The Anatomy of a Fly Fishing Setup

Fly fishing gear bag with fly fishing rod and reel

If you’ve spent any time at all fishing, you know it’s not a one-size-fits-all sport. You can go as cost-affordable as a stick, line, and hook—or quite the opposite with some really expensive gear (that one may argue the merits or necessity of).

Fly fishing seems like an element of the sport with a pretty big barrier of entry. Seriously, have you seen some of these guys out on the water with their fly fishing setup? What are they doing with all of that gear? If you don’t know what this stuff is, how do you even know where to start? Conveniently enough, the internet exists—and we’ll break down some of the equipment and its purpose just below.

Fly Rod

Fly rod and reel with bright colored backing
Image by Carl Heyerdahl from Unsplash.

Let’s start with the basics. A good fly rod is at the core of any fly fisher. Fly rods come in different lengths and weights.

When you’re buying, think about the fish you’re trying to catch. Trout, for example, won’t need as heavy a rod as larger fish. In general, a nine-foot or six-weight rod will do the trick for a variety of fish.

Fly Reel

A rod without a reel is mostly just a stick (which, if that works for you, then do your thing). Fly reels, in general, come in a variety of arbor sizes (how much line they hold), weights, and drags.

There are dozens of reel types on the market. A good entry-level reel will do the trick for you, but one note: your reel must match your rod’s weight to work best. Otherwise, just make sure you go for metal over plastic. It’s a better investment.

Fly Line

Because there are no weights in fly fishing, and flies weigh next to nothing, the weight to propel your cast forward comes from the line.

There’s the fly line backing, which allows you extra length for a fish to run. That’s the majority of what fills your arbor. Then you have the actual fly line, which offers the weight. This, too, should match the weight rating of your rod and reel.


Because fly line and backing are both brightly colored, you want a monofilament leader to present to the fish. They’re less likely to be spooked by the clear line. Your leader will be between 7-12 feet, usually. 


Man tying a fly onto a tippet
Image by Josh Frenette from Unsplash.

Who knew there was so much just to the line you’re using? A tippet connects between the fly and the leader. Ideally, it’s nearly invisible and—also ideally—very strong, so as to not break during a fight.


Fly angler prepping fly rod and fly reel and tying a fly
Image by Josh Frenette from Unsplash.

Finally, you’re saying. The fun part. And yes, flies are very important.

Flies come in three primary types:

    • Dry flies – these are the flies you’re probably thinking of when you think of flies. They’re designed to look like flying insects and float on top of the water.
    • Nymphs – nymphs tend to look like aquatic larvae and float just below the water surface.
    • Streamers – streamers are similar to nymphs but look more like leeches or baitfish and are a bit larger.

Which fly do you want? Now that is a question. It depends entirely upon what you’re fishing for, where you’re fishing, and the conditions. Do some research on where you’ll be fishing and make some decisions from there.

Fly Box

Flies are small and, like traditional lures, you’re probably going to want several of them. And because they’re usually quite small and easy to lose, you’ll want a fly box to help keep them organized.

Gear Bag

With everything we’ve covered so far, you’re either going to need large pockets to carry everything or, more likely, a good shoulder pack. Plus, you’ll fit your water and lunch in there.

Of course if you plan to keep your fish, you’ll also want a creel bag, which is designed to keep your catch cool while you continue to fish.


Image of a fly angler with a net
Image by Taylor Grote from Unsplash.

Grabbing a fish off of a fly rod is a little different than a traditional setup. A net makes it much easier (especially if you’re solo) and may better protect the fish as well. 


Days on the river without much cover can get to you. Any kind of hat will do, but you want something to protect your noggin from UV rays.


If you don’t want your pack hanging on you all day, you can leave that on the shore and load up your vest with the few things you’ll need right on hand.


You have options when you fly fish. You can wear a good pair of water shoes and just get wet, or you can get a set of waders and go anywhere in the water where you’re not over your head. Either way works (but if it’s cold outside, you’re going to want the waders). 

Sunglasses (Polarized)

Just like your head, you need to protect your eyes from dangerous UV rays. More than that, though, polarized sunglasses take the glare off the water and allow you to see much more. See that fish below the waterline? Not without polarized shades, you don’t.

Ready to give fly fishing a go? Search Overton’s selection of fly fishing gear and you’ll be outfitted like a pro.


One comment

  1. Very important to have glasses of some description to keep that fly from striking you in the eye

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