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Equipment Basics

The beauty of fly fishing for sunfish and bass in the Hill Country rivers lies in its simplicity. These are not complicated fish, and the equipment needn't be either. However, there are certain factors to be taken into consideration when choosing the right outfit for the situation.
For the first time fly fisher, it is recommended that you have a knowledgeable friend assist while purchasing gear.
Fly fishing tackle is quite different than standard tackle. Consider the following table:

Component importance of Fly vs. Conventional tackle
Fly tackle Conventional tackle
Rod 60% 30%
Reel 10% 60%
Line 30% 10%

While the reel is the workhorse of conventional tackle, the rod and line do most of the work for the fly fisher. On these small rivers, the fly reel is simply a convenient place in which to store your line. Also, notice the difference in the importance of fly line vs. conventional line. Within normal specs, changing brands or weights of lines will not make an enormous difference in casting abilities or cost to conventional tackle. However, there is quite a difference in cost and performance when considering fly lines. Keep this table in mind while deciding how to spend your budget. The following is a breakdown of main components required for a day on the river.

Fly Reel

Don't go out and blow your budget on an expensive fly reel. The most important features of a beginners fly reel are affordability and reliability. While you don't want to sacrifice the cost of you rod for the sake of the reel, neither do you want a fly reel that will malfunction in the middle of a float trip. Most fly reels feature removable spools. This is a handy way to change lines or keep an extra spool loaded with line for backup purposes.
One should seriously consider the Medalist 1594 reel by Pflueger. At 6.2 oz., this is by no means a lightweight reel. Nevertheless, the Medalist is a durable, entry-level reel that can take all the sand and backwater grunge that will inevitably be wound into its gears. You can pick one up at most tackle shops for about $32. If budget permits, think about purchasing an extra spool ($13) and loading really cheap fly line onto it for backup.

Fly Rod

Choosing a fly rod will be your most important, and costly, decision. The fly rod that you choose will make a real difference in your first fly fishing experience. This is not to say that one fly rod will catch more fish than another will, but a quality fly rod will make a difference in the casting ability of a beginner. Also consider that this first fly rod will eventually become your backup rod. It's nice to know that your backup rod is not of such poor quality that you wouldn't enjoy your trip while using it. By all means, if you have the opportunity to try out several different brands of rods before purchasing one, take it!
Line weight should be a primary concern when choosing a beginner's rod. The most common line weights are between 3 and 8. Anything outside of this range would be considered a specialty rod. A 5-weight rod is a good choice for Hill Country rivers. If you think you might also want to fish in ponds for large bass, a 6-weight rod would be able to handle small to medium bass flies.
One worthy beginners rod is the St.Croix Pro Graphite. This rod is better than it's $85 price tag and the medium-heavy action is easy for the beginner to learn fly-casting with.

Fly Line

The weight rating does not actually indicate the strength of the line, it is an indicator of the actual weight of the fly line. Since the weightless fly does nothing to generate momentum for the cast, the weight of the line provides necessary force to deliver the fly.
Fly lines come in several different tapers. Most lines float, some sink at the tip, and others sink quickly and completely. For the beginner, I recommend a weight-forward floating line (WF-F). Though it lacks delicacy, a weight forward line is heavier at the front and is the easiest to cast.
Dollar for dollar, fly line adds the most bang for the buck. A high quality $45 line cast far better and lasts longer than a low quality $15 line, but for only $30 more. Also, if you take care of your high quality line, it will last until you become an accomplished caster who deserves a good line. Low quality lines have "memory", after a winter of sitting dormant in the reel, they may become irreparably bumpy. Cortland and Scientific Anglers both make very good lines. The color of the fly line is a personal preference, and does not spook the fish.


The leader is a strand of tapered monofilament that connects the fly to the fly line. While a long leader permits a delicate presentation, it sacrifices control of the fly. You'll go through a lot of these in the beginning. Knots will occur and cause the leader to break off at the midpoint, or the "tree fish" will tie the leader to low hanging limbs. Come to think of it, I still go through a lot of these! The best strategy is this: buy three or four mid-priced leaders ($4 each), and a spool of 3X (6 lb.) tippet. Each time your leader looses a foot or so off of the tip, use a blood knot to add a foot of tippet back to the leader.

Starter Kits

When choosing your first fly-fishing rig, keep in mind that it will eventually be your backup rig. Don't run out and buy the cheapest setup available. The lowest price rigs can really take the fun out of fly fishing. They rattle, they use foam instead of cork for the handle, the line will never stay straight, and the flies they include are garbage.

This being said, many of the top manufacturers make low-priced, high-quality rigs to get you started. They may cost 10% more, but a quality starter package will provide a lifetime of backup usage while the lowest priced packages will be thrown away. I have selected a few standouts for Texas waters below:
Orvis Fly Fishing Starter Kit
Orvis Encounter
Redington Fly Fishing Starter Kit
Echo Fly Fishing Starter Kit

Equipment Care

Fly Line

It makes good sense to take care of your fly line. In good condition, the line will shoot smoothly through the guides for longer casts. Some of the dangers to fly line include:
  • Prolonged exposure to heat or light. If your from Texas, don't leave your line in the car during summertime.
  • Exposure to chemicals found in insect repellents, sun screens, and fly floatants. They don't charge $40 for a long plastic string. Fly line is highly technical stuff with a thin coating and self lubricating material that can be imbalanced by some of the chemicals found in these products.
  • Vigorous casting, particularly with heavily weighted flies. This may be unavoidable, just try not to overdue it.
  • Lack of proper cleaning and dressing. Wash your line frequently with warm soapy water, especially after fishing in off-color water. Line dressing reduces the friction in the guides, reduces tangling, and improves floatation.

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