Basic Gear for Trout Fishing
OK, assuming you’ve got your rod, reel and fly line figured out (covered in other FAQs), here’s a list of stuff to consider when heading out. There are many choices and many ways of doing things, so feel free to vary from the list, but here’s at least a starting point with some specific suggestions, approximate prices and some low cost alternatives. Because technology changes, new items are always hitting the market, occasional exceptional deals on equipment that pop up from time to time, and the requirements of some fisheries can be quite different, it's always a good idea to ask opinions from folks on the forum especially if you're thinking of a major purchase to get input.
License and trout stamp (if needed)
. Many places sell a plastic envelop with safety pin so you can pin it to your shirt or vest. Some states may require that it be displayed, but it’s also good way to keep your license handy and waterproof. Make sure you know when your license expires since it may not be on a calendar year basis. Here in NY for example, fishing licenses run from Oct to Sept so in 2009 for example to fish now you'd need one that expires at the end of Sept (that ran from Oct 1 2008) and need a new one Oct 1 2009 that runs to the end of Sept 2010 if you plan to fish this fall.
Regulations booklet for your state
- Some streams may have special regulations, special openings like delayed harvest, or closings on some sections to protect spawning, catch and release sections, barbless hook, non toxic weights (no lead) and/or requirements about felt soles on waders to limit the spread of invasive species) as well as size and possession limits and health advisories. They should be available as downloads from your state’s Fish and Game website or as a booklet from wherever you get your license. Take a minute to review the regs in advance on the waters you plan to fish to make sure you are fishing legally. And on waters with wild fish you may want to consider going easier on them in terms of possession, even if it is legal to do so. The websites of many fish and game departments have pdf maps of many lakes and streams showing public access areas and parking areas.
- A tapered knotless monofilament leader (less expensive than fluoro leaders), generally as long as your rod, either 7 ½ to 9 feet long. For trout, a 9’ leader tapered to 4X would be a good start. You attach the heavy thick end of the leader to the fly line with a nail knot, or if your fly line has a loop in it, you can attach the leader with a loop to loop connection. (Monofilament leaders will run somewhere around 5 bucks for a pack of 2. Keep the extra in your pocket in case you get one tangled). If you buy this in a fly shop, bring your reel along and have them rig up a loop on the end of your fly line to be able to attach leaders easily down the road. Here’s a thread with some embedded links for knots and attaching loop to loop connections:
Grog's Fishing Knots Index
Grog's Fishing Knots Index
Loop to loop connection:
Get a couple of spools of monofilament tippet (less expensive than fluoro) to add to the end of your leader. This will prevent you from chopping up your leader as you change flies. You would add about 2’ of tippet to the end of your leader. The “size” of a leader or tippet is measured by the diameter of the line. The bigger the “X” the thinner the tippet (or leader). The size of the tippet is determined by the size of the fly. Larger flies, thicker tippet, smaller flies thinner tippet. To get a ball park idea of what size tippet to use, divide the hook size of the fly by 3 to get the size tippet to use. So a size 12 fly, divided by 3 = 4X tippet. A size 16 fly would be a 5X tippet, an 18 would be 6X. A couple spools of tippet (4X, 5X and 6X) will cover you for a large range of flies used for trout. You attaché the tippet to the thin end of the leader with a double surgeon’s knot. The free end of the tippet then goes to the fly with an improved clinch knot. (Spools of monofilament tippet go for 3-4 bucks a spool)
Dry Fly Floatant
– There are many different types, but a paste type floatant like Gink or DAP would be a good first choice and will help prevent dry flies from getting waterlogged. (3 bucks). Tie a fly on the tippet, dip your index finger in the paste, rub it with your thumb to melt it, and mush it into the fly. A little goes a long way, you don’t need a big glob. These paste type floatants work well with most flies except for those made with CDC. For those a silica powder type like Frogs Fanny or Shimazaki Fly Shake would be a better choice. These powders are also good for restoring water logged or slimed flies, but are more expensive than the paste types.
Micro Split Shot
- for pinching onto your leader or tippet for sinking nymphs. Because of concerns for the environment, and increasing regulations, non toxic (lead free) split shot is recommended. (2-3 bucks)
- there are many different options, but these are used with nymphs to serve as a “bobber” to signal when fish has eaten your nymph and to control the depth it fishes. Alternatively you can use a dry fly and tie a short 6-12” section of tippet to the bend of the dry fly (with an improved clinch) and hang a nymph off that fishing 2 flies at once. There are many types of indicators including foam pinch on, but you might start out with the O-ring and yarn type (2 bucks)
- for trimming tag ends of knots and changing flies. Get one with a little needle thing for cleaning the eyes of flies (flies sometimes get clogged with head cement that prevent you from threading tippet through) They run 2-3 bucks. You can also use fingernail clippers though they are little less user friendly on the stream.
– for taking hooks out of fish or your fishing partner They’re also handy for pinching down barbs, and split shot. (5-6 bucks)
Not a necessity but you may find this helpful, it's a thingamajig that pins to your vest and has a retractable cord with a clip on the end. You’d attach the clip to your hemostats and nippers to keep them out of the way, but keep them within reach. (2-3 bucks). Alternatively you can just wear the nippers and hemos on a cord around your neck, or a fancy lanyard with snap swivels and beads.
Landing Net or Ketchum Release tool
up to you if you carry one, but if you do you might want to consider a net with rubberized mesh (easier on the fish).
this is another gizmo that attaches to the back of your vest on a D-ring, It has a pinch type release that you squeeze to release. You’d hang the net from that so it’s out of the way, but can get to it if (I mean when) you need it. (3 bucks). Some nets may come with one, so you may not need one. There are also alternatives that use magnets etc.
- Highly recommended to cut the glare from the surface and give you a better chance of seeing fish and the bottom. They also offer some degree of eye protection from hooks whizzing around and potential eye damage caused by UV rays. Brown, copper, amber type colors tend to be the best colors for contrast.
- one with “micro slits” or compartments for dry flies so the hackle doesn’t get mushed. For now you could probably use this for everything, but as you add more flies, you’ll also want to add a few different types for different flies. You can get an unbreakable plastic 10 compartment fly box with brass hinges for now for about 6 bucks. Make sure it fits in your vest, and has compartments that are deep enough to prevent all your flies from blowing out. Down the road you can add additional fly boxes for different types of flies- two sided flat foam for nymphs and streamers, boxes with micro slits or compartments for drys, small thin boxes for tiny flies etc. etc.
Lucky fishing hat
- the brim will also help cut glare, and it’ll protect the back of your head from hooks. A ball cap is fine, but make sure it’s a lucky one and doesn’t have anything to do with the Boston Red Sox...
Vest- optional, but if you pack a lot of gear they’re handy. Something with a few small pockets up high on the front for dry fly floatant, split shot, a pack of leaders and tippet spools, and a can of your favorite chewing tobacco. some zippered compartments for fly boxes with easy over sized zipper tabs, and a large pocket on the back for raingear. Prices vary from 20ish on up. Oversized Zippers are a big plus if you fish in cold weather. Alternatives if you want to travel light would be a shirt with big pockets and button or Velcro flaps (to prevent stuff from falling out of them when you bend over to land all your fish.) or shorts with cargo pockets if you wet wade.
These may not necessary depending on where you fish, many people “wet wade” in shallow streams or warm water environments. But for many, waders will be necessary. There are many options including rubber, neoprene and breathable. A breathable pair will offer the most comfort in warm weather and, with appropriate layering of synthetics like fleece, be toasty warm in cold weather. Waders are sold as “boot foot” or “stocking foot”. Stocking foot waders are worn with a pair of wading shoes and offer the most support for ankles or cobble bottoms and will be the most comfortable to walk in. Boot foot waders have the boot built in so there is no need for wading shoes. Prices can vary from 80 dollars or so up to 700. I’d recommend buying a pair for 100-150 or so from a company that offers a lifetime guarantee. I’d recommend chest waders, they’ll cover you for deep water and splashes, and many can be rolled down to waist height for warmer weather and shallower wading. Waders are available in both men's and women’s sizes. These can be a big upfront purchase, and there are many factors to consider when buying a pair, so this is another case where you might want to post some questions on the forum to get specific advice before you buy.
- whether you're wet wading or using waders (boot foot or stocking foot with wading shoes) you want to make sure that you have secure footing. As a general rule, look to the most difficult water type that you'll be fishing for safety. There are many options including:
Rubber cleated soles-
fine if you fish slower moving streams with secure footing, gravel/sand bottoms these are generally the least expensive.
- the traditional choice for most trout streams with rocks, they provide a good grip on most trout streams. The downside with felt is that they may carry invasive species from stream to stream (Didymo or "Rock snot" is a filamentous algae that is spreading on many streams). Felt soles have been banned on many streams and there is increasing likelihood that bans will extend to more waters. They are being replaced by Simms and other manufactures with composite "sticky" soles.
Felted soles with cleats
- provide even more gripping power on slimy rocks and faster currents. The downside is that cleated soles can be very hard on boats floors, and most guides won't let you in their drift boats with them, so if you plan to do both wading and fishing from boats they would not be a good choice. And there are the same issues with the spread of disease.
New composite "sticky" soles
- many wading shoe manufactures have pledged to replace their lineup with these new soles in place of felted models. These are said to provide a gripping surface similar to felt and are available with and without cleats.
Strap on heavy duty cleated sandals like Korkers
that go over boot foot waders or wading shoes- These are over kill for most waters, but provide the most secure footing for heavy flows and slippery mossy/slimey rocks. These can literally be lifesavers if you fish potentially dangerous waters. For example they are standard gear for folks fishing the Salmon River in NY and jetties in salt water.
Wading belt and suspenders.
Many waders will come with them, but make sure. The belt is good for keeping water out of your waders even if you take a spill or step in a hole. You can fold chest waders over the belt too in hot weather to turn them into waist high. A belt also helps take some of the weight off your shoulders. If you want to pick up a belt, you could pick up a simple webbed diver's "weight belt" (without any weights lol) for around 7 bucks from a scuba shop.
- probably not necessary right off the bat, but if you wade fast water streams or have a lot of uneven rocky stream beds, then having a collapsible staff (Folstaff or Simms) can be very handy. You can unfold it when you need it for crossing streams etc, and put it away when you don’t in a "holster" that attaches to your wading belt. Even though you may not need it right away, it’s good for you to know that they’re available if you have trouble with footing. A ski pole on a rope is a PITA to manage in a stream with current, but an inexpensive alternative. And if you fish areas big water with strong currents and rocky, slimey footing and it may save your life.
either water proof or in a heavy duty zip lock bag for your illustrated trip reports and hero shots.
- something with a good SPF and waterproof base. I like Coppertone Sport as a general sunscreen. Something like zinc oxide might be a better choice for those very sensitive to the sun. Don’t forget the back of your neck and tops of your ears and ear lobes.
– can be real handy especially in summer
Waterproof flashlight on a cord or lanyard to wear around your neck if you get caught out far from the truck after dark. The lanyard also makes it possible to use the light “hands free” to tie knots etc and helps prevent losing it.
- a local shop is definitely your best bet to help you pick out some favorites for the waters you fish, but in general you’d want a selection that covers a lot of different bases—to cover the water column, to fish in different current speeds and to imitate a variety of different critters in your box. So some dry flies, wet flies, nymphs and streamers would be a good bet for starters and will give you a good collection to build on. You can also post on the board and other members of the forum will chime in with suggestions for the water/time of year you plan to fish. Again a local shop will have better suggestions on specific patterns and sizes for the waters you fish, but something like this would be in the ball park for a basic anytime/anywhere selection to cover a lot of bases and have in your box if you’re looking for somewhere to start and don’t have a shop nearby:
Parachute Adams (size 14, 16)
Imitates medium and dark bodied mayflies. Very effective widely used pattern. Good for slow to moderate sections of water.
Parachute Blue Wing Olive or Blue Winged Olive Sparkle Dun (size 16, 18)
This imitates several species of mayflies that occur everywhere throughout the country and are one of the first hatches in the season to start, and will continue through spring early summer and again in the fall. Good for slow to moderate sections of water.
Light Cahill, Sulphur Sparkle Dun (East) or PMD Sparkle Dun (West) size 16
to imitate light bodied mayflies that typical hatch in warmer months June- August.
Elk Hair Caddis sizes 14 and 16.
A must have pattern, imitates a variety of caddis, and is good for fast, slow and medium fast water. Tan body light wing, olive body brown wing will cover a lot of bases.
Royal Trude (primarily west), Royal Wulff, Ausable Wulff or Humpy- size 14
These are heavily hackled dry flies that float well and are easy to see in fast water. Any of these would one be good to start if you fish fast mountain streams, and are good for prospecting riffles. They’re also good for panfish.
Griffths Gnat size 20
- To imitate small stuff that hatches throughout the country like Tricos (August), midges (all year) and a reasonable imitation for small ants and beetles (summer)
Orange Simulator size 10
for small stoneflies, large caddis
Eventually you’ll want to add other dries to match specific hatches, and the best advice is to get recommendations from a local shop.
Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymph 16, 18 i
mitates a variety of thin bodied mayfly nymphs. Nymphing can be difficult to learn at first, but you can use these with a dry fly as an indicator near the surface, or behind a heavily weighted fly like a woolly bugger, hanging it on a short 12” section of tippet from the bend of the hook with an improved clinch knot.
Bead Head Gold Ribbed Hares Ear- size 14
Another very effective pattern for larger fatter bodied nymphs.
Other nymphs to add down the road, Bead Head Prince, Stonefly nymphs, Copper John, Zebra Midge etc.
depending on the waters you fish, as well as some other sizes of above, but these would be good basics to start). Some areas with stocked trout like delayed harvest streams, trout parks, and/or streams with steelhead runs and lake-run browns especially in great lakes tribs might also use egg flies a lot.
Partridge and Green and/or Partridge and Orange- size 14.
These are impressiontistic flies that imitate drowned adults, emerging mayflies and caddis, and are very good searching patterns that are difficult to fish wrong. A good way to fish them is to cast at an angle down and across stream, and let the fly swing below you.
Deep Sparkle Pupae
- Green body brown head size 14. This imitates an emerging caddis pupae and can be fished the same way as the soft hackles but will get a little deeper.
There are many other patterns to consider adding down the road if you like to fish wets, but the above cover a lot of bases.
Bead Head Black size 8 and Olive Woolly Bugger size 10
Another fly that’s hard to fish wrong, buggers imitate a lot of different things from stonefly nymphs, large mayfly nymphs, leeches and minnows in sort of vague way, but work very well. They’re also very effective used in tandem with another smaller nymph hung off the back. They can be very effective in pools, lakes and in fast currents.
Muddler Minnow- size 8 or 10
a very versatile pattern. Imitates sculpins found in most western streams, and can be even fished on top as a grasshopper pattern. This is a very good pattern to use if your casting is a bit off. You can just drop it back down stream by feeding out slack fly line in current and steer it into lies – in front of rocks, into current seams, or along the bank.
Black Marabou Muddler Minnow or black Zonker size 6.
These can be weighted with a conehead (heavy and awkward to cast, but gets deepest), Bead Head, or with wraps of lead wire (easier to cast). These can be a very effective big fish flies and are very good in high or off colored water. It can be cast and retrieved through pools, along banks, and can be very effective in ponds and lakes on a sink tip or after a long pause with a floating line to let them get deep.
These would be a good selection of basics to build on, but again local fly shops are in a better position to suggest specific patterns for where/when you will be fishing.
Hope this helps a bit.