Want to fly fish? Here's what you need

Fly fishing can seem complicated because there's so much equipment that goes with it. But if you strip it down to the basics, it's easy to get started.

rphillips@idahostatesman.comMarch 4, 2010 

ROD

Five-weight rods are the most versatile. Any fish from 6 inches long to 5 pounds is fair game with a five-weight. A palm-sized bluegill will give you a fair tussle on a five-weight, but the rod still has enough backbone to land a 24-inch trout.

REELS

Most reels will accommodate about three different line sizes.

A fly reel is a simple mechanism. Turn the handle once and the arbor turns once. There's a mechanism to keep it from free-spooling, and most reels have a drag just like a spinning reel.

Because of their simplicity, most will do the job just fine regardless of the price. If you start targeting bigger, stronger fish, the quality of the drag becomes more of a factor and the price will go up accordingly.

LINE

Get a weight-forward, five-weight floating line to go with your five-weight rod.

Floating line is easiest to cast. It requires less force to pull it off the water because it's lighter than a sinking line. You can fish all types of flies - dries, wets, nymphs and streamers - with a floating line. But you can't fish dry flies with a sinking line.

Weight forward, which refers to a line's taper, makes a floating line even easier to cast.

SINKING LINES

If you're fishing a lot of lakes, ponds and reservoirs, a sinking line is good to have. There are obvious advantages. A sinking line will get the fly down to the fish.

There are a variety of sinking lines, including full-sinking and sink-tip lines in which only the end of the line sinks. There also are different sink rates, which are listed as Type I, II, III, etc. The larger the number, the faster the line sinks.

BACKING

You also will want some braided Dacron backing - a length of line that attaches your casting line to your reel - which serves a couple purposes. If you're fishing with a standard-arbor reel, it will keep your fly line from getting tightly wrapped on your reel. You also will be able to retrieve your fly line more quickly because the backing increases the diameter of the spool.

Backing also is insurance against a big fish taking all of your fly line.

LEADER

Remember the five-weight rod and five-weight line? Remember another five - 5X. That's the leader you want. It actually has nothing in common with five-weight line, which is matched to your rod. Leaders are tapered monofilament line.

Every other monofilament fishing line is rated by strength and measured in "pound test."

But leaders are identified by a number followed by an "X." A 5X is the measurement of the diameter of the tip of the leader, which is typically between 4- and 5-pound test, depending on the brand.

A 5X leader is a good starting point because it will work for most trout and similar-size fish, and also works for most flies.

The larger the number before the "X," the lower the strength, or pound-test, the tip is. An 8X leader would be less than 2-pound test. A 1X tippet would be about 10-pound test.

Typically, you match the leader with the fly, but you also have to consider the size of the fish you are likely to catch.

Leaders come in different lengths, usually from 7 to 12 feet. Nine-foot leaders are the standard.

TIPPETS

Tippets are an extension of your leader. They also come in "X" sizes. There are two reasons for a tippet.

First, leaders are expensive. In the course of tying on flies and cutting or breaking them off, your leader will get shorter and larger in diameter because it's tapered. You can tie tippet onto your leader to extend it back to its original length.

The second reason for tippets is to accommodate different sizes of flies. If you are trying to tie a size 20 fly on a 5X leader, the line may be too thick to fit through the eye of the hook. Rather than replacing a 5X leader with a 6X or 7X, you can tie a couple feet of smaller tippet onto a 5X leader.

WADERS

Fly fishing requires room for a backcast, which can be tough if you're standing on shore with obstructions behind you. The easiest way to get room for a backcast is to wade or use a float tube or other small boat.

Neoprene waders will keep you very warm in cold water. They can also be sweltering hot in summer.

Waterproof/breathable waders are made with a coated fabric that allows them to vent moisture, so you don't get clammy. They are more expensive than neoprene waders, but they are lighter and more comfortable. On cold days you can layer more clothes under them to make them warmer.

Aside from being more expensive, fabric waders are more prone to punctures and scrapes - which means leaks. With reasonable care, though, even a modestly priced pair should last a couple of seasons.

WADING BOOTS

Wading boots usually come with felt soles, which grip rocks like Velcro. You also can get felt soles with cleats, which provide even better traction.

Some companies are moving away from felt soles because they can transport unwanted organisms between bodies of water. The high-traction rubber soles provide similar traction to felt and are more convenient because they retain less water and dry more quickly.

FLY BOX

There are lots of boxes out there for a wide range of prices. Make sure they hold individual flies securely or in small compartments with separate lids. You don't want to drop your fly box and have all your flies scatter, or worse, float away.

CLIPPERS

These are extremely handy. You can buy them at a fly shop for $5 to $10, or get fingernail clippers at a drug store for 69 cents. You make the call.

FLY FLOATANT

If you're fishing with dry flies - and you will definitely want to - floatant will keep your fly from getting waterlogged. This substance costs a few bucks, and since you use it so sparingly (it doesn't take much to coat a fly), it will last a long time. Consider it a must-have.

NET

You can easily land a fish by hand. You don't even have to take it out of the water. But a better way to handle fish is with a fine-meshed "catch-and-release net." The mesh is easier on the fish when you're unhooking them for release.

FORCEPS

This is another item that benefits the fish. Grab the hook's shank with these plier-like gizmos and you have excellent leverage to remove a hook.

LEADER STRAIGHTENER

Monofilament leaders have "memory," which means when you unwind them, they look like a corkscrew. Run it through a leader straightener and the line straightens out. A straight leader gives your fly a better presentation.

FLY VEST OR CHEST PACK

You will quickly find that your fly box and gadgets won't fit in pants and shirt pockets. Fly vests were the long-time favorite, but chest packs have gained popularity.

Make sure whatever you use is comfortable. It's surprising how much pressure a vest with a few pounds of gear can exert on you. If you tend to be a pack rat, make sure your vest or pack can comfortably carry the load.

Roger Phillips: 373-6615

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