The New Fly Fisher – Part Two

Getting a start on some great fly fishing. Steve Dobson clarifies what you need to know, and what you don’t need to buy when getting started in fly fishing!

Starting from Scratch- Rods, Reels and Lines

In preparing to write this article, I have tried to think back to when and how I got started fly-fishing. For me it was a writer, Roderick Haig-Brown. His book ?A Primer of Fly-Fishing? gave me the basic information I needed to get started. His book called ?A River Never Sleeps? made me want to start and ?Bright Waters, Bright Fish? made me a fanatic.

Having decided to try it, I went to the local fly shop – not a very good experience for me as a beginner. It was not so much a feeling of intruding upon some sort of closed fraternity but more a case of shock and awe; shocked at the prices and in awe of the vast array of choices.

I ended up retreating with a distinct and lingering distaste for those who enjoy the privilege of knowledge more than the privilege of teaching.

The result was that I ended up buying a ?Learn to Fly-fish? kit from Canadian Tire for around $40 dollars. It came with a rod, reel, line and leader. It also had a couple of flies included, a Royal Coachman and a Zug Bug.

In retrospect, I realize that the outfit was terribly mismatched. Consequently, for the longest time I thought fly-casting was difficult. I am still trying to break some of the bad habits developed using that rig.

From the pre-dawn to twilight, the day might go through a twenty-degree variance. As often as not, it will go from snow to rain to bright sunshine on any given day in April so buy what you need to be able to dress in layers topped with a wind-breaker or rain jacket.

It is a catch 22 for the beginner. You have to know enough about fly-fishing to pick a rod, reel, line combination that suits you and in which all the bits work together to enhance each other. The only way to learn this is by fly-fishing for a while.

If starting from scratch today I would simply go to the Cabelas website or catalogue and look at the all-in-one kits. They are well-matched outfits of good gear and best of all; they are guaranteed to satisfy. I say Cabelas only because I have bought things there and am familiar with them. LL Bean also sells exceptionally high quality starter’s kits, as do others.

My progression was from those black rubber boots with the red soles to a pair of inexpensive hip boots, to a pair of good, rugged Helly Hansen chest waders. I stuck with those for years until I finally invested in the breathable waders with separate boots.

Carefully compare the various offerings and always go for quality to the limit you can afford.

My major problem with the original kit I bought was that it was ill matched. That is a serious mistake and one you can avoid by dealing with a specialist rather than a department store. In the cause of supporting your local business community, you may choose to write down the specifications from a kit you like and ask your local fly shop to fix one up for you. There are real benefits to dealing locally.

Here are the very basics you will need for fly-fishing: rod, reel, backing line, fly Line, leader, tippet material, a dozen wet flies, a dozen dry flies and most importantly- a good book or two.

A friend who is an expert fly-fisherman is a real plus as well.

One other thing ? never, never, never set foot in the woods without a knife, matches, a secondary fire source such as a disposable lighter (stored in an other pocket), a compass or GPS unit and something I have been carrying recently, one of those super loud whistles women carry on their key chains to scare away hoodlums. In the quiet of the woods, those things can be heard from as far away as a gunshot. Your voice will break down quickly if lost or in distress.

I do not know but I suspect that a bear would not stick around too long either if you started blasting away on one of those things. Maybe one of the people reading this from out west will comment on that.

Our little Black Bears here are not much of a threat – if any. The only ones I have seen have been running away. The last bear I saw in the Rockies though, sized me up the same way I look at a bug before deciding whether to swat it or shoo it away.

Back from my digression. The best combinations I have seen have the reel pre-spooled with backing and fly line of the right weight for the rod.

Remember, the backing is not just to help you handle a big fish that runs farther than the length of your fly line. Backing fills your reel spool to the optimum spool diameter helping to balance your rod and increase the efficiency of the take up.

Set a budget and stick to with-in $50 dollars of it. The things that make a $500 dollar rod better than a $100 dollar rod are invisible when you are first starting out. The things that make a $100 dollar rod better than a $20 dollar rod are not.

Trust me on this and look at the Cabelas or LL Bean combos as a good example of a beginners outfit. It will help you to set a budget. It will help you to get a feel for what you should expect for your money. If you go that route, you will end up with a well-matched outfit that will satisfy the average person for years. Always deal locally when you can so at least give your fly shop the chance to match what you are thinking about getting.

One last thing:

For Brook Trout, general lake fishing for Smallmouth Bass and all round versatility go for a 5 or 6-weight outfit.

If you know you are going to be fishing a lot for Shad, Salmon and saltwater species you will want to go a bit heavier, an eight or nine weight.

If you do not know whether you need a heavier line weight starting out, go for the 5 or 6 weight. I did the opposite and when I finally got my hands on a well-balanced 5-weight set-up, it was like discovering a completely new sport.

This article is meant to be light on detail so do not hesitate to use the comments button below to leave a question or ask for an explanation.


Steve Dobson has been a fly fisherman for
thirty years or more and a catch and release advocate for almost as long.
Through his time on and off the water, he has developed two tools that not
a single fly fisher should be without.

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