Is Fly Fishing Expensive: Getting Started on a Budget

For some reason fly fishing always seems to be portrayed as an elite form of fishing that only the most experienced anglers with the fattest wallets can try.  

Before I started fly fishing, I always thought that it was more expensive than conventional fishing, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Like most hobbies, fly fishing is only expensive if you buy top of the line equipment.  For basic introductory gear expect to spend around $200 for a rod, reel, line and a dozen flies.  Add in waders with boots and some other accessories like dry fly floatant and a net, and the cost can reach about $400 or $500. 

Try shaving some costs by shopping around, you may find good deals on starter packages or used equipment.  Don’t forget to buy a fishing license as well.  

What gear do you need to start fly fishing and how much does it cost

With any type of fishing, you can really load up on extra gadgets and fancy accessories.  Yet, if you distill it all down to the bare bone essentials, the list to get started fly fishing is quite short.  

You can make your dollar stretch even further if you by fly rod starter packages that come with a rod, reel, backing and fly line.  Combos are usually around $150.

Here is everything I bought when I first started on a budget of $200.


Your rod choice will be determined by the type of fishing you want to do.  I have caught everything from small panfish in a pond to trout over 20 inches on a 9 foot, 5 weight rod.   That is why I would recommend this size rod.  I find it is the perfect rod for most situations and it is super easy to cast.  

The fly rod will be the most expensive part of your new setup and that is okay.  It is the cornerstone piece of equipment and a good quality rod makes fly fishing experiences more enjoyable.  Expect to spend between $50 and $100.  Shop around and look for one with decent sensitivity, a comfortable handle and solid reel mount.


A good fly fishing reel should not break the bank.  If it costs more than $50, you are spending too much.  The reel size should match the size rod you select.  A 5 weight rod needs to be paired with a 5 weight reel for best balance and performance.   

There are only two features I look for in a reel above all else.  First, look for a light weight, durable spool and frame.  Second, a smooth drag system is priceless when fighting large fish with light tippet.  One hitch in the drag during a powerful run and you can wave goodbye to your fly and the fish.

Backing, fly line, leader and tippet

All the different lines needed for fly fishing is definitely more complicated than a conventional spinning setup.  It is also one of the more expensive parts of getting started.  Luckily, backing and fly line lasts years so only the leader and tippet need replacing more regularly.

The backing goes on the reel first and serves as a safety net for fighting the fish of a lifetime.  More often than not you will have enough main line, about 90 feet, to fight your average size trout or small panfish.  On the rare occasions when you hook into a true trophy, you will be glad to have backing.  100 yards of backing will cost less than $10.

The next component is the fly line.  This is the casting portion of line and skimping on quality here will come back to haunt you while casting.  It is hard to find a highly rated fly line for less than $40.  Do some research before you buy.  I suggest a floating fly line with low memory.  Remember, it may seem costly but it lasts for many seasons.

Leader and tippet are the last pieces of line on the reel.  The easiest leaders for casting are tapered and about 9 feet long.  A 3x to 5x tapered leader will work well in combination with 2 to 4 feet of 5x or 6x tippet.  Together, both lines will cost around $10 total and will last you awhile, assuming you are not snagging trees too often.

In case you’re wondering, tippet is essential for good fly presentation. Read our other article to learn why you need tippet.

Small box of flies 

It is easy to go nuts when buying flies.  With unlimited variety, collecting them all becomes a hobby itself.  Over time, I learned that fewer flies are better and you can catch trout in all sorts of conditions with the same fly.  

To start, I suggest having a total of 12-15 flies with only 5 or 6 different types.  I always like to have duplicates of my flies so that when I finally find the one that works, losing it is not the end of the world.  

If I could only choose 6 types of flies this would be my list:

  • Gold ribbed hare’s ear nymph (size 12)
  • Pheasant tail nymph (size 12)
  • Partridge and yellow soft hackle (size 12)
  • Adams dry fly (size 12)
  • Elk hair caddis dry fly (size 12)
  • Griffith’s gnat dry fly (size 18)

These flies cover the water column from deeper pools to calm shallows.  Having 2 or 3 of each fly will cost about $25 if you add in a simple fly box to store them.

Waders and boots (optional)

Inevitably, fly fishing will require you to stand in or walk across a stream to get close to your quarry.  Even in the heat of summer, streams fed by snow melt water are frigid.  It won’t take long to get numb toes.  A good pair of light weight waders with felt soled boots makes a huge difference in comfort.

This cost was not in my budget, but you may want to consider adding it to yours.  A set of waders and wader boots will run you about $150.

How is it different from regular fishing

Alright, you’re ready to spend the money and dive into fly fishing, but why go fly fishing and how is it different from conventional fishing?

The main difference is in the way you cast.  Regular fishing uses light lines that use the weight of the lure or added lead weights to cast out some distance.  A fly fishing setup uses a heavy, thick line and a long, springy rod to build up energy for the cast.

The other main difference is the bait.  Fly fishing obviously uses small, delicate flies that mimic natural food for fish. Live bait and lures are not used as in regular fishing. 

What is the point of fly fishing

Fly fishing offers a unique challenge.  When anglers are searching for a new thrill, they often turn to fly fishing.  The process of selecting a fly and perfecting a silky smooth cast, all leads to the exhilarating culmination of catching a rising trout.  It is addictive.

Aside from experiencing a new challenge, increased numbers of anglers and more focus on environmental conservation are reshaping how fishing is regulated.  More and more streams and mountain lakes are transitioning to fly fishing only to protect fragile populations of fish.  Barbless fly hooks inflict very little damage to fish and catch-and-release mortality rates are low.

What kind of fish can you catch when fly fishing

Just about any fish that can be caught with regular fishing gear can be caught with a fly setup.  Trout, grayling and salmon offer the most exciting opportunities for fly fishing, but even bass, panfish and pike are suitable species to target.  

Is fly fishing hard to learn

Fly fishing is not any harder to learn than other forms of fishing.  The most challenging part is learning to cast.  Developing good techniques and practicing in a variety of conditions, including wind, is the only way to improve and have fun.  

There are countless tutorials on YouTube and other blogs to help you learn the basics of casting.  When you first start practicing, I recommend tying on a piece of yarn in place of a fly.  Hitting yourself in the face is not uncommon when first learning, so avoid putting on a hook.

Does tying flies save money

Normally saving money involves making things yourself.  With fly tying that is not the case, at least not at first.  Let’s say, for instance, you wanted to tie a dozen of each fly I listed above.  The tools and materials will probably cost around $120.  You could buy a lot of pre-made flies for that amount.  Unless you lose a fly with every cast, a $120 worth of flies will last years.  

However, when you become an avid fly angler, tying your own flies will grow into a hobby of its own.  It is a great way to spend the off season getting ready and makes for a calm pastime while watching your favorite fishing show.  

After tying a couple hundred flies, the cost to make your own gets cheaper than buying.   Although, I think the fun of fly tying is catching fish on something you hand crafted and not because it saves money.

Take a look at our detailed article to get the full cost breakdown of tying your own flies.  

Are there other types of fly fishing

So far, I have been talking about the western style of fly fishing.  Western style uses a rod, reel, lots of line and an enormous selection of flies.  Most people shy away from the sport because it seems complicated, which it can be.  

In recent years, an old style of fly fishing has started to gain traction in the US.  It is called Tenkara.  Developed in ancient Japan, it uses a rod with no reel, less than 20 feet of line and only a few flies.  Simple and effective is the goal of Tenkara.  It is also this simplicity that will save you money.

If you are looking for an easy way to test out fly fishing, visit TenkaraUSA.

Final thoughts

There are many hobbies that can cost much more than fly fishing.  Skiing, golfing, sailing or just about any other sport will cost hundreds of dollars, if not more, to start.  If money is tight, then get creative and look for used gear.  Craigslist makes it easier than ever to find what you want.  Just don’t let money stand in the way of experiencing what fly fishing has to offer.