I’ve been a gear nut for long as I can remember. Going back to my grandpa and dad’s old fly rods, I remember always being fascinated with the load of stuff they’d pack into the truck whenever they went fly fishing. Once I was old enough to go along, I got to actually touch some of the gear, and use it only when my dad was watching.
Later on, as I grew up and fully embraced fly fishing, I started collecting rods and reels at an alarming rate. Even for a then-bachelor with a decent job, I started to wonder if I’d perhaps gotten in a bit over my head. The reason?
All that gear cost quite a bit of money.
Now, being young and dumb, I spent money like it was going out of style. And as a bachelor, I didn’t have anyone else to consider when making big purchases. As I settled into adulthood, then finally got married, though, I’ve become a lot more cost-conscious. And the good news is that you don’t have to drop serious cash in order to get outfitted with quality fly fishing gear.
It’s not going to be extremely cheap, but it won’t be hugely expensive, either. Let’s take a look at what fly fishing gear actually costs.
Essential Fly Fishing Gear
To get the most out of a fly fishing experience, you absolutely need to have a few bare essentials. A fly rod is an obvious need, but you also need a fly reel, fly line, tippet, leader, flies, a fishing license, waders, and boots.
Some folks might say you can get away without waders and boots, but I don’t agree. I think they’re key to experiencing fly fishing at its apex, since part of the thrill is being so connected to the river and to the fish. You don’t get that with standing on the bank.
You also don’t have as many opportunities to present flies to fish correctly if you don’t have waders and boots. Walking in the river gives you the chance to put flies in virtually every good-looking lie.
All the other gear you see for sale will likely help make your fly fishing more fun, or it might ease a few pain points. But this is all you really need to put the hurt on some trout and end up with fish in the net.
Let’s take a look at what these pieces of gear will realistically cost. Remember, we’re aiming to outfit you with gear that will provide a fun experience. That means avoiding some of the budget items because they’re honestly just not as good as something that costs $50 – $100 more.
- Fly Rod: This is where you’ll run into the biggest sticker shock. You can easily spend over $1,000 on a new fly rod. That gets you a top-of-the-line stick, constructed with the latest and greatest in materials and technology. Obviously, that’s not reasonable for most people. Instead, I’d suggest focusing on rods in the $150 – $300 category. Generally, these rods are seen as a mix between entry-level and mid-priced offerings, and you’ll find tons of great options here. Some of the best fly rods I use while guiding fall in this price range – the Douglas LRS ($250), the Orvis Clearwater ($229) and the Fenwick Aetos ($189) are all great rods that won’t break the bank. And what’s even better is that you’re able to find a lot of these rods offered in an outfit package – complete with a reel, line, and leader for around $300-400. That’s a stellar price, considering what you’re getting. So, I’d suggest budgeting $150 – $300 for a good fly rod.
See also our recommendation for the best fly rod under $200 here.
- Fly Reel: You can spend almost as much – or more – on a fly reel than you can on your rod. For the vast majority of fly anglers, though, a reel that fancy is completely overkill. Trout fishing rarely requires the freight-train-stopping drag some of these high-end reels boast. If anything, reels serve as little more than line holders 90% of the time when you’re chasing trout. It’s just not common to get into fish that require a finely-tuned drag to land. With that said, you can still get a good reel with a good drag that’ll perform when you do meet that 22-inch trout when you least expect it. $100 can get you a really solid reel that performs well for just about everything you’ll catch on a fly rod.
See also our recommendation for the best fly reels under $200 and also our best fly reels under $100.
- Fly Line: Fly line is a lot more expensive than regular monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line, and for good reason. Fly line comes with a coating to either make it sink or float, and floating lines are key to 90% of effective fly fishing. Some fly lines retail for around $140, but you don’t need to spend that much. $50 – $80 gets you a good quality line that’ll last for a few seasons at least, if not longer.
For our full best fly line reviews see our post here.
- Leader and Tippet: These two go together because they’re nearly the same thing. A fly fishing leader is a long, tapered piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon fishing line designed to turn over flies during a fly cast. You can buy these in packages at any fly shop or sporting goods store in America. Alternatively, you can build your own leaders out of sections of tippet, depending on what you need and want from your leader’s performance. And, you absolutely need to have tippet on hand to tie onto the ends of your leaders once you’ve chopped off enough of the thin material. This extends the life of your leaders, and allows you to create even longer ones than what you’ll find for sale at the store. Often, I’m using 14-15-foot leaders during spring and late fall, when the low, clear water demands the utmost stealth. Leader and tippet run you $20 for a few leaders and a few spools of tippet.
- Flies: Ah, how many arguments have been started regarding flies? I reckon thousands over the years, and I know I’ve had own share of arguments with folks about which flies are working, and more importantly, why they’re working. Flies are also another area where you can spend a ton of money if you’re not careful. And honestly, the flies you need to get started depend largely on where you’re fishing, and which species you’re after. If you go into a local fly shop and asked to get hooked up with flies, you’ll probably spend $50 or so on a dozen flies. The prices are a bit high, yes, but these are high-quality flies, selected by the fly shop employees because they flat-out work.
- License: It all depends on the state you live in, but a fishing license shouldn’t run you more than $50.
- Waders: Waders can cost you a pretty penny. A lot of anglers end up spending more on waders than they do on fly rods, at least for the first few years of their angling career. This is due in part to a predilection to buy cheaper waders at first. This seems like a good idea at the time, but the cheaper waders are priced that way for a reason – they just don’t hold up to a ton of abuse. And if you’re just starting out in fly fishing, the last thing you want is to have to worry about whether your waders are going to leak the next time you hit the water. Plan on spending $250-350 on a good pair of waders. This gets you a product you’ll be able to depend on for a few seasons, at bare minimum.
For reviews of the best fly fishing waders see our post here.
- Boots: Finally, you need to get a good pair of wading boots. These come in tons of different styles, but the main things you want to look for is the sole type and the lacing system. Some states have outlawed felt-soled wading boots (Alaska is one example) because felt transfers aquatic diseases that can harm fish populations. Felt is generally better to use on slick rocks and mossy rivers, though. You’ll also want to consider if you need laces, or if you want to spend the extra money for the BOA lacing system, which allows you to cinch your boots tight with the twist of a knob. Plan on spending around $150 to get a good pair of boots. These will likely last you for four or five seasons.
For reviews of the best wading boots, see our post here.
So, for the essentials, you’re looking at a price tag of $1,100. That might seem like a lot, but considering that will get you started in the sport and well on your way to catching fish, it’s a pretty good bargain.
So, what about all the other things you see for sale in a fly shop? Is that stuff worth considering adding to your cache of gear?
The answer, as almost always is the case in fly fishing, depends.
Personally, I wouldn’t want to be on the water without a few key accessories that aren’t absolutely essential. This includes a good chest pack, sunglasses, fly boxes, nippers, split shot, and of course, floatant.
Let’s take a look at what that will cost you.
- Chest Pack/Vest/Sling: You have a ton of different options from which to choose when it comes to carrying all your gear. I prefer a chest pack, but you might love a sling or a vest instead. Try a few different ones on, and plan on spending from $80-$180 on a high-quality pack of some sort. These will last for years, unless they meet a quick end thanks to a barbed-wire fence, or a nasty fall down a rocky cliff.
You can also see our reviews of the best fly fishing chest pack, best fly fishing sling pack, and best fly fishing vest here.
- Sunglasses: A good pair of shades is absolutely essential if you want to see fish in the river. It’s amazing how much polarized sunglasses impact your ability to spot, stalk, and catch fish. Not to mention it also helps ease the strain on your eyes caused by reflected light off the water. I’m to the point now that I just flat-out can’t fish without sunglasses of some kind. The ability to cut the glare off the water’s surface is one of the most useful tools in your angling kit. Plan on spending anywhere from $20 to $300.
- Fly Boxes: You need a solid set of fly boxes to keep all your flies organized. I’m one of the least-organized anglers I’ve ever met, and it certainly shows when I’m trying to find the right fly to match a hatch. You don’t want to be like me; instead, focus on getting fly boxes that put your flies front-and-center when you’re on the water. A good fly box will run you $30 or so.
- Nippers: This is another one of those invaluable accessories that I hate to be without. Nippers make rigging up a breeze, and give you a cleaner, more reliable way to cut tippet than with your teeth. Not to mention, using nippers likely helps you save on your dental bills, too. Good nippers won’t be more than $20, although a few companies sell them for considerably more.
- Split Shot: Split shot is a must-have for most anglers. If you end up fishing a lot of nymphs, you’ll find that sometimes your nymphs aren’t heavy enough to get down to where fish are actively feeding. When that happens, split shot goes on your leader and helps get flies down. A box of split shot is between $5 – 10, depending on how much you buy.
- Floatant: Floatant is as important to dry flies as split shot is to nymphs. You need your dry flies to stay up on top, and floatant is key to that. I carry two types – a gel that I use on my flies initially, then a powder that I use once the gel floatant wears off. Using the two in tandem increases the life of both bottles, and I’ve found it keeps my flies on top of the water for longer, and more effectively. Plan on spending $8 a bottle for floatant.
After getting the extra accessories, you’re looking at about $545. Not all of these accessories are a must-have, but I’d suggest investing in boots, sunglasses, and floatant, in that order.
Hopefully this helps you get a better grasp of how much fly fishing gear costs. As you can see, you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get started. You just need to spend money on the essentials, and you’ll be on your way to catching tons of trout.