My Five Most Used Pieces of Fly Fishing Gear (Plus, Three Underrated Pieces)

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My Five Most Used Pieces of Fly Fishing Gear (Plus, Three Underrated Pieces)

By Jenny O’Brien

As with most outdoor pursuits, fly fishing can come across as a gear-heavy sport. There is definitely a diverse array of equipment that one needs to pursue fish of any species but I’m going to focus on five key pieces that I never leave the house without, plus a few others that I like to have on-hand.

Being from the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate to be able to fish year-round, whether it be chasing coastal steelhead and salmon or targeting trout on beautiful rivers and streams. But these pieces will come in handy no matter where you fish and what finned friends you’re targeting.

Essential Item #1- Waders

Waders are a necessity to protect you from the elements, whether it be chilly water or poison oak and pesky mosquitoes. During the height of summer, I love to wet wade, wearing shorts or pants, and leave the waders behind but more often than not, I wader up to stay dry. When evaluating wader options, there are a few key things to keep in mind:

  •       Budget - Depending on how often you plan to fish, along with where you’ll be primarily fishing, there are different brands of waders that offer the protection you need at a price that fits your budget.
  •       Fit - More companies are starting to pop up in recent years, providing better options for taller and shorter folks, along with specifically designing options for women.
  •       Durability - If you know you’re going to aggressively pursue fly fishing and have the means, my suggestion is to invest in a good pair of waders from a reputable brand that has a good warranty. Most wader makers have warranty programs and that is an important consideration for me personally so I can limit my environmental impact and also be thoughtful about how much I spend to replace gear when I can have it fixed instead.

Essential Item #2 - Wading Boots

A good pair of wading boots will provide you with stability, traction and dry feet at the end of the day. When scrambling over rocks or wading deeper runs with fast currents, you’ll appreciate having some solid boots that help keep you grounded and protect your feet. Depending on the type of water I’m fishing, I’ll choose a boot with a sole that is most conducive to the conditions. For example, I choose a boot with a Vibram sole that has metal studs or bars for most of the rivers I fish. However, if I’m going to be fishing from a drift boat or raft, I need to be thoughtful around how the sole of my boot could possibly scrape or puncture the boat. There are also options with felt bottoms which can offer stable footing but they may not be allowed in some waterways or states because of their propensity for catching and transporting small invasive plants or bugs. Always check your local regulations before you make a purchase. As with waders, there are a multitude of brands that offer great options at all price points.

Essential Item #3 - Durable Pack

Depending on the type of fish you’ll be targeting, you’ll need a pack to hold all your fly boxes, nippers, other gear and of course, snacks. There are several different styles you can consider: sling packs, hip packs, chest packs or backpacks. Some companies still make fly fishing vests, too. My preference is between a sling pack if I know I need to bring a few extra items, such as another layer and some food for later or a hip pack. Hip packs are typically smaller than a sling but you can still fit a good amount of fly boxes, tippet, leaders and indicators. It really is about your personal preference and what type of fishing you’ll be doing. When I am searching for trout, I tend to have more gear on me because I’ll switch up from fishing dries to sub-surface flies depending on the time of day and type of water I’m fishing.

A few things to consider when looking for packs:

  •       Waterproof Ability - Will you be fishing in deeper water or potentially a rainy environment? If so, you may want to consider a waterproof pack to keep all your materials and extra layers dry.
  •       Size - How much gear are you going to want to pack with you? Slings tend to offer a bit more space than other types of packs. For steelhead fishing, I typically use a hip pack or just throw a fly box and some tippet in the zippered pocket of my waders.
  •       Price Point - Packs can range in price from fairly inexpensive to more costly depending on the materials they’re made of. You don’t need to spend a lot to carry a pack that works for you. Plenty of folks I know just throw their gear in a fanny pack or backpack to start.

Essential Item #4- A Fly Rod, Reel and Line

Technically, these are three separate items but they are all dependent on each other. I could write a novel on fly rods alone but for the sake of keeping things simple, we’ll group them as a package deal. It’s important that new anglers feel comfortable with the setup they’ll be casting and that they learn how all the pieces fit together. It’s also important to note that you don’t have to break the bank to get started! Fly rods can range from quite inexpensive to several thousand dollars for more specialty or custom-made rods. Here are some important factors to think about when selecting a set up:

  •       Buy the right size rod for the species you’re primarily targeting - Fly rods come in various weights and lengths. The rod weight and length you choose will also determine what type of fish you can target. It’s important to ensure the gear you’re fishing with allows you to efficiently land your fish and give them a good chance of survival if you’re practicing catch and release. Here in the western US, the most common fly rod we see when targeting trout is a 9’ 5-weight or 9’ 6-weight.
  •       Budget - Many reputable fly rod makers sell kits that come with a rod, reel and line, all ready to go. You can typically pick one of these up for around $200 give or take. It’s a great way to test the waters (see what I did there!?) and evaluate if you want to keep pursuing fly fishing. If you have a little more to spend in your budget, you can start reviewing different materials and actions of rods. Some fly shops will also do fly swaps where they’ll sell gear in a garage sale-type setting and that can be a great way to get a deal on a rod.

Essential Item #5 - Sunglasses

Sunglasses are on my essentials list because they protect your eyes from accidents and also help cut down the glare on the water. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on glasses to get started, any shades tucked in the console of your car will work. As you progress in your fly fishing journey, you may want to invest in some higher-quality polarized lenses that will help you spot fish easier. Nobody wants to get an accidental fly to the eye so always wear your glasses when on the water. Also make sure that you have them on some sort of secured strap so you don’t lose them. I’ve had plenty of expensive sunglasses take a swim and be donated to the river!

I highly recommend bypassing the big box stores and head into a local fly shop to get solid advice on options, try on various styles of waders and wading boots, and make connections that will help you gain more information about your local waterways. You never know; you could make a new friend! Many of my good fishing friendships have been forged by connecting with folks in local shops.

Now for a few more underrated items I don’t leave the house without.

  •       Pocket knife or Leatherman - If I end up losing nippers or pliers, it’s nice to have something on-hand to nip tippet or clamp barbs on your flies.
  •       Headlamp - Frequently, I find myself getting caught up in the moment and fishing way later than I initially set out to. I’ve walked back to the truck in the dark far more times than I should have. My phone flashlight isn’t always enough to navigate through the woods.
  •       A Heroclip - I love my Heroclips for attaching water bottles, a hat, headlamp or any other gear that won’t fit in my pack but I may want to attach to the outside. Heroclips can also come in handy for your mid-day siesta when you want to hang your waders up on a tree limb and take a nap under a tree until the sun goes down a bit.

Hopefully you have found this to be a helpful guide to get started on the water. As you progress in your fly fishing journey, there will be more gear you’ll want to add to the collection. The most important thing is that you’re soaking up the outdoors and having a great time! If we missed any of your favorite pieces to take along, please feel free to post them in the comments below. Tight lines!

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