What Fly Fishing Gear Can You Save on, and What Should You Splurge on?

A penny saved is a penny earned, they say. Fly Fishing Expert Josh H. helps explain what gear is worth paying for and what gear can keep some money in pocket!

A fish lying in a net in the water. There is a fly rod and reel next to the fish.

Photo by Josh H. 

Who doesn’t want to save money when it comes to a hobby or sport that interests them? I know I do. I’ll admit, some things involved with fly fishing are worth digging deep for; and others, with a little bit of ingenuity, can save you some of that hard-earned moola. So let me share my views on what an angler should and shouldn’t pull out their wallet for.

Reel: Save

A fly fishing reel.

Photo by Josh H. 

The first item may be a surprise to some, and it may be an unpopular position. Nevertheless, an angler can save a bunch of money on their reel—that is, if you don’t need specific characteristics.

A reel serves a few basic functions: it needs to hold backing and line, it needs to provide balance to the rod in which it is paired to, it needs to have some kind of resistance to prevent over spooling and if appropriate, may need a drag, which I will elaborate on.

Honestly, while chasing most species, I rarely put the fish onto the reel. “Stripping-in” is the most common way that I bring fish to the net. The exception being when I am taking large, powerful fish in both freshwater and saltwater; putting the fish on the reel saves my fingers from excessive line burns and assists in playing the quarry to the point where the fish deems it amenable to come and pay me a visit.

Most reels that are disc drag provide the necessary resistance to tackle a wide variety of species. When using click-and-pawl-type reels, this can be achieved by palming the reel. Weight, materials used, drag-component characteristics, and rigidity are the most common price multipliers and may not be necessary for the species you intend to target.

Most quality-made reels provide an angler the means to fly fish effectively. An angler can spend significantly less if they search the upper-tier of the budget class to the mid-tier of the moderate class rather than going all out on some of the highly customizable, uber-technical, fully-machined versions available.

I have brought large trout to the net in low flows using an Orvis Battenkill clicker. With that being said, if fishing heavy flows for steelhead or salmon, large bass, carp, longfish, or the majority of the saltwater species, one may want to save money elsewhere. Zero, or near zero startup inertia, a robust drag mechanism, and componentry that is fit for the task are necessary with these conditions or species. So, if an angler is not fishing for a “logo” or specific characteristics, one can certainly save some “reel” money by considering one's true needs.

Rod: Splurge

A Sage Fly Fishing Rod.

Photo by Josh H. 

A foreboding piece of fly-fishing equipment for most potential purchasers is the fly rod. A wrong decision here may become an expensive lesson learned the hard way. Truth be told, this is a piece of kit one should splurge on.

Owning a rod with the characteristics an angler desires, that meets or exceeds expectations while in the water, is the key to fly-fishing bliss. Finding the right rod that will deliver what is needed when it is needed—and the durability to deliver those things for an extended period of time—is an incredible feeling.

I have found that purchasing big box store pre-packs, pricey pop-up internet options, or mega-site imported-budget sticks will almost always leave me disappointed. I have devoted an untold amount of money and have spent several hours trying to take advantage of warranty programs that yielded little to no results; inevitably, these mistakes get buried in the backyard garbage bin.

Searching for fly rods that I can have faith and confidence in has almost become my religion—spending hours on the phone with manufacturers. I hate spending my dollars on junk, and I would rather spend more on one rod that I know will perform well and is built with quality in mind than saving on two or three that I want to light on fire when they fail. I try to do everything I can to sway a potential purchaser away from repeating my mistakes, and tirelessly search to find reputable options in the same price and performance range.

When shopping for a rod, consult with Experts. Additionally, I suggest choosing equipment from companies that have the knowledge, experience, and the means to make a dream of fly fishing become a reality. Search out companies that will stand behind their products and back them up with a warranty program. The companies I trust have different budget categories that allow everyone to experience what fly fishing has to offer. Although, as with everything, “you get what you pay for,” and fly-fishing gear is no exception.

Fly Line: Save

Several containers of fly lines.

Photo by Josh H. 

The next item to save on is fly line. A few basic questions need to be posed here: How, and with what, do I intend to fish? Does the line need to float or sink? Based on the action of the rod I am using and its characteristics, does the head and taper of the line load the rod appropriately? That is pretty much it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I do see improvement with more expensive options; I want to make that clear. Additionally, there are things to consider: overlining and underlining, specific tapers and textures, the type of fly fishing one will be conducting, species and temperature, among other factors. But, an angler may not deem it necessary to consider all these for the majority of their fishing adventures.

Most of my fly line is a middle-of-the-road variant. Quantifying words on a box is super cool when I need the line to be super cool, in regard to performance for a purpose—although most of the time I don’t need that. I review the head and taper of the line, compare that to what I know of the rod on which it is intended to be used, and pocket the savings for the other gear I have had my eye on.

With proper maintenance and care, I can spool on my middle ground line and use it effectively for several seasons before I need to think of replacing it. I maintain my line by cleaning and/or hydrophobing it when necessary. I keep it out of the UV spectrum as much as I can when it is not being used, and I unspool it and store it for long periods of non-use.

I hear the chants in favor of $130 lines from die-hard, wader-wearing aficionados frequently, and I agree, to some extent. There are benefits to a top-shelf line, like SA Amplitude Infinity AST+, if I am fishing with a specific rod, and/or specific conditions, in a certain style, and desire certain performance. Is it really necessary to whip out cash for the top tier variant of fly line for a relaxing day, or days, on a favorite stretch? I don’t believe it is. It is not uncommon to see savings of $50 to $80 by looking a couple of shelves down.

Waders: Splurge

A man in waders holding a fish out of the water.

Photo by Jeff B. 

Waders are definitely a splurge item. There is nothing worse than having freezing-cold water pour into waders after a rub or tumble on a rock or log. Quality waders are a no-brainer when you absolutely have to fish at six in the morning and be at church at eleven without having to explain being soaked to your wife. I have bought the gambit of waders from one-ply to five-ply/reinforced and life has taught me to never try to save on waders again.

Throughout years of climbing through the tiers of waders, there is eventually a point when I realized that wader repair is doable but not ideal. One day the time will come when I slip, flop, slide, scuff, or fall, and my waders will inevitably leak. Sometimes armed with a flashlight, and waders flipped over my head, or vinegar and a keen eye, I can find the fault and fix it. Sometimes I can’t, and hopefully, they can be sent in for a warranty repair, and sometimes I am past the warranty period which means either fix them myself, or buy new ones. These days, I dedicate more money to more layers, and I haven’t looked back since.

I am an explorer when it comes to fly fishing. I search out places to fish that are often a difficult trek. I will climb over forests, and wade across rivers to reach a spot I have spotted on imagery, or picked out from aircraft. When I get to my trailhead, or touchdown in a clearing, that is the beginning of the adventure; I have to have full confidence in my equipment. Waders are a necessity when the water I am fishing is altitude fed, or the season in which I am there sees temperatures plummet. I cannot risk springing a leak and have found the G3 and G4 series of Simms Waders provide me the confidence to be me without sacrificing what that means.

Vest: Save

A man in fishing gear holding a trout out of the water.

Photo by Jeff C.

I wear a vest. I like the way everything is organized and accessible without flipping something around or reorienting posture or position. This is another area where an angler can save some money. Vests can be an expensive luxury. Some can run as much as $300 dollars. As I stated, if my gear is accessible without having to do a combination of movements to get at it, the purpose is served. So when I picked out my vest, I concentrated on fit, comfort, and ease of use.

I focus on where the pockets are located, how many pockets, zingers, and attachment points there are, and how all of that functions. I also think about what the vest is made of, how it is made, and how it will fit depending on the season.

Now, one can certainly pay top dollar and get the variant that boasts the most tech-savvy options, but I find that my economically priced variant fits the bill. To me, I found it very hard to justify a $150+ increase for molded pockets and an extra fly patch. I have the Simms Headwaters Vest, and I believe I have owned it longer than it was intended to last. I like the elastic buckle to accommodate layering for seasonal weather changes, the pocket placement, the number of gear management options available, and I really like the mesh construction, as I can't stand a sweaty back on hot days.

I spent a fraction of what some vests go for. It has never let me down and it would be my recommendation to any angler to do the same. I think I paid somewhere in the ballpark of $100 when I bought it, and I truly hope it lasts forever.

Packs: Splurge

A man holding a fish out of the water.

Photo by Josh H. 

When it comes to packs, splurge. Even though I wear a vest most frequently, I use packs when it is beneficial to do so. Some anglers are pack anglers and wouldn't have it any other way. I use most of my packs, like chest rigs or back slung packs in instances where I have to hike for several hours and need to be prepared for an extended stay.

A backpack is the obvious choice here. If I am floating a body of water in a raft or drift boat, all of my gear is in pack to keep things consolidated. The packs I choose are always ruggedized, comfortable to wear for long periods, and most importantly: waterproof; not water resistant, but watertight. When you leave the proximity of a vehicle or comfort area, or are in a body of water with miles between put in and take out, it is imperative that things remain dry.

If I am wearing a sling pack, it is a watertight sling pack. If I find myself in deeper water than I anticipated, or if I lose my footing and take a swim, I want my flies to stay dry. Nobody wants several boxes of flies rusted and ruined.

Be cautious when selecting packs. Some manufacturers use clever symbols and wording that makes one think that if submerged, or exposed to water, the contents of a pack will be protected; this is common with inexpensive options. Inspect the materials and closures to determine if they are watertight. I always test the material and construction by quickly closing the pack trapping air and squeezing the pack to see if the air escapes. I don’t mind paying extra for truly watertight packs, as it provides me with confidence that whatever the situation I find myself in, the contents of my pack are going to be ready for use and unsaturated. Watertight packs pay for themselves in gear saved and frustration averted.

Leaders: Save

Several packages of leaders lying on the tailgate of a truck.

Photo bu Josh H. 

Manufactured leaders can be purchased, and to save time on or for a long trip I will buy them; although to save money, an angler can manufacture them. A single pack of three tapered leaders can run as much as, if not more than, $25. Constructing your own leaders can save hundreds upon hundreds of dollars throughout the season. Consult an Expert about inexpensive but dependable options for monofilament, fluorocarbon, and/or other material, and the appropriate diameters, in relation to species and/or strength. After that, it is just time and knots.

This is not as hard of a task as some think. Finding the necessary materials is fairly easy and the savings can be significant. I can get 100 yards of material for the price of one 9ft tapered leader. 100 yards is the length of a football field, by the way.

I purchase different diameters to taper down the leader based on the fishing I will be doing or the characteristics I deem preferable for the conditions or fly. I cut the specific lengths to create the appropriate taper and affix the pieces together starting with a perfection loop, or at times, I delete the perfection loop and nail knot the leader to my fly line. I continue by using a blood knot at each connection point. For nymphing rigs I form a butt section to turn over the rig and after I meet a defined diameter, I keep the same, or similar, diameter fluorocarbon material throughout the rig. Easy peasy and saves some cheesy.

Wading Boots: Splurge

A wading boot.

Photo by Josh H. 

Your feet are the linchpins of an enjoyable day of fishing. So when it comes to wading boots, splurge. When I spend 16–18 hours standing in water, everything needs to execute flawlessly, and one of those things is my wading boots. They need to be comfortable, they need to be durable, and they need to keep me planted to the substrate.

I have had bad boots that would force me from the water due to the pain they caused or the way they performed. I don’t recommend skimping when it comes to your feet. So now I spend an unreasonable amount of time ensuring proper fit and function. When the shop employee makes his fifth approach to ask if I need assistance, they usually stop. When I purchase online, I will usually consult the manufacturer, or an Expert on the brand, in order to get “true fit”—as every company uses a slightly different sizing method.

Make sure they are made to last; I am currently using the Simms Men's Headwaters BOA and Korkers Darkhorse BOA wading boot, and they are fantastic. Boots need to be able to endure sliding against, shuffling through, and skimming across rough surfaces on every part of the boot. Keeping my balance in the river, especially during higher flow rates, requires innovation; leaning my boot on a rock or log, or even wedging my boot in between submerged obstacles to keep me planted firmly as I cast. With these tactics, inferior products have left me wishing I had spent more time with them prior to purchase. Trust me when I say, “splurge in the boot department.”

Honorable Mentions

Rain Gear: Save

Rain gear needs to be waterproof, windproof, lightweight, and packable. It doesn’t need to be a specific brand name; that traditionally results in a 45-65% markup.

Wading Staffs: Save

Wading staffs are a piece of kit that I think every angler should own. Although, they don’t have to be made of palladium, or stamped with a specific logo, to be effective.

Accessories: Save

Accessories are a necessary part of fly fishing; find a sturdy pair of hemostats, nippers with eye punch, a zinger or two, and a dry pad. There are several kinds of floatants, weights, indicators, and such. You don’t have to spend frivolously here as most of them come from the same place anyway.

Polarized Glasses: Splurge

I have owned terrible spectacles, never again. I usually concentrate on companies that specifically produce glasses for fishing purposes and it hasn’t failed me yet. I commonly have a darker and a lighter lens available to me for whatever may arise. Make sure to purchase a glasses keeper or lanyard to prevent them from being sacrificed to the Aqua-gods.

Net: Splurge

A good catch-and-release net is an angler's best friend, quite literally. I am not saying one must purchase a $600 landing net, but there is a difference between the blue light special and a quality-made product. The netting material and the way that netting material is secured to the net are the most common failure points.

Flies: Splurge

If you do not tie flies, look at a quality fly shop/producer to acquire them. Buying mass-import-produced flies will have you constantly changing out the fly as you fish. The hooks will straighten, the tie will unravel, or the pattern will be ineffective due to flaws. Be prepared to punch every single hook eye free from glue. Trust me, you will actually save by buying better flies.

Get In Contact With Us

A man holding a fish out of the water.

Photo by Jeff B. 

I sincerely hope this assists you in your future fly fishing endeavors. If you have any questions please reach out to me or any of the Fishing Experts at Curated to guide you in the right direction. We look forward to it. Tight lines!

Fly Fishing Expert Josh H.
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Josh H.
Fly Fishing Expert
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Written By
Fishing for over thirty years and being in the Military for twenty, has taught me to remember that any wade and wet fly is better than not being there at all. I would rather spend a day on the river, and a night under the stars than anywhere else. I have had the privilege of living in the most beaut...

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