One of the nice things about fly fishing is it doesn't require much gear. A basic outfit consists of rod, reel, line and a box of flies. On a health and safety note it is worth ensuring you are wearing some kind of cap and eyewear in case you have an accident but with this basic outfit you can happily spend all day fishing and catch yourself some fish. But which rod, reel, line and box of flies do I choose?
When starting you want an outfit that is versatile, easy to use and will not break the bank.
Let us start with the rod.
Which Fly Rod?
We recommend a 9.5ft AFTM rated 6/7 weight rod as a good all-round starter rod. This length of rod is versatile enough to be useful on both rivers and stillwaters, lochs and reservoirs. The AFTM rating is the association of tackle manufacturers reference to the weight of line to be used with the rod. Each rod is designed to be used with a specific line weight. Weights can vary between tiny lightweight 3 and 4 weight lines used for fishing small streams through to heavier 11 and 12 weight lines used for salmon fishing on big, fast flowing rivers. Higher ratings mean heavier lines mean greater power and distance. Lower ratings mean lighter lines with less power and more delicate presentation.
A three piece rod makes transport that much easier.
There are some variations on this recommendation. If you are more likely to spend your time on local stillwaters then a slightly longer 10ft AFTM rated 7/8 weight rod will give you greater power and distance. This will also make a good rod for fishing sea trout and small salmon. If you think you are more likely to fish smaller rivers then a 9ft AFTM rated 5/6 weight rod might be more useful. And for children under 10 years we normally recommend a slightly shorter 8ft AFTM rated 4 or 5 weight rod.
What about the number of sections? Is this important? As a rule of thumb the more sections the stiffer the rod. For this reason it used to be that most people preferred a rod with only two sections. However, with advances in materials technology, the number of sections is relatively unimportant. We normally recommend a three piece rod simply because it is easier to transport and to keep hidden in a car.
Which Fly Line?
For new starters we normally recommend a weight forward floating fly line. Weight forward lines are rather easier to cast since the line is tapered so that the bulk of the weight is at the front of the line giving greater power and distance. Floating fly lines sit on the surface creating much less drag when lifted off the water on the back cast. This makes them much easier to cast than sinking fly lines. Modern fly lines are coated in slick polymers which slide easily through the rod guides. There are many fly lines on the market. The best ones have very low memory so they can spend many weeks coiled up on your reel but when cast the line is nice and straight. When I first started fly fishing I had very little money to burn and would economize by buying economy lines or reel ends. False economy - a good fly line makes a big difference to your casting.
Get yourself a decent fly line - mill ends and cheap lines make for false economy.
So you have a nice floating fly line. What if the fish are on the bottom of the water? You can still make sure the fly gets down to the fish by adding a braided leader to the tip of the line. They are usually about 3ft long and vary in density to control the sink rate. An intermediate braid will take the fly just below the surface and a fast sinking braid will take the fly to the bottom at a rate of one foot per second or more.
Which Fly Reel?
How do I choose a reel? Well, the reel need not be very sophisticated - you do not need to pay a fortune for a good reel. The most important thing is that it be well made. The spool holding the line needs to sit snugly in the reel cage. If not, the fly line will get jammed between the spool and the reel cage causing tangles and frustration. Most reels come with some form of drag system that controls the speed at which a fish can pull line from the reel. By increasing the drag the fish has to work harder if it is to escape. If you adjust the drag knob and it makes very little difference to how much effort is needed to pull the line from the reel this is not a good sign!
A good reel need not cost the earth!
Backing & Braids
The fly line is normally only 80ft or 90ft long. If a big fish takes your line it will soon pull out all of your fly line. For this reason the fly line is usually attached to a relatively inexpensive but strong (20lbs breaking strain for trout or 30lb breaking strain for salmon) backing line that sits on the reel. The fly line can be knotted to the backing line but a braided loop makes this job a lot easier and neater. Most starter kits will come with the braided loops included. Most tackle shops will set you up with the backing, loops and fly line already loaded on the reel.
So How Much Is This Going To Cost Me?
There are many good starter outfits for around £100. Beware of cheaper outfits less than £50 for the rods are often stiff and difficult for beginners to use. One exception is the Shakespeare Targa Fly Outfit. At less than £50 for rod, reel and line it is remarkably good value. The rod is a good starting rod and even if you outgrow it and splash out on a more expensive outfit later the rod will make a good second rod or back up for years to come. Word of Warning: Do NOT confuse the Shakespeare Targa Fly Outfit with the Shakespeare Starter Fly Outfit. The latter is very cheap but has a diabolical rod and a dodgy reel. If you can't get hold of a Targa fly outfit - they are ceasing production soon - then the Shakespeare Odyssey with the Alpha fly reel and Professional fly line is a good alternative.
Avoid outfits with lots of 'freebies' you do not really want. They are thrown in to bulk up the package and many of the items you will never use. If supplied with a box of flies then specify that you want a river or stillwater or mixed box. Some unscrupulous dealers will use starter kits to get rid of unwanted flies that have not sold terribly well. Good dealers will be able to advise which flies to use for a given water so don't be afraid to ask. They will want you to catch fish so that they see you again in the future!
At £349 a top end of the range travelling kit may be beyond the pocket of some starters but if you have tried fly fishing and are already seriously addicted then an outfit like this will last a lifetime.
Finally, once you start fishing you will soon find lots of other useful accessories. Don't go mad and spend all your money! After all, I suppose it is possible that you may not even like fly fishing!