The conversation usually starts with “I’d like to get into fly fishing, so what do I need and how much will it cost”? My standard answer is, “well it depends” because it depends on your starting point. Are you brand new to fishing or have you been fishing for trout for a while? The answer to that question sets the stage for how much your start-up cost will really be to take up fly fishing.
What’s My Start-Up Cost For Fly Fishing? If you are a trout fisherman but new to fly fishing, start-up costs could be less than $150 because you may have some items already. But if you are starting from scratch, obviously, it will cost more. But more doesn’t need to be beyond $400-$500.
There is a fine line between what you really need to start and what you’d like to have to start. If you had all the money in the world you wouldn’t be reading this article you would just go buy whatever they are willing to sell you. But, if you are like me, we need to spend wisely. So let’s take a practical look at the start-up cost of fly fishing and getting started.
What Gear Do You Need For Fly Fishing?
I am a fly fisherman who travels light carrying only what I know I need with me on the stream. Everything has a place, either stored in a pouch or hanging from a zinger. Things that are used more often are stored or carried based on the need to be readily available. So, when I put together the following list, it’s comprised of the basics things I have to have for a day on the water. If you use this list and acquire these items, you’ll have everything you need to get started fly fishing.
- Fly rod
- Fly Line
- Tippet material
- Fly Boxes
- Waders and footwear
- Vest or pouches
- Hemostats or forceps
- Polarized Fishing Glasses
The above list is my “bare bones” essentials. In addition, I carry other items like fly dressings, indicators, extra leader packs, insect repellent, leader straighter, and a hook sharpener. None of these are necessary for a beginner, except maybe the insect repellent. Once you’ve spent some time on the water other things you need will become apparent, but to start if you follow the list you’ll have the basics of what you will need.
Unlike most things made today, fly fishing equipment is built to last and won’t need to be replaced in a couple of years. Some things like tippet, leader or flies will need to be replaced more often, of course, but hemostats and fly boxes rarely get replaced. The rod and reel, for example, will last a long time, if you don’t close the truck door on it. My buddy, the “professor” has pulled many a beer out of his vest over the last 35 or so years and it’s still going strong. After the initial start-up cost of getting fly fishing, the ongoing cost will manageable.
What’s The Start-up Cost From Scratch?
Working right down the list I created, let’s take a closer look at what the cost of start-up for fly fishing is by identifying each of these items to see what we’ll need, dollar-wise, to get started in the fly fishing world.
The most obvious need is a fly rod. Although a good quality fly rod can range in price into the thousands when starting out you really don’t need or want to spend a lot of money. There are several quality manufacturers who offer starter kits or combo kits that will range from $90 to about $160 in price. Combos are a great way to get started. They have everything you need in one offer with a rod, reel, and fly line as the usual components of combo kits.
These can be found online at Cabela’s, Redington or Orvis for example, where you can read up on the particulars of each offer. Cabela’s offers a couple of combo’s of which one is under $100. Redington has several combos starting around $130. Orvis offers a combo for $169.00. These include a rod, reel, fly line and leader and some with cases.
But one of the best deals I’ve seen so far comes from Wildwaterflyfishing.com. They have an inexpensive quality starter combo kit that offers additional accessories that will cover a large portion of our list.
- 4 piece 9′ fly rod
- Fly reel with backing, fly line, and leader
- Hard case for rod, reel, and a rod bag
- Fly box with 9 flies, size 14 – 3 winged black ants, 3 gold ribbed hare’s ear, 3 parachute Adams
- Spare tapered leader
All of the above for around $100. Wildwaterflyfishing.com To learn more about this combo – click here!
The leader is a section of monofilament between your fly line and your fly. You can’t fish without it. I purchase a three-pack and carry it with me all the time. 3 packs range from $8 to $13. (To learn more about Leader Click here)
Tippet is tied to the end of your leader to extend the life of your leader. It’s another must-have item. It comes on spools that actually connect to each other making them easy to carry and store in a vest pocket or hang on a lanyard from your vest. Starting out if you purchase 3 spools, one of 5x, one of 6x and one of 7x you’ll have all you need for a while. Tippet spools are about $5. The nice thing about tippet material is it usually lasts longer than you would think.
Waders are the uniform of a fisherman. I spend probably 99% of my time fly fishing standing in water. Waders keep you dry but they also keep you relatively clean. Typically a day’s fishing has you kneeling in dirt and mud, sitting on downed logs, creek banks, and sloshing your way through the creek. At the end of the day, off come the waders and wah-lah, you’re dry and clean.
Chest-high breathable waders are comfortable, lightweight, and can be worn year-round. Because they are light and breathable they are great for both summer and winter fishing. You can wear shorts or layer up with warm clothing during winter months and be very comfortable in them.
Waders can run anywhere from $59 to over $400. The unpredictable thing about waders is their life span. Depending on the creeks you fish and the terrain traveled to get to the stream your waders can take a beating. But on average, I’d say, I replace waders about every 4-5 years. I usually buy wades that cost in the $175 to $200 range for my needs but you don’t have to spend that much in the beginning. Look for comfortable waders in around $100. After fishing for several seasons you’ll have a better handle on what you really need in waders.
I highly suggest purchasing “stocking foot” waders rather than waders with built-in boots. They feel just like a heavy comfortable pair of sox on your feet. If you want you can wear a fishing boot or any shoes of your choice. I spend under a whopping $20 bucks for shoes that are comfortable and sturdy rather than spending a hundred or more on fishing boots. I look for shoes with good non-slip soles, comfortable padding, in a slip-on or loafer style. Canvas shoes are great because they dry quickly. Also, to accommodate the thickness of the wader I pick a shoe a couple of sizes larger. Whether you purchase wading boots or other types of wading shoes, the comfort of shoes that fit better will be well worth it.
Obviously the items you want to have on a stream will need a place to be stored in order to carry them. A vest is probably your best bet. A vest has umpteen pockets for storage of everything from fly boxes to your favorite cigar pack. Most vests have rings on the front to attach lanyards for hanging hemostats and nippers or even tippet materials. The big pouch in the back is great for carrying rain gear in the event that a rain shower pops up. Fishing vest range from about $22 to $150.
Personally, I don’t use a vest anymore. Years ago while on Penn’s creek I hung my vest on the corner of the truck’s bump while getting out of my waders and, well, I was an hour away before I realized it. With that lesson learned, I buy waders with built-in pockets and an attachable pouch. In addition, I attach little pouches to my waders straps and this gives me just the right amount of storage compartments. With everything either in or attached to my waders, I don’t need a vest.
The bulk of what our start-up cost for fly fishing centers around is a fly rod, waders, and vest. The next set of items are more like accessories. I can pose a great argument on why each of these items is an absolute must to possess while fly fishing and once you have and use them you probably won’t want to be without them either. But if you didn’t have these on a day out you could get by. Now that being said I still have them on the “must-have” list as I know for me I don’t want to be without them.
A sharp pair of nippers save time and clean up knot tag ends quickly. A pair with the built-in “Pin” is a must, especially if you get into tying your own flies. The pin clears head cement from eyelets and helps push materials away from the eyelets. The pin has also helped as a tool to untangle a leader from time to time. Nippers have become such an important tool for fly fishing that manufacturers have designed them in an array of styles, materials, and replaceable blades. Nipper will range in price from $7 to $120. But a pair of nippers under $20 will be good enough for starters. There’s nothing wrong with buying a less expensive pair for starting out. (Learn about Nippers, click here.)
Hemostats or forceps:
Hemostats are like having a little vice in your hand. They grip things tight with just a squeeze of the hand. I use a pair to select flies out of the box clamping them tightly to the hook curve. This makes it easy to hold the fly while tying to your tippet. I use a different, longer pair to release trout. Simply grab a hold of the fly and the fish is easily released with a subtle jerk. (I should note, I use barbless hooks to make this even easier). Hemostats are really inexpensive, $2-$3. In fact, you could buy a whole set of them for around $13 online.
Polarized Fishing Glasses:
Polarized fishing glasses help reduce the glare coming off the water and lets you see through the water to spot fish more easily. Personally, I wouldn’t want to fish without them. They help me read the water, spot trout, and ease eye strain from sun glare. But do you really need them to fish? No, not really. Polarized sunglasses are one of those items that after you start using them, you’ll never stop using them. Polarized sunglasses run anywhere from $15 to $50.
But if you wear a prescription lens, getting glasses for fishing can be expensive. Polarized sunglasses fitted with your prescription lens at some point will be worth the price but starting out I would look for an alternative like clip-on polarized sunglasses.
Last But Not Least
I saved these two next items, weight and flies, to last because they need a bit of explaining before you go to the store. You absolutely need these items.
Weights, especially when nymph or streamer fishing helps get your fly down to where the trout are staging. The importance of weight is to add enough to get the fly down quickly but not to the point of having it settle to the bottom and sit there. Fly fishing success is dependent upon presentation and a natural appearance is a must for trout. Your weight must do its job but at the same time allow the fly to maintain its natural appearance and best presentation. There are different types of “weight” available for fly fishing, and as time goes on, you’ll experiment with several until you settle on the kind you like.
Split-shot is probably the best-known form of weight. Split shot is typically round, and as the description says, there is a “split” in the weight which your line goes into. The split is then compressed, pinched together to secure it to the line. Some split shot has little “ears” to help you remove the weight. Split shot in assortment dispensers is ideal because of the different sizes in the container and the ease to select just the size you want. You can use different sizes in combination to get just the right amount of weight for the conditions. I use a “micro” size split shot which is much smaller than split shot you would use with a spinning rod and 4-6 lb test line.
An Alternative Weight
Another type of weight is a Tungsten putty weight. It is a soft putty and you pinch off the amount you wish to use then squeeze it around your line. The heat from your hand softens the putty for removal to be put back in the container for reuse later. Tungsten Putty runs around $10 – $12 while split shot assortments cost about $5 or $6.
The whole purpose of purchasing and having everything explained in this article is so we can use a fly to catch a trout. We need a rod, line, and leader to get the fly to water and everything else above mentioned is to support us for the delivery of the fly in order to catch trout. Because of the fly, you will spend your fly fishing “career” on the study and pursuit of “the perfect” fly for the condition or situation. It’s the game we play.
Eventually, you will most likely take up tying flies, going deeper into the world of “flies” and that is a world all its own, with its expense to go with it. In essence, the fly is the heart of fly fishing because finding the patterns that work best for you while also working best for the conditions to ultimately satisfy a trout into taking your offering is the pursuit and reward of fly fishing.
The reason I mention this is when you start fly fishing you can spend a fortune on flies alone which will increase the start-up cost of fly fishing greatly. When you consider the basic grouping of flies, that is, dry flies, nymphs, streamers, wet flies, egg patterns, worm patterns, terrestrials and in addition, sizes, colors, just buying 2 of each could get out of hand.
Visit The Fly Shop
You will be doing yourself a huge favor by visiting your local fly shop and simply tell them you are new to fly fishing. Ask them what they suggest as to good trout flies for the waters near you. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m on a budget and it is X. They will be happy to help and most likely will ask you a bunch of questions. You, in turn, should do the same. When all is said and done you will walk out with a good selection of flies for the money. You will also have started a relationship with your new best friend – the fly shop.
How To Save On the Start-up Cost for fly fishing
Borrow, borrow, borrow. If you have a friend who enjoys fly fishing and he or she hears you’re interested in learning, chances are they will help out immensely. Ask if you can borrow a rod or if you’re close to their size, borrow waders. Among my group of friends borrowing stuff seems to be the norm and we gladly offer what and when we can. After using something borrowed for a while you’ll have a better understanding as to what you should buy. This will also spread your costs over time and make purchases more manageable. It will also save you a ton of money should you decide fly fishing is not your thing.
If you have friends or family in the medical world ask them for a pair of hemostats. My friend is a nurse and she regularly offers up hemostats to me and her boy, who fishes with me.
Christmas, birthdays, Father’s or Mother days are great opportunities to ask for some needed inexpensive items you may need. Finding a few packets of a leader in a stocking at Christmas is an awesome and much-appreciated thing.
Use substitute things from around the house to get started. It doesn’t matter on a stream if you look like you just walked out of an Orvis catalog or not. Nobody cares. For years I had hemostats and nipper hanging on a piece of string tied to a ring on my waders, while my sunglasses had a piece of yarn as a strap my daughter gave me. In other words, buy what you must and be creative with the rest. Believe me, if the fly fishing bug grabs you, you will acquire everything you need over time and still wish you had this or that.
If you are coming from another form of trout fishing you may already have some of the equipment needed for fly fishing that will reduce the start-up cost for fly fishing greatly. A typical trout fisherman usually has waders, vests and many of the other accessories we spoke about in the equipment list. If this is you then you’ll need a rod, reel, line, leader, tippet and flies. Of course, you will spend a lot less than if having to buy everything. On the other hand, if you are a complete newbie to the sport and need to “get it all” you could do so for under $400 depending on your creativity. But realistically be prepared to spend around $400 – $500.
Finally, don’t be afraid to buy cheap. I know it sounds funny to hear that, but you are starting out and if you don’t like fly fishing, (which I doubt will happen), then the outlay to walk away won’t hurt too much. Also, as you become more knowledgeable and skilled, your needs will change and be more specific as to how you fish. Spending money is always better when you spend it on something you know you need and want.
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What Fly Rod Action is Best For Beginners?
A medium action rod is a good choice for a beginner. They are not as powerful as fast action rods so they load and unload more slowly. They won’t cast as far as a fast action rod because they don’t generate lines speeds as fast a fast action rod. Slower line speed allows for the timing to be more forgiving and is why medium action rods are easier for beginners to use.
What is the Advantage of Fly Fishing?
Fly fishing imitates tiny insects or other natural foods that trout and other fish like to eat. The advantage of fly fishing is that a fly rod can cast flies that are small and light. many of which would be too light to cast well with spinning tackle.