One thing there is no doubt about it the amount of fly fishing gear that exists in the market. I am always impressed by the what these companies come up with to get us to keep buying gear. I wanted to give some recommendations on what you truly need to get started with fly fishing based on my experience.
Waders are a pretty critical piece of equipment when it comes to fly fishing. Trout rivers tend to be pretty cold so unlike lakes and some oceans staying dry and warm are critical to making fishin fun. There are many wader manufactures and a lot of price points. My guidance is to not over spend on waders unless you are planning on fishing more than a few days each week. The reason is this, even the best waders on the market will wear out, you can patch and repair but at some point you will need to replace them, so spending 600 bucks on waders if you are going to use them 1-2 time a month for a 5-6 month period is probably not the best investment.
I would recommend a decent pair of stockingfoot breathable waders with a pair of rubber soled boots (felt has better traction but has some environmental risks which will be covered in a different post). Breathability is key, because if you are hiking up a river you will probably sweat a bit (or in my case a lot).
In order to not start a holy war about rod manufacturers, materials, length, etc. I am going to keep this pretty short. Don’t go out and spend $1000 on a new bamboo rod if its your first entry to fly fishing. I would say to get started, especially if you are fishing smaller rivers, you don’t need to go crazy. The reality is you probably aren’t making a cast beyond 30-40 ft., Also if you are only using a rod a few times a year, most rod makers today create rods with enough quality that they will hold up well and you can try the sport without getting too crazy. Also if you start to get more into fly fishing, you will probably pick up some more rods of different weights to help meet different fishing situations. For example I started with a Echo Ion 6wt rod and then added an Orvis 9wt salt water rod as I got more into salt water fishing. Then added a few more because I am an addict but for the beginner I would start with a 4 or 5 wt rod and don’t over think it.
Reels are another area where there are a ton of options on the market and you can get caught up in over thinking. Most likely you don’t need a reel that has the drag and stopping power to reel in a tarpon or a tune if you are fishing for trout on a small stream. Most reels will meet the bill here. Similar to rods one thing you are paying for is quality in some cases. Your reels will take some abuse, they will get dirty and wet, so looking for a good warranty and a sealed reel will help ensure that nothing breaks while you out fishing.
I would say start with a good floating line that lines up with the rod WT you buy. There are tons of different lines but again, for the purposes of getting started I would go with a decent floating line. They are expensive for line, but a pretty critical component of the whole system. Also fly lines last pretty a pretty long time if you take care of it so worth the investment.
Leaders are what you attached to fly line and help create distance from the fly line and the fly. You aren’t going to catch many fish if you tie a fly to the line. The general rule I find is that a 9-11ft leader is perfect in most cases. Seems like a lot but its very critical. Tippet you use to link the leader to the fly. Think of tippet as a small leader. This helps protect your leader when you lose some flies in the trees and rocks but also helps the presentation of the fly. I think for starting purposes some 5 or 6x tippet it a good first purpose.
This probably deserves its own post, but to keep it simple, I would do some research on patterns that are useful where you are fishing. Then buy those patterns in a few sizes. There are so many types of flies, the mistake a lot of rookies make is they buy 1 or 2 of every type of fly. Then they show up to fish they lose 1 in a tree and then they are out of that pattern which was probably the most effective. For where I fish in NY and NJ Blue Winged Olives, Stone Flys, Killer bugs and a few other flies always produce so I would rather bring 5-10 of each of those in different sizes with maybe a few streamer or terrestrials then like 20 different types of flies.
So that takes you through the critical stuff, next are the accessories that you should invest in.
Net: Get a good light weight net with a rubber next. It makes releasing a lot easier and helps protect the fish
Fly Box: Flies are small, get something to keep them organized
Nippers/Forceps: Two must have tools for trimming lines and for adding weight to lines
Split Shot/Putty: Some small split shot or some depth putty is very helpful when it comes to nymph fishing
Sun Glasses: Polarized glasses are must, they enable you to see through the water, and protect your eyes. Those little hooks are hard to get out of your eye ball
Hat: Wear a hat, protect yourself from the sun and bugs. Also its easier to remove a hook from a hat then your scalp.