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Why is fly fishing so expensive?

Many people see fly fishing as an elitist sport, popularized by the British nobility who drive their latest model land-rovers to their private chalk streams. This extravagant cost is far from the reality, even in England and certainly not in America.

The belief fly fishing is expensive is a common misconception. All essential fly fishing equipment for a day on the river can be brought for under $200. There is little need to spend thousands on premium equipment.

Is Fly Fishing Expensive?

Alex-Smith-Unsplash

Fly fishing is not expensive.
Fly fishing tackle (alex smith)

Fly fishing can be expensive, but it does not have to be. It is possible to spend thousands on expensive prestigious brands, guided trips and nights in exclusive lodges. These costs will be eye watering for most people.

But, like all hobbies, fly fishing can be affordable. There are many cheap rod, reels and fly fishing accessories. There is no need to employ the services of a guide, or pay for the rights to fish a private beat.

I do not believe fly fishing is more expensive than other styles of fishing. Compared with spinning, the reels are significantly cheaper. A fly rod and line costs more, but flies are cheaper than most spinning lures. Boat ownership immediately blows all fly tackle expenses out of the water.


When compared with other hobbies, costs are not too dissimilar. Golf clubs and green fees do not come cheap. A top end road bike certainly costs more. Hunters out there can easily drop thousands on precision optics and quality rifles. As a kayaker, I could kit myself out with the finest of fly fishing gear for the price of a carbon fiber kayak.

What basic items do I need to go fly fishing?

Below I listed the essential, recommended and optional gear which is used for fly fishing. Beside it, I gave a rough price estimate for entry level gear. You can certainly find gear cheaper, but the guide I gave includes some cushioning and flexibility. It is possible to get fully kitted out with decent quality entry level gear for under $650.

If on a tight budget, it is possible to get a kit containing only the essentials for under $100. That is a very cheap way to get on the water fly-fishing.

Essential Fly fishing items
Entry Level Price guide
Fly RodUsed to cast and control the line$80
Fly ReelUsed to hold the line$30
Fly LineProvides the weight to cast the lure$30
backingThin line which fills out a fly reel$10
Tapered LeaderClear nylon which is tied to the end of the fly line.$8 (5 pack)
TippetReplace line tied between the leader and the fly. The thin tippet is hard for the trout to see allowing for more delicate presentations$8 (per spool)
FlyThe fly is the bait which the trout eats.$24 for a dozen
Freshwater licenseGovernment feeSee below section
Total:
$190
Recommended Fly fishing items

SunglassesProtects ones eyes, and aids in sighting fish.$30
PliersMakes releasing fish easier.$10
Nail clippers or scissors.Allows you to cut lines without damaging your teeth.$4
Fly boxContainer to hold flies$10
FloatantSpecial chemical to make flies water repellent allowing them to float.$9
Landing NetA hand net to catch and land trout in.$35
Total:
$98
Optional fly fishing equipment

VestHolds all of your fly fishing accessories$40
WadersKeep you warm and dry when walking through water.$80
Wading bootsSpecial boots designed for stability in the water$90
SinkantsOpposite to floatant, makes flies sink$10
Split shotSmall lead weight to make a fly sink faster$14
IndicatorVisible material which makes it easier to see your line.$10
Total:
$244

Are Fly Fishing brands worth the money?

There are many long established and prestigious names in fly fishing. Names such as Simms, Sage, Hardy, Orvis have been making fly fishing gear for generations. These names carry a premium. These companies and others have done years of research and developed which have resulted in gear which makes our hobby more efficient and enjoyable.

In most situations, I feel money is better spent on entry level gear from a proven manufacturer than saving a few bucks by buying the cheapest no-name. The main advantage gained by purchasing from a premium brand is the excellent warranty and support they offer. This level of service normally covers their entire range from the $1000 flagship to their.

For example, my first ever fly rod was a Sage launch. This Rod is over 15 years old now and is still the 6wt rod I reach for most often. I have broken and lost sections on several occasions and every time sage has repaired or replaced the missing section. If you spend the money on quality gear you will get years of use out of it. In that same amount of time I have been through six spinning rods and have spent well in excess of what I paid for my launch. If there is one downside with buying quality, is that you might be stuck with it for more years. I find it hard justifying the purchase of a new fly rod when my existing ones still gets the job done.

It is not only fly rods, I have owned and fished with a Lamson reel for only a decade. It was machined with such precision and designed so well that even after so many years it is a delight to use.

Are the cheap fly rods and reels on amazon any good?

Amazon, and other online market places have been swamped by countless brands of extremely cheap fishing equipment. These brands, often of dubious quality are usually sourced from China.

These brands normally appear out of nowhere, and they could just as easily disappear as quickly as they come. They do not offer long term support or trail their products to see if they are up to the task. I have a hard time trusting products from faceless companies with no proven record or community involvement. Many of these unknown products also use fake or brought reviews to increase their exposure.

For my core fishing products I avoid these products. I do not need my rod, fly line or reel to fail after a two hour drive road trip. The cheapest, entry level product from an established manufacturer is normally much better value.

If you still want to save every cent, then going direct to Ali-Express is even cheaper. Of course there is probably even less after sale service. In my experience, I find the aliexpress reviews often seem to be more genuine.

How cheaply can someone start fly fishing?

Getting into fly fishing does not have to be expensive. It is possible to buy a decent rod, reel and line for under $200. With some change to spend for leader, tippet and flies.

There are some extremely cheap starter kits available on Amazon, one of the better ones being the Maxcatch Extreme Fly Fishing Combo Kit. The kit includes a rod, reel, fly line, fly box and several accessories sells for under $90. All it seems to lack is leaders and tippets. Easy way to get fishing for under $100.

If you want to use entry level name brand gear, then a Redington Crosswater Fly Fishing combo retails for only $150. Throw in a cheap quality fly line such as the Scientific Anglers Air Cel Floating Lines for $30 and the other essential tackle on the list above and you could be on the river with some pretty nice gear for under $250.

How about license fees?

Licence fees differ quite significantly from state to state, and country to country. In most of the new world, you do not have to pay to access most fishing beats. So the annual fishing license would be a one off cost.

There are too many countries and states to list. So I gave a few examples below. The prices are for an annual resident adult freshwater licence in local currency.

England£82
New Zealand$133
British Columbia$55
New South Wales$35
Montana$32
California$53
Maine$25

How about beat or river fees?’

Most countries in the New World do not have private ownership of fishing. Which means most rivers, lakes and streams are free for any license holders to fish.

The united kingdom and much of Europe are exceptions. There a lot of the best freshwater fishing is in private ownership, or the rights belong to exclusive fishing clubs or syndicates.

Fishing an iconic chalk stream near London during the peak of the mayfly hatch is expensive. I have heard a day can cost as much as £400. That is one extreme, at the other there are numerous locations which allow free fishing throughout the UK. There is even free Chalk stream fishing within the city of London.

Are expensive Fly Rods worth it?

You do not have to spend a small fortune to get a quality fly rod. I am a member of an active fly fishing club, and once or twice every year they host a casting day. During which I have tried most of the rods from the big names in fly fishing. I also own quite the collection of fly rods, and have had the chance to borrow and fish with many others.

I do not consider myself a top caster. My numerous mistakes lack the grace and precision of master casters. My casting is good enough to catch trout and generally put the fly where I want it.

In my hands all the rods have their own characteristics and they performed differently. Some are soft and allowing for slower graceful presentations, others stiff and fast. Good at punching into a headwind or to get a couple of more meters on a cast. I personally do not catch any more trout on a $800 rod compared with a $100 one.

Some of my best fly-fishing memories were with a Daiwa Fly Rod I borrowed one trip. The softer action was perfect for the small stream I was fishing at the time. I did not even know Daiwa made fly-fishing equipment.

In my club, there is one very experienced angler who fishes with entry to mid range price rods. He basically goes to the local fly fishing store, and asks to cast a selection of rods they have available. He then chooses the one which best matches his technique. It is never the flagship.

A $950 Sage or Hardy is not going to make you a better fisherman. Years of practice and experience is. Now, the premier brands do have some value. Their warranty and support is normally excellent. I can still get sections on the Sage Launch I brought 15 years ago replaced for a small fee. Over years of fishing, these premier rods do start to pay for themselves.

Should I buy an expensive fly reel?

The primary purpose of a fly reel is to hold line and prevent it from sprawling everywhere. Unlike with spinning, you rarely depend on the drag to slow and fight fish. Trout simply do not pull enough line.

Most of the line control is done with your hands, between gently palming the reel and stripping the line. The fly reel is more just a container, and all but the cheapest models perform satisfactory.

There are exceptions, when fighting big powerful fish, more common in saltwater fishing a quality reel comes in useful but in most fly fishing situations a high end real is a nice to have rather than a must have.

Are expensive fly lines worth it?

I have always purchased and used high end fly lines. So my experience with cheap lines is lacking. The general feedback I have heard over the year is to buy the best flyline you can afford. A fly line needs to be slick and supple enough to glide through the line and carry your fly to the fish. It is not an area to save money on.

For the budget angler, I suggest buying a entry level line from a name brand. I will go for a weight forward over double taper. It makes loading the rod easier.

It was not long ago that the mid-price Cortland 444 use to be their flagship product. The brands also stand behind their products, so no need to worry about warranty claims. Some examples of good affordable lines include Rio Mainstream, Cortland 333, Scientific Anglers Air Cel or AIRFLO Velocity.

Backing, leader and tippet

Fy line backing is used to extend the total length of line. Most fly fline are made from braided Dacron. It typically has a breaking strain of between 20-30lb. The backing is tied directly too the fly reel at one end, and to the base of the fly-line at the other.

The leader, is a tapered section of nylon or fluorocarbon which is tied to the end of the fly line. While it is technically possible to fish with only a leader, for cost reasons most fishermen tie on additional line which is called the tippet.

If you do not use tippet, every time you change a fly the total length is the leader reduces by a few inches. Does not take long for it to run out of length. While flies can be changed dozens of times a day, the tippet is normally only replaced every few hours.

Do I need waders or boots?

Waders and wading boots are optional. If you are interested in wading boots we have published a buyers guide comparing several top models.

In the warmer summer months wading in just quick drying trousers or shorts is fine. There are also plenty of fish which you can cast to without even entering the water.

Any reasonably grippy sport shoe or hiking shoe would do to begin with. I spent a lot of time fishing in Keen Sandals, sometimes I even wear my old running shoes. There is no need for expensive specialized footwear for fly fishing.

The price of flies

When purchased from a retail store an individual fly can cost $2-3 each, that can quickly add up. A good alternative is to buy flies in bulk, buying flies a dozen at a time is significantly cheaper than individually. There are also combination packs, sometimes you can buy 50 flies for $50 or similar. This is an affordable way to try many different types and styles.

For the fly fishing enthusiasts there is also fly tying. If you are efficient, you can tie flies for less than 30c each and a few minutes of your time.

There are hundreds of fly variations available to buy, but 90% of fishing is done with only a few variations. Half a dozen models in a range of sizes is a good start.

If I were to recommend a core of six flies to start with I will include.

Two Nymphs for bottom fishing, the tungsten bead allows them to sink quickly. If fishing small water maybe consider using size 16 instead. If fishing big water then consider size 12.

  • Pheasant tail nymph (size 14)
  • Tungsten hares ear nymph (size 14)
  • Twilight Beauty (Size 14): The twilight beauty is a good imitation of tiny Mayflies, Dads favourite is another good alternative.
  • Parachute Adams (size 12): The Parachute Adam is another mayfly imitation, the bright white wing makes it easier to spot while on the water. Likely to be found in most fly boxes across the globe.
  • Back Gnat (size 14): The black gnat imitates small terrestrial insects such as gnats or house flies.
  • Grey Ghost (Size 4): The Grey Ghost is an iconic streamer, which imitates among other things a small baitfish.

Are expensive sunglasses worth it?

If you plan on doing any sight fishing a pair of polarised sunglasses make a massive difference. They cut through the glare making it much easier to spot fish. The main difference between cheap and expensive glasses is durability. Cheap sunglasses are likely to end up scratched after a few outings. Expensive glasses, especially ones with glass lenses can last for years without a mark. I usually buy mid range glasses, I trend to lose them before destroying them.

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