October 07, 2021
By Ross Purnell
This article was originally titled "Getting Your Feet Wet" in the 2019 Gear Guide special publication of Fly Fisherman magazine.
Fly fishing has an undeserved reputation for being an expensive sport. While it’s true you can purchase $1,000 fly rods, fly fishing is comparatively inexpensive when you look at the equipment required for downhill skiing, golf, or mountain biking. To get started skiing you need all of the equipment—you can’t skip the boots for one season. And then there’s the lift tickets.
In fly fishing it’s fairly easy to just get your toes wet, then add to your equipment inventory as the season progresses. To get started fly fishing, you just need a rod, reel, a fly line, and a box of flies. Pick a warm, sunny day and head to a local farm pond or municipal lake known for sunfish and bass. A stocked trout pond or reservoir is also a good choice. This is where you—or the people you are mentoring—can get started without a huge commitment.
Your first fly rod setup can come in many forms, but the good news is that the least expensive rods have gotten much better in recent years, and so has mid-priced tackle. There has always been “cheap” gear around but many manufacturers are now actually providing quality equipment that works in the field.
For instance, Orvis Clearwater rods are excellent rods that can only be considered entry-level because of the price. You may just hang onto them. Cortland’s Trout Boss DT ($90) is about the same price as other top-shelf fly lines but because it’s a double taper, it’s actually two lines in one. If you have two kids, cut the line in half and let each child use a front half. It turns into the best $45 line on the market.
The Wade Rod Co. (thewaderodco.com) business model is to get the rod into your hands now, and let you pay for it later using an installment plan. Tyler Waltenbaugh, who is president of the Edinboro University Fly Fishing Club, wanted a new rod for steelheading on Lake Erie tributaries and used the $50-per-month installment plan to buy an 8-weight Tide Chaser from The Wade Rod Company. Steelhead season will be over when he makes his final payment on the $250 rod. It’s innovative ideas like this that make fly fishing one of the most affordable and accessible outdoors pursuits for young people today.
Simms Kids Tributary Wader
The major obstacle in teaching your kids to fly fish isn’t the casting, or the finicky nature of trout, it’s the weather and cold water, and the fact that unlike adults, kids rarely stay the same size from one season to the next. Until now, it’s been extraordinarily expensive even to find waders to fit your kids, and keeping them in the right-sized waders from season to season has been next to impossible.
Simms has solved this problem with the new Kids Tributary Wader, available in three children’s sizes. The waders are made with a 3-layer polyester breathable material in the upper, and a 4-layer design in the lower wader so they are tough in high-wear areas and still breathable on hot days, just like mom and dad’s waders. They have reach-through fleece-lined handwarmer pockets to keep little hands warm and there’s a back loop for the 38mm nylon belt. Keep that belt cinched up at all times! We also recommend a PFD in boats, or wading anywhere near deep water or fast, strong current. simmsfishing.com. $130.
Simms Tributary Boot
It doesn’t do much good to introduce a new series of Kids Tributary stockingfoot waders without a range of similarly sized and priced wading boots. These sub-$100 boots have a rubber toe cap, neoprene-lined ankle support, and a textile no-rust lace-up system. They are available with either a stud-compatible rubber traction sole or a felt sole in whole sizes 7 to 14. simmsfishing.com. $100.
Sage Spectrum C
This is a solid, no-frills die-cast aluminum reel with a flat no-gloss and no-spook powder-coated finish. It comes in 3/4, 5/6, 7/8, and 9/10 sizes with a large-arbor design so you can pick up line quickly and you don’t have to waste an extra 100 yards of backing to just fill up space.
The reel is less expensive because it isn’t machined and anodized and polished the same way as Sage’s top-tier reels, but it has the same consistent and dependable sealed carbon drag system as other Sage Spectrum reels with a one-revolution drag knob and numbered, detented drag settings. It’s quite a drag package for an “entry level” reel and even in the 9/10 size it can handle large, powerful fish like jack crevalle, redfish, and cobia.
It comes in black or gray with a neoprene and embroidered nylon reel case. Extra spools are available for $80-$90. sageflyfish.com. $150-$175.
Cortland Fairplay 5/6 Outfit
I recently had a family friend ask about fly fishing. She had been camping with friends (all of them millennials) in the Sierras and one of the campers brought a fly rod. He caught and released some beautifully colored alpine gems, and she was impressed by both the beauty of fly casting, and the non-consumptive nature of catch-and-release trout fishing. She was hooked, and wanted to learn more. My first response was to arrange some proper fly-casting instruction through a local fly shop—in her case Lost Coast Outfitters in San Francisco—and then to get her a Cortland Fairplay 5/6 Outfit.
She lives 2,000 miles from me, so I couldn’t show her how to tie the backing to the reel, how to tie the backing to the fly line, and how to loop on a leader. The best thing I could do was to send her this pre-assembled $80 kit. It’s the easiest way for someone to start casting and fishing immediately without all the hassle of assembling the gear.
The Fairplay outfit has a 4-piece 5/6 rod and a graphite matrix composite reel preloaded with a 65-foot WF fly line and 150 feet of backing. It’s perfect for trout, bass, and panfish.
We all have people from time to time who are genuinely interested in fly fishing but due to distance or time constraints we can’t immediately take them fishing. But you can gift them or direct them to this affordable starter package. They might end up thanking you—and maybe even outfishing you—later. cortlandline.com. $80 —Ross Purnell
The Wade Rod Co. Freestoner
The Company Postfly (postflybox.com) is best known for its $20 monthly subscription fly service where seasonal patterns are delivered right to your doorstep. The Wade Rod Co. is a tackle subsidiary that sells rods (and reels) not through a subscription but through an installment plan. It’s a great idea for students, new fly fishers who want to test the waters, or for experienced fly fishers on a budget who need a second or third rod for special purposes.
The Wade Rod Co. sells two fiberglass models, as well as a 3-weight 7' Blue Liner for Eastern brook trout and alpine cutts; a 6-weight Streamer Express; a 10' 4-weight Nympster; and a 9' 8-weight Tide Chaser for saltwater fishing. Our tester used the 9' 5-weight Freestone ($60 monthly on the installment plan) for autumn smallmouth bass and for Pennsylvania brook trout and browns in small-stream settings, and found the rod could do a lot more than the moniker indicates. It’s also a serviceable tool for indicator nymph fishing, swinging small wet flies during a caddis hatch, and to keep in the drift boat for any kind of backup duty. thewaderodco.com.
I believe the adage, “you get what you pay for” holds true to most consumer goods, but there are exceptions. Until my early teens, I grew up in a low-income household and was only able to afford the entry-level fly-fishing equipment. I learned that success on the water is mostly created by good techniques rather than from the equipment itself. However, the right equipment can make for a more enjoyable day on the water.
Until recently, most entry-level rods left a lot to be desired in regard to performance, but times are changing. Today several rod manufacturers are putting more resources into building these types of rods. One problem historically has been that entry-level rods have been built for just a single purpose with a one-size-fits-all-approach.
But in real life, not all rods are used for the same fishing. Some rods should cast dry flies in tight quarters to rising trout, while other rods need to cast a shrimp pattern 50 feet into a stiff wind while chasing bonefish. As a result, the rod design needs to be based on how the rod will be used. This has long been the case for high-end rods, but this type of design effort rarely went into entry-level rods where basically one taper design was used for all line weights and lengths.
All rods need to excel at performing specific tasks whether that’s casting large streamers to toothy critters or Euro nymphing 7X tippet for tailwater brown trout. One taper cannot rule them all. This is how the Orvis Clearwater series set itself apart from other rods in the same price range. Orvis rod designer Shawn Combs and his team specifically designed the tapers based on how they want the rods to perform. For example, the 10' 3-weight Tightline has a super-limp tip to cast long nymphing leaders with excellent sensitivity for Euro nymphing. I used the 9'4" 11-weight Musky rod to catch the fish in my bio photo (page 8). The Orvis Clearwater selection offers an entry-level price point rod for basically any fly-fishing adventure.
With a new blend of three different types of graphite, Orvis says the rods are 10% to 15% stronger than the last Clearwater generation with higher-quality cork. A cork composite cork is used the fighting butts for durability.
The Clearwater lineup starts with 10 models in January 2019 and by March 2020 will include a total of 27 rods including nine big-game rods and eight two-handed rods. My favorite two-handed Clearwater is an 11'4" 3-weight Trout Spey I’ll be using to swing streamers on my local trout streams.
I’m excited to see Orvis offering a premium product in this price range. The only question I have after testing several models over the last eight months is: “Is the Clearwater rod too good? Will it compete with sales of the premium Helios 3?” I guess from the viewpoint of consumers, it doesn’t really matter. orvis.com. $200-$400. —George Daniel
Cortland Trout Boss DT
Double-taper lines were eclipsed in popularity by weight-forward designs many years ago, about the time, not coincidentally, that faster-action rods came into vogue. I suspect most anglers felt that the long front tapers loaded faster rods poorly at shorter distances, and they lacked the punch to turn over bigger or heavier flies. Such objections are valid for some double-taper designs, and (with one important provision that I’ll get to) not at all for Cortland’s new Trout Boss DT line.
A few technical details are worth pointing out. Compare the Trout Boss DT with the weight-forward Trout Boss WF, and you’ll find they have the same, short, 6-foot front taper; in fact, they have identical line profiles over the front 26 feet. Within that range (with one important provision that I’ll get to), they provide identical line dynamics. Beyond 26 feet, the DT has some decided advantages over its WF counterpart, at least for some anglers. You can carry more line in the air for more accurate deliveries at a distance and less stripping between casts. The long level body gives greater roll-casting range and better mending both in the air and on the water. And of course the DT line is reversible for twice the life. Interestingly, one end of the Trout Boss DT is hi-vis orange, the other low-vis moss green.
Now for that important provision: The Trout Boss DT3 I tested comes in at 100 grains—a spot-on 3-weight. The WF3 version weighs 120 grains—an unequivocal 4-weight. So for equivalent short-distance performance (inside 26 feet), just choose a DT that’s one line size heavier. While doing so does mean you’re carrying extra weight in the line on longer casts, most graphite rods can handle the additional load, unless the distances are extremely long.
The biggest downside to a DT line is in shooting, and if that’s your thing, go with a WF. But for fishing at average distances, the Trout Boss DT is a solid performer with a very slick, low-friction finish and the economy of two lines in one.
By the way, a shout-out to Cortland for printing the grain weight of the lines on the packaging; it should be standard operating procedure industry-wide. Available in line weights 2 through 6. cortlandline.com. $90 —Ted Leeson