The Bare Essentials of Fly Fishing

What do you need to fly fish? What are the bare essentials you need to get started in fly fishing? These are questions we hear often when we are out fishing at our favorite spots. In this article we will answer those questions by explaining what the bare essentials are and how they all go together.

The bare essentials you will need to get started in fly fishing are:

  • Rod, Reel, Backing, and Line (known as an Outfit)

  • Leader and tippet

  • Nippers

  • Forceps/pliers

  • Flies

  • A fly box or some sort of container to keep flies in

What is a Fly Rod? Fly rods come in several sizes and materials- fiberglass, composite, bamboo, etc. These can come in a single piece or can break down into multiple pieces. The weight (WT) of a rod determines what size of fly you can use and cast easily, it really has little to do with the size of the fish you are trying to catch. These sizes range from 000WT to 16WT. The bigger the number the bigger rod and the bulkier and heavier flies you can throw.

What is a Fly Reel? The fly reel holds the line that will be used for fishing. The reel must match the weight of the rod, and some reels are made to accommodate a number of different fly rod weights. The fly reel is connected to the rod via the reel seat. The fisherman uses his dominant hand to hold the rod whilst the non-dominant hand is used to manipulate the reel’s handle and/or the fly line. The reel can also feature a dial/lever that sets the drag, which is how quickly (or slowly) you wish the line to be released from the reel by applying more or less tension and resistance on the fly line and to the fish on the other end. The fly reel also has something called backing which is used as an extension to your fly line and is usually made of 20 - 30 lbs. Dacron or for saltwater applications, 30 – 50 lbs. Gel-Spun.

What is a Fly Line? A fly line is a Dacron or braided nylon that has been coated with PVC. It is heavy, the PVC coating is slick and sometimes textured. It must be matched with your fly reel and fly rod within one weight. The density of the core and the amount of PVC coating is what defines or makes the fly line float or sink. The fly line is what you cast, it is the weight in fly fishing. It attaches to your backing on the fly reel side.

What is Leader/Tippet? A modern leader is made of monofilament or fluorocarbon material that has a taper built into it that gets skinner or tapers to a smaller diameter toward the fly end. Most have a loop at one end that attaches to your fly line loop. The leader is designed to be sacrificed rather than your fly line. The tippet is a non-tapered piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon material that is attached to the leader when/if the taper has been sacrificed due to tying on/off flies or losing to a tree or snag. The tippet costs less than the leader, the leader cost a bit more, but both are substantially less than the cost of a new fly line. When it comes to leaders and tippet the bigger the number the smaller the size (lbs. test). For example, a tippet with the size of 8x is rated for around 1.75 lbs. and used for very small flies like sizes 22, 24, 26, and 28. On the other end a tippet with the size of 0x is rated for around 15.5 lbs. and can be used for larger flies like sizes 4, 2, 1, and 1/0

How does it all go together? The backing is attached to the reel, the fly line is attached to the backing, the leader is attached to the fly line and the tippet is attached to the leader, the fly is attached to the leader/tippet. The entire assembly of Rod, Reel, and lines is called an Outfit.

What are nippers? Nippers are like fingernail clippers, but are usually stainless steel or coated with some sort of protective material. They are a tool that you simply cannot be without. The sharp nipping jaws are designed to keep your knots clean, when cutting your leader or tippet. Some nippers even have a needle for those obstructed fly eyes you need to clear to get the tippet through.

What are forceps/pliers? Forceps or sometimes called hemostats are a great tool for removing hooks from fish and from one’s clothing. Pliers are available in a variety of styles for many purposes, such as to help remove flies, for de-barbing hooks or crimping split shot, some have a built-in eye-cleaning tool, these are either paired with the forceps/hemostats or used in lieu of them. No matter which tool or tools you choose here, make sure they are easy to use, comfortable and can fit in your pocket or can be attached to your clothing, so you do not lose them when on the water.

What are flies? Typically, a fly is a lightweight lure used to imitate a food source of the targeted fish species. These can be made of natural materials such as hair, fur, and feathers, or can be made of artificial materials such as craft fur, Mylar, synthetics, and more. These flies can vary in size and style and can include such things as insects, worms, baitfish, crabs/crayfish, small retiles and mammals, amphibians, and even birds. Flies come in thousands of patterns, colors, and names, some of which are attributed to the designer of the fly and others are named for the food source they represent.

What is a fly box? Put simply, a fly box is a box or container in which your flies reside in when you are not fishing them. This can be a very simple thing such as the small plastic container that the fly shop will usually give you when you buy the flies, or a left over pill bottle, but most fly fishers use a box designed to be waterproof and that has some sort of interior liner that allows you to arrange flies in an organized manner.

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