A few months ago, my brother in law suggested that he and I go to Montana in order to go fly fishing.  I thought this was a great idea, but at that point I had never been fly fishing in my life.  When I was younger, I had a mentor that would fly fish on our backpacking trips and I was always entralled with the idea and majesty of fly fishing.  Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to learn the sport.  The end result of that converstation was months of research to prepare for the trip. 

Rod, Reel, and Line

The first thing I looked into was what I would need for a Rod and Reel.  As it turns out, there is a wide range of Rod options based on the type of fishing you are going to be doing.  I luckily found found this YouTube channel by Mad River Outfitters where they run down all the basics you need for getting into fly fishing (https://youtu.be/rZEyOrpYyqE).  I have spent a lot fo time on their channel and I highly recommend them for anyone that is interested in fly fishing.  One of the big things they stress is that getting into fly fishing doesnt have to be expensive and they show you ways to keep the costs down.  One of the suggestions they make is to look into a kit (called and outfit in the industry) for your first rod.  Most are in the middle range where a beginner is likely to want to start.  This means a 5weight (5wt) rod with a length of 9ft, with a medium/fast action and comes with a reel and line.  One of the major factors in determinining which outfit to get was the warranty.  A number of the outfits that are available come with a lifetime warranty.  This warranty covers a lot, even broken rods.  If you are looking to get into fly fishing I highly recommend prioritizing a good warranty as a new fly fisherman, just because you never know what could happen.  For my first rod I picked up the TFO NXT Black Label outfit.  It came with a 5wt Rod, at 9ft with medium/fast action and a reel and line as well as a hard case.  My understanding is that this outfit will cover everything I needed for my trip to Montana namely Trout, as well as the things id like to fish for at home, trout, bass and pan fish.  It came in at a reasonable price of $240 from Cabelas.  As far as the reel is concerned, there are some variations including large arbor (large diameter) reels with various kinds of drag types. The Mad River Outfitters videos go over those in great detail, and the reel didnt really factor into my decisions. 

The Line however, is something that needs to be considered and will vary based on the type of fishing you are going to be doing.  Without getting too deep itno the weeds about the line, there are 3 parts to the line that will be attached to your reel.  The first is called the leader.  This is a tappered bit of line that looks very similar to spin fishing line.  The diameter you need depends on the size of the hook you are using.  The next part is the floating or sinking line.  This is the part that does helps you cast.  The last part is the backing line.  This is kind of like a backup line. it connects between the floating line and the reel and in my opinion looks like heavy braded kite string.  For our trip to Montana we were planning to be fishing for trout, and as I was a beginner I again went with the recommendation from Mad River Outfitters and stuck with a float line, with a weight forward tip.  This means that the line will float in water so you will be able to see it on the surface.  The weight forward part means that the end of the line, the part that is going to be attached to your leader is weighted.  The is what allows the classic fly fishing cast to work.  

The Other Things

If you are going to be fishing on the regular, there will be some other things you are going to want to have, and a few things you are really going to need. 


One of the things you are going to need is flies.  Now there are a wide range of flies out there and im not really going to dig into them, im not even sure its possible to touch on them all, but I can put them into 4 categories.

  • Nymphs
    • These are flies that are meant to be very low in the water column and possibly drag along the bottom.  They will sink and are meant to simulate the appearance of bugs as they are hatching.
  • Emergers
    • These are also flies that sink into the water column though typically not as deep as numps.  These simulate the bugs haching and moving towards the surface.
  • Dry
    • These float ontop of the water, sometimes with the aid of a floatant (a hydrophobic chemical to help them float).  These are the bugs in their final form and range in size from very tiny to fairly large.
  • Streamers
    • These are the other things fish like to eat, they can be grass hoppers, or drowning mice, or other fish. 

Which of these you need very heavily depends on the season, the weather, and time of day.  Expect to end up with a range for flies to cover a lot of conditions and expect to change them frequently during your trip.


As I mentioned above flies are small, I mean very small.  This means there are a wide range of tools to help facilitate working with them.  One of the big ones your are going to see suggested is a set of Hemostats.  These are like pliers that have a small ratchet to lock them into place.  These have a wide range of uses including helping to tie your fly to your leader, remove hooks from fish mouths, pinching down barbs or even just holding things.  You are going to want a good pair that fit your hand nicely.  You are also going to want a pair of nippers.  These can be as simple as a set of fingernail clipers, to as fancy as a fingernail clippers with a needle for cleaning out hook eyes, and knot tying tools.  The nippers I have have all 3 tools on it, through I primarily use them for the nippers.  A pair of fishing pliers are also nice, better for handling hook barbs, and sometimes have line cutters on them.   For all of these tools you are going to want either a retractor or tether to make sure that if you drop them, you dont lose them in the river.  I used a retractor for everything except my pliers, which are on a teather. 

Leaders and Tippet

Above I talked about the leader as being the end part of your line.  What I didnt mention is that there are 2 parts to a leader.  

  1. Tappered butt section
  2. Tippet

The first part is the tappered butt section. This is what adjusts the diameter of the floating line down to the final diameter of line you are going to use for your fly.  There isnt much to say about this.  As a new fly fisherman, I use prepackaged leaders so this section is created for me.  The 2nd part is the Tippet, this is the line that actually connects to your fly.  The size you need depends on the size of the fly you are using as well as the casting conditions, and to a small degree the fish.  Im not trying to get too deep into the different ways you are going to want to work with these things.  For my trip I picked up a couple of leaders of each size between 2x and 7x.  This would cover the entire range of flies I was likely to use.  I also picked up spools of tippet matching those size so that when I cut a fly off I would be able to tie new tippet on. Im not going to get into the specifics of leader construction, again I am going to refer you to the Mad River Outfitter videos for that.

Vest, Sling Bag, Backpack

Once you start collecting gear, you are going to need a way to carry it for easy use.  There are 3 main methods out there that I have found, vest, sling bag or backpack.  Now I was lucky and was gifted a vest from a friend of mine who had an extra.  That being said, there are a wide range of options out there between these 3 categories.  You will want to try them on and see what will work for you.  You also have to remember, a lot of time when fly fishing you are on the move, you dont stay in one spot and you need to be able to carry your stuff with you.  For this reason I dont think a tackle box is going to work but, your mileage may vary.


One of the most common ways of fly fishing is to wade into the water and start fishing.  If you are going to be spending a lot of time in the river, or if you are going to be in colder water, like if you are trout fishing, you are going to want a set of waders.  Again the options out there are numerous, I went with a stocking foot wader.  This means that the foot of the wader is made of neoprene, and the rest was a durable water proof pant.  If you go that route you are going to also want a wading boot.  I went with the Korker Wading boot. I chose them for a number of reasons, but the biggest was the replacable soles.  There are a couple of sole options, felt, rubber, rubber studded and felt studded.  There is a lot of controversy around the felt soles in regards to the transmission of bacteria from one body of water to another, but I will say that when using the felt while walking on wet, smooth river rock I felt very stable and didnt not slip.  You will want to try on your boot over the chose waders to ensure a comfortable fit.  You can also get waders with the boot built in, though i found this setup more bulky, so I went with 2 separate parts.


The last thing you are going to need, is to learn how to cast. Now I know what you are thinking, I know how to cast a fishing pole, isnt it the same, and the answer there is no, no its not.  I spent a lot of time watching videos on casting and my first attempts were pretty awful. I spent a whole day with my brother in law just learning the basics. I am hardly an expert here, so the only thing I can tell you for sure is to pause longer on your back cast.  yes even longer than that.  I highly recommend getting a hands on teacher that can help you get the motion and timings correct.  You have to remember, the end of the line doesnt have much weight on it, infact you can practice casting with just your leader with no fly attached as the weight is in the line not at the end like a spin fishing pole.  An in person teacher does wonders for getting you started.

That pretty much covers the basics. With any of these thing you have a wide range of quality and price to choose from.  Pick what fits your budge so you can get started.  You can get a long way with just the Rod, Reel, Line and flies and the nippers or pliers you have in your tackle box.  You can always add or upgrade gear later once you have a feel for what you need.