Everything You Need for a Day of Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing expert Andy Sparhawk runs through everything you need for your first time on the water.
I have a confession. I am a terrible planner. It does not matter if it is time, tasks, or trout fishing. I often find myself procrastinating, underprepared, or simply winging it. This character flaw has resulted in frustration, premature ends to otherwise great days of fly fishing, and plenty of discomfort from painfully cold fingers or waterlogged drives back home.
Don't be like me.
If you are just starting out in fly fishing, it's crucial to have a plan. Having a preparation routine is your best defense for salvaging a day on the river when life inevitably tries to ruin your trip.
A plan packs that rain jacket when the forecast calls for nothing but sun. A plan is that extra pair of shorts when you slip on that slick river rock. And a plan is that spare 5-weight when you snap your main rod.
Do plans change? Sure. Will you develop your own fly fishing checklist? Absolutely. In the meantime, for your sake —and mine—I've compiled a list of things to remember for a new angler's first time on the water.
What to Bring on Your First Fly Fishing Trip
Whether you're setting out with a buddy or teaming up with a local guide, it's important to prepare some items for a day of fly fishing. Factors that should be considered include:
- Duration of the trip
- Weather forecast
- Level of physical exertion required
- What type of fish
Many guides offer half-day and full-day trips at four and eight hours on the water, respectively. This does not include the time it takes to get to and from the water. Keep this in mind when starting your plan. Are there any medications you need to take? If so, make sure to pack them. Is the weather expected to change?
In Colorado, where I live, the nurses swaddle newborns in layers – just kidding-- the weather can change fast and drastically. Depending on the time of the year and elevation, the Rocky Mountains can throw all four seasons at you. Not only is being caught in a blizzard in June unpleasant, but it can also be dangerous.
Another consideration is the effort required to get to the water. Is there a trail with loose rocks? Is there a trail at all? Does your trip require wading across a rushing river? Do you have trouble with altitude? In these cases, it might be wise to bring along a wading staff, inhaler, and always plenty of water.
Finally, knowing what fish species you're fishing for or the type of fishing will help you avoid packing a pile of unnecessary fly fishing gear. Oh, you're planning to fish beaver ponds for brook trout? That's good news. You can leave the 12-weight at home.
Clothing for Fly Fishing
Comfort is a primary objective when planning a fly fishing trip. Fly fishers subject themselves to the elements for the sport that they love. Fly fishing isn't just a summertime pastime in the West; it is practiced worldwide, including tropical and subarctic regions. What you wear or bring along on your trip will go a long way in helping to battle the uncertainty of Mother Nature while focusing on your pursuit.
Fly Fishing Clothing Checklist
- Rain jacket, consider waterproof or water-resistant
- Light jacket or sweatshirt
- Base layers, such as long underwear, synthetic materials preferred
- Quick-drying pants, jeans aren't recommended
- Long sleeve shirt, preferably with SPF protection
- Wool socks
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Extra clothes, in case the others get soaked
Winter Fly Fishing
Fly fishing during the winter warrants special consideration. No, I'm not talking about spending January and February in the Florida Keys pursuing tarpon. The popularity of fly fishing has almost necessitated winter fly fishing for any attempt to achieve solitude. Additionally, trout don't stop eating in the winter. Some of the best days of fly fishing I've had have included driving wind, intermittent snow, and temps that hopefully creep to the 20s.
If you can rationalize tying size 26 midge patterns with near-frozen fingertips and clearing icy rod guides, then winter fly fishing is a beautiful wintery escape made much more possible with the right protection.
Winter Fly Fishing Checklist
- Waterproof, winter-ready jacket with a hood
- Additional layers, softshell jacket, puffy vest, sweatshirt, long sleeve shirt; as much as you feel comfortable in
- Warm winter hat
- Winter face cover – Balaclava, neck gaiter
- Winter gloves – fly fishing specific options allow for access to fingers for tying
- Handwarmers – brand names include Grabber and Hothands
- Base layers – long underwear, synthetic materials preferred
- Breathable pants, jeans aren't recommended
- Wool socks
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Extra clothes, in case the others get soaked
- Double-walled container or thermos of hot coffee or cocoa
- Waders and wading boots
Security & Safety While Fly Fishing
Being comfortable, even in inclement conditions, is an integral part of the fly fishing trip checklist. Still, there are other items to include that can help keep you safe. Weather isn't the only thing that fly fishermen and women must contend with. A half-day fishing trip can turn south quickly with a twisted ankle, bee sting, or simply being out in the sun without a hat or sunblock. Always bring a water bottle full of water and a plan to shield yourself from the sun. Keep in mind that the water you are fishing reflects the sun up under your hat, and severe sunburns happen, even on a cloudy day. Covering your face and neck with sunscreen or cloth buff will help you avoid a painful burn.
Sunglasses are absolutely essential when fly fishing. A pair of polarized shades not only help you cut that glare on the water, allowing you to see cruising fish, but is also your eye protection against whipping willow branches or errant hooks. Please, please, please, don't forget a pair of sunglasses.
Security & Safety Checklist
- Polarized sunglasses
- Bottle of water
- Medications/personal items
- Sunscreen, lip balm
- First-Aid kit
- Knife or multi-tool
- Neck and face buff
- Cell phone
- Waterproof bag/zip-lock to keep electronics
- Tell someone where you're going
Essential Gear When Fly Fishing
I once traveled two and a half hours to the Dream Stream in South Park, Colorado, only to discover that I packed my waders but no wading boots. It was some of the earliest wet wading I have done.
Again, don't be like me.
There are so many tools and gear in fly fishing that are useful and may improve your chances of success. At the same time, the art of fly fishing remains incredibly simple. If you can find fish and present them with a realistic presentation, you're on your way. Over time, you add and remove pieces of gear. You'll figure out what works for you and your routine. At a minimum, a fly rod and reel loaded with the proper lines along with an assortment of flies is all that is needed to fly fish. To feel prepared, I would advise a fly fishing vest or fly fishing bag that includes a few tools that will allow you to adjust to the fishing conditions and land the fish that I am sure you will catch.
Essential Fly Fishing Gear Checklist
- Fishing license
- Fly rod and reel properly outfitted with line
- Leader and tippet
- Split shot
- Dry fly floatant
- Line nippers
- Landing net
- Waders and boots
Note that much of the above list is provided when you hire a guide. But be sure to check with your guide to make sure. If you're utilizing a guide's services to go fly fishing, be sure to bring along money for a tip.
I hope these lists will help you pack appropriately for your first-time fly fishing. I, too, have learned to resist my eagerness to get on the water and take time to review a list. I have even resorted to putting on my waders and boots at my house. This avoids another Dream Stream incident, plus I'm not as anxious when I reach the parking lot.
As I said, don't be like me, unless you think it will help.
Bonus: It's never a bad idea to bring a camera along and a few cold beers for those times when the plan works out perfectly (or not).
If you have any questions on finding the right gear for your next fly fishing adventure, please don't hesitate to reach out to a Fly Fishing expert here on Curated.