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Fly Fishing For Beginners - Equipment (Part 1)
July 4, 2018
OH so much info about so many toys
In the next few sessions I will talk about equipment. There is so many options on the market today it can be a bit over whelming for the novice fly angler. So again I will take it from the entry level, I will talk about the basic equipment and how or why it work the way it does. These session will cover rods, fly lines, reels, waders, vest and other on stream carrying equipment, all the cool little gadgets (but mainly the one you basically need)
In the first one we will talk about the basic fly fishing outfit, the rod, line and reel, these are what make fly fishing different from other types of fishing.
The fly rod, line and reel are the most important pieces of equipment you will invest in, and in that order. The rod is the most important, because it is the extension of your body and arm. Not using the correct rod for a fishing situation situation, or skill level can cause frustration and low results. It is what makes the line, and the fly with it, go where you want it to. The second most important is the fly line, it is what carries the fly to the target, it connects you to the fly, and it allows you manage the fly on the water, detect strikes and set the hook. Without the fly line the whole fly fishing thing would not work. Third is the reel and mainly because it has nothing to do with presenting the fly to the fish. It does have something to do with fighting and landing the fish, once it is hooked, which doesn’t happen if you don’t get the fly there in the first place, hence the importance of the rod and line being higher on the food chain.
Before I get in to the details of each, it would be important to say something about one relationship or common factor all three have. And that factor is the term “weight”. When looking at a fly rod there is almost always an area of information, close to the grip that gives you data about the rod. In this area you will find typically the length of the rod from the base of the reel seat to the tip. Also it will show something like a number - Line (example: 6 – line) or more common a number and the word weight (example: 3 weight or maybe 3WT). What we are looking at here, is the line or weight part. It has nothing to do with the weight of the fly rod itself, or the weight of the fish it rated to catch or the weight of the lure. What does have to do with the “weight of the FLY LINE” it is designed or engineered to cast. The relation to reels is pretty simple, it is their size. Smaller reels are for the smaller weight line and larger reels are for the larger weight lines. More of this when I get in to fly lines and reels.
RODS (You can call me “Rod” or you can call me “Stick” – just don’t call me “Pole”)
The above statement is not really a joke, they really are officially called “rods”. Fishing rods for fly fishing are somewhat longer than what you may find in other forms of fishing. They are usually from 7 feet to 10 feet in length in most single hand rods and up to 16 feet for some two handed rods. When anglers typically talk about fly rods, they are typically referred to by a certain length and weight (the of course referring to the line weight described above), ranging from a 1 weight to 14 weights. (E.g. a 9 ft 5 weight).
The ROD is the most important piece of fly fishing equipment you invest in own.
Let’s take a look at what makes up a fly rod. Fly rod typically come in several pieces, including 2, 3, 4, 5, and up to 7 pieces in some special travel rods. There are even a few single piece rods, done by some manufactures, but are not common. The most common are the 4 pieces rods. This makes up about 85% of the rods on the market today. There was a time when rods with less sections would cast smoother than ones with multiple (3 or 4) sections, this was because of the multiple ferrules (the place where the sections come together) the three or four piece rods had. The more ferrules you had the more “hard points” or "stiff points" you would have along the rod, and this would affect how smooth the action action or feel of the rod. This, in a basic sense came from bamboo fly rods that have metal ferrules that connect the sections together and the metal that doesn’t really bend or flex at all. Since the introduction of newer materials, mainly carbon fiber (AKA Graphite), and with new manufacturing technology and newer materials this issue has pretty much been engineered out of all the better quality rods. One big advantage of the multiple section rods is being able to transport them. The length of a single section of a 9 foot fly rod is about 28” to 29” depending on the manufactures specs. This allows for easy storage and transport.
The parts of a fly rod are consistent though all lengths and weights, some rod may have an additional handle part called a fighting butt or maybe more or less guides than a another rod of the same length and line, they all have basically the same thing.
Let’s run through them. First of all the shaft the rod is constructed around is called the blank. A good majority of the blanks manufactures for fishing rod are made overseas, Korea or China. There are some made in Mexico and in Europe, and your higher end brands make their own here in the U.S.A. (and cost the most). The section of the blank that the grip is on is referred to as the butt section and the far other end referred as the tip section. The middle sections are referred to in different ways depending on the manufacture of the rod.
So on the blank, and we’ll start with the butt section and go up toward the tip.
Now on almost all your heavier line weight rods (say 7 weight and up but you will also find them on some 6 weight rods) you will have a Fighting Butt. This is a small somewhat rounded section of cork or rubber that is on the very end. It’ purpose is to provide a more comfortable option when fighting larger fish and allows you to place the butt of the rod into your stomach for better leverage. See the picture below.
With most of the lighter weight rods, 1 through 6, will not have the fighting but will just start with the Reel Seat. The reel eats is what holds the reel on to the rod, they come in most often in one of two styles, uplocking and down locking, there is also the cap and ring which you will mostly see on the very light rods, 1 through 3 weights. The uplocking reel seat is the most commonly used, because it provides the best security to keep the reel on. The next part up from the reek seat is called the Grip, and this is what your hand grabs when holding the rod. Typically made out of cork, some have wood or rubber (yes like a golf grip). They come in different shapes, of which some are better than others for certain types of casting. Below is a picture of the most common two, the Western or Reverse Half Wells (also sometimes called a Trout grip) and the Full Wells grip. The Reverse Half Wells is what you will find on just about all the lighter rod weights and the Full Wells on most the heavier line weight rods.
Next up is the Hook Keeper, this is a little metal loop found right next to the top end of the Grip. It is used to secure your fly while moving from one place to another when the rod is fully rigged. Typically next to the Hook Keeper you find your “Data Area” this area provides information on the fly rod. Most often you will see the manufacture’s name, the length of the rod and the line weight it is designed to cast and sometimes the model name, like . It will look something like this on this beautiful SaraBella 9 weight.
From here on up we have the Line Guides or just guides, the first Guide that we come to is called the Striping Guide, it is larger than the rest and most often will be more heavy duty. This the first guide the line comes in contact with on its way to the fly. From there up to the tip you have your guide, these can be single foot guides or typically double foot snake guide. By general rule a fly rod will have one guide per foot, plus one, this includes the Stripping Guide but does not count the tip. So a 9 foot rod would have 10 guides. Now some manufactures only put one guide per foot and leave it at that. The rod will still cast fairly effectively, but not as well one using the rule above. At the very tip we have the Tip Top. The Tip is the last guide the line will touch on its way to the target, so very important.
So those are the parts of the rod. Now let take a look at how the different line weights are used with different rods. As discussed above, rods are engineered to cast a certain weight of fly line. The manufactures (well the real good one, that is) have done a lot of R & D o make their rod cast well, so you should match the rod to line weigh it was designed for. In some case it is preferred to overline, or go one line weight heavier. You should never under line a rod, this will take away from it's performance. Below we have a general discussion of what different rods are generally used for.
1 to 4 weights: Sometimes referred to as Light Weight fly rods, Normally used for small streams or lakes, smaller trout or pan fish. Windy conditions can make using these smaller rods difficult to use as the line mass isn’t enough to carry through the wind. There are many 1 weights available on the market but they are out there. 2 or 3 weight fly rod from 7 to 8 feet long are most often used fish very small streams or in very tight quarters, typically chasing after small trout and pan fish. 4 weight rods can be used for slightly larger water, but wind can still make them tough to use. Excluding wind, an 8 ½ or 9 foot 4 weight rod is a wonderful stick for dry fly fishing.
5 to 7 weights: This group could be considered the Medium Weight or Middle weight rods. Normally used for medium to large streams and any lake for trout, bass, and pan fish type fishing. The 5 or 6 weight rod is the suggested rod for most general purpose bass and trout fishing. This range of rods is very versatile for most trout fishing needs in just about any part of the county, from the Rockies, up state Georgia or New York and everywhere in between. They provides the line weight to be fish big rivers. And have the backbone to help land just about anything you will target in these areas. In lengths from 9 to 10 feet, they can cast nymph patterns with split shot or large streamers. 7 weights can also handle the larger flies needed to catch some large Bass, Carp, smaller salt water fish, and smaller Pike. The 9 foot 5 or 6 weight is the best outfit to get started with as it can be used in a lot of situations, because of the of rod length and line weight.
8 to 10 weights: These are your Heavy Weight rods. Normally used for Large Fish like, Northern Pike, Tiger Muskie, Salmon, and Steelhead. This size rod and line weight is used for most saltwater fishing situations, depending the conditions and the size of fish you expect to hook, such as Bonefish, Snook, Permit, Baby Tarpon and Barracuda.
10 to 14 weights: And here is the Super Heavy Weight. These rods are your big saltwater rods for big Tarpon, Grand Trevally and Billfish.
Fly rods are manufactured with different actions. What is “action” in a fly rod? Well that has a lot to to do with many things. In a nut shell Action is a combination of how the rod bends under a load, where the rod bends, under a load and how fast is recovers from being bent. The action of a fly rod is a combination of several things, the material of the blank (the blank is the shaft that the rod is constructed around), the taper or shape of the blank, the way the rod is constructed around the blank, the position of the guides, type of guides and of course how it flex’s under load, where it flex’s along the blank and the way it recovers from that flexing.
Rods come in basically in three actions. Medium Action(Full Flex), Medium/Fast Action (Mid-Flex) and Fast (Tip-Flex). There are some more actions offered or presented by different manufactures, these are often called “Slow” and Extra or Very Fast. Action is not based on length or line weight. You can have a medium action 6 foot 3 weight or you could have a fast action 6 foot 3 weight (not that a fast action 6 foot 3 weight would cast very effectively, most likely it wouldn’t). Now these actions vary between manufactures to some degree, so please understand that one manufactures Medium-Fast will not feel exactly like another manufactures Medium-Fast, but somewhat like it. Also The Orvis company has a Flex rating system they developed to express the action or flex of their rods. For those of you that were introduced to fly fishing through the Orvis classes (which are very good classes), you will be more familiar with the flex system, or Full-Flex, Mid-Flex and Tip-Flex. In a general sense, Full-Flex could be associated Medium Action, Med-Flex with Medium-Fast and Tip-Flex with Fast.
The following image shows the 5 different actions, but let’s stay with basic three. Medium, Medium-Fast and Fast. The shaded area generally shows where the rod will flex or bend when weight is applied to the tip (what is called “Loading”). This “weight” is the weight of the line, it is design to cast.
So let’s take a look at the three basic actions.
MEDIUM ACTION: Medium action rods flex pretty much, in the middle or lower part of the rod, a medium action rod doesn’t require as much physical energy to make it flex under load. This allows the rod to be good at shorter range cast as it as less line weight past the tip is required to load it. Another positive aspect is that medium action rods allows for better line control in mending and also better roll casting. The medium action does requires a very smooth and more practiced casting stroke to accurate and generate better line speed and distance, therefore not recommended for beginners. This type of stroke takes time to develop, and if not practiced with the proper stroke, mistakes can develop and carry over to bad casting habits in the future. Medium action rods with a softer tip, will also help protect light tippets.
MEDIUM/FAST ACTION: This type of rod flex’s from more of the upper third to the tip. Flexing closer to the tip helps it generate faster line speeds and tighter loops with less control than with a medium action rod. This results in better accuracy and distance for someone still trying to get the cast stroke down. This middle ground is a good place for the novice/beginner to start. This action is recommended for most beginners because it will help them develop a “feeling” of the rod loading and as the novice progresses, it will allow them to find their casting style/rhythm faster and easier. Medium-Fast action is still soft enough to allow good mending and tippet protection. Yet yet will still generate fast enough line speed to cast small streamers and smaller weighted flies. I see a lot of novice anglers being introduced fly casting with a Fast Action rod, most often by someone who has already developed their casting style. In many many casting classes these novices have trouble in creating a good loop because they are having to apply to much power to the cast.
FAST ACTION: Fast action rods flex at the top 15% of the rod tip. This in the hands of an experienced caster these rods will generate very high line speed. High line speed means distance and accuracy at those distances. Where not quite as good at protecting fine tippit or mending as the other softer rods, they allow you to be to set the hook quicker. A fast action rod in the hand of a novice/beginner will most likely cause them to overpower the rod to get to it to feel right or create a good loop. This will typically cause casting issues as they progress in their skill level, typically in over-muscling or forcing their cast. Causing what is called a tailing loop and casting knot’s or tangles. So Fast Action is not suggested for the novice. A practiced fly caster, even in high winds, prefer this kind of speed. The increase line speed helps with distance and casting larger flies, which is why you will see this action used in the higher line weight rods, such as those used for salt water fly casting. There will be some discussion on selecting a fly rod in just a bit.
Fly line are the second most important piece of your setup. It is the Fly Line that you cast to get the fly to the target. The Fly line is the mass or weight that you cast (or more correctly, unroll to the target). The weight of the fly line is taken from the front 30 feet of the line (the end the leader is connected to) in grains and that determines what weight class it is in, from 0 to 15 weight (see the chart below). The weight of the line should match that of the rod, more exactly the rod should match the weight of the line. This information will be found on the rod near the grip. Remember that the fly line is the actual weight used to propel the line forward toward the target. Referring to the chart below a 5 weight line weighs some where between 134 grains and 146 grains.
American Fly Fishing Tackle Association Approved Fly Line Weight Specifications
Line Low Target High
Weight Class Weight in Grains_____________
1 54 60 66
2 74 80 86
3 94 100 106
4 114 120 126
5 134 140 146
6 152 160 168
7 177 185 193
8 202 210 218
9 230 240 250
10 270 280 290
11 318 330 342
12 368 380 392
13 435 450 465
14 485 500 515
15 535 550 565
Here is a picture of a 4 weight line (top) next to a 10 weight line (bottom) at the 15 foot mark from the tip. You can see just how much thicker the 10 weight line is.
Lines come in pretty much in what we call Weight Forward or Double Tapered. This is basically shape of the line from end to end. A “Weight Forward” line has the majority of its weight or mass pushed toward the front of the line. A “Double Tapered” line has the majority of its weight in the middle of the line and is distributed more evenly. The three major components are Front Taper, Rear Taper and Belly, also weight forward lines will have a running line. The advantage of two lines differ in their use. Dual Taper lines generally have a gentler taper to them, which helps with the presentation of small flies, they also roll cast well. Also back in the day before welded loops were a standard, you had to tie your leader to the end of the fly line. This meant that every time you had to replace a leader, you would have to cut off part of the line itself. After a while this would start taking away working end of the line. Well with a Dual Taper line you could unspool the line to the backing cut the backing and flip the line around and use the other end for a few leader changes, thus extending the life of the line a bit. But with the common use of the welded loop at the end of the line you no longer had to cut the line to change a leader. Weight Forward lines have an advantage of casting farther and cast larger flies. This because with the mass moved forward it loads the tip of the rod easier. Also with modern manufacturing techniques in making fly lines, they can design the forward taper just about any way they need. Right now there are about 40 different Weight Forward Taper designs on the market, everything from ones designed to cast big flies into the wind on the ocean to presenting delicate small dry flies to spooky trout All fly lines are on an average of 90 about feet long, so we add backing to extend its length, more about that in a bit.
The relationship between the rod and the line is makes the fly cast work. The rod (a solid object) when bent or taken out of its natural shape builds up energy. When the rod is allowed to return to that natural shape it releases that energy. When we make the casting stroke (correctly mind you) the fly line that is beyond the end of the tip top will pull on the tip and cause the rod to bend. When stop the movement of the rod the rod will straighten and release any energy built up in it. The released energy will be released into the line and travel down it, causing the line to un-roll in the direction the tip top stopped moving. As it un-rolls the line forms what is known as the loop.
Fly lines are tapered to allow the energy released from the rod to travel all the way to the end. If the line were not tapered, the energy released from the rod would dissipate at the same point every time.
Lines also come as floating or sinking. Floating lines are for generally dry fly fishing. Sinking lines are for sub surface fishing mainly on lakes. Sinking lines come in varying densities, which means they sink at different rates and are rated by a number at the end of their designation. They are also made with varying length sink tips, from 5 foot, 20 foot, and even full sinking lines.
Sinking Lines from left to right: Floating, Intermediate Tip, Sink Tip Slow, Sink Tip Fast and Full Sinking Line (Graphic, courtesy of Cortland Line Company).
Fly Lines have Designations to help select the correct one for our outfit. On the packaging will looking something like WF5-F or DT6-F or maybe WF8-I. So what do these mean? Well the first part (the 2 letters) tells us if it a Weight Forward (WF) or Dual Taper (DT). The number tells us the line weight, and the last letter indicates Floating or Sinking. SO our example above, would be a weight forward, 5 weight, floating line. The next one would be a dual taper, 6 weight, floating line and the last would be a weight forward, 8 weight, intermediate sink tip. Other sink tip, or full sinking lines will look something like WF6-II(2) or III(3) or IV(4). The number is a indicator of how fast the line sinks, the higher the number the faster it sinks.
*Just a note on fly lines in combos. In the industry the fly lines that are used in combo’s (a combo is a pre-packaged rod, reel and line) is the cheapest component the manufacture (as far as cost to them) will put in the combo. Now buying a combo as your first outfit can be a good economic option, I strongly advise that you replace the line as soon as you can afford a better one.
Reels are built in several sizes to match the size of the line that will go with them. Most reels are designed to carry one to three different line sizes with varying amounts of fly line backing. E.g. a reel with a 5 weight line might have 100 yards of backing. The same reel with a 6 weight line will have 75 yards of backing.
Hold it, wait what’s “backing”??? As shown above, the average length of a fly line is around 90 feet. So to working range of your fly fishing, we add backing to the end of the fly line that connects to the reel. Backing is made typically from a braided line and comes in 20 or 30 pound test. Backing also helps fill up the reel spool so that the fly line doesn’t compress too much. Backing is some any reputable fly shop can put on for you. In your light outfits you will most likely never see your backing, but say in saltwater fly fishing you can hook into fishing that can run 20 to 50 yards of backing off the reel in no time. As you can see in the picture below you see four reels, each designed for a particular size/weight of fly line.
So if you look at the picture of the 4 weight line and the 10 weight line you can see the 10 weight is pretty thick compared to the 4 weight line. Now look at the picture below the big blue reel in the upper right is a reel setup for a 10 weight line. The reel in the lower left made for a 2 weight line. It obvious that you would not even be able to fit the 10 weight line on the 2 weight reel, and yes even though you could fit the 2 weight line on the 10 weight reel with tons of room to spare. The 10 weight reel would be WAY to heavy to balance a rod designed for a 2 weight line.
There is a general size classification for reels (there is no “Industry Standard). They can overlap a bit, this is more because of the design of the reel than an industry standard. Reel size 1 – line weight 2, 3, or 4; reel size 2 – line weight 4, 5, 6; reel size 3 – line weight 6, 7, 8; reel size 4 – line weight 8, 9, 10; and reel size 5 – line weight 10, 11 and up.
Reels also come with different ways to slow down how fast the line comes off the reel, this called the Drag. Reels use two methods to help control how fast the line comes off the spool, disk drag, and click and pawl drag. The most common drag found on modern reels is called disk drag. Disk drag works much like the disk drag brakes on your car work. By tightening the drag knob on the reel, disk inside the reel press against each other with increased resistance. The other drag system the Click or Click and Pawl system. This system has been around for some time. It basically uses the spring tension on the “clicker” to provide some resistance. Not as effective or adjustable as a disk drag, on lighter line outfits (like 1 through 3 weights) where you are not really targeting large fish, the click style works well.
Reels are also offered with different size Arbor’s. The Arbor is the part of the spool the backing and line are wrapped around. There are basically three sizes, Regular, Mid and Large. Because having a larger arbor allow you to retrieve line faster most reel sold today are Mid or Large Arbor reels
Regular Arbor Mid Arbor Large Arbor
There are the three base items of the fly fishing outfit. And the three most important. When budgeting your outfit, place the priority of you funds toward the rod, get the best one you can afford within the limits of budget. Next is the fly line, remember the lines that are put on the cheaper combo’s are not very good and will wear out fast. Third is the reel, not until you need a reel that will help fight large fish or harsh conditions like salt water, most of the more inexpensive reels do work just fine. Quite honestly in the lower line weight outfits, the reel is pretty much just holding line. One thing about fly fishing and the equipment you have available, is that you get what you pay for. A cheap inexpensive rod, line, reel or other piece of equipment is going to be exactly that, a cheap inexpensive fly rod, line, reel or other piece of equipment in the way it’s made, the materials used to construct it and its performance. Another note I know a lot, I mean a lot of guides that don’t use $600.00 to $800.00 rods with $400.00 reels for their clients. They use good quality outfits that cost retail from $250 to $350, and their clients catch a lot of fish