This is a buyer’s guide from three perspectives: a non-angler looking to buy gifts for an absolute beginner, gifts for a semi-experienced angler, and the best gifts for fly fishers who have everything.
Ten years ago, my girlfriend bought me a beginner’s fly rod set for my birthday. It was her way of buying “alone time.” She is now my wife, and I am now a fly fishing fanatic.
These days, I’m putting nearly 200 days a year on the water, doing business with high-profile fly fishing brands, and spending most of my discretionary income chasing salmonids all over the world. It all started with a Redington Crosswater beginner set that my wife found in the bargain basket at our local fly shop, McLellan’s.
Fly anglers are a hard bunch to shop for. Not only are the products confusing, but we’re also notoriously picky. Over the years, my wife has gifted me many fly fishing items, most of which don’t get used.
So I wrote this buyer’s guide for the beginning, intermediate, and advanced fly angler, and there’s certainly something for every interested angler on this list.
Fly Fishing Gifts for the Absolute Beginner
Of all the all-inclusive beginner fly fishing sets that I found, this was the most impressive. It includes a 5/6-weight, 9-foot rod with case, a reel that’s preloaded with line and leader, and nine flies (the bare minimum you’ll need to start fishing).
It also comes with nippers, a zinger for easy access, and a backup 5X leader. Buyer beware, the reel seat (the thing that holds the reel) seems to not tighten well. There’s a lifetime warranty, but fixes do cost money.
Dark Lightning Waders With Boots: $39-48
Wader/boot combos are cheaper than buying waders and boots separately. While they don’t last as long (these waders have a two-layer construction whereas most premium waders are either four- or five-layer), this combo is a great way to test the waters for under $50.
It also includes a hanger so you can flip the waders upside down and dry them by the boot. The Dark Lightning Waders are for men and women.
Best Fly Fishing Gifts for the Intermediate Angler
In my opinion, waders are the single most important product when it comes to fly fishing. It takes a discerning angler to notice the performance differences between cheaper and more expensive gear, but anyone can tell what leaky waders feel like.
Orvis has one of the best reputations in the fly fishing world for its repair program and no-nonsense warranties. On top of that, the PRO Wader, Orvis’ new premium wader, is about $100 cheaper than the competition while being just as competitive as other premium waders in terms of features.
Most anglers start with a 5-weight, then build their arsenal in increments of two (so 7-weight, 9-weight, you get the idea).
If your angler is missing a rod, the Drifter series is where I’d start. For under $200, you can get a premium, medium-fast-action rod that casts similarly to rods five times the price. It also includes a backup top blank (in case you break the first one) and a rod tube.
Korkers Devil’s Canyon Boots — Men’s: $192-199
I’ve owned several pairs of boots from multiple brands, but the Devil’s Canyons are the best of the best. They last forever because of the replaceable soles that pop on and off, and I never have to mess with tying laces with frozen fingers thanks to the Boa dial.
Each new pair of Korkers boots comes with two sets of soles so you can swap out depending on the terrain you’re fishing.
Cheeky PreLoad Reel: $100
In most freshwater environments, reels really don’t matter. They just need to do three things: adjust drag, hold line, and not break.
That said, serious fly anglers want multiple reels to hold different-weight line and match the rod they’re using for the day. The Cheeky Preload is a $100 reel that’s pre-spooled with backing, line, and leader.
Line is probably the most underappreciated fly fishing item out there. Fly lines wear out over time and, unlike a reel, a good line will affect casting performance.
The RIO Grand In-Touch is a fast line meant for throwing heavier flies, which makes it a great match for the Moonshine Drifter series, a medium-fast rod. Just be sure to match the line weight with the weight of the rod.
Gifts for the Angler With Everything
Underwader pants are a relatively new thing, so your angler probably doesn’t have a pair. In essence, they’re just really warm pants with a strap that prevents them from riding up your waders. That little strap makes them unique enough to be a thoughtful gift for a picky angler.
Orvis doesn’t make the PRO Underwader Pants for women, but the Underwader Pant ($89) is available.
Tenkara USA Sato: $250
I don’t fish tenkara all the time, but when I do, I get plenty of questions. Tightlining is very trendy right now, and Tenkara has caught the intrigue of many anglers. A lot of folks who own Tenkara rods store them in their vehicle at all times, just in case a fishing opportunity presents itself.
The Tiny Ten 2 is a true novelty gift for the angler who actually does have everything, including tenkara setups. The Tiny Ten 2 extends to 8 feet, collapses to 13 inches, and comes with a case that looks like a lightsaber. It’ll fit in the smallest of glove compartments and water bottle holders.
The Middle Fork Packable Waders stuff down like a puffy jacket, to the size of a 2-pound cylinder of country sausage. It’s perfect for business trips where I may have an hour or two to fish after meetings. It’s also a good backup in case my main waders spring a leak.
Patagonia doesn’t make the Middle Fork waders for women, but the Spring River Waders ($399) are available.
Fish Cat 4 Float Tube: $239
According to Outcast Boats, maker of the Fish Cat series, the Fish Cat 4 is the No. 1-selling float tube in the U.S. It’s a little boat that helps anglers access deeper spots in lakes and rivers. It’s also an item that’s pretty obvious, so you’ll likely know if your angler has one or not.
Here’s a great stocking stuffer that won’t break the bank. A rig keeper keeps anglers from having to re-tie rigs. That’s fly fishing mumbo jumbo for “it saves time and frustration while on the water.” Again, it’s a relatively new product category, so your angler is unlikely to have one.