Fly fishing primer - part one - selecting gear

Flyfishing.jpgSo you're taking up fly fishing, or thinking about it. First things first – you're going to need a fly rod, reel, and line so you can learn to cast. Before we get ahead of ourselves and just rush to the store (preferably a fly shop vs a big box retailer) to lay down cash, we need to answer some questions, so that you pick the right rod for the jobs at hand – those being: Learning how to fly cast and catching some fish.

You can learn to fly cast with just about any fly rod & reel combo, provided it's at least close to being balanced. The right combo, or one that's balanced between rod, reel, and line weights and types – will make learning a metric ton easier.

A couple words on rods and such:

Fly rods are typically rated for the AFTMA (American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association) line number they are intended to cast. These range from 00 to 12 – 00 being the lightest, 12 being the heaviest. Rods are also often described by their “action” or “flex” depending on what propaganda (catalogs) you're looking at. Typically you will see rods called “fast” action or “tip flex” - “medium fast” or “parabolic” action which is sometimes referred to as “mid flex” - and “medium” and “slow” action rods which may also be called “full flex” rods. The action or flex descriptor refers to how far from the tip the rod flexes when it is considered to be “loaded”.

Fast action rods flex mostly in the upper (tip) third of the rod. Fast action rods are all the rage – though they are least forgiving of casting mistakes. They are fine tools for distance casting, but might not be the best choice for a novice caster. Medium fast / parabolic / mid flex rods flex further into the mid section of the rod, and are more forgiving of timing errors in the casting stroke. Medium and slow action rods (aka full flex) bend down into the butt section of the rod – the slow actions bending down to the handle of the rod. These rods aren't in fashion with the majority of fishers, but do offer some benefits. Medium and slow action rods typically roll cast nicely, and they're very good at protecting lighter weight tippets because of the cushioning effect the action gives. Typically you'll find slow action rods are made from bamboo and fiberglass, as most modern graphite rods fall in the fast or medium fast category. The only “slow” action graphite rods I have encountered were in the low line weights – from 3 weight down – and intended for small streams where the fish are typically smaller, or for midge fishing where tippet sizes and flies are miniscule. These light weights make great panfish rods – but for a novice angler still learning how to play a fish – these rods shouldn't be used to target larger fish.

Catching fish is best accomplished by using the right tool for the job. Unless you're doing it for a joke, you're completely broke (fly fishing isn't for you if you're completely broke, sorry to say – because it's like a crack addiction. Once you get hooked, you're going to spend more, and more, and more on tackle, flies, and doodads), or you don't know any better, you won't take your sturgeon rod to the trout pond to fish for stocker rainbows. You won't take an ultra light panfish outfit to fish for oversized sturgeon. Likewise – you don't want to buy a light weight trout outfit to go fishing for salmon and steelhead, and you don't want to use a heavyweight salmon rod to chase small stream cutthroats.

So to tackle job one, lets figure out what fish we want to fish for first.

Most fly fisherman start fly fishing with trout fishing in mind. Fly fishing and trout are a match made in angling heaven, and there are literally centuries worth of literature about fly fishing for trout out there. But we live in the 21st century, and now fly anglers go after just about everything that swims.

So, what do you want to fish for?

Trout anglers have it made, because most fly gear is still made and targeted to trout anglers. You will want a rod made for a line between 4 and 6 to begin with. Most literature and “experts” advise you to get a 9 foot, 5 weight rod. A fine choice – but you can take that as a starting point and move up or down a line size, and go shorter or longer, depending on the waters you are likely to fish most. More on this a little later.

Panfish hunters might want to go a little lighter – from a 3 to a 5 weight – but unless all you're going to fish for are panfish, you may want to get a trout rod and use it for double duty – as panfish, especially the chunkier ones, still put a good bend in a 6 weight rod, and you never know when you're going to hook up with the oddball bass that likes sipping on insects or nibbling on smaller poppers and sliders. The extra oomph of a 5 or 6 weight rod is nice for these situations.

Bass anglers have a second question to ask – am I targeting mostly smallmouth, or largemouth bass? Smallmouth anglers can get away with going as low as a 5 weight for typical use, while largemouth anglers might want to go with a 6 or 7 as their lightest line weight. A more reasonable all-around bass fishing outfit will be a number 8 – given the larger flies bass fishing typically entails, and the extra power for pulling fish away from nasty cover when you hook up with them.

Steelhead anglers will want to look at rods from 7 to 9 weights, with the number 8 again being a good starting point.

Salmon anglers, like bass anglers, need to figure out which species they're going to go after. Coho anglers can use a lot of steelhead tackle. Since coho are usually smaller, and go after smaller baits – the 7 to 9 weight is a fine choice. Same if you're targeting chum or sockeye salmon. Chinook / King salmon anglers need to look at heavier gear, with a number 8 being the lightest you'd want to go, with a 9 or 10 weight being more reasonable, and if you're hunting the big bruisers – you might even step up to the 12 weight.

Carp anglers – and there are more and more every day – need a rod that can make accurate casts, deal with smaller flies well, but have the power to control fish that go 10+ lbs, and sometimes 20 or 30+ lbs. A 7 weight is a good starting point for open water fisherman. For the carp crazy – check out John Montana's Carp on the Fly blog at .

As I mentioned earlier – the line weight recommendations above are starting points, and when picking your rod is just one of the things to consider. Are you mostly going to be fishing smaller water that has over hanging tree branches and brush? A 9 foot long rod might be a hindrance in this situation. You might need to go down to a rod between 7 and 8 feet long. Are you fishing big brawling water where you need to reach out further, or you need to clear tall grass on your back cast? You may need a longer rod, say 9'6” to 10'6” or even longer, though these extra long rods are a lot less common, and typically more expensive.

If you are sure the fish you are targeting will be on the smaller end of the scale for their species, or you are going to be tossing smaller flies on a regular basis, you can go to the lighter end of the line recommendation spectrum. Lighter rods / lines will be easier to cast all day and result in less fatigue at the end of the day. These aren't the best choice though – if you think you will be tangling with bigger fish regularly, or if you are say, targeting native steelies, redband trout, or similar fish that shouldn't be overstressed, to keep fish mortality to a minimum. If you're going after these fish, stick to the middle or heavier end of the line recommendations so you can get the fish in quick, and get them revived and back on their way with less lactic acid buildup. We'll cover more on this point in a later post about ethics and on-water etiquette.

For the trout and panfish angler – you can get one rod that will cover just about all your fishing situations, save for really tight quarters casting – by getting an 8'6” or 9 foot six weight rod. If you're going to get only one rod for this, I say get the six because it really is a “do all” rod – or at least “do most” rod. You can fish with tippets down to a 6X or so (and we'll go over tippet sizes and whatnot a bit further down in this article, we're talking rods now) – and fish small dry flies, or you can fish big heavy number 6 stonefly nymphs with a 6 weight. As I said before, chunky panfish like bluegill and crappie will put a nice bend in the rod – and you can handle the occasional 1 or 2lb bass you'll wind up catching pretty well with a 6 weight. You aren't under-gunning yourself if you hook into a 20 inch trout, and you're not going to over-play and over-stress wild, native redbands if you happen to be fishing on the Deschutes either. A six weight will punch out into a wind better than a 4 or 5 weight will.
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That being said – if you know for sure you won't be fishing the Deschutes, or somewhere that the oomph of a 6 weight will be necessary – go with a 4 weight. They're lighter, meaning the rods themselves typically are lighter in weight than a 6 weight counterpart – and less actual weight translates, typically, into less fatigue and less energy required to cast all day. A 4 weight handles small fish well, will cast dry flies a little more delicately than the six, and is, in my opinion, more fun to cast with. A 4 weight can be easier to learn to cast with simply because of the lighter rod weight. Beginners are going to make a LOT of casts to get the mechanics down. You're not going to be making 60 foot casts the day you pick up a rod. Most fishing situations don't call for 60 foot casts anyway – and even a beginner will quickly be making the average 30-35 foot fishing casts with a 4 weight as they would with a 5 or 6. A 4 weight is perfectly suited to smaller streams, like the coastal creeks and rivers, or smaller rivers like the Crooked or Fall. They're great for fishing farm ponds or sheltered coves for bluegill and crappie on lakes. If your main goal is getting to fish small streams like the Little Luckiamute, Butte or Abiqua Creeks, or whatever your neighborhood small stream is, a 7'6” or 8' 4 weight is a good rod to start with – it's plenty strong enough to control the biggest cutthroat or rainbow you will encounter on these waters. If your home waters will be larger lakes – like Henry Hagg, Fern Ridge, Siltcoos, or any of the larger reservoirs, get a 9 or 10' six weight.

For bass anglers – like I said before, you need to decide are you mostly hunting smallmouth, or largemouth? Further – are you fishing in lakes, ponds, or streams and rivers? Big rivers or smaller streams? The guy hunting smallmouth bass on a lake like Hagg, or a river like the Pudding or Tualatin might go with a 6 weight because the fish are either typically going to be in more open water, or they'll be small enough to control easily with a 6. If you're tossing larger flies, or fishing larger, deeper water like the Willamette or the Columbia – a 7 or 8 weight might be more appropriate, especially if you're fishing sinking lines or at least, fishing heavily weighted flies to get down to the fishes' level. A guy floating the John Day or Umpqua would have a blast with a 9 foot 7 weight rod.

If you're targeting largemouth bass – you'll probably want to start with an 8 weight rod – and tailor the length to the conditions you are most likely to encounter. If your home water is a farm pond with trees around the banks, or if you are fishing coves with low hanging trees – a shorter rod to clear the brush is nice. A lot of makers are getting on the bass tournament legal bandwagon and producing rods shorter than 8 feet, which just happen to be excellent for fishing the tighter quarters (some of my favorite early season bassing is done in the creek arms of Hagg Lake – when the water is high and the trees hang over the banks. My 9 foot rods sometimes find themselves hitting tree branches, which is a bad thing. I picked up a 7' 10” rod – and my whacking of tree branches was dramatically reduced. These shorter rods lend themselves better to short, accurate casting more so than booming out long casts. The bass-specific rods do offer more powerful butt sections, for lifting and pulling fish from heavy cover. These shorter rods would be fine on a farm pond where you're making 40' or shorter casts and have to avoid low obstacles with your back cast.

Conversely, if your fishing ponds or lakes with tall grass banks, without worry of low trees getting in the way – a 9' rod is a better choice, or even a 10 footer. These longer rods will keep your line clear of the grass, and will typically allow longer casts if you need to punch one out into open water, or if you're wading or fishing from a belly boat and need to keep your line up off the water.

If you're going to be using big, heavily weighted flies, go with a 9 or 10 weight. You might even consider over-lining (another topic we'll cover soon) by a size or two, especially if you're making shorter casts with these flies.

Salmon and steelhead anglers are typically going to be fishing coastal rivers that are fairly open, or they will at least be wade fishing, or fishing from a boat and thus allowing for better casting room. 9 foot rods are fine here, though you might want a 10 footer just because they make line mending easier. We're assuming here, that you're beginning fly fishing using a traditional single handed fly rod. I'm not going to discuss double handers much – because I don't have a lot of experience with them, and there are fishers on here with way more experience and knowledge in that realm.

Steelhead fishing can be broken down into three main types – swinging wet flies, nymphing, and surface fishing. An 8 weight will do most all of this – although if you're fishing the big, chicken-size intruder type flies, you might want a 9 or 10 weight rod to handle the big flies and the big sink tips these sometimes call for. For nymphing, a 9 or 10 foot 8 weight would be fine, and you could go down to a 7 weight for summer run fish, or if you're only fishing for hatchery fish. If there are natives present, or a good chance natives will be present, please go with the heavier 8 or 9 weight rods as a favor to the fish. Dry fly fishing is typically done for summer run fish – and a 7 weight would be good for this purpose, though again, you might just want to stick to the 8.

Salmon fishing is mostly a wet-fly game, with bigger flies, so like swinging for steelies – you want a rod that will handle the big flies and heavy sink tips. The heavier 9 and 10 weights are good for this – and you again will want to tailor your rod length to the water you're fishing. The 9 or 10 foot rods will be fine for most of the coastal water. If you're gunning for big fish in small, tight streams, those 7'10” bass rods I mentioned earlier can be typically had in 8 to 10 weight ratings.

Rod selection, at least for most of us, is also going to depend on price. If money is super tight and you need to stretch every dollar like a rubber band – you do have some good options.

Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, and Wright & McGill offer some good bargain rod lines. The Cabela's Three Forks series rods typically sell for $50-60 for the rod alone, or can be had in a number of combos ranging from $75 to $100. Bass Pro Shops likewise sells White River rods that are inexpensive. For the most cash strapped, or for someone who just doesn't want to invest much to try their hand at fly fishing – Wright & McGill sells the Eagle Claw Featherlight rods that go from a 6'6” 3-4 weight to an 8' 5-6 weight for $24.99 most places. These are bright yellow fiberglass medium to slow action rods. Kind of cool, in my opinion, and perfectly serviceable. I have taught a couple people to cast using these rods. For a fiberglass rod guy – they're also a great bargain for a glass rod.

For someone with a bit more cash to spare – I suggest looking at the entry level rod line from Echo, called the Solo. These sell for about $100-120 in most shops. Echo rods are designed by co-owner Tim Rajeff, a champion caster and former fishing guide. Echo rods, from the Solo on up to their top tier rods, are great casting tools. Echo also sells a mini practice rod, with a fixed braided line to practice your casting mechanics indoors. Echo sells kids rods with foam grip and colored blanks for about $100 also – and those “kids rods” are some cool casting tools as well. Other rods to look at by Echo are the Carbon and Ion series (Carbon rods go upto 6 weights, and the Ions are 6 to 10 weight rods). These are sub $200 rods and all casting machines.

Other good rods in that $100-200 range would be Redington with their Pursuit series, Wright & McGill's S-curve lineup ($100 to $125 in most shops, which includes a couple double hander switch and spey rods), Cabela's Stowaway and Lsi, rods, the TFO Signature Series rods, St. Croix Rio Santo or the older Avid rods, and

For the guy who has more money than he knows what to do with – G Loomis, Sage, Winston, and Hardy offer some of the best production fly rods on the market. If you've got $400 to $1000 to drop on a fly rod, PM me and I'll tell you where you can make a donation to my bank account at... but seriously, if you've got the cash, the G Loomis Native Run and East Fork rods are great, the Sage One, Sage Circa, Winston Bxiii, and the Hardy Zenith rods would all serve you very, very well. Did I mention I take donations?

Go into a reputable fly shop, and talk to the owner or staff, tell them what you're fishing for, where you'll be fishing, and what your budgetary constraints are. You might even get a free casting lesson out of the deal while you're trying out rods.

Remember this – the lighter the weight (and I'm talking real weight – ounces and pounds now, not line weight rating) the rod, the less fatiguing it will be to cast. More expensive rods weigh less than cheap rods, typically. Get the best rod you can afford.

Once you have the rod choice figured out – you need a reel to put on it. For everything short of salmon, steelhead, and carp fishing – your reel is largely a line holder. You need a reel that is the right weight and size to balance well with your rod, hold 100 yards of backing line, plus the fly line you choose. Typically, you'll get what is called a “single action” reel, which means the spool turns once for every turn of the handle. There are “multiplier” reels out there, which the spool turns more than once for every crank of the handle, but these are rare, and usually found in saltwater fishing situations. You dont' need or want one for 99% of the fishing you find here in the Pac NW.
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What you might want though, is a mid or large arbor reel. There are three types of reel arbors – standard, which is the narrowest of arbors; mid arbor, which typically is about a 1” diameter reel arbor, and large arbor. As arbor size goes up, typically the total reel diameter does also, or the reel gets wider.

Mid and large arbor reels have some advantages over standard arbor reels; namely they keep the line from forming very tight coils (aka line memory) and they take in more line with every turn of the handle, compared to standard arbor reels. This is very nice when you do have to reel line and play a fish from the reel, as opposed to stripping line by hand to fight a fish.

You also will find reels with click & pawl drags, which may or may not be adjustable, as well as disc drags – the best of which have infinite adjustment from no-drag pressure to stop-a-train pressure. For average trout, bass, and panfish – you don't need a drag like that. You'll usually be stripping line in by hand while fighting fish, and the times you will be fighting off the reel, a click & pawl will usually suffice. Disc drag reels with little to no take-up pressure are nice when fighting fish on light tippets, but that's rare. For some it all comes down to the preference of silence vs “singing” drags. I prefer silence with my reels – which you will never get with a clicker reel. Disc drags usually have a clicker in the reel, which can be disabled. Some disc drag reels forego the clicker entirely, which I prefer. This is a purely personal preference issue.

Most reels are made from aluminum – either machined or investment / die cast. Some of the cheaper reels on the market are made from injection molded polymer. Some are good quality – though in my experience plastic fly reels are more often than not junk that will fail at the worst moments. Plastic is more prone to warped spools than metal reels. That's a bad thing. Personal preference again – but buyer beware.

The biggest consideration is how much the reel weighs, and if it will balance correctly with your fly rod. A reel that is too heavy will effect how the rod feels and handles while casting, and can cause more fatigue than a properly balanced reel / rod combo. Likewise, a reel that is too light will make your rod feel tip heavy. Remember too – the unloaded reel, mounted on your rod, will make the rod reel a little tip heavy, you want the reel to balance properly when it's loaded with fly line and backing. A reel that is too heavy when empty will surely be way too heavy when loaded with line. This is another reason to visit a good fly shop – you can mount various reels to your rod of choice and see how they balance, rather than blindly buying one from a catalog or website and hoping it works.

Reels can range from $15 to $1000. You can find one in your price range for just about any fishing situation within reason.

For about $15 you can find new Shakespeare click & pawl (non adjustable) reels that will hold a 4, 5, or 6 weight fly line and backing. For $30 you can get a brand new Pfleuger Medalist (a long-lived series of reels that are rock solid, although a tad heavy, reels that work very well. They're adjustable click & pawl reels). You can also pick up an Okuma Sierra disc drag reel for about the same price. All of these reels are standard arbor. You can also – for about $30 plus shipping, get a Cabela's Wind River mid arbor, disc drag fly reel. I have owned and / or currently own all of these reels and would recommend any of them to someone on a budget. I currently have the Wind River reel on my 4/5 weight fly rod and find it to be a very good reel for the money. It balances with my 9' 4 piece 4/5 weight perfectly, when loaded up with a #5 weight forward line and 100 yards of 20lb dacron backing.

Stepping up in price range opens up a lot more options. For $90 you can get a true large arbor, disc drag reel in the Cabela's Prestige Premier lineup. I have two of these, and they work very well on my 3 weight and 6 weight rods. They're quiet enough not to bug me, and the drag is nice and smooth on both reels.

For a bit more you can get the entry level reels from Ross, Sage, and Lamson. You can also get the Lamson (a very good reel maker) made Cabela's WLx reel, which is a large arbor disc drag reel. The Pfleuger Trion is a good reel in this category also – the Trion being a mid arbor disc drag reel.

For the “money is no concern” crowd – the top tier reels from Sage, Ross, Lamson, and Loop are great, as are the Abels, Tibors.

So by now we have a fly rod and a fly reel – we need a couple more things to complete the outfit – all being in the line category.

The first thing you spool onto that shiny new reel is backing line. Backing for anything upto an 8 weight line should be 20lb test braided Dacron or gel spun stuff from Cortland. Do not just spool on monofilament and call it good. Mono stretches and contracts, and the last thing you want for your fly line backing, is for it to stretch out and then contract when wound back on the spool. This will lead to problems. Not to mention 20lb dacron has the diameter of about 8lb mono – so if you spool up 20lb mono, you'll get less than half the backing on your reel. The rare occasion where a fish runs (when trout fishing, or bass, or panfish fishing) into your backing – you don't want to worry “do I have enough” - with 300 feet (100 yards) of backing, that's a non-issue. But 150 feet of mono would make me cringe when I've got that fish-of-a-lifetime on the line and heading for the horizon.

If you're going with an 8-12 weight combo, step up to the 30 lbs dacron or gel spun backing. You're hunting big fish, after all, and the heavier line will be nice, plus the larger diameter fly lines need mated up with larger diameter backing line. You might even, if you're targeting really large fish, step up to a heavier weight braided stretch free super line. Just make sure your knot doesn't cut through the fly line. Your local fly shop, once again, can recommend the appropriate backing line for your setup. Backing is already cheap enough – don't try to cheap out and use the wrong stuff.

On top of your backing goes the fly line, the magical line which carries the fly out to the fish. There are a few different line taper types, as well as floating, floating/sinking (aka sink tip), and full sinking lines (which are rated by sink rate, type I, II, III, etc) to choose from. Most of your fishing will be with a floating line, except if you're gunning for steelhead or salmon. Taper types are level, which as the name describes is the same diameter tip to tip. Double taper lines feature a fat mid section, which tapers down to thin tips on each end. Weight forward taper lines feature a long, thin rear section called running line, which tapers up into a short, fat belly, then tapers at the front down to a thin tip section to which your leader is attached. This is the line type I recommend for beginners, and for most fishing situations. The other taper type is called a shooting taper, which is a specialized weight forward taper, but not really an appropriate line for a beginner.

For someone starting out – get yourself a weight forward taper floating line. This will cover the broadest array of fishing situations, and let you learn how to cast most effectively. Once you learn to cast, consider getting a sink tip type line (the front 10-20 feet of these lines sink, while the rear section floats to allow for mending and to make casting easier) for fishing sub surface flies – or if you're fishing deep water in lakes or rivers, you might want a full sinking line if you have to get down deep to the fish.

Match your line number to the number on the rod for most situations, although as I mentioned earlier, some situations call for “over lining” the rod. The number on a rod/line rating is given figuring the weight for the first thirty feet of the fly line. If you routinely find yourself making shorter casts, but using large or heavy or wind resistant flies – stepping up a line size or two will load the rod better for the shorter casts. Especially useful if your fishing with a fast-action rod, which are not known for their great short-range casting abilities. If your fishing calls for a lot of 20 foot casts – putting a #6 line on your #4 rod, for example, will load the rod the same as if you're making 30 foot casts with that #4 line.

Don't skimp on your fly line – get the best line you can afford. You can get a cheap rod and reel if you have to, but don't get a cheap fly line. Cheap and inexpensive are differing standards when talking fly line. Cheap fly lines will be a nightmare – they will have horrible memory, they won't float right, and they will cast like crap. A good example of a cheap fly line to avoid? Cortland's Fairplay, and South Bend's Crystal River lines. These are $20 or less garbage found at places like Wal Mart, Fred Meyer, or Dick's Sporting Goods. Friends don't let friends by cheap fly lines. If you are seriously super cash strapped – and only have $20 to spend on a fly line – get a Scientific Anglers Air Cel fly line. It is an inexpensive line that isn't garbage.
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GungasUncle, I got to hand it to you for taking the time to write this article. Very informative and I am definatly looking into reading more of what you plan to write on this
Wow! What a great post! :clap:
Very nice! Looking forward to more man. ALL new and even mid-level fly fishermen could benefit from this read, guaranteed.
I like going back and forth from my Plueger Trion and Lami. Both 8wts. but feel/cast quite different. I`m not scurred to horse on bigger feeshies with the graphite Plueger as I am the Lami. That said I fish salmon/steel exclusively but intend on chasin top water trout as my saltn`peppa turns to salt:) So this`ll definitely be nice to compare notes with here, sooner than later by the looks of it:shock:;) Thanx for takin the time!
Excellent thread here sir,,,,very nice of you to take the time and share your knowledge with everyone:clap::clap:
metalfisher76 said:
That said I fish salmon/steel exclusively but intend on chasin top water trout as my saltn`peppa turns to salt:)

Turn to the trout my friend,we almost have u there:lol:
Seriously though – spend your money on a good line. A base level line to consider would be the Scientific Anglers Mastery, the Rio Mainstem, or the Cortland 333+, or a Cabela's Prestige Plus line. Figure $40 for a fly line at minimum – the better lines will run you closer to $60, and the best lines push $100. I am a big fan of Air Flo Ridge lines and Scientific Anglers lines. The Scientific Anglers Mastery GPX is a great line that will set you back about $60 unless you find it on sale. Sage also makes good lines for about $60, and Cabela's routinely has sales on the Sage lines and you can get one for $30 on sale.

A good fly line will last you a few seasons at least, and will “grow” with you when you upgrade to a better fly rod if you start out with an el-cheapo just to see if you like fly fishing. A garbage line will wind up at the dump within a season, if not make you hate fly fishing and get you to take up golf.

Don't. Skimp. On. Flyline. Don't.

Now you've got a rod, reel, backing, and fly line – you need a leader. The leader is what connects the big fat, colorful fly line to your fly. There are five main types of leaders: Level, knotless tapered, knotted tapered, braided, and furled. Level leaders are just segments of monofilament or flourocarbon that are attached to your fly line on one end, and your fly on the other. These types of leaders are usually used when fishing for steelhead, salmon, or bass. These are usually short – 6 feet or less. They're not for finesse presentations by any means, and long level leaders typically won't cast properly, with some exceptions (but those are more advanced techniques we will cover in another chapter.)

Knotless tapered leaders are just that, knot free sections of mono or flourocarbon line that start out fat, and taper to a fine tip, to which you knot on a short segment of line called a tippet. The reason for this extra segment is to keep you from turing a 9' leader into a 7 foot leader in just a few fly changes.

Knotted tapered leaders are similar – they start out fat and taper down to a finer tippet section by knotting together lines that step down in diameter. These are old school, and can be made yourself, or bought commercially. There are formulas in books and online for tying your own leaders up.

Braided and furled leaders are also old school, but have a good place in most fisherman's arsenal. Braided leader butts are usually short – 2-3 feet lone, and you attach longer level segments to these to aid in turning over properly. Furled leaders are longer, and though similar, are not actually braided, but rather twisted together. Furled leaders excel for dry fly fishing, or turning over lighter flies. Furled leaders aren't always the best choice though. For nymphing, mono leaders are usually better.

When fishing with sinking or sink tip lines – keep your leaders short – 6 feet or less, because this will keep the flies down where you want them. Longer leaders fished with sinking lines will cause the leader to belly, and the fly will not be pulled deep enough. Conversely, when fishing floating lines and sinking flies, adjust leader length to the depth you want to fish, figuring at least 1.5 times the water depth for leader length (meaning if you want to fish 6 feet of water, you need at least 9 feet of leader.)

When fishing surface flies – the common leader lengths are 7'6” and 9' – which basically equate to the average rod lengths. It used to be common recommendation to use a leader that was as long as your rod, then knot your tippet to that, using 18 to 24 inches of tippet. That's still a good place to start. Some fishing situations call for shorter leaders, some call for longer. Clear water with spooky fish eating tiny bugs will sometimes call for longer leaders – 10 or 12 feet, with long (4 feet sometimes) fine tippet sections. Sometimes you want to shorten your leader, and use a shorter, heavier tippet section (like fishing the stonefly hatch with big #6 hair wing flies – the shorter leader will assist in turning over those big wind resistant flies). Murky water means you can shorten your leader and use a heavier tippet, usually as well.

Tippets are usually given two ratings – their “X” rating, and then a lb test rating. Tippet material is usually stronger than plain casting mono. Berkly 4lb test line is typically .008 diamter while Scientific Anglers X Tipper, for example, is 8.8lb test in the same diameter (3X). Tippets of a given diameter usually have differing strengths from manufacturer to manufacturer. When someone says they used a 5X tippet – they're referring to line diameter, not pound-test rating. That 5X tippet from Sci Anglers could've been 5lb test, or it could've been 3lb test Stren – or anywhere in between.

The tippet rating system goes from 0 to 12X with 0-8X being most commonly found. 0X tippet is 0.011 inches in diameter, and the line steps down 0.001 inches for each higher number. 8X tippet is 0.003 inches in diameter, and is honestly the thinnest tippet you'll want to fish with, with a breaking strain usually between 1.1 and 2lbs.

To know which tippet to use, a typical formula is to take your fly size, and divide it by 3 then adjust up or down a size depending on the fly type and fishing conditions. A #12 Royal Coachman or Adams could be fished on the same 4 or 5X. A #12 weighted woolly bugger would be better fished on a 4X than the 5X. A #12 Humpy or Elk Hair Caddis would want to be fished on a 4X to help turn it over, unless the fish are extra spooky. A #20 blue winged olive dry, by the “divide by 3” formula would call for a 6X tippet, but is really better fished on a 7X unless the fish are not leader shy, and if they are, you might even have to go to that scary thin 8X stuff.

Most trout and panfish fishing will be done with 4-6X tippets, but if you're fishing larger flies you might upsize to a 3X, or even a 2X if fishing big streamers, nymphs, or floating bugs.

When talking about salmon, steelhead, and bass fishing – you can still get tippet material in the heavier sizes, without the X rating. It will still have line diameter and lb test rating on the spool. Maxima is good stuff for this use, as is Mason. Limp tippet is for dry fly fishing – don't use limp stuff for bass bugs or really heavy wet flies – it just won't cast properly. Get a leader straighter (rubber or leather patches you run the leader through under tension to get the kinks and coils out) and use it before fishing, and once in a while while fishing.

Learn a couple useful knots for repairing and rebuilding leaders and adding tippet – uni to uni knots, blood knots, triple surgeons knots, and the Albright knot will serve you very well.

In later sections we will cover fly selection, accessories, fishing scenarios, and some casting tips. Thanks for reading.
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Wowww Thank you very much for taking the time to do this, thats very nice from you!!!! this is a great treat and i know a lot of people would find it helpful!!!! Thanks again :clap :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap: All this info answer a lot of questions i had about fly fishing!!!! Now i know a little better what to look for!! ;)
I notice some members asking for advice for their first fly setup! So I just thought this could help!
Really good information. I am starting to put gear together now to transition to fly fishing. I already have a Redington RedFly 7' 6" 2 pc I bought a few years back on sale I plan to use but I needed to pair it up with a reel so this has been very helpful to me.

Thank you for this thread.
The eye-opener for me came at a sporting goods show when Lefty Kreh told the audience that the fly reel is just there to hold the line (unless you're after big fish), and as long as it doesn't damage the line or the leader, the reel doesn't play a significant role. New fly-fishing anglers should find the best rod and fly line they can within their budget.
Tinker said:
The eye-opener for me came at a sporting goods show when Lefty Kreh told the audience that the fly reel is just there to hold the line (unless you're after big fish), and as long as it doesn't damage the line or the leader, the reel doesn't play a significant role. New fly-fishing anglers should find the best rod and fly line they can within their budget.

I respect Lefty's opinion on most matters - but he is pretty set in his ways in some aspects. Yes - the reel is primarily a line holder unless you're going for larger, or powerful fish that you'll play from the reel. However, there are many benefits to choosing the best reel you can afford - lighter weight = less fatigue at the end of the day. A higher end, light weight rod will balance and cast better with a lighter reel. A large or at least a mid-arbor spool will reduce tight coils in the line, making casting easier.

As much as I love the old school Pfleuger Medalist - I dig my current reels more - I've got a pair of Cabela's Prestige Premier large arbor reels, and one of their Wind River cheapies (which I seriously believe is made by Okuma, given the styling and the fit & finish).

Another boone for me, personally, these reels are QUIET - there's no constant "clickclickclickclickclickclick" when stripping line, or when a fish takes line, or when I reel up. I personally hate noisy reels. Just a peeve of mine.

I've changed a bit of my personal attitudes since I originally wrote the OP - I lean a little more toward spending $$$ for better than bottom dollar rods for beginners - but I draw that line at about $100 for a starter rod. Lots of great rods for about $100 - especially dig the Echo Solo lineup, Cabela's TLR rods, TFO Signature Series, Wright & McGill S-Curve Gen 2 rods.

And for $89 (or $49 when on sale) - the Cabela's Prestige Premier is a badass little reel. Very light, smooooth drag, and a large arbor design. I have one on one of my 3 weights, and I have one on my Lefty Kreh designed TFO 6 weight.

Another thing I'll say - don't skimp on line unless you just can't scrape together more than $20. The class of $50-70 lines are superb - AirFlo is my preferred line now, but Scientific Anglers lines are hard to beat. Their Mastery lines are great stuff.
OKay - part one has been re-written - it was split up over my first four posts in this thread. If there wasn't a 10,000 character cap per post, I could've done it in or three. Sorry it had to be split up so much, but there was a lot of text.
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