Over your fishing life, if you are anything like me, you are going to own many different rods for many different types of fishing. For the moment however, let’s assume you just need the right kit to get on the water and with a chance of catching a fish.
The first to do is consider the type of fishing you will be doing most of. There is such a thing as a multipurpose trout fly rod, but realistically it can only cover certain eventualities. There will always be specialist areas you need to look outside your basic tackle collection for.
When you enter a fishing shop you will find it bedazzling with all sorts of shiny and bright coloured treats, don’t be distracted. The joy of fly fishing above any other, is the sheer simplicity. I often head off to the river with no more than a rod, reel and net, and my jeans pockets stuffed with kit. You can get started with a relatively minimal set up. The skeleton of kit you will need, as a bare minimum is:
- A fly line of the appropriate type (more will follow very quickly!)
- Leader material
- Flies (and floatant if appropriate)
- Forceps for unhooking and priest for killing fish
- Landing net
- Suitable clothing possibly including waders (to be covered elsewhere) and a fishing bag
Most trout fly rods come in a fairly standard range of sizes, with 9ft being the most popular. These rods are graded by line weight, which indicates how beefy they are and the weight of line they take for example, for tiny hill trout you may use a 3 weight. For sea trout or salmon a 9 or 10 weight is used. Each weighting rod will require a specific weight of line to match it.
On the large stillwaters and reservoirs, you will find that distance casting can sometimes make all the difference. You are also likely to find yourself casting into some strong wind on occasions. For this reason a rod with a fairly high line rating to cut through the wind and add extra punch to your cast is required. For a beginner you would consider look at a 7 or 8 weight rod, at least 9 ft and possibly 9-½ ft long.
If you are fishing a river where typically a more delicate presentation is required, you would be best advised to start with a 5 weight 9ft rod, unless you absolutely know the river you will fish most and it is tiny – in which case reduce the length and line weight accordingly.
The reel is more or less a store for line when trout fishing, often the fish being played without winding in line. For your first reel the most appropriate is something large enough to hold the fly line you choose and 50 yards of backing line. It really doesn’t need to be flash, but it helps if it balances the rod.
Your fly line is essential, and I would advocate spending as much on the line as you can, and making sure it is the right weight balance for the rod, in other words don’t have a 7 weight rod and a 5 weight line. For your first few trips you should be able to manage with a floating line – you can fish dry flies and sub surface flies with this and this will cover 80% of situations. There are all sorts of styles of floating fly line about, but my advice is to look for a good quality weight forward line to start with, of the right line weighting for the rod. Rods are usually marked with a number or numbers prefixed with. This is your guide, but please talk with the shop owner about the appropriate line weight for the rod as they sometimes perform best with a different rated line.
Before you fill your reel with your fly line, you will need some backing line. This is essentially a store should you be lucky enough to hook a big enough fish to have it stripping all your fly line (usually around 30 metres) from the reel. It is not required for anything else, and an own brand backing line be just fine for this. 50 metres is a minimum, and beyond that have whatever you can comfortably fit on the reel.
Between your fly line and your fly you need some thin line that we refer to as a leader. Historically there was a fashion for tapered nylon which allowed a nice turnover of a fly. These days I usually use one single thickness of line which comes on a 50 or 100 metre spool. There are several brands, but go for a stiff nylon whilst you are learning. This will untangle more easily and will be more robust than a thinner, suppler line.
It is a good idea to put together a small selection of flies, but base these on advice from other anglers where you may be fishing. I would recommend you call the fishery first, or the local tackle shop, and ask what they recommend. Most fisheries will sell a selection of the most appropriate flies on site, but you can always carry a preselected card of flies for the type of water, which are available from most retailers. A good quality fly floatant, usually a silicon type gel, will be absolutely essential if using dry flies to keep them on top of the water.
Always carry forceps for unhooking â€“ a lot of waters are catch and release now, and there is nothing worse when needing to unhook a fish that you don’t want to kill and making a mess of it. You may also encounter coarse fish when fly fishing in trout waters, and unless told otherwise, these should be returned unharmed. The flip side of this is that you will need a blunt instrument to knock on the head any fish to be kept. This is called a priest, and will last you for life (until you leave it on the river bank….) Don’t get caught short with a flapping fish looking for a rock when you are fishing on a grassy banked river.
As for the landing net, this should be of the most appropriate for the type of fishing you are likely to do. Many advise carrying one a little bigger than you expect to need â€“ this is good advice, but I talk from bitter experience when I say don’t buy one so unwieldy that you talk yourself out of carrying it with you.
Finally clothing â€“ we will discuss this in more depth elsewhere, but you may need waders for either river or large reservoir fishing. Unless you know you will need these, I would leave them off the intial shopping list until you can justify buying a top of the range pair. Waders are the one thing I don’t like to compromise in. Cheap ones tend to leak fairly quickly and can be uncomfortable to wear, whereas the [Simms] pair I bought at a price that nearly broke me over 6 years ago are still going strong.
So go and enjoy yourself, and catch some fish. Don’t forget your Environment Agency rod license (in England and Wales), or you may find your new gear being confiscated!