One of the biggest barriers to entry in fly fishing is all the new gear. Even someone who has spent a lifetime spin fishing can be completely boggled by the gear, techniques, and terminology of fly fishing. While there are plenty of print and digital resources explaining how to fly cast, it can be hard to know what they’re talking about if you aren’t familiar with the gear they’re referencing.
For those just getting started, this is an explanation of the basic pieces of fly fishing gear and the purpose of each. If you familiarize yourself with these items, how-to articles and videos will make a lot more sense.
Of course, there are plenty of accessories, gizmos, and gadgets used in fly fishing as well. However, since these things are mostly meant to make life easier, and aren’t crucial to casting your first fly, they aren’t included in this list. These are the things you absolutely must have to begin your first day on the water as a fly fisherman.
It’s not fly fishing without a fly. Flies are small attractors made from natural or synthetic material tied around a hook. They’re usually tied to mimic insects, crustaceans, or small baitfish. Flies are light enough that they can’t carry their own weight during a cast (unlike conventional fishing lures or baits), which is why fly fishing is the preferred method for fishing them. Instead of using the weight of the fly, the weight of the line is used to get distance on a cast.
The fly rod is the backbone of everything you do during a fly cast. Fly rods tend to be longer than spinning rods, and most are very lightweight. The job of the fly rod is to support the weight of the fly line and “load” while casting back and forth. This gives the line its momentum, and in turn carries the fly toward its target.
Unlike other types of fishing reels, which do most of the line retrieval, a fly reel for the beginning trout angler is mostly a line holder. Yes, it can be used to reel in fish (especially larger ones that run), but when you’re just getting started you won’t need it for fighting fish. Most anglers use their hands to retrieve the line. In that case, the reel is mostly meant to hold all the remaining items on the list. Many reels come with a drag mechanism to be used when fighting a fish that runs, while some require using your palm to add drag.
Fly line is the thick, typically brightly colored line used in fly fishing. Fly line is weighted, and its weight is what carries the fly outward during a cast. By casting it back and forth, an angler gains enough momentum to send a fly across the water. You can think of casting a fly line almost like tossing a lasso.
Backing isn’t the sexiest part of fly fishing, and is rarely noticed during a day on the water. However, it fills an important role. Backing is similar to thick string and connects the fly line to the reel. Since fly line is so thick, a reel filled with nothing but fly line would run out of room quickly. Typical fly lines come in lengths around 90-100 feet, so the backing can be used to help fill out the reel and help the line come off the reel in more loose coils. Backing is a way to make the total line on the reel much longer if you have a fish run, while still allowing the shorter piece of weighted fly line to do its job.
At the end of the fly line is the leader. Since a fly line is conspicuous and too thick to tie straight to a fly, a leader is used. A standard leader is essentially an 8-10 foot piece of tapered fishing line. This puts some space between the fly line and the fly to help avoid spooking fish.
The last bit before the fly is the tippet. Tippet is also like regular fishing line, and comes in several diameters. As a leader breaks off over time, it can be rebuilt by simply tying the correct thickness of tippet to the end before reattaching a fly. Tippet can also be added to new leaders to get the desired length and thickness.
And that's it!
Next time you hear someone referencing their setup, you’ll be familiar with each part of their rig, from rod to fly.
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