The first key to success as a beginner fly fisher, or any kind of angler, to be honest, is picking the right equipment and having your fly fishing gear set up correctly before you start casting and fishing with it.
By ensuring your fly fishing gear is properly put together, you’ll avoid things like tangles, broken lines, weak connections, and lost fish, and it’ll make casting a lot easier too. Here are all my tips on how to do a proper fly fishing setup for beginners.
Picking Your Fly Fishing Equipment
If you have already got all of your gear ready to go then you can skip to the next section, if not and you’re a beginner looking to buy your first bit of fly gear, here are the key things to get right.
In fly fishing, the rod, reel, and fly line all have to match when it comes to their weight written as “wt” and the reason for this is casting performance.
When you fly fish, you are using the weight of the line to load your rod with enough energy so you can cast your fly where it needs to be for a fish to take it. And, it all has to balance for your casting to work properly.
Luckily, balancing your fly fishing setup is easy for beginners, all you have to do is match the weight of your rod, reel, and line, starting with the rod.
What weight rods are best for beginners?
Many fly anglers, when they are beginners, start off by fishing for smaller fish like trout, and luckily the best rods for a beginner to start learning to cast and fish with, match the size of trout perfectly.
The best beginner rods are 5-weight rods as these aren’t too heavy or too light making them easy to cast with. 5-weight rods are also great all-rounders meaning you can fish with them on both rivers and lakes with ease.
So if you haven’t bought your beginner set up yet, I recommend getting a 5-weight rod that is 9ft in length and then matching it with one of the best 5 weight fly reel and a 5wt floating line.
The Gear You’ll Need
Before we even begin looking at how to put together your fly fishing setup, it’s important to make sure you have all the right gear before you start. Here is a checklist below of all the things you’ll need to have ready before you start your fly fishing setup.
- Fly fishing rod in your chosen rod weight (wt)
- Fly reel – that matches the weight of your fly rod
- Fly line – a line weight that also matches the weight of your rod and reel
- Fly line Backing – matching your fly reel usually 100 yards of 15-25lb gel spun/dacron
- Leaders – either premade or a range of different diameter mono
- Leader tippet – tippet ranging from 4x-7x is ideal for trout
- Some flies
If you have all of these basic fly fishing essentials ready to go, then you’re ready to start putting things together. Here are the step-by-step instructions for you to follow.
The first step before anything else is getting your reel ready by loading your fly line and backing onto the spool, and the backing comes first.
Putting Fly Line Backing On Your Reel
The fly line backing is usually a gel spun braided line and it should match the WT of your reel. If you are trout fishing, around 100-200 yards of 15-25lb backing is fine. The key when loading backing onto the spool of your reel is making sure it lays down tight so it then doesn’t bite into itself when under pressure from a fish.
To begin with, take the end of your backing line and tie it to the spool of your reel with an Arbor Knot, here is our post on tying arbor knot.
Once tight, you’ll need a friend to hold the spool of backing line with a pencil through the middle of it while pressing a cloth against the edge of the spool for pressure. This ensures you can wind it on tightly. You can check out our post here on how to tie fly line to backing for a more in-depth guide.
Now, you can begin winding on your backing line. Make sure it spreads evenly across the spool and lays down tight and neatly. Once you have around 100-200 yards in length on there, leaving enough space for your fly line to fit on the reel, you can stop.
All you need to do now is tie a Bimini Twist Knot which will create a loop at the end of your backing to attach your fly line. Here is a video on how to tie the Bimini Twist knot.
Remember to tie the Bimini so the loop created is large enough for your reel to fit through as this makes changing your line easier when you need to replace it, you’ll thank me in the future.
Adding your Fly Line To Your Reel
No matter what fly lines you’re using (and I’m guessing you’re using a weight-forward floating line), if the fly lines are reasonably new they will come with welded loops at each end of the line which makes putting them on your reel a lot easier.
If not, you can use a nail knot to attach the backing to it but will come to this later.
The first thing you need to do is find the back end of your fly line. The thinner end of your weight forward line is always the back end that goes onto your reel first. The manufacturer should have also put a tag on it saying “this end to backing” or something like that.
Take the back end of your fly line and thread the backing loop you made with the Bimini Twist through the welded loop. Now pass your reel through the backing loop and pull both lines gently and you will have made a loop-to-loop connection.
Now you can wind on the rest of your fly line to your reel and that is the reel setup complete.
Fly Rod Setup
Almost all fly rods these days come in 4 pieces, and chances are you have a 4-piece fly rod, but you could have a 2, 3, or even 6-piece fly rod, but it doesn’t matter, the fly fishing rod setup is the same for all fly rods the come in multiple pieces.
- To set up your fly rod, take all the pieces out of the rod tube and lay them gently on a table or bed at home.
- First, take the thickest part of the rod which has the handle on it, and find the next thickest part. Slot these two pieces together ensuring the eyes line up ( you can check by looking straight down the rod through the eyes).
- Now repeat this process with the next thickest and so on until all your fly rod pieces are connected and the eyes of the rod line up straight – this will help your casting.
- You should have a 9-foot-ish fly rod ready and set up for fishing.
Make sure the connections are quite tight as you don’t want the rod coming apart while you’re casting. And check out our post here to see the best fly fishing rod for beginners for a reference.
Putting Your Rod And Reel Together
This next part is very simple and very important as you need your rod, reel, and line to become together to create a casting machine.
At the base of the rod, under the handle, you will find the reel seat. If you look at your reel, then you’ll notice an arm going up and down vertically behind it, this is what slots into the reel seat.
Before adding your reel to your rod, make sure the reel turns in the right direction before slotting it into the reel seat on the rod. This is so that when you wind, the reel winds line in and doesn’t loosen it off the spool.
Once you have the reel facing the right direction, insert it into the reel seat and tighten down the rings so that the reel sits securely on the rod and will not fall off.
You can also see our post here on how to build your own diy pvc rod holders so once you’re finished, you can store your gear easily.
Threading Your Fly Line
Next up is threading your fly line from the reel through the eyes of your rod and it’s very simple. First, loosen the drag on your reel if it has a drag, but don’t make it too loose, as a little bit of drag will ensure your line doesn’t get all tangled in the spool.
Now place your rod on the floor, take the end of your fly line and pull about 10 feet of fly line off the reel on the floor. You can now start threading the fly line through the eyes of the rod starting at the bottom eye and slowly working your way to the top eye at the rod tip.
Once you’ve reached the tip, check you haven’t missed an eye, as you’ll need to start again if you have. Once you’re sure it’s correct, pull out another 10 feet of fly line so that it reaches your reel again.
Adding Your Leader
If you have both a premade tapered leader tippet (leader with tippet combined) then you can just add this to the welded loops on your fly line using a loop-to-loop connection.
If you need to build leaders you should make sure it’s a tapered leader. Tapered leaders start with a thicker line at the butt end (fly line end) and slowly get thinner and thinner. This makes casting easier and helps turn your fly-over for a better presentation.
When I make a trout leader I start with 3ft of 16lb and drop slowly down in weight and diameter to 2ft of 12lb, 2ft of 10lb, and then 2ft of 8lb to make a 9-foot leader.
You’ll then add three feet of tippet to your leader, usually 4x or thinner – I’d recommend buying some Scientific Anglers Abosulte Tippet as it’s excellent.
You’ll want to tie a double surgeon’s loop knot at the butt end (fly-line end) to connect the leader to the loop of your fly line. Then to join each section of the line, I recommend using a double uni knot.
Once your leader is built with a tippet on the end, add it to the end of the fly line using a loop-to-loop connection. If your fly line doesn’t have a loop, you can use a nail knot.
You can see our article here about Nail Knot. Or see this video below on how to tie a nail knot. We also have a step by step guide post on how to tie a nail knot.
Building Your Fly Box
All fly anglers need a good selection of flies to go fishing with as fish can be very selective about what they want to eat and when. As a new fly angler, you’re going to want a broad selection of flies in different types, colors, hook sizes, and weights.
I would recommend having streamers, wet flies, nymphs, and dry flies in your box all ranging in color and hook size. When it comes to streamers and nymphs, you will want a range of weights to choose from too, so you can fish different depths.
I recommend buying your flies online as this will reduce the budget and then going to your local fly shop to find some specialist flies that work in the areas you’ll be fishing in. Here is our instructions if you want to learn how to tie a double nymph rig.
Picking Your Flies On The River
The final and one of the most important parts of your setup is choosing the right fly or flies best suited to the area you are fly fishing in. If this is your first fly fishing trip, chances are you don’t have that many flies to choose from.
All fly fishers have to choose between using floating dry flies which sit on top of the water, or flies that sink under the water, called nymphs, streamers, or wet flies. Or you can also try fly fishing with mouse pattern fly.
Now, fish eat 80% of their food under the water and not on the surface, so it’s a good idea to start with flies that sink, like a nymph. If you start seeing fish-eating flies on the surface, you can switch to dry flies.
When I go on a river, I always start with a double nymph rig and then change the rig if I see fish starting to eat off the surface. Fishing two flies might be a little tricky for beginners to cast, so start with one if you’re a true beginner fly angler and progress to two later on.
Once you have picked the fly you want to use, tie it to the tip of your tippet using an improved clinch knot fly fishing, here a video below on how to tie it.
How much does a fly fishing setup cost?
A fly fishing setup can cost as much as an angler wants it to. You can find rods and reels that will set anglers back $1000 apiece, but you can also find ones that will only set anglers back $50. The choice is yours.
A tip I would recommend, especially for a beginner, buying a more affordable rod and reel that is around $150-200 for both. It will be good enough to cast with, be well made, and not break easily, but it’s not going to burn a hole in your wallet. The Orvis Clearwater or Redington Trout rods are good choices.