The Best Fly Fishing Gear in 2021, Tested by Experts and TripSavvy Editors

All the essentials you need to get out comfortably on the water

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Fly fishing continues to grow in popularity. A record 7 million people went fly fishing in 2019, according to the most recent U.S. Fishing Industry Statistics report. And it’s easy to see why—fly fishing gets you out into beautiful landscapes; it can provide a chance for solitude, or you can take part with friends and family; and it's a highly accessible activity.

But fly fishing can also have a steep learning curve, starting with finding the best gear. We’ve researched and tested gear, and we've tapped experts with decades of experience for their knowledge of fly fishing to find the best gear out there.

Behold the best fly fishing gear of 2021.

The Rundown
There’s not a better rod on the market for the price.
The Zero is the lightest reel of its class on the market, thanks to the die-cast aluminum construction.
Best Rod and Reel Combo:
Orvis Clearwater Combo at Cabelas.com
The 4-weight, 10-foot combo delivered midges with accuracy upwards of two dozen feet away.
We love Brodin nets for their commitment to sustainability.
Orvis employs a modern fit with a four-layer nylon shell that is surprisingly breathable.
These look and wear more like hikers than wading boots.
You won't have to worry about your smaller gear items and flies getting wet in this TPU-coated kit.
They check all the boxes. With medium frames, the Calda shades fit a diversity of face shapes.
It has a relaxed and comfortable fit with UPF rating of 35+.
Smart features include a ruler inside the shirt for fish measuring and a rod holder for changing rigs and tying on new flies.
Table of contents

Best Rod: Redington Classic Trout

Redington Classic Trout Fly Rod
What We Like
  • Great for travel and backpacking

  • Inexpensive

  • Available in four-piece and six-piece options

What We Don't Like
  • N/A

I’m have a reputation among family and friends for breaking fly rods. If a rod lasts me longer than a year, it’s a win. Yet I’ve owned the Redington Classic Trout fly rod for years now. Instead of cracking jokes at my expense, those same friends and family members now complement the action and feel of this rod.

Sure, there are newer and fancier rods on the market, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a better rod on the market for this price. I’ve used multiple reels on this rod, and it always lands flies with pinpoint accuracy. My personal favorite size is the 4-weight, 8-foot, 6-inch version. It carries enough weight to cast across most mid-sized rivers, but it's small enough to use for stalking trout in mountain meadow creeks.

My favorite part about this rod is it comes in four-piece or six-piece versions, making it ideal for traveling and backpacking. It also comes with a lifetime warranty. (Fortunately, I haven’t had to test said warranty yet.)

What We Like
  • Very lightweight

  • Good accuracy

  • Looks good

What We Don't Like
  • Not good for larger water or fish

My favorite reel as of late is Redington’s Zero reel. At just 3 ounces (or less, depending on the size of the reel), the Zero is the lightest reel of its class, thanks to the die-cast aluminum construction. It’s also one of the least expensive. Despite the humble cost, the Zero still features a large arbor and spring-loaded drag system.

This reel suits many basic needs. It’s lightweight for travel, hiking, and backpacking. It’s accurate. And the price point is relatively inexpensive. If you’re hunting bigger fish, however, this isn’t the reel for you as it only comes in sizes 2/3 and 4/5. For a larger reel, check out the Run (view here), which has the same lightweight die-cast construction but goes up a few sizes. (Note: The Zero and Run do not come spooled, so you’ll need to add your own fly line and backing.)

Best Rod and Reel Combo: Orvis Clearwater Combo

Orvis Clearwater Combo
What We Like
  • Tons of sizes

  • Great accuracy

What We Don't Like
  • Users report the rod breaking easily; we haven’t had that issue

If you’re looking for a mid-range, ready-to-go fly rod and reel combo, the Orvis Clearwater Combo is probably what you’re looking for. You can find less expensive and more entry-level combos (more on that in a bit), but in our opinion, the Clearwater combo is worth paying up a bit. Plus, it's still much less expensive than other options on the market. 

We love that the combo comes in sizes ranging from two to 10. I used this rod in a small lake in the Mammoth Lakes basin and had a fantastic day of nymphing. The 4-weight, 10-foot combo delivered midges with accuracy upwards of two dozen feet away. If you’re looking for a more entry-level combo, check out the TFO NXT Black Label combo (view here). Commenters have lamented about the rod breaking easily; however, I haven’t had that issue with my 5-weight, 9-foot combo.

Best Net: Brodin Phantom Tailwater Net

Brodin Phantom Tailwater Net
What We Like
  • Made from sustainable, plantation-grown wood

  • PVC-free net bag

What We Don't Like
  • N/A

At first glance, the Brodin Phantom nets look like any other net. And in a lot of ways, they are. But we dig Brodin nets for their commitment to sustainability. Based in Costa Rica, Brodin distributes its nets through a third-party distributor in St. Louis. We love that Brodin makes its nets from local, plantation-grown wood. We also love that it only includes PVC-free net bags in the Phantom series. I’ve owned the Brodin for a while now and have zero complaints.

Best Waders: Orvis Men's Ultralight Convertible Wader

Orvis Ultralight Convertible Waders
What We Like
  • Very lightweight

  • Durable

What We Don't Like
  • Big for small frames

  • Not for those fishing in ultra-cold climates

Gone are the days of clunky, dorky-looking waders. These sleek, truly ultralight waders from Orvis look and feel good. Orvis employs a modern fit with a four-layer nylon shell that is surprisingly breathable. The waders also have some nifty features like a waterproof zipper pocket, a tool dock, and a fly patch. You can find the women's sizes of the waders here.

Best Boots: Orvis Men's Ultralight Wading Boot

What We Like
  • Lightweight

  • Comfortable

What We Don't Like
  • Required stretching and multiple uses of the shoes to achieve the optimal fit

Pair your waders with the Orvis Ultralight Boots, which look and wear more like hikers than wading boots. Some fishing in colder temperatures might want an outfit that is more hearty or warm. My personal preference is to layer up in colder months to wear these, making these boots more of a year-round option. You can find the women's version of the boots here.

Best Bag: Filson Dry Waist Pack

Filson Dry Waist Pack
What We Like
  • Rugged

  • Waterproof

  • Fits smaller waists

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Zippers need breaking in

An important piece to any fly fishing kit is a way to store and organize your smaller gear items and flies. For that, we recommend the Filson Dry Waist Pack. Filson uses a rugged 840-denier nylon tarpaulin material with a TPU coating. To test the waterproofness, I packed it with all my fly fishing gear, tossed it in a pool, and left it overnight; the next day, the contents inside were still dry.

The zippers are tough to move. While that contributes to its superior waterproofing, it would be preferable to have more easily accessible pockets or the option to clip gear to the outside of the pack. For those looking for a less expensive (but not waterproof) option, the Umpqua Ledges ZS2 Waist Pack (view here) has great organizational potential, including pockets on the actual waist straps, perfect for holding a water bottle. However, that pack doesn't cinch down to fit my waist size, so I have to use the over-the-shoulder sling.

Best Sunglasses: Bajío Calda Sunglasses

Bajío Calda Sunglasses
What We Like
  • Plant-based

  • Good polarization

  • Stylish

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Launched this past April, Bajío is one of the newest high-end sunglasses companies geared toward fishing. It’s also one of the most sustainable and environmentally focused. (The company boasts that it's 100 percent carbon neutral.) Bajío also employs plant-based frames and eco-friendly shipping.

Earth consciousness aside, these are just some impeccable sunnies. They check all the boxes—with medium frames, the Calda shades fit a diversity of face shapes; they're comfortable to wear for long amounts of time; and the patent-pending proprietary polarizing technology works incredibly well on the water. I’ve already been able to use these sunnies on mountain lakes and streams as well as beaches on the Pacific, and they hold up in many conditions and settings.

Best Sun Shirt: Howler Brothers Loggerhead Hoodie

Howler Brothers Loggerhead Hoodie
What We Like
  • Comfy

  • Pocket is convenient for storing snacks or gear

What We Don't Like
  • Could wick sweat better

There are dozens of sun shirts and hoodies on the market. We love the Loggerhead from Howler Brothers because of its relaxed, comfortable fit, and UPF rating of 35+. We also like the various style options that go beyond the typical single-color options. The pouch is handy for stashing and retrieving gear and snacks, alike. Bonus: The shirt uses 50 percent recycled materials.

For women, try the Black Diamond Alpenglow Hoody, which is the ultimate all-around mountain hoodie. I’ve hiked, backpacked, run, and fished in the men's version and it’s been ideal for all those activities.

Best Shirt: Salt Life Lunker Performance Long Sleeve

Salt Life Lunker Performance Long Sleeve
What We Like
  • Comfortable, breathable, and stretchy

  • Inside ruler

  • Buttons for rolling up sleeves

What We Don't Like
  • Not the most stylish

There are dozens of button-up long and short sleeve fishing-forward shirts on the market. We like the Lunker Performance (and Legend Performance for women) for many reasons. First, the shirt covers the basics, such as having a vented back and comprising stretchy and quick-drying nylon and elastane. We also enjoy the UPF 30+ ratings. It has additional smart features like the hidden ruler inside the shirt for fish measuring and the Velcro rod holder that came in handy while changing rigs and tying on new flies. The Lunker also comes in a short-sleeved option.

Best Pants : Prana Stretch Zion Straight Pants

Prana Stretch Zion Straight Pants
What We Like
  • Style is versatile

  • Comfortable

What We Don't Like
  • N/A

Many know the Stretch Zion series from Prana. But where most employ the pants for climbing and backpacking missions, we strongly recommend using them as your go-to fishing pants or shorts. They simply check all the outdoor performance boxes. Stretchy nylon and elastane? Check. A PFC-free DWR finish? You bet. UPF 50 rating? Absolutely. Quick dry and abrasion resistance? Yes and yes. I’ve waded a bit in both the pants and shorts in Western mountain lakes and rivers, and the arid climate dries them quickly.

I’ve also had flies try to attach themselves to both the pants and shorts to no avail (a barbless hook helps). The pants have handy button attachments to roll up the legs to mid-shin level. But the best aspect of these pants is that you can wear them straight from the river to a restaurant or bar. For the shorts version, go here.

Best Sandals for Wet Wading: Chaco Women's Z/Cloud X2

Chaco Women's Z/Cloud X2
What We Like
  • Rugged

  • Classic

What We Don't Like
  • Pretty durable, but wear and tear are apparent

When wet wading, my go-to footwear is the Chaco Z/Cloud sandals. The cinches keep them securely on the feet—even in swift currents. The bottoms are solid enough to feel confident navigating slick rocks, and they dry quickly. During a trip hiking out of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison after an overnight trout mission, one member in our group had a pair bust. Not ideal while carrying a 30-pound pack with a few miles—and lots of elevation—to go. But the more important takeaway of that story? He’d owned the pair for more than a decade. The men's version is here.

Best Hat: Headsweats Performance Trucker Hat

Headsweats Performance Trucker Hat
What We Like
  • Lots of style options

  • Wicks sweat

  • Suitable for multiple settings and activities

What We Don't Like
  • Was a bit scratchy until broken in

A hat while fishing can be crucial to keeping the sun out of your eyes and your face shaded. For this, we love the Performance Trucker Hat from Headsweats. I’ve worn this hat trail running, backpacking, hiking, and fishing and it’s performed well—and looks good—in all settings. I also have no problem wearing it to the local watering hole after a day of fishing.

Best Cooler: YETI Hopper BackFlip 24

YETI Hopper BackFlip 24
What We Like
  • Can also be used as a backpack to carry gear

  • Keeps drinks and food cold for long periods of time

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • A bit bulky

In case you haven’t experienced it for yourself, YETI coolers do what they promise. They keep items cold for absurdly long periods of time. One a five-hour road trip, we packed this cooler with ice cream bars and a pint of ice cream—both were still frozen solid when we emptied the cooler. I like the BackFlip 24 because it can easily be carried as a backpack and offers plenty of room for drinks and snacks. But if you’re looking for something smaller, the Hopper Flip 12 (view at Amazon) is another solid option.

Best for Sipping: Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA

Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA

Sometimes there’s nothing like sitting down, reflecting on the day, and sharing fish stories with friends, family, and a delicious beverage. If you're fishing early in the morning (and aren't quite ready for a stiff drink), Athletic Brewing Company’s non-alcoholic Run Wild IPA is a craft-brewed IPA that tastes almost like the alcoholic version. Brewed with a blend of five Northwest hops, it’s pretty incredible what Athletic Brewing is doing with high-end non-alcoholic suds like the Run Wild IPA.

And when you're done for the day (and could use something stronger), we recommend TINCUP’s American Whiskey. Born in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, it just feels right sipping a bit streamside.

FAQs

What’s the minimum gear I need to get on the water?

Baseline, you’ll need a rod, reel, fly line, leader, and a fly. (Technically, you could get by without the reel if you’re Tenkara fishing.) But beyond that, there are some basics that will make a good day on the water more enjoyable. 

“I always take my ‘fly bag’ which includes dry flies, nymphs, and streamers,” says Katie Cahn, a North Carolina-based fly fishing guide. “Forceps for safely removing the fly from a fish's mouth. Tippet, nippers, and extra leaders. I always have extra strike indicators in my bag. And, of course, a rod and reel. And always, always a net.”

Alex Kim, who is the founder and outdoor guide of HereMT, an organization geared toward making the outdoors more accessible to BIPOC communities in Montana says to remember your fishing license, a knife, camera, and extra layers. April Vokey, a fly fishing guide and host of the Anchored Outdoors podcast recommends always having some SPF chapstick and a “confidence fly.” 

What’s the best way to learn how to cast?

There are many resources online. YouTube has some. We also like Orvis’s Fly Fishing Center, which has a ton of helpful content. Kim recommends watching videos online and then practicing or finding local clinics. “Most fly shops offer a fly fishing 101 class for free,” Cahn adds. “This will help a lot, and then you can go on to using YouTube for help with casting form and advanced knot tying. There is a wealth of knowledge about fly fishing on the internet.”

Gabaccia Moreno, an outdoor activist and enthusiast, says checking out both internet videos and books—along with practice—can help. “United Women on The Fly also has a great library of resources I recommend checking out,” Moreno says. “Granted, watching a video without practicing is not ideal. I suggest folks find a local park with a nice lawn where they can practice their cast. There are also plenty of books out there for those who like to learn by reading. Last but not least, don't overestimate your local fly fishing workshops. I've been able to get a great fishing class for $50—beginner fly fishing classes do not happen on the water so they are not as expensive as many people think. In addition, there may be a local nonprofit or meet-up group where you could learn too.”

How can I save money on fly fishing gear?

Fly fishing—like many outdoor activities—can be expensive to get into. While there are less expensive gear options and opportunities to buy secondhand, it’s still going to cost at least a couple of hundred dollars to get the right gear when starting out. Kim suggests starting with a beginner combo rig. Cahn recommends borrowing or renting gear and starting with the minimum gear items necessary. 

How do I know what flies to use?

The flies to keep in your quiver will depend on where and when you fish, so do some research on your destination first. Check out the streams, rivers, and lakes on which you’ll be fishing and see what bugs hatch there and when they hatch. Another option is to ask around; stop by the local fly shop and ask them.

“I always say ask around in your community. There might be someone that already fly fishes and will be happy to teach you and let you use their gear,” Moreno advises. “'Expensive’ means different things to different people, but if you can [spend] $100, you can get a setup of the cheapest available gear—possibly at a nearby Walmart—and enough flies to get started."

What size of rod and reel should I get?

Like the flies you pick, this is dependent on what sort of fish you’ll be going after and the type of water. A general good size rod to get is a 5-weight, 9-foot rod with a 5-weight reel. That will cast both nymphs and dry flies and will work for most trout, bass, panfish, and smaller ocean fish. It will also work across both lakes and rivers.

If you know you’ll only be fishing small mountain streams or hiking and backpacking with your fly rod to high alpine lakes and streams, a smaller setup might be better. I’ve had a ton of fun landing 10-inch Brookies on a 3-weight, 7.5-foot rod. But a rig of that size will limit you to smaller trout on smaller water. If you’re going to be fishing bigger water, or need a bigger cast, consider going up to a 6- or 7-weight rod that’s in the 9-foot to 10-foot range.

A good idea is to ask your local fly shop or local fly fishing resources what is the ideal combo for your local fisheries.

Why Trust TripSavvy

Nathan Allen is the Outdoor Gear Editor for TripSavvy. While he has fished and fly fished for pretty much his entire life, Nathan has primarily fly fished for the past five or more years. He regularly logs dozens of days on the water each year, fishing from Missouri’s spring-fed rivers to Colorado’s South Platte River to the lakes and streams around Mammoth Lakes, California. Nathan has used every piece of gear mentioned in this article, some of which he’s used for years.

Article Sources
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  1. Skin Cancer Foundation. "Sun Protective Clothing."

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