Beginner Fly Fishing Kit: A Budget Fly Rod, Reel, and More

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Spring has sprung, and with warmer weather right around the corner, now’s the time to put together your first fly fishing kit. Below you’ll find a great kit for beginning fly fishers.

Getting started in fly fishing can feel overwhelming. But as an angler in her third year of fly fishing, I assure you it’s possible to get into the sport without spending hundreds of dollars or feeling like a complete noob.

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Fly fishing not only encompasses its own wildly diverse set of gear, but it also has a deep, structured language around the utility of that gear. I’m going to break down a few of the pieces of gear that made fly fishing feel more accessible to me.

And, hopefully, I can help you to simplify your decisions about where to start when building your kit.

Echo Base Fly Rod Kit: $160-170

Echo Base Fly Rod Kit

Echo’s Base Fly Rod Kit is a great starting point for the beginning angler. At $160-170, the kit includes a padded case, a rod, and a reel with a fly line that will get you through a lot of initial scenarios.

I live in Montana, and I find myself mostly in trout country. For me, a 9-foot, 5-weight, four-piece rod takes me everywhere from the high-alpine lakes I love to pack into to the occasional ride in a drift boat on one of our blue-ribbon trout streams. I prefer the rod to break down into four pieces, as it’s easy to stash in my car, strap to a pack, or compact down for storage.

This rod has excellent action for such an affordable piece. It’s survived many near disasters, and the few times I’ve broken pieces, I’ve been able to replace them quickly and affordably. If you’re looking to buy yourself a rod for a different scenario, stop into a local fly shop and check in on what they recommend as far as rod size and weight.

Shop Echo Base Fly Rod Kit

Booms Fishing Vest Tool Kit: $14

Booms Fishing Vest Tool Kit

At just $14, this kit includes your three most-used tools on the water: forceps, nippers, and a leader straightener. It also includes a pin-on retractor, which I use to keep my nippers nearby at all times.

You’ll use your forceps in more scenarios than you’ll be able to think of. But, most often, to remove a fly quickly and easily from all those fish you’re about to catch. The forceps are a lifesaver for our aquatic friends. And, if that’s your lifesaver, the nippers are your constant. Put them on that retractor. Changing flies? Nip. Tying knots? Nip. Break a nail? Nip.

The leader straightener is, in my opinion, the most satisfying of the three. After unraveling line and leader, using it to beautifully straighten a line is my favorite part of the setup ritual.

Shop Booms Fishing Vest Tool Kit

A Starter Kit of Flies: $11

A Starter Kit of Flies

This is where things start to get a little more tenuous. Fly choice depends on a lot of things. My M.O. as a hobbyist is to buy a few flies at a time, asking my local fly shop what I should be packing for the time of year. And they’re always more than happy to help. Many fly shops update water conditions and fly suggestions weekly online, as it can vary deeply from one moment to the next.

But, you’re going to lose a lot of flies as a beginner. And they’re not always cheap. It’s a good idea to start with a basic box of flies, find what you like, and go from there. This 36-piece box has a wide variety of basic wet and dry flies, with relatively high reviews. And at about 33 cents per fly, it’s not going to be a bank account heartbreak when you gift them to your local bushes.

Shop 36-Piece Wet and Dry Fly Box

RIO’s Powerflex Trout Leader: $19

RIO's Powerflex Trout Leader

I’m a big fan of RIO’s Powerflex Leaders. They’re easy to work with, individually packed,  and tapered. The tapering eliminates the need for hand-building your leaders. And the perfection loop allows you to easily rig the leader to your line. I use these nearly religiously as a knot newbie. And they’re simple to change out when you find your tippet slowly fading into your nippers.

For trout, you’ll need lines from 3X to 5X depending on your angling scenarios. The lower the number, the stronger the leader. Saltwater fishers will use a 1X leader for bonefish or tarpon, while I might use a 6X for high-alpine angling for smaller, spookier fish. Great places to start are 4X and 5X. Stock up on a few. This pack from Amazon has six leaders for less than $20. Personally, I think 4X is a great weight to have in your pack. RIO also has a ton of how-to resources for anglers. Find them here.

Shop RIO Powerflex Leader

The Guide to Fly Fishing Knots: $5

The Guide to Fly Fishing Knots book

One of the handiest things I’ve kept in my pack has been a small guide to knots and rigging my rod. There are tons of great guides out there, but my general requirement is that a true field guide should be small, light, and easy to navigate.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about fly fishing writers, it’s that they’re passionate. And in the midst of being passionate, their language is often highly technical and incredibly obtuse. Often, I’m just looking for the quickest way to the water. This little book is the perfect handy companion for my solo time on the water. And at just $5, you’re getting a ton of knowledge at my favorite kind of price.

Or, if you prefer digital to the analog world, check out Gorg Knots. It’s an amazing app that shows how to tie every knot you can imagine on your phone for just $2.

Shop The Guide to Fly Fishing Knots

Patagonia Vest Front Sling Pack 8L: $99

Patagonia Vest Front Sling Pack 8L

Don’t have the budget for a dedicated fishing backpack? Here’s a little secret: Most any good small daypack will do in a pinch. While you will likely want to buy a fishing pack in the future, just start with the backpack in your closet.

But if you’re ready to make the leap, the Patagonia Sling Pack was my first fly fishing pack. It’s relatively affordable from a fishing pack standpoint. It’s also well-suited to use on the water, light, and comfortable. The lack of bulk allows you to focus on your action as you begin to understand your cast, and the sling design allows you to access everything you need while knee deep in water.

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This isn’t a dry bag per se, but the brand has treated it with a DWR coating, which helps with water resistance. For anything that truly needs to stay dry, there is an interior dry pocket that has come to the rescue many times on the water. (This is where I keep an eternal copy of my fishing license for that year.)

And really, I’ve beaten the tar out of this thing. Even among other more intense packs, I find its simplicity to be key to function.

Shop Patagonia Vest Front Sling Pack

Final Thoughts

Fly fishing doesn’t have to be overwhelming — I promise. As you begin to set your foundation, lean into the expertise of your local fly shop, of books, and of the anglers that may be in your social circle. If you feel totally at a loss, there are plenty of classes, videos, and guides that can help you on your journey to being a successful angler.

And, with summer on the horizon, there’s no better time to start building your foundation gear and getting acquainted with it. Happy fishing, friends!

By
Based in Montana, Nicole Qualtieri is GearJunkie's Hunt/Fish Editor. She’s an avid outdoorswoman, and you can find her anywhere from the back of a good horse in Whitefish to solo hunting the breaks of Montana, to backpacking with her border collie in the Absarokas.