Many people see fly fishing as an elitist sport, popularized by the British nobility who drive their latest model land-rovers to their private chalk streams. This extravagant cost is far from reality even in England and certainly not in America.
The belief fly fishing is expensive is a common misconception. While it is certainly possible to spend thousands of dollars on premium gear and trips away in luxury lodges, it is possible to purchase the bare essential fly fishing equipment for under $300. While it is possible, there is little need to spend thousands on premium equipment.
Is fly fishing expensive?
Fly fishing can be expensive, but it does not have to be. It is possible to spend thousands on expensive prestigious brands, guided trips, and nights in exclusive lodges. These costs will be eye watering for most people.
But, like all hobbies, fly fishing can be affordable. There are many cheap rods, reels, and fly fishing accessories. There is no need to employ the services of a guide or pay for the rights to fish in private water.
Is fly fishing more expensive than spin fishing?
I do not believe fly fishing is more expensive than other styles of fishing.
The biggest saving compared with spinning is probably in the price of the reel. Spinning reels are much more complicated, and a quality spinning reel will cost more than an equivalent fly reel.
Another saving is that the cost of flies is generally cheaper than spinning lures. I can often buy four or five flies for the price of a single jerkbait.
Other gear like waders, wading boots and polarized sunglasses are just as useful for both styles of fishing.
Fly fishing compared with other hobbies.
When compared with other hobbies, costs are not too dissimilar. Golf clubs and green fees do not come cheap.
A top-end road bike certainly costs more, and then there is extra expenses for lycra, helmets, bike carriers and repairs. The average cylist will spend more on gear than most fly fishermen.
Hunters can easily drop thousands on precision optics and quality rifles. Not to mention all of the other accessories.
As a kayaker, I could kit myself out with the finest of fly fishing gear for the price of a carbon fiber kayak.
Sticking with the fishing theme, boat ownership immediately blows all fly tackle expenses out of the water.
What basic items do I need to go fly fishing?
Below I listed the essential, recommended, and optional gear which is used for fly fishing. Besides it, I gave a rough price estimate for entry level gear. You can certainly find gear cheaper, but the guide I gave includes some cushioning and flexibility. It is possible to get fully kitted out with decent quality entry level gear for under $650.
On a tight budget, it is possible to get a kit containing only the essentials for under $200. The quality is not great, but it is a very cheap way to get on the water fly-fishing.
|Essential Fly fishing items||Cheapest Price guide|
|Fly Rod||Used to cast and control the line||$80|
|Fly Reel||Used to hold the line||$30|
|Fly Line||The fly line provides the weight used to load the road and cast the lure or fly.||$30|
|backing||The backing is a thin braided line used to fill out a fly reel||$10|
|Tapered Leader||A leader is a length of tapered nylon which is tied to the end of the fly line.||$8 (5 pack)|
|Tippet||Tippet is used as a sort of trace tied between the leader and the fly. Thin diameter tippet is hard for the trout to see, and allows for more delicate presentations.||$8 (per spool)|
|Fly||The fly is the bait that the trout eats.||$24 for a dozen|
|Freshwater license||See below section|
|Recommended Fly fishing items|
|Sunglasses||Protects one’s eyes, and aids in sighting fish.||$30|
|Pliers||Makes releasing fish easier.||$10|
|Nail clippers or scissors.||Allows you to cut lines without damaging your teeth.||$4|
|Fly box||Container to hold flies||$10|
|Floatant||Special chemicals to make flies water repellent allowing them to float.||$9|
|Landing Net||A hand net to catch and land trout in.||$35|
|Optional fly fishing equipment|
|Vest||Holds all of your fly fishing accessories||$40|
|Waders||Keep you warm and dry when walking through water.||$80|
|Wading boots||Special boots designed for stability in the water||$90|
|Sinkants||Opposite to floatant, makes flies sink||$10|
|Split shot||Small lead weight to make a fly sink faster||$14|
|Indicator||Visible material which makes it easier to see your line.||$10|
Are premium fly fishing brands worth the money?
There are many long-established and prestigious names in fly fishing. Names such as Simms, Sage, Hardy, and Orvis have been making fly fishing gear for generations. These names carry a premium. These companies and others have done years of research and development which have resulted in gear that makes our hobby more efficient and enjoyable.
In most situations, I feel money is better spent on entry level gear from a proven manufacturer than saving a few bucks by buying the cheapest no-name. The main advantage gained by purchasing from a premium brand is the excellent warranty and support they offer. This level of service normally covers their entire range from the $1000 flagship to theirs.
For example, my first ever fly rod was a Sage launch. This Rod is over 15 years old now and is still the 6wt rod I reach for most often. I have broken and lost sections on several occasions and every time sage has repaired or replaced the missing section. If you spend the money on quality gear you will get years of use out of it. In that same amount of time, I have been through six spinning rods and have spent well in excess of what I paid for my launch. If there is one downside to buying quality, is that you might be stuck with it for more years. I find it hard to justify the purchase of a new fly rod when my existing ones still gets the job done.
It is not only fly rods, I have owned and fished with a Lamson reel for only a decade. It was machined with such precision and designed so well that even after so many years it is a delight to use.
Are the cheap fly rods and reels on amazon any good?
Amazon and other online marketplaces have been swamped by countless brands of extremely cheap fishing equipment. These brands, often of dubious quality are usually sourced from China.
These brands normally appear out of nowhere, and they disappear just as quickly. They do not offer long-term support, and their warranty support is usually lacking. Many of these unknown products also use fake or brought reviews to increase their exposure.
I personally avoid these brands for my main fishing gear but they are adequate for spare gear that sees occasional use. The cheapest, entry level product from an established manufacturer is normally better built.
If you still want to save every cent, then going direct to Ali-Express is even cheaper than buying from Amazon. Of course, there is even less after sale service. Atleast the reviews on Ali-express seem more genuine.
How cheaply can someone start fly fishing?
Getting into fly fishing does not have to be expensive. It is possible to buy a rod, reel, and line for under $200. With some change to spend for leader, tippet, and flies.
There are some extremely cheap starter kits available on Amazon, one of the better ones being the Maxcatch Extreme Fly Fishing Combo Kit. The kit includes a rod, reel, fly line, fly box, and several accessories sold for under $90. All it seems to lack is leaders and tippets. Easy way to get fishing for under $100. I consider Maxcatch gear to be adequate, it gets the job done.
If you want to use entry level name brand gear, then a Redington Crosswater Fly Fishing combo retails for only $150. Throw in a cheap quality fly line such as the Scientific Anglers Air Cel Floating Lines for $30 and the other essential tackle on the list above and you could be on the river with some pretty nice gear for under $250.
How expensive are trout license fees?
License fees differ quite significantly from state to state and country to country. In most of the new world, you do not have to pay to access most fishing beats. So the annual fishing license would be a one off cost.
There are too many countries and states to list. So I gave a few examples below. The prices are for an annual resident adult freshwater license in local currency.
|New South Wales||$35|
How about beat or river fees?’
Luckily most countries in the New World do not have private ownership of fishing. This means most rivers, lakes, and streams are free for any license holders to fish.
The United Kingdom, much of Europe, and some of the states are exceptions. There a lot of the best freshwater fishing is in private ownership, or the rights belong to exclusive fishing clubs or syndicates.
Fishing an iconic chalk stream near London during the peak of the mayfly hatch is expensive. I have heard a day can cost as much as £400. That is one extreme, at the other, there are numerous locations that allow free fishing throughout the UK. There is even free Chalk stream fishing within the city of London.
Are expensive fly rods worth it?
You do not have to spend a small fortune to get a quality fly rod.
I am a member of an active fly fishing club, and once or twice every year they host a casting day. During which I tried most of the rods from the big names in fly fishing. I also own quite a collection of fly rods and have had the chance to borrow and fish with many others.
I do not consider myself a top caster. My numerous mistakes lack the grace and precision of master casters. My casting is good enough to catch trout and generally put the fly where I want it.
In my hands, all the rods have their own characteristics and they performed differently. Some are soft and allow for slower graceful presentations, others stiff and fast. Good at punching into a headwind or getting a couple of more feet on a cast. I personally do not catch any more trout on a $800 rod compared with a $100 one.
Some of my best fly-fishing memories were with a Daiwa fly rod I borrowed one trip. The softer action was perfect for the small stream I was fishing at the time. I did not even know Daiwa made fly-fishing equipment.
In my club, there is one very experienced angler who fishes with entry to mid range price rods. He basically goes to the local fly fishing store, and asks to cast a selection of rods they have available. He then chooses the one which best matches his technique. It is never the flagship.
A $950 Sage or Hardy is not going to make you a better fisherman. Years of practice and experience well. Now, the premier brands do have some value. Their warranty and support is normally excellent. I can still get sections on the Sage Launch I brought 15 years ago replaced for a small fee. Over years of fishing, these premier rods do start to pay for themselves.
Should I buy an expensive fly reel?
There is little need to buy a expensive fly reel when fishing for trout.
The primary purpose of a fly reel is to hold line and prevent it from sprawling everywhere. Unlike with spinning, you rarely depend on the drag to slow and fight fish. Trout simply do not pull enough line.
Most of the line control is done with your hands, between gently palming the reel and stripping the line. The fly reel is more just a container, and all but the cheapest models perform satisfactorily.
There are exceptions when fighting big powerful fish, more commonly in saltwater fishing a quality reel comes in useful but in most fly fishing situations a high-end real is a nice to have rather than a must have.
Are expensive fly lines worth it?
I have always purchased and used premium fly lines. So my experience with cheap lines is a bit lacking. The general feedback I have heard over the year is to buy the best fly line you can afford.
Fly lines are probably more important than both the rod and reel. The need to be slick and supple enough to glide through the line and carry your fly to the fish. It is not an area to save money on.
For the budget angler, I suggest buying an entry level line from a name brand. I will go for a weight forward over double taper. It makes loading the rod easier.
I will also note, the budget and mid-price fly lines avaianble today are just as good as the premium lines a couple of decades ago. The mid-price Cortland 444 use to be their flagship product.
Some examples of good affordable lines include Rio Mainstream, Cortland 333, Scientific Anglers Air Cel or Airflo Velocity.
How much to spend on backing, leader, and tippet
Backing is braided material that is used to extend the total length of the line. The backing is tied directly to the fly reel at one end, and to the base of the fly-line at the other. If I am totally honest, the quality of backing really does not matter. When trout fishing, it very rarely even touches the water. So just buy cheap backing.
Leader material is a tapered section of nylon or fluorocarbon which is tied to the end of the fly line. While it is technically possible to fish with only a leader, for cost reasons most fishermen tie on an additional line which is called the tippet. I have not used both cheap and expensive leaders, and in my opinion, the brand does not really matter. If money is tight, by the cheapest.
Tippet is used for extending the length of the leader. I personally feel, it is worthwhile spending a little more and buying decent quality leader. It is the weakest link to the fly fishing system so why take the risk. I personally use Rio or Cortland branded tippet material. Earlier in the year, I tested Max Catch tippet which is a budget option that is worth considering.
For more recommendations check my guide here.
Do I need waders?
Waders are optional in the warmer months. I actually prefer to wet wade in just quick-drying trousers or shorts. There is also plenty of fish that you can be cast to from the shore, no need to enter the water.
The winter months and early spring are when waders are much more important. Not only do they prevent you from getting wet, they also do an excellent job of trapping in the warmth and blocking the wind.
If you are wanting waders, it is often a case of getting what you pay for. Premium waders often outlast budget models. Although, all waders eventually leak. Click here for my wader recommendations.
Are wading boots worth buying?
For most rivers, there is little need to buy dedicated wading boots. Any reasonably grippy sports shoe or hiking shoe would be okay. In the summer, I often fish in Keen sandals, sometimes I even wear my old trail running shoes.
Where wading boots really come into their own is in rivers and streams with very slimy and slippery rocks. When the rocks are treacherous, the specialist soles on wading boots can be a game changer.
Another overlooked advantage of wading boots is that they dry a lot faster than other footwear options.
If you are interested in wading boots I have published a buyers guide comparing several top models.
How much to spend on flies?
When purchased from a retail store an individual fly can cost $2-3 each, which can quickly add up. A good alternative is to buy flies in bulk, buying flies a dozen at a time is significantly cheaper than individually. There are also combination packs, sometimes you can buy 50 flies for $50 or similar. This is an affordable way to try many different types and styles.
For fly fishing enthusiasts, there is also fly tying. If you are efficient, you can tie flies for less than 30c each and a few minutes of your time.
There are hundreds of fly variations available to buy, but 90% of fishing is done with only a few variations. Half a dozen models in a range of sizes is a good start.
If I were to recommend a core of six flies to start with I will include.
Two Nymphs for bottom fishing, the tungsten bead allows them to sink quickly. If fishing small water maybe consider using size 16 instead. If fishing big water then consider size 12.
- Pheasant tail nymph (size 14)
- Tungsten hares ear nymph (size 14)
- Twilight Beauty (Size 14): The twilight beauty is a good imitation of tiny Mayflies, dads favorite is another good alternative.
- Parachute Adams (size 12): The Parachute Adam is another mayfly imitation, the bright white wing makes it easier to spot while on the water. Likely to be found in most fly boxes across the globe.
- Back Gnat (size 14): The black gnat imitates small terrestrial insects such as gnats or house flies.
- Grey Ghost (Size 4): The Grey Ghost is an iconic streamer, which imitates among other things a small baitfish.
Are expensive sunglasses worth it?
If you plan on doing any sight fishing a pair of polarised sunglasses make a massive difference. They cut through the glare making it much easier to spot fish. The main difference between cheap and expensive glasses is durability. Cheap sunglasses are likely to end up scratched after a few outings. Expensive glasses, especially ones with glass lenses can last for years without a mark. I usually buy mid range glasses, I trend to lose them before destroying them.