Seven Things You Need to Get Started Fly Fishing
Rod/reel/line is step 1.
1. Rod/Reel/Line. That one is pretty easy. You can't do much fly fishing without a fly rod, reel and line. They should all match in size and weight, but beyond that, there are a lot of options and variables. Many anglers borrow one from a friend, family or enemy for the first couple of trips before investing in a setup for themselves. Here are our most popular rod/reel/line combos.
Leaders make a huge difference
2. Leader: A tapered leader is necessary for almost all fly fishing styles. The taper means that there is a thick back end (near the fly line) that slowly narrows to a thin front section near the fly. Where and how much the taper occurs is different for each of the many, many types of leaders. Trout leaders will usually say "trout" somewhere on them or have a picture of a trout on it. If in doubt, always get the thing that has the picture of the fish you want to catch. The most popular leaders are RIO Powerflex Trout and Scientific Anglers Trout. You can't go wrong with the most popular. Get a leader that is roughly the length of your rod to start. You will want to change it out when you have lost about a foot of it from tying knots.
You won't get too far without tippet
3. Tippet: Tippet is essentially leader material that is a level diameter. You will want a spool of this, maybe several spools of different sizes. For your first spool, match it to the size of the leader. The X system measures diameter, not break strength. This helps anglers match up sizes. My recommendation for trout anglers is to start with a size 4x leader and 4x tippet. You can go smaller (5x is smaller than 4x), but to start out, 4x is a good diameter and strong enough that you won't lose a bunch of flies really quickly. I would get the same brand and type that matches the tapered leader. Here is a more in-depth article about tippet sizing.
The tippet is tied to the end of the leader using a blood knot (or a couple of other options) and extends the length of the leader 3 feet or so. Once you have changed flies a few times and lost a foot or two of that tippet, its time to change the tippet out at the blood knot. This extends the life of your leader significantly, where you can get many days of fishing on one leader instead of changing it out every day of fishing.
Flies won't float without it
4. Floatant: Most anglers (or potential anglers) imagine fishing a dry (floating) fly when they picture what fly fishing could be. Fishing a dry fly is arguably the most elegant and preferable way to fly fish for trout. You absolutely need floatant to fish dry flies. Your flies will inevitably sink without it. One little dab of floatant will keep a fly riding high on the water for a while. The more expensive floatants are totally worth the extra dough if you are into it, but the industry standard Gink is plenty fine for most anglers and especially newbies. Here is a more in-depth article about floatants.
Clamps/forceps are crucial to success
5. A couple of tools: There are a ton of tools and gadgets, but there are only two that are 100% necessary to being successful on the water. Now you could in theory not use these tools, but that really makes angling more difficult. Nippers cut the line at your knots. Yes, you can use your teeth, but my dentist has told me to please stop doing that. Hemostats, also called clamps ore forceps, are likely even more essential. These are what you use to pinch your barbs down and remove flies from things like fish. When you are new, it is very important to do that because you will get flies stuck in just about everything, including ears, clothes, packs, friends, plants, fence posts and maybe a trout or two. Getting them out is really difficult without hemostats or barbless hooks. You can get a set of scissor clamps that has a cutter and a forcep. Its nice to only have one tool, but you really lose two tools when you lose one of those. Here is a (slightly) deeper article about clamps and nippers.
You can't fly fish without flies
6. Flies: Yep, you will need flies to go fly fishing. Plan on losing a bunch over the first couple of trips. That snappy cast where your fly disappears used to be called a $3 cast. Now we can call it a $.71 cast when you get your flies from Big Y. There are tons of flies that work almost everywhere and tons of them that are really specific to a location or time of year or whatever. We have lists of flies by location, flies by species , flies to match insect hatches, and flies by tactic (style of fishing). If you are stumped on what flies to get, we are always happy to help point you in the right direction.
Waders are safe and stylish
7. Wading Gear: Waders are needed when the water is cold and the weather is not blazing hot (much of the year). The rule of thumb for wet wading is 135 degrees. If the water temp and the air temp added together are 135 degree F, then wet wading shouldn't be too terribly bad. I am not going to say that every angler needs waders, but I can't imagine being into fishing and not owning waders and wading boots. Here is an article about wet wading options.
I would highly encourage anglers to invest in a set of waders and boots asap. It is a safety issue if you are trying to wader in cold water where hypothermia can set in quickly and ruin not only your day, but possibly much more. Spring and Fall are the best times for fishing, and its not typically warm enough to count on wet wading being an option. A well-fitted set of waders and sturdy wading boots are key to being comfortable and safe on the water.
7. A Positive Attitude: The most important thing you can have when fishing. It can be really frustrating to learn a new activity. Just accepting that its not going to be like A River Runs Through It for the first year or more is a part of that positive attitude. This is a lifelong activity that takes years and years to master.
A positive attitude is a game changer
Two anglers that didn't know each other were fishing a stretch. The older, more experienced angler was catching fish often and consistently while the younger, less experienced angler was having little success. Finally, after watching him land several nice trout, the younger angler shouts up to the elder "What did you catch that one on?" The elder angler yells back "Experience". The positive attitude will allow you to one day be the elder angler. A negative attitude will lead you to seeking an easier hobby like golf.
-Fishing, usually not catching