The equipment used for fly-fishing is very specialized and it takes some practice to learn to use it correctly. It's more important to match rod, reel, and line when fly-fishing than in any other kind of fishing. The reel and rod must be balanced in weight and the line must be the correct weight for the rod you are using. Rods are marked with the line weight they cast best. And fly-fishing is different because you cast the line, not the lure. The line must be heavy enough to cast, and you have to use a leader with it to separate the thick fly line from the lure.
Long, Limber Rods
Long, limber rods are needed to fly-fish and they come in different weights that you use for different kinds of fishing. A two-weight fly rod is considered ultralight and is used for casting very small flies, for catching smaller fish. An eight-weight rod is very heavy and is used for casting large flies, for big fish. Saltwater rods are even heavier and made for bigger fish and bigger baits.
Generally the lighter rods are shorter and don't cast as well into the wind. They're best for smaller waters and making shorter casts. Heavier rods are better for open waters and work better when there is some wind that you must cast against. The longer the rod, the longer the cast is a good general rule of thumb.
Fly rods come in many price ranges, too. Graphite rods generally cost more than fiberglass rods, and handmade bamboo rods are too expensive to use for anyone but the purists with lots of money. To start fly-fishing in fresh water for most species of fish, choose an inexpensive rod in six-weight that is about eight feet long. It's a good rod to learn on and will handle most kinds of fish without costing too much.
Check at local and mail-order sporting goods stores for inexpensive starter fly rod outfits. You can usually get a cheap rod, reel, and line for under $100 to get started. If you like fly-fishing and do enough of it to justify the cost, you can get a quality outfit for the kind of fishing you do.
A Choice of Reels
Reels are single action, multiplying, or automatic. On single-action reels, the spool turns one time each time you turn the handle, retrieving a short amount of line. On multiplying reels, a gear system turns the spool faster than the handle is turned, bringing in line faster. Automatic reels are spring-loaded and bring in the line when you press a lever.
For most fly-fishing the fly reel is there to hold the line and nothing else. You pull line off the reel by hand then cast it using the rod and you fight fish by stripping in line by hand. The line is reeled back on the spool after the fight is over. When fighting strong fish that make long runs, you'll need a fly reel that has a drag system, and you'll use it to fight the fish. Steelhead in fresh water and many kinds of fish in salt water require fly reels with a good drag system.
Saltwater reels must be made of noncorrosive materials and also must be strong enough to stand the high pressures of fighting a powerful fish. You'll need a large-capacity reel that holds many yards of backing as well as the fly line. Freshwater fish usually don't pull all the fly line out unless they're extremely big. Many kinds of saltwater fish will strip all your line off to the backing.
It's important to match the size of the reel to the rod and to the fish you're after. The reel should balance the rod so the rod doesn't tip toward either end when it's balanced on a finger held just above the reel where your casting hand will be. A balanced rod and reel will keep you from getting as tired while casting. The reel must be big enough to handle all the line you will need, as well as the pressure from the fish you're fighting, but not so big as to make the outfit too heavy at the reel end of the rod.
Lines Are Important
Fly line is important because it's what you cast, it controls whether the fly floats or sinks, and it controls how deep or shallow your bait goes down. Different kinds of lines allow you to make long casts with heavy wind-resistant flies, or to delicately place a tiny gnat on the surface of the water. Some fly lines are good for many kinds of casting while others are very specialized.
Fly lines come in weights just like rods. A one-weight fly line is the lightest and most delicate, while a fifteen-weight is mostly for saltwater big-game fish. For most of your fishing, a line in the midrange should be suitable, so look for something from four-to six-weight. Lines at that weight will handle everything from trout flies to bass bugs, and once you decide on the kind of fishing you will do, you can go to lighter or heavier line that will be better for specific types of casting.
Line and rod weights should match for best performance. You can go a little one way or the other when matching them up, but don't stray far apart in numbers. Keeping them together will give you the best results.
There are special fly lines for special jobs, too. Floating lines float and are used for flies that float, like bugs and dry flies, or flies that are fished near the surface like nymphs and streamers. For fishing deeper you need a sinking line, which come in different sink rates. Sinking lines are much harder to use than floating lines so stick with floating lines when you start fly-fishing.
Shooting-head lines are special lines that are heavier toward the end. They're useful for making long casts, which is what the name comes from. The heavy end on the line makes it shoot forward on the cast, resulting in longer casts. Weight-forward lines are similar but have less weight on the end so you can make a more delicate presentation even though you can't cast quite as far.
Leaders used to connect the fly to the fly line are made of monofilament line. They're thin and clear and less likely to spook the fish than the thick heavy fly line on the rest of the reel. Leaders can be a few feet long for fish that are not easily spooked, or many feet long for line-shy fish. For finicky trout, a two-pound test leader might be required, while a thirty-pound leader would be too light for some saltwater fish.
Tapered leaders are thicker at the line end and thinner at the fly end to make the fly act properly at the end of the cast. You can buy tapered leaders or tie your own. Bought leaders are quick and easy to use, but tying your own gives you flexibility to adapt to changing conditions.
Flies are usually small, light lures made of hair or feathers. They're wrapped and tied to a hook in such a way that they resemble something a fish feeds on. A dry fly floats and looks like an insect sitting on top of the water. Nymphs sink and look like the nymph version of an insect underwater. Streamers sink and are made to resemble small bait fish.
Fly-fishermen go to great length to match the fly to what the fish are feeding on, especially when trout fishing. Trout can be very finicky eaters and won't hit something that doesn't match what they're eating at the time. At other times they'll hit streamers and nymphs, which you can use if you can't determine exactly what the fish are feeding on at the time.
Saltwater fishermen usually use streamers because they resemble the baitfish the fish feed on. Saltwater streamers can be huge when fishing for big saltwater fish, often bigger than the trout sought by other fly-fishermen. White is a very common color for saltwater streamers because most saltwater baitfish have some white or silver in them.
With all flies, from those tied on a tiny #22 hook for small stream trout to a bucktail tied on a 6/0 hook for marlin, the hook must be very sharp. Using relatively light rods and line requires a sharp hook to penetrate the mouth of the fish with little pressure. Keeping a sharp point on your hook can often mean the difference between a strike and a hook-up.