Choosing a Fly Fishing OutfitBy Pat Ehlers - July 1, 2006
When someone comes into the shop and tells me they are new to fly fishing and want to get set up my first question is what species of fish you are going to target. Someone fishing for trout or bluegills is going to have different equipment needs than someone looking to fish for bass or steelhead. Imagine trying to golf eighteen holes with only one club. You would do some things well and others very poorly.
The first thing to select will be the rod. Fly rods use a weight system to designate their size. For example 5 weight, 6 weight, 7 weight etc. This is an arbitrary number system. It has nothing to do with pound test. The numbering system has to do with the physical weight of the line and is matched to the same weight of rod. The line weight allows the rod to load properly in that it flexes correctly to make a good cast. For instance a four weight is lighter than a six weight. Here in Wisconsin if you were equipped with a five weight and an eight weight you could pretty much cover all the fish species found here. The five weight would work for the finesse presentations on trout and as a lighter more fun rod to catch panfish. The eight would handle throwing larger flies and hooking and landing larger fish like bass, muskies or salmon. As you gain experience you may want to add a three or four weight for even more finesse or if you are into big fish a ten weight for trophy pike or to make throwing larger flies easier with the added weight and fly carrying power of the larger rod.
The weight designation of the rod matches the weight designation of the line and balances the two to cast properly. The fly rod loads from the weight of the line being cast like a bow being drawn back .If you use too heavy of a line and the rod over loads. Too light of a line and the rod won't load enough. Both conditions make for poor casting.
Matching a line to a rod is simple, if you have a five weight rod put on a five weight line. There are different tapers to choose from like weight forwards and double tapers. I only use weight forward lines and that's all you will need no matter what you fish for. There are specialty tapers that are species specific and are built off of a typical weight forward taper. A good specialty fly shop will carry these specialty tapers and will be able to help you pick out the right one for your needs.
When buying an outfit put your money into the rod and the line. Casting is the deal with fly fishing and high quality rods and lines are designed to help you cast. Buy the best you can afford you'll be glad you did. If you're looking to save a few bucks economize on the reel. Unless you're fishing saltwater the reel usually isn't that important. Make sure it is the correct size to properly balance with the size of the rod you are using.
Most quality fly reels come with some type of fish fighting drag system. Some are simple some are extremely sophisticated. Keep it simple in the beginning.
Plenty has been said about the cost of fly fishing equipment being outrageous. Fly rods have changed plenty over the years. High-end fly rods are very sophisticated these days. Not only are manufacturers using very expensive graphites in their rods they may incorporate two or three different types in one rod. By blending graphites they can use one more suited to casting towards the tip end and another more appropriate to hooking and landing fish on the butt section. Most high-end fly rods also come with unconditional life time warranties. These things will drive up the cost. The biggest reason is that not many anglers fly fish. Keep a couple of things in mind: 1. With the life time warranties buy your fly rod correctly the first time. As long as you don't lose it will be replaced. 2. Buy the best you can afford. The more expensive graphites lend to better casting performance and casting is the name of the game in fly fishing. 3. A good fly fishing pro-shop will get you set up correctly the first time.