Fly Fishing Guide
Outdoor Research
Some people take to fly fishing hook, line and "sinker," delving into every nuance of the sport and investing hundreds of dollars in fishing gear. Others dabble somewhere closer to the surface, reveling in any opportunity they can find to steal away from their busy lives and enjoy the refreshing tonic of a clear, rushing stream.
If you're a veteran angler, you probably already know what you need. But if you're just starting to fly fish, you probably need a little help navigating the complex array of gear that will accompany you to the water's edge - from rods and reels to lines, leaders, tippets, flies and streamers.
We've created this guide to familiarize you with some of the basic gear you need to make your forays into fly fishing enjoyable and hassle-free. Now all you'll need to worry about is whether or not you'll catch anything!
  • First things first - you need a rod. Most fly rods today are made from ultralight materials like graphite, boron, or a combination of the two. These materials create a strong, lightweight tool for casting a fly line directly to your target.

    There are fly rods sized to handle virtually any kind of fish you're after, from small river trout to ocean marlin. Fly fishing rods are manufactured and sold by length, the type of "action" (degree of tip bend), intended use, and line weight. They typically range from 7 to 10 feet in length, but 8 ½ to 9 feet are by far the most popular. Some specialty rods, like those for two handed spey casting, will fall in the 12 to 15 foot range.

    Generally speaking, a shorter rod is used in tight spaces so the line won't get hung up in shore brush when a cast is made. Longer rods are ideal for long, accurate casting where there is an unobstructed casting area such as a saltwater beach or wide river. Longer rods keep the line higher above the water when casting from a belly boat.

    Rod action is explained by the amount of "bend" in the rod tip. Fast action rods use more of the tip to propel the line and, if cast correctly, do the work for you so you don't tire as quickly. However, fast action rods tend to be less delicate in delivering small dry flies to a timid target. Slow action rods have the highest percentage of tip bend and are intended for slower casts and more delicate presentations.

    Overwhelmed? If you're a beginner and want to fish freshwater, choose a standard nine-foot, five weight rod.

    Fly Rod Tips

    · A versatile choice for a beginner freshwater fly rod is the popular 9 foot, 5W+ rod.

    · The rod weight determines what flies and tippets can be used. Lightweight rods need to be matched to light flies, tippets and line and are ideal for landing smaller freshwater fish. Heavier weights can be used for saltwater fishing, windy conditions, heavy flies and larger fish. The chart below is a great reference.

    Rods, Flies, and Tippets Chart

    Rod Weight Description Flies Tippets Best Use
    2wt Ultra, Ultra Light Under size #16 Under 2 lbs. or 7X Specialized for fishing tiny flies and very light tippets. Great for spooky fish where delicate presentation is the most important factor.
    3wt Ultra Light Up to size #14 Under 3 lbs. or 6X Delicate presentation, but longer casts than #2
    4wt Light #12 to #20 2 - 6 lbs. or 5X Popular size for spring creeks and mountain streams. Casts comfortably to ranges of 45 feet.
    5wt Medium Light

    Dries up to #6

    Tiny emergers down to #20

    3 -10 lbs. or 4X Casts comfortably to ranges of 60 feet with a size #12 fly. Comfortably handles fish 9" or 5 pounds. Considered the most versatile weight.
    6wt Medium

    Bushy #4

    #20 Weighted nymphs Flies to #18

    3 -10 lbs. or 3X Has enough line mass to deliver large weighted nymphs to 60 feet and #10 unweighted flies.
    7wt Medium Heavy #2 - #14, bass and saltwater 6 -12 lbs. or 2X Useful for: Windy conditions, fish average over 5 lbs., casting exceptionally large flies
    8wt Heavy Largest trout and salmon flies, bass and saltwater Over 12 lbs. or 1X Useful for: Windy conditions, 6-15 lb. trout, heavy tippets
  • What good's a rod without a reel? Fly reels were originally designed to perform two basic functions: To provide a place to store your fly line and to supply resistance (or "drag") against the pull of a fish so that it could be landed efficiently. New lightweight materials and innovations are adding smoothness, convenience, and aesthetics to what was once just glorified storage for your line. Most of today's reels are made from lightweight aluminum that is machined from a solid block for maximum strength and durability.

    Fly Reel Tips

    · For the beginner, a reel with cork disc drag and aluminum body is ideal.

    · A reel with a large arbor will achieve the same amount of line retrieval with fewer rotations than a reel with a smaller arbor.

    · Some reels allow for instant spool changes, so you can quickly change from floating line to sinking line.

    · Disk drag systems provide greater stopping power than the more common and lighter spring and pawl designs.

    · If fishing in saltwater, choose a reel made of corrosion-resistant materials (and always rinse and/or soak your reel and rod with fresh water after each use).

    · Generally, short rods balance better with lighter weight reels; longer rods with heavier ones.

  • With the hardware out of the way, it's time to get down to the fun stuff: the bait! It's not called `worm fishing' so you don't have to worry about digging up night crawlers. But you do need to stock up on a variety of flies. The well-prepared angler carries a wide array of flies that match the conditions he intends to fish. in different styles and sizes that can be used at all water levels, from the bottom of the stream to the surface.

    Gear Tip: Fish feed mostly on aquatic insects and smaller fish. A well-stocked fly box will give you the variety you need match your fly with what fish are eating.

    Fly selection is often the most difficult decision an angler has to make. Flies are designed to attract (by arousing the fish's curiosity) or imitate (masquerading as the insects on which fish like to feed). Sierra Trading Post carries the following categories of flies:

    Nymph flies and wet flies

    Excellent for trout fishing, nymph flies are wet flies created to resemble insects in their underwater nymph stage. Trout consume underwater nymphs as 90% of their food.

    Streamer flies

    Streamer flies mimic injured baitfish or crustaceans, swimming erratically under water.

    Steelhead/Salmon flies

    As the name implies, great for catching these fish. (In Western waters, the Stone Fly is also called the Salmon Fly, not to be confused with flies used specifically for river run salmon.)

    Saltwater flies

    These flies are tied on stainless steel or tinned hooks to prevent corrosion and hold their ground with large fish.

    Dry flies

    These tricky flies look like insects that have just touched down on the water or are emerging from a nymphal stage to an adult stage. Many terrestrial insects are also fished as dry flies on the surface. Many fish find dry flies impossible to resist.

  • Fly Line

    Just like real flies, fishing flies are essentially weightless, which means you'll need the weight of a fly line to carry them to your intended target. Fly lines come in a range of weights from 000 to 15. Your choice of line weight should be based primarily on the weight of the rod you are using.

    Fly fishing lines come in floating and sinking styles:

    · Floating lines are more versatile and allow you to use a dry fly, which stays on top of the water.

    · Sinking lines and sink tips are for fishing underwater from just below the surface to dredging the bottom of deep water.

    There are two basic shapes, or tapers, for fly lines: double taper and weight-forward.

    · Double taper (DT) lines work well in more delicate and close-up presentations like small to medium-sized rivers. DT lines are characterized by a heavier mid-section (appropriately named the "belly") that tapers back to smaller diameters at each end. They are reversible.

    · Weight-forward (WF) taper lines are better for longer casts with heavy flies. They start with a belly of the line in the first half, then taper to a thin, low friction running line. The heavier portion of the line literally carries the thinner, running line to the end of a shooting cast.

    Fly Line Tips

    · As a general rule, most recreational fly fishers will use a mid-range, weight forward line weight (between 5 and 8) because those weights provide great versatility.

    · A clean fly line in good condition is essential to good line handling and performance. Use a line cleaner to remove the dirt and water film from your line.

    · Use colored line to follow the progress of your cast.


    Fish are pretty savvy, actually. If they can see your fly line, they're instantly wary of the fly you're trying to present to them as food. That's why you need a leader-that "invisible" connection between your fly line and your fly designed to fool fish into thinking your feathered fly is the real deal. The leader attaches to your fly line at the "butt" end, then tapers down to the end where your fly is attached, allowing the fly to be presented to the fish in the most natural manner (and keeping the colored fly line at a distance and out of sight).

    Leaders come in different lengths for different fishing scenarios.

    Leader length: A good rule when choosing leader length is to use a leader about the length of your rod. You can use a shorter leader when it's windy, when you're in a narrow stream, or when you're casting shorter. The longer the leader, the less likely a fish will notice your line. However, longer leaders are harder to cast and manage.


    What exactly is a tippet you ask? The tippet is the most delicate part of the leader that attaches to the fly. The midsection of the leader tapers down to the tippet. Some leaders are pre-tapered and come in only one section while others use two or more sections, knotted together, to narrow down to the tippet.

    Tippets come in many sizes and lengths to match fishing conditions, flies, and the fishing equipment itself. The handy chart above will help you choose the right size tippet for your situation.

  • Fly fishing often involves wading through fast-moving water and hiking along the shore or riverbank. While a tackle box may be handy when you're fishing on the dock or from the boat, it simply won't do when you're on the move. You need a vest or pack: a secure on-stream carryall that can store fly boxes, leaders, extra clothing, food, and an assortment of other accessories within reach.

    Gear Tip: If you are planning on wading past your waist level, consider a chest pack. Chest packs ride higher on your body and give you that extra 4-5 inches of wading depth before your pack gets wet.

  • Waders come in two styles: boot foot and stocking foot.

    · Boot foot waders are the easiest to use if you're only going to fish occasionally or for a short amount of time. Boot foot waders simply slip on over your clothes. The uppers on these waders are most often made of waterproof, breathable fabric or neoprene attached directly to a calf-high rubber boot, providing the best option for quickly getting in the water and staying dry.

    · Stocking foot waders are used in combination with a wading shoe and are used most frequently by anglers who need the extra comfort and support this style provides during a long day on the stream. While the wading shoes get wet, you will stay dry because the stocking in this style wader is completely waterproof. If you plan on hiking while fishing, opt for the stocking foot setup.

    · Wading shoes are most delineated by their soles: rubber; felt; or studded (which can be made of either rubber or felt). Rubber soles are good for muddy bottoms and felt soles offer excellent traction on mossy rocks. If you plan on fishing from a drift boat or dory, do not use studded sole wading shoes.

  • Many manufacturers are now producing fishing-specific performance clothing. Look for long-sleeved shirts made from moisture-wicking materials to keep you cool and protected. Some manufacturers are also designing clothing made with built-in UPF protection to save your skin from the sun.

    Fishing Shirts

    Have plenty of pockets and can double as a fishing vest for quick trips!

    Convertible Pants

    Pants with legs that zip off to create shorts-make the perfect fishing garment because you can hike through shoreline bramble in long pants and wade through the river in shorts. Look for those made from quick-drying, breathable materials like nylon or poly-blends.

    Polarized Sunglasses

    An essential piece of gear that provides protection from harmful UV rays and eliminates the glare off the water, allowing you to better see all the action.

    Fishing Hats

    A wide brimmed hat will keep your head cool and out of the sun while caps with a neck flap will do all that and protect your neck from the sun reflecting off the water.

  • Leave No Trace Logo

    Sierra Trading Post is a proud sponsor of Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics. Please follow the seven principles outlined below to ensure future enjoyment of your favorite hiking trails.

    · Plan Ahead and Prepare

    · Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces (Stay on the trail!)

    · Dispose of Waste Properly

    · Leave What You Find

    · Minimize Campfire Impacts

    · Respect Wildlife

    · Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Well, that about wraps things up. We hope you found this guide to be helpful and informative. Stay safe and have fun!