Fly Gear 101

Welcome to Superfly’s Fly Gear 101 learning resource page. Browse through our media and articles to learn more about fly fishing gear.

Gear 101

Fly Fishing Gear

Fly fishing has a reputation for being complicated and needing highly specialized and expensive equipment, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With some good basic gear, you can have a great day on the water. As you become more interested in fly, there is a whole world of products for you to explore. What follows is a simple rundown of some of the gear used to fly fish.

Rods, Reels, Combos

When choosing a rod or reel, it’s important to know what species you are fishing for and the type of water you are fishing in. Knowing these things will allow you to choose the weight class of gear you need. For example, a 5/6 weight combo is perfect for bass trout and panfish in streams, rivers and lakes. For larger bodies of water or larger species, you will need a higher weight class.

When choosing a fly rod, another factor to consider is length. A typical fly rod is 8 1 /2 to 9 feet long and is perfect for most freshwater conditions. When fishing larger bodies of water like wide rivers, lakes and saltwater, and where wind might be a factor, it can be helpful to have a longer rod. In tight situations like a small stream with lots of trees and bushes, it’s helpful to use a shorter rod.

Reels hold your fly line and backing. Reel selection is based on the thickness of the line you are using and how much backing the spool needs to hold. Manufacturers have simplified this choice by using the same weight class number system that is used for the rods so that you can match the weight of the reel to the weight of the rod. Most reels come ready for left-handed retrieval but can be easily switched to right. The drag system knob on the reel is used to help fight fish by creating resistance as the fish pulls the line off the reel.

Combos and ready-to-fish kits are also available. On these, the rod and the reel are already matched and can even include backing line and leader, making it super simple to grab your gear and go!

Lines, Leaders, Tippet

Fly line is the integral component of fly fishing. It’s what carries your fly to the water. Your line must run smoothly and tangle-free to present your fly in the most natural way to attract and not scare off a fish. Fly lines are designed to float or sink to help position a fly in the water.

Behind every great line is backing, a braided cord that connects your fishing line to the reel, giving you extra line when you need it to fight a fish that wants to swim.

leader is a piece of monofilament line that is usually tapered down to a fine end. The thick end connects to the fly line, the thin end is where you tie on the fly. As you change flies throughout the day, you will cut off more and more of this fine end. Eventually it gets too short and you need to extend it by tying in a material known as tippet.

Tippet is essentially fine monofilament made to the size and strength to match the species you’re after and the size of the fly you’re using. As an example, if your tippet is too large, then you won’t be able to get it through the eye of the fly. If it is too light, then your fly will easily break off when casting or when hooking a fish. Leader and tippet size are denoted by a number next to an X. See our leader and tippet sizing chart

Try this mnemonic for keeping your line types straight: Build Long Lines To Fly (Backing, Line, Leader, Tippet, Fly). See our different line types.

Streamside Tools & Accessories

A day on the water can be full of surprises and opportunities. The basic gear needed for fly fishing is minimal, but it certainly helps to have some basic tools and accessories on hand.

Line accessories such as loop connectors, leader straightener and a tippet spool holder will help manage your line. Strike indicators are useful to position your fly in the water and let you know when you have a bite.

Streamside tools such as clamps, forceps, scissors, pliers, and nippers will help minimize your handling of fish, speed fly changes, and help keep your teeth from becoming your main cutting tool. Retractors will keep your tools and accessories handy and out of the way.

Different dressings are available to keep flies dry or help them sink and others are used to clean and condition fly line. Caddies keep these formulas organized and accessible for when you need them. See our accessories here.

Fly Fishing Boxes

Often overlooked, fly boxes are an essential piece of gear as they keep your flies organized, protected and handy. Features such as buoyancy, easy opening latches, and rounded corners to help boxes slide easily in and out of pockets are important when choosing a fly box.

When shopping for a fly box, think about how you are going to carry it and how you want to organize your flies. Handle the boxes to see which ones fit well in your hands and are easiest for you to open and close, and slip in and out of pockets in vests, packs and waders. It’s a highly personalized bit of gear, so take your time and choose well. See our fly boxes here.

Flies 101

If it looks like food and looks alive, chances are good a fish will eat it.

All fish eat a variety of food from small minnows to insects. The challenge for fly fishers is to figure out what the fish are eating and then try and match it with a fly. Fly choice can be completely overwhelming with thousands of options on the menu. So to get started, let’s keep it simple and look at six basic fly categories.

Some tips on fly selection

In the spring when the waters are murky and fish are aggressive, try using larger, bolder patterns. As the water warms up in the summer, fish move deeper. Try weighted patterns when there isn’t an obvious insect hatch. By fall, waters are clear and fish are spooky. Try smaller, imitative patterns. You can also choose your fly color by the brightness of the day: Use bright flies for bright sunny days and dark flies for darker cloudy days. Remember, variety is key when it comes to filling your fly box. Have an assortment of patterns, colors and sizes on hand so that you’re ready to offer up what fish are eating. Superfly has developed a color coding system to help you choose which fly to use and how to match flies to different species of fish.

Dry Flies

Dry flies and other surface flies represent adult aquatic insects as they emerge from the water. They also represent other food sources that have fallen into the water like grasshoppers or mice. Dry flies are good for trout, panfish and bass. And there’s nothing more exciting than watching a fish rise up anttake your fly on the surface.


Streamers imitate baitfish, leeches and crayfish, which are all primary food sources for fish. Streamers are fished throughout the water column in both rivers and lakes. Virtually every species of fish can be caught with a streamer.

Salmon Flies

Salmon flies are designed for both Pacific and Atlantic salmon as well as for steelhead. These flies often don’t imitate anything specific in nature but are meant to trigger an aggressive response.


Nymphs are imitations of young insects in their larval form that live in the water. Fished on or near the bottom of lakes and rivers, nymphs are very effective for trout, panfish, salmon and steelhead.

Wet Flies

Wet flies imitate aquatic insects as they swim to the surface. They are very effective when used for trout, panfish, bass, salmon and steelhead.

Saltwater Flies

Saltwater flies represent the many food sources found in the ocean. From baitfish to crab and even shrimp, these patterns can catch everything from bonefish to tarpon.

Chapter 1: Why Fly?

Chapter 2: What You Need

Chapter 3: How to Cast

Chapter 4: What Fish Eat

Chapter 5: Where to Find Fish

Chapter 6: Get Fishing

Chapter 7: Retrieving Line

Chapter 8: Catching Fish

Chapter 9: Catch & Release

Chapter 10: On the water