Expert fly fishing guide Aaron Abeyta, was born and raised 50 feet from The Conejos and still considers it his home river, though he’s fished all over the world. His first experience fly fishing was watching his great grandfather fish with bamboo in southern Colorado. He and his brother own a fisherman’s club, where he guides visitors of all skill levels. Here, he offers his best tips for getting started.
Julie Sprinkle—a fly fishing guide and the buyer for one Colorado fishing shop—provides expert gear-buying advice for female anglers.
Outfits: Starter kits are called outfits, and most major fly fishing gear companies offer some good ones that end up being a great bargain. “These fully loaded packs are priced to sell,” Aaron says. “The difference between buying a complete outfit and buying everything separately is about $100.”
“Full outfits of decent quality can run anywhere from $200 to $1000 or more,” Julie adds. “If budgetary concerns are paramount, the rod is probably the most important component, followed by the line, then the reel.”
Rod: “A nine-foot five-weight rod with the appropriate reel and a weight-forward floating line is a good, basic set-up that can be adapted to streams, rivers and lakes without too much hassle,” Julie says, “Don’t buy a quiver of specialized rods until you decide you’re hooked!” Before you buy one, try out several, feeling for the size and shape of the grip and test how easy it is to get the line where you want it to go as you cast. Many shops have ponds out back specifically for this, Julie says.
Reels: “The subject of much debate,” Julie says, “reels—at their most basic—just need to hold the line, take it in, then let it out smoothly and quickly.” Most major manufacturers offer plenty of options that’ll do just that, with prices starting around $50.
Fly line: The whole system is built around the line. “Since the fly is so light, the line is what enables it to cast out to where the fish are,” Julie says. “The rod is built to throw that particular line efficiently. Most folks use a weight-forward line, meaning the front part is heavier than the running line. That makes it easier to weight the rod and cast the fly out. For most beginners, a multipurpose line is the best. “Really, they’ll all do the job and last a few seasons if you don’t drag them over rocks or get them horribly tangled in trees,” Julie says.
Leader: Since the line is too big to fit through the teensy tiny eye of most flies, you need to step the diameter down with what’s known as a tapered leader: clear, supple monofilament that attaches to the line with a loop connector and tapers to a thin tip. Then comes the tippet. “You can tie the fly directly to the leader,” Julie says, “but every time you change flies, that tapered end backs further up into the thicker part of the leader, meaning it’s not quite so supple and doesn’t land your fly so gracefully and delicately when you cast. Since the leader is a six dollar piece of mono, we use tippet to make the connection instead.” Tippet is a single-diameter stretch of either nylon or fluorocarbon monofilament that costs around $5 for 30 meters. “When you tie that to the leader, then to the fly, you’re loosing less money and less performance when you change or replace flies,” Julie explains.
Backing: A typical fly line is only 90 feet long so you apply backing (line that goes on your reel first) as backup in case a fish runs away with your line. “If you were to catch a really big fish, it could tear the line off your reel,” Aaron says, “so you’d lose your fish and your line, which could cost about $80. If you get a fish big and strong enough that it takes you into your backing, that’s the Holy Grail!”
Choosing flies: Match the hatch. “Flies catch more fishermen than they do fish,” Aaron says. So, in general, match the look of whatever bug is hatching at that particular time. “You want to use Stoneflies in May and early June, then some form of Blue-Winged Olive or some form of Drake, then Cattis. Stonefly imitation, mayfly imitation, and Cattis imitation,” Aaron lists, “that’s all you need.”
Flies usually run a couple of dollars each and you should always get at least two of each pattern. “If you don’t, it’s almost guaranteed that the one fly that’s working like dynamite will be lost,” Julie says. Keep your flies in small, waterproof boxes lined with slotted foam.
Other must-haves: a good pair of hemostats (clamps) with smooth surfaces on the inside of the tips for pinching barbs down, nippers to cut your tippet and tidy up knots, a box with flies appropriate to the area and conditions, some small split shot (sinkers), a strike indicator (a bobber ball for visually noting when a fish strikes your fly), and a vest or small waist pack to carry it all!
Zingers: Essential for keeping your clamps and nippers, zingers are little, spring-loaded leashes than clip or pin to your vest or pack and to the tool. “The cable uncoils so you can draw out and use the tool, then retracts so you don’t drop it into the cold and rocky depths,” Julie says.
Waders: Julie suggests getting neoprene stockingfoot waders. “I recommend Simms Gore-Tex women’s waders because they’re not only well-made (in Montana!) and dependably durable, but their women’s fit is extensively detailed and works for a wide range of size combinations with custom foot-size options,” Julie says. “They have two price and sophistication options that make life in the water comfortable and convenient.”
Aaron’s take on waders: “Almost everybody these days puts a little money into waders. You can get waders for $60 or $800 dollars,” he says. “It depends what you like.”
“Getting the waders and boots can be a $300 affair and can add up to around $650 for the top-of-the-line Simms gear,” Julie confirms.
Wading boots: “The current ‘in’ thing is to have sticky rubber soles,” Aaron says. “Invasive species stay in felt soles, and you can spread them from one river to the next.” Sticky rubber is more eco-conscious if you’re fishing multiple rivers, but felt is stickier in the water, easier to wade in.
Aaron’s solution? “If you fish multiple rivers, get Vibram soles. If you fish the same river, use felt soles. Or, keep a pair of boots for your home water and a different pair of boots for other rivers.”
“The best option for the health of the streams and for steady feet is sticky rubber, sometimes with studs for mossy conditions,” Julie says. Simms offers a middle-of-the-road women’s boot with a Vibram sole and a multi-directional tread pattern with rubber-component tweaks designed specifically for fly fishing applications. “Many women do find that the more-varied men’s options work for larger feet,” Julie says, “so don’t rule them out.”
• polarized sunglasses with keepers
• broad-brimmed hat
• lightweight, sun-proof gloves
• a wading staff to help navigate the uneven depths
A bug’s life
“Most of the bugs lay their eggs either near the water or on top of the water,” Aaron explains. “These bugs float right on top of the water, like leaves, and the fish come up and eat them.” You can fish all three stages of a fish’s lifecycle.
Larvae stage: Fish it with nymphs.
Emerger stage: The bug starts coming up toward the surface.
Adult: The bug lives at the surface, which makes it the dry fly stage.
“You fish on top and in the middle,” he says about dry fly. “You typically put a dry fly on the surface and tie a dropper, like a nymph, to the hook shank.”
“A lot of beginners are turning to tenkara (a Japanese method particularly useful for mountains streams), because it’s easier, cheap, and relatively simple,” Aaron explains. “A tenkara line is short, so you don’t have to mess with a reel when casting. There’s nothing more frustrating than a tangled line.” Another bonus: Tenkara is a great tool for backpacking trips because it’s ultra packable at about 16 inches-long and light, tipping the scale at just a couple ounces.
Our gear recommendations
The new Carhartt for women Medford Jacket ($85) and Medford Bib ($65) made from waterproof fabric worthy for Alaska backcountry guides and fly fisherwomen in northeastern creeks. The getup boasts a comfortable fit, functional design, and ultimate durability. $85; carhartt.com
Redington Women’s Sonic-Pro Waders. With a perfect women’s fit in a garment seam-welded for waterproofness, these high-end waders keep out water, whether you stand in the creek all day or fish from the bank. $380; redington.com
Fishpond Chica Fishing Vest. With gear pockets galore and fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets, this vest is ideal for the female angler needing quick access to the essentials and a comfortable fit. $140; fishpondusa.com
Redington Topo Outfit. This new outfit works well for beginner anglers, as it includes a fly rod in a case, an already spooled reel, a leader, a spare spool of tippet, a nipper to trim knots, a
nd six flies—dry flies for trout fishing anywhere in the nation. $200; redington.com
Grab river-inspired accessories designed by artistic anglers from Montana Fly Co. montanafly.com
New to Fly?
Check out these resources to learn more and get started!
For more personalized gear section tips, try the Redington Gear selector. It can help you find reels, rods, and outfits according to the type of water you’ll be fishing, the fish type, and your skill level. It’s also a great resource for fish-spotting tips, lingo, and how-to diagrams for knot tying, casting instructional videos, and help choosing flies.
Trout TV, a show all about fly fishing in the West, is woman-owned and woman-hosted a lot of the time. It’s a great place to get stoked about the sport and learn from the best! welikefishing.com
Get your fishing license, map out where to fish, and create a packing list at takemefishing.org. It’s a resource put together by The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation (RBFF) with the aim to increase participation, ultimately protecting and restoring aquatic natural resources.
Classes and guide trips are a fabulous way to apply and practice your skills. Some shops offer classes specifically for women with women instructors and an approach more tailored to women’s learning styles. “My personal favorite trips to guide are the ones where I teach women how to do this all on their own,” Julie says, “as opposed to the ‘I want to catch lots of huge fish’ trips. There’s just something so satisfying about being independent and confident on the river!”