Fly Fishing Rod and Reel: Tips for First-Time Buyers

Buying your first fly fishing rod and reel but you don’t know where to start? Hopefully, this article will give the confidence and peace of mind to make that purchase and leave the store fully satisfied that you bought the right set-up.

The first thing you need to understand is that your new set-up is the main tool used to get fish in your net. Sure, there are other items you’ll need to purchase but your fly rod and reel set-up actually become an extension of you. It should fit your casting hand well and work with you to make every cast as successful as possible in netting fish.

What are you planning to fish? I know I had big ambitions. I wanted my first set-up to catch as many different freshwater species as possible. My target was bass – a fish I had never considered fishing for in my life. My only guidance at the time was from my first and only guide and now a friend. He suggested a 6 weight. Ok, so I walk into Cabela’s, and into the fly-fishing section, only to be overwhelmed.

There were rods of different lengths, different weights (we’ll go over this term shortly) and different brands. Selecting a fly rod is not unlike anything else if you know what you want it to do. The salesman came over and I told him what my friend suggested – I didn’t want to break the bank. He walked over, handed me a boxed up 6 weight 9-foot rod and reel set-up and that was that. Believe it or not, the easy part is actually buying the set-up.

So, off I went to the first pond I could find and broke the tip of my rod on the bathroom door. Thankfully, Cabela’s brands’ have a lifetime guarantee regardless if it is your fault and I received a brand new set-up. 

I’ve learned a few things from that purchase. Since then, I have purchased 3 and 4 weight rod and reel set-ups at 8.5-foot lengths. I promised to go over what “weight” in a fly rod means. When there is a reference to a fly rod weight, it is referring to the size of the line that accompanies the reel you will place on your rod. The rod and reel will balance, and the line is the weight that actually gets your fly out into the water. 

I made my additional set-up purchases while in Phoenix on an assignment. I was determined to catch some wild brown trout. The creeks are so narrow that you can literally jump from one side to the other. The salesman at Orvis strongly suggested an 8.5-foot rod length. Those set-ups felt completely different than the 6 weight I had been practicing with, not to mention the price was substantially higher.

To add one more piece to the puzzle, I was fortunate to have fished with a female pro angler that guides Penns Creek in Pennsylvania. She introduced me to a 6 weight 10-foot rod and reel set-up that I use to cast into fast-moving and deep creeks. This rod felt different, too.

So here is a quick break down of how to pick your first rod and reel set-up:

  • Small creeks: 4-5 weight 8.5 foot
  • Pond fishing or large creek fishing: 6 weight 9 foot
  • Larger ponds/lakes/creeks with bigger fish: 5-7 weight 9 foot
  • Open waters/windy conditions/larger fish: 7-9 weight 9 foot
  • Saltwater/flats/toothy fish: 7-9 weight 9 foot

I know I mentioned that I made my first purchase at Cabela’s and I’m glad I did. My set-up was cheap, it has a lifetime guarantee and I recently used that guarantee again because the reel was giving me trouble. I’m also thrilled with the service I receive at each and every Orvis shop I’ve ever walked into; Orvis also has a replacement program for their rods which I have also used (yes! I’m hard on my gear!). 

Now that I’ve spent some time in the fly-fishing world and met several business owners and guides, I would strongly suggest heading over to your local fly shop in town and buy local, buy small. Most of these shops are very eager to help pick the right set-up for you and will even let you practice cast with several floor models. Once you get your feet wet you might want to have a beautiful custom rod done. 

Check out SaraBellaFishing.com. They specialize in fly fishing rods designed specifically for women. 

Now you have all the tips for buying your first fly fishing rod and reel!

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