A few days ago I was working behind the counter in our shop when a couple came in to do some browsing and pick up some fly fishing odds and ends. They checked out with a dozen or so flies, a new traditional braided Tenkara leader, some hemostats, nippers, a zinger or two, etc. You get the picture. As the grand total of 70 some-odd dollars was relayed to the couple the young woman sort of raised one eyebrow and looked at her husband as if to say… really? His response was simple and clear, “you gotta pay to play.”
I’ll be the first to admit it. The world of fly fishing is one in which a person could easily invest tens of thousands of dollars and still always have that wanting for more. Even without exorbitantly priced rods and reels, building a collection of bare necessities can cost a pretty penny. License fees never seem to go down in price, and I will also be the first to admit that hiring a guide for the day doesn’t come cheap. (That’s why I work my butt off to make sure it’s worth every cent)! However, there is a way to get started with what you need and spend many days on the water without breaking the bank. Here’s a bit of advice from someone who started with very little money and has built quite a collection of fishing gear over time.
When it comes to buying gear there are some things you can afford to skimp on and some you should not. There is no reason for a beginner fly fisherman or woman to spend $700 on a new fly rod because you simply don’t need something that expensive. As you acquire more feel in your casting over time you will notice the nuances of a finely built fly rod and may certainly opt for an upgrade. If you’re just getting started I would look to spend around $200 for a new rod, reel, and line set-up. Major manufacturers like Temple Fork Outfitters or Redington make great ready-to-fish outfits in this price range. You can find fly rods for less money at major outlet stores, (Wal-Mart), but those have two huge disadvantages. The quality fails in comparison and less expensive outfits will not come with a lifetime warranty. I consider myself pretty careful with my rods and I’ve sent three back for repair or replacement in the last 2 years. If you use them, the chances are good that at some point you will accidently break them, (watch out for ceiling fans, my latest incident involved a ceiling fan in a dark room)! One other option to consider is Tenkara. Because you do not need a reel or fly line for Tenkara, the overall investment is often considerably less. Come by the shop or check it out online if you aren’t familiar.
If you want to fish year round you will need a set of waders. While I do not think the general rule of “you get what you pay for,” applies to all aspects of fly fishing, I do think it applies to waders. If you’re like me you can and will crawl through blackberry bushes, kudzu, or whatever else it might take to get to the best fishing. I require tough waders to keep me warm and dry out there and for me the extra money invested is well worth it. Being warm and dry can make all the difference in your fishing experience and time spent on the water. You can get a nice pair of Simms waders for about $250. If you plan on easy roadside access for most of your fishing trips, you might have more options as far as waders go. However, I’d be pretty suspect of anything retailing for less than $100. Doing some research about whether or not a manufacturer has warranties or repair programs is also a good idea. Another part of shopping smart involves looking for sales. If you can support your local fly shop, (like Headwaters), that’s great. Shops typically get new stock in fall and spring and will likely have sales to make room for new merchandise. One benefit of fishing in the Southeast is that if you have a little tolerance for chilly water, a pair of shorts and sandals will get you through late spring, summer, and even early fall months. This will bide you some time while you look for a good deal.
You then have a dizzying array of gadgets, accessories, doo-dads, and whatcha-ma-call-‘ems to sort through. A basic set up involves a bag or vest of some kind, a fly box with flies, hemostats, nippers, tippet, and a back-up leader. You will also want to consider a few things like split shot, strike indicators, dry fly floatant, or a net, depending on what type of fishing you intend to do. As the young couple I mentioned before experienced, these items, although seemingly small, do add up. The best pointer I can give you is to take care of everything you purchase. Keep things organized and secure to avoid losing these odds and ends and having to buy replacements. Don’t forget to shop smart. Buy your leaders in three-packs, and tippet in guide spools. Some shops, (Headwaters included), offer price breaks at a dozen flies. Every little bit of savings helps. Learning to tie your own flies will bring the cost of each fly down significantly. Also, tying your own flies is fun and it will make you a better angler.
If you’re starting with nothing, don’t feel overwhelmed! If you don’t have a lot of money to spend at once, building up your collection of gear over time is the way to go. Go to your local shop or jump on one of the many online forums to find out what you do and don’t need in the short term. I do think it’s important to get what you need to make your time on the water fun and productive in order to continue developing your interest in the sport. Saving up for a day of guided fishing can also be a worthwhile investment for a beginner because you can learn so much in one day or even a half day. It’s always great just being out there – at one with nature and all that stuff – but it’s a lot more fun if you’re out there catching a few.