable fabric similar to Gore-Tex which is much more comfortable than neoprene.

In addition, it should be noted that waders are also available in both boot foot and stocking foot models.

The defining difference between the two types is that boot foot waders have a heavy rubber boot permanently attached to the legs of the waders.

Whereas stocking foot waders have only a lightweight neoprene bootie attached to the legs that is designed to fit inside of a separate wading boot.

Although boot foot waders may seem like the best choice at first thought (because you will not have to purchase a separate pair of wading boots), the problem with boot foot waders is that because they are specifically designed to slip onto and off of your foot easily, they are necessarily loose on your foot.

This allows your foot to slide around somewhat inside of the boot which can become very uncomfortable after a while when wading in a trout stream due to the uneven terrain and the inordinate number of rocks you will be stepping on.

Therefore, stocking foot waders are preferred by the very large majority of avid fly fishermen because they are designed to use a separate wading boot which fits over the neoprene bootie attached to the waders.

These can be tightly laced against your foot so that your foot does not slide around inside.

Naturally, this leads us to a discussion of the different types of wading boots.

For instance, at one time, all wading boots were designed with thick, tough, felt soles in order to provide the fly fishermen with a positive grip on slick, biofilm covered, rocks.

However, in recent years, it has come to light that microorganisms that live in a stream can enter the felt and remain there once the angler is done fishing for the day.

Then, unless the boots are set out in the sun and allowed to thoroughly dry before the next fishing trip, those microorganisms can be transferred to another stream which can induce one of the different piscine diseases to all of the inhabitants of that stream.

Some states have gone as far as banning the use of felt-soled wading boots on all bodies of water. Consequently, as an alternative, wading boot manufacturers have turned to a substance they call "sticky rubber" to produce soles for the new generation of wading boots.

When purchasing wading boots, you will also be confronted with the choice of purchasing them with or without metal studs in the soles. Studs may seem like a no brainer but, when you place metal studs into the soles of your wading boots, you effectively reduce the surface area of the sole to a few metal points and so, when you place those few metal points bearing your entire weight onto a highly polished granite or quartz rock, the result is more closely akin to an ice skate than a wading boot!

Therefore, the best possible solution is to purchase your wading boots with felt soles instead of sticky rubber soles and then, dry them thoroughly after each use so that any microorganisms that may have taken up residence in the felt will be exterminated.

Wading Staff

In addition to waders and wading boots, a wading staff is also a very handy item to have along.

But, when first viewing the various wading staffs on the market today, you will see that they are available in a variety of lengths ranging from the height of the average walking cane to that of a shoulder high staff.

But, while the taller staffs would certainly serve the purpose, they are designed specifically for wading in deep water and swift currents such as you would encounter on a Salmon or Steelhead river.

However, I personally have a distinct preference for waist height staffs over the longer ones, because the only times that I really use it are when I’m crossing a precarious section of stream-bed where the water is swift and I can't see the rocks. Then, as so often happens, I will ever so carefully lift my foot to take that next step and suddenly, I am doing the "stream dance" as my foot slips and causes my body to contort and gyrate into all kinds of indecent positions that the human body was definitely not designed for! At this point, I usually find that I have two options: I can either: give up and fall in the water or, I can whip out my trusty folding wading staff!

Then, because I am usually already contorted into some sort of vaguely obscene position, I find that the shorter wading staff deploys more quickly and places my hand closer to the surface of the water where I can more easily recover my balance.

Any wading staff that I choose must be compact because I absolutely despise extra bulk on my wading belt. In addition to choosing a waist height staff, I also prefer one with a 1/2" diameter over those with a 3/4" or a 1" diameter because the smaller diameter is significantly more compact.

However, it should also be noted that wading staffs with a 1/2" diameter are somewhat fragile and so will bend if forced to bear your full weight, whereas the larger diameter staffs are significantly stronger and will not bend nearly as easily.

On the other hand, wading staffs with larger diameters are significantly more bulky and thus, I personally do not care for them.

But, that is not to say that you should not purchase one as long as you are aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each and make your choice accordingly.

Another absolute must for me when choosing a wading staff is that it must be extremely quick to deploy so that when I am doing the "stream dance" in the middle of the creek I can snatch my staff out of its holster, grasp the handle, and let the rest of the sections go so that they can deploy on their own and lock themselves into place just before I jam the point of the staff into the stream-bed to prevent me from falling.

Therefore, I prefer wading staffs made from numerous different sections of aircraft grade aluminum tubing which is then connected together using a heavy-duty bungee cord so that when the staff is lifted from the holster and the sections of tubing are dropped from the fingers, they will automatically snap into place and lock together to form a single, rigid, pole.

Also, the holster must be designed in such a way that it securely holds the staff in place but also allows me to draw the staff without having to unsnap any snaps, lift any flaps or Velcro tabs, or otherwise deal with any impediment to me drawing the staff immediately.

Last, because I rarely actually use my wading staff (but I still consider it to be essential equipment) and even then, I only use if for short periods, I also want it to be easy to fold so that when I am done with it, I can get it out of my way quickly and get back to fishing.

Thus, although there are many different brands and models of wading staffs available, my personal preference is for the Folstaf brand in particular.

Fly Fishing Vest

Last, in addition to all of the other gear a fly fisherman has to have, there are numerous small items and gadgets that are also essential to the sport and a way to properly organize them is a must have item.

Fortunately for us, a famous fly fisherman named Lee Wulff invented the fly vest as a way to organize and store all of our fly fishing paraphernalia.

I have compiled the following lists of what items to carry in your fly vest into two categories consisting of items that you absolutely cannot do without and other items that are nice to have along but are not absolutely necessary.

Must Have Vest Items:

  • Fly Assortments
  • DriesTerrestrials
  • Wets
  • Nymphs
  • Streamers
  • Nylon Leaders - 4x, 5x
  • Nylon Tippet Material - 4x, 5x
  • Fluorocarbon Leaders - 2x, 3x, 4x
  • Fluorocarbon Tippet Material - 2x, 3x, 4x
  • Fly Floatant
  • Fly Sink (wetting agent)
  • Nippers
  • Hemostats
  • Stream Thermometer
  • Retractable Ruler
  • Dry Fly Desiccant
  • Strike indicators
  • Mini split-shot Assortment
  • Sink-tip System

Useful Vest Items

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses with lightly tinted, polarized, lenses
  • Sun block
  • Waterproof Digital Camera
  • Toilet Paper
  • Whistle
  • Flashlight
  • Extra Batteries
  • First Aid kit
  • Emergency rain poncho
  • Space Blanket
  • Waterproof matches
  • Fire Starter

So, as you can see, fly fishing can be a somewhat gear intensive sport but fortunately, if you choose your gear carefully, you will only have to purchase it one time.

If you choose to purchase high quality gear, then it will literally last you a lifetime.

You should take the time to do the research and see what is available before making your choices because there is a mind boggling number of fly fishing gear manufacturers on the market today and, while some of them produce truly excellent gear, others produce gear that is simply not worth purchasing.