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The most important fly fishing gear choice for beginners is finding and choosing a good fly rod and reel combo. A good fly fishing rod will help you learn and make it easier to cast — and catch fish — while a bad rod might be so troublesome that you give up the sport altogether. The challenge is to find the best rod and reel combination for the money. And the money that matters? Your budget.
I recommend you don’t buy a cheap rod from a discount retail store or any cheap knockoffs. Instead, I recommend several affordable fly rod and reel combo kits that are perfect for beginners and will last for years. All of these rod/reel combos blend quality with a relatively low investment that will help you learn to fly fish without breaking the bank.
Any of the fly rod and reel combinations noted below will be well worth the money for beginners, and they all make great fly fishing gifts. Before I started testing and reviewing rods and reels for Man Makes Fire, I most often fished a 9-foot, 6-weight Sage fly rod. The 6-weight was great for longer casts on bigger water. To balance the 6-weight, I also carried along an inexpensive Cabela’s 7.5-foot 3-weight fly rod and reel combo for smaller creeks or skittish trout. Now I most often test and use do-it-all 9-foot, 5-weight fly rods for trout fishing.
Most serious fly fishers have multiple fly rods — but they nearly all started out with just one fly rod and reel. The key to choosing the best fly fishing rod and reel combination is choosing the right size fly rod and reel for the kind of fishing you want to do most often. (You can always add additional rods in the future!)
The best fly rod and reel combo for trout I choose is usually a 9-foot 5-weight fly rod with a weight-forward floating fly line — which is the kind of fly line most combos come with. A 9-foot 5-weight is the most versatile size of fly fishing rod and reel combo for trout, and it’s the fly rod size I recommend most for beginners. If you plan to fish smaller creeks or fish for panfish, you could drop down in size to an 8’6″ 4-weight combo. For bigger rivers and bigger trout, a 9-foot 6-weight is also a versatile option.
For larger fish, particularly steelhead, salmon, and some saltwater fish and bass, a 9-foot 8-weight fly rod and reel combo is quite fishable. Of course, there are many different specialized types of fly rods — like euro or tactical nymphing rods — but I recommend most fly fishing beginners start out with traditional fly rod and reel setups.
Once you know the size of fly rod you want, choose the best fly fishing outfit that fits your budget.
Best Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combos for Beginners 2022
These fly fishing rod and reel outfits are solid performers that are aimed at beginners. They tend to have medium-fast actions that cast best at short and midrange distances and feel great for a wide variety of casting skills. Most combos in 2022 come with fly line, which helps save you money. For most new fly fishers on a budget, I recommend a solid entry level combo at an affordable price point. If you have extra budget, you can upgrade and/or consider additional fly fishing gear like waders and/or wading boots.
1. Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Outfit
The newly updated Cabela’s Bighorn Fly Outfit has a forgiving moderate action and an overall price-to-quality ratio that’s hard to beat. If your budget is really tight, the Bighorn Fly Outfit is the best fly fishing rod and reel combo for under $100. We were pleased with the original version — see our original-version Cabela’s Bighorn review — but the new version delivers a much improved color design and an improved reel.
The Redington Crosswater reel provides a nice update to this popular entry-level rod. Redington makes several other combos, but the price-to-value ratio really shines with the Redington Crosswater Outfit. It’s been a great casting rod for beginners for years, and we’re fans of the bright blue rod, too. We also appreciate the included rod/reel case, which simplifies storage and packing for fishing trips. To learn more, check out our full Redington Crosswater review.
Shop the Redington Crosswater Outfit Fly Combo at:
The newly updated L.L.Bean Quest Fly Rod Outfit includes a handy rod and reel combo case, but more importantly, it comes with L.L. Bean’s legendary “100% Satisfaction Guarantee.” At just under $160, the overall value is spot on. If you’re an L.L.Bean fan, there’s no reason to stray. Read our full Quest Fly Rod Outfit review to learn more.
The new Echo Lift Kit replaces one of our previous favorite fly outfit picks, the Echo Base Fly Rod Kit. Echo is a relatively small company, but its rod design is led by legendary fly casting champion Tim Rajeff. Echo’s rods tend to deliver accuracy with great feel — very castable — and the new Lift rod has an updated medium fast action. The included fly reel is still the Echo Base — and it’s surprisingly smooth for its entry-level price point. Overall, the price-to-value ratios here remain excellent. As you know by now, we’re also big fans of the included rod-reel case.
The Temple Fork Outfitters NXT Black Label Combo Kit features a handsome matte black finish on a versatile medium-fast action blank. TFO offers the NXT Black Label combo in just two options: a 5-weight and an 8-weight. The included NXT BLK reel has a solid modern construction with a smooth drag system. The kit comes preloaded with a weight-forward fly line with Dacron backing as well as a rod-and-reel travel case. The TFO NXT Black Label combo costs a bit more than most other beginner combos, but it’s worth it — and a no-brainer if you find it on sale. Also, while TFO offers a lifetime warranty for defects, if you accidentally break a section of your NXT Black Label fly rod, you can easily order a replacement section from TFO for $20~. That’s great peace of mind for beginning fly fishers and helps keep a fly fishing gift rod out on the water fighting fish for years to come. So cool.
These fly fishing outfits offer an enviable blend of quality for the cost. If you can afford a bump to your budget, these combos will last years and feel great every time you pull them out. In fact, many fly fishers will never need to upgrade from these great fly rod and reel combos. If these fly combos fit your budget, they are far and away my favorite midrange combo picks. You can’t go wrong here:
7. Redington ‘Field Kits’
Redington has created an awesome new series of fly rod and reel combo ‘Field Kits‘ for beginners who want easy-to-choose quality gear. The biggest benefit is how Redington identifies each Field Kit with a can’t-go-wrong fish-specific or water-specific naming system. For example, the Redington ‘Trout’ Field Kit delivers a 9-foot 5-weight rod and reel combo that’s great for trout. The Salmon Field Kit beefs your combo up to a 9-foot 8-weight rod and reel combo, while the Bass Field Kit drops you down to a versatile 7-weight setup. Meanwhile, if you live near an ocean, Redington makes it easy, too: The Tropical Saltwater Field Kit pairs Redington’s powerful Behemoth reel to let you stalk fish on the flats and catch bonefish, redfish, permit, or snook. The Coastal Coldwater Field Kit pairs you up to go after stripers, albies or bluefish. Redington even offers a Euro Nymph Field Kit.
What about casting and quality? Most of the Field Kits have versatile medium-fast actions and a solid boost in quality over sub-$200 combos. The reels are quite a bit better, too, and the included Rio fly lines are purpose-built premium-grade fly lines — they’re significantly better fly lines than what you get in most entry-level fly fishing combos. Better yet, Redington now sells $45 Field Kit Replacement Tips in case you break your tip off in your vehicle’s door — or fall on the rocks and fail to keep your rod tip up as you trip (been there, done both!).
The latest generation Orvis Clearwater fly rod has a medium-fast action that excels in short and midrange casts. Better yet, you also get a 25-year guarantee on the rod and an excellent price point for the overall quality. The new Clearwater Large Arbor Fly Reel is fantastic for the price point — it looks great, feels good, and works very well. In fact, we like the newly designed Clearwater reel even more than the rod. Either way, we’re big fans of the combo — check out our full Clearwater Combo Review for more detail. Oh, one more thing: Orvis has a wide-range of options, including Clearwater Saltwater Rods.
The Redington VICE Combo blends a fast-action rod that casts above its price point with a solid reel. Redington created this new combo for existing fly fishers looking for an affordable upgrade from their previous entry-level systems. The company succeeded — the VICE Combo delivers the best performance value because the rod casts so well for the price. Read our full Redington VICE review. One more thing: We’re fans of the green — it looks fantastic in natural light.
Sage is best known for its high-end (and relatively expensive) fly rods, but the company has created an affordable midrange fly rod/reel combo in its Foundation Outfit. From Sage’s perspective, you get a so-called “entry-level” rod and reel that fishes above its price point. Read our full Sage Foundation review for more detail. Beyond its sweet stealthy all-black design — which is so cool, by the way — the Foundation Rod is Made in the USA and boasts the best overall craftsmanship and performance in a readily available fly fishing combo. If you appreciate USA manufacturing and can afford it, choose the Sage Foundation Outfit. Note on understanding models while ordering from some stores online: The ‘590-4’ model refers to a 5-weight 9-foot rod with 4 pieces — so a ‘690-4’ would be a 6-weight 9-foot rod with four pieces.
The very highest quality rods and reels almost never come in pre-packaged combos. There are many great high-end fly rods from many manufacturers, and the competition and craftsmanship at this level means that most any $600-plus rod will fish well for most fly fishers. However, few beginner fly fishers have the budget to drop that kind of money.
When price is not a factor, these three can’t-go-wrong rods and reels boast superior craftsmanship and overall performance. The key here for beginners is that one of these rods and reels won’t instantly make you a better fly fisher, but they will help you make the leap from an intermediate fly fisher to an expert — if you put the time in on the water, of course!
The best fly fishing outfit for kids is the Echo Gecko Kids Outfit. The second best fly rod outfit for older kids is the Redington Youth Minnow Combo. Aside from the kid-friendly colors, these two fly fishing combos are sized right for smaller fly fishers. Let’s take a closer look:
Echo Gecko Kids Outfit
The Echo Gecko Kids Outfit is great for younger children because the handle has a smaller diameter that’s friendlier to little hands. Plus, the handle extends with a ‘fighting butt’ gives kids extra leverage when they’re trying to fight a fish. New for this year, Echo is offering two versions: a 7’6″ 4-weight Gecko Panfish that’s great for smaller fish like bluegill and a 7’9″ 5-weight Gecko Trout that’s just a bit bigger for trout. The only drawback is that these two new rods aren’t quite yet available — but will be soon. In the meantime, the original Gecko Echo kit is a 7’9 4-weight that is still widely available and remains awesome for kids. Oh, one more thing: If your kid happens to break the tip, Echo has one of the best tip-replacement programs in the country: $20 and your kid will be fishing and smiling again!
The Redington Youth Minnow Combo uses the same great Crosswater Fly Reel found on the Crosswater Combo above, but the Youth Minnow rod comes in at 8′ for a 5-weight fly line. It’s still a kid-focused rod, but the color scheme has staying power as your kid becomes a teenager. The Youth Minnow Combo is similar to the Crosswater Combo, so much so that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the Crosswater Combo for kids around 10 years old when the Youth Minnow is sold out. (I particularly like the 7’6″ 4-weight or 8’6″ 5-weight Crosswater options for kids.)
Fly rods are rated by “weight,” which is the thickness and weight of your fly line. So a 5-weight fly rod is rated for a 5-weight fly line. They come in different lengths, but a 9-foot rod is the sweet spot for most anglers. In fact, the most versatile rod, especially for trout, is a 9-foot, 5-weight fly rod. You can’t go wrong with this size as a gift or for a first rod.
At the same time, if you know you are going to fish primarily on small creeks, you could get a 4-weight fly rod or even an ultralight 7.5-foot, 3-weight fly rod. Alternately, if you know you want to fly fish for bass or fish lakes and big rivers with big streamer flies, a 7-weight or 8-weight rod is a better choice. For steelhead or salmon, you would want a versatile 8-weight fly rod and reel combo to get you started.
All that said, if you want to fish primarily for trout, stick with a versatile 5-weight or error toward a 6-weight rod if you’re going to be fishing bigger water . . . just make sure you get a 4-piece rod for packability. (If you truly want a super packable 6- or 7-piece travel fly rod, check out our guide to the Best Travel Fly Rods.)
Things get a bit trickier if your looking to fish cold coastal waters or warm tropical waters, partially because you want a saltwater ready fly reel. Fortunately, Redington’s new Field Kits make your entry choices much easier.
How to Choose a Fly Fishing Reel
Reels have evolved into large arbor designs that let you reel your line over a big cylinder rather than a small axel. For example, instead of reeling line furiously around a pencil, newer reels work more like wrapping line around a soup can — basically, they let you reel in line faster.
Even today’s inexpensive reels now come with larger diameter spools and are lightweight. More expensive reels have better fit and finish, plus they have smoother drag systems. A drag, by the way, is the part of a reel system that lets the line leave the reel when a fish takes off hard.
A smoother drag will let you set the drag system with a wider variety of pressure differences, and the drag will stay put at the setting you intend. In addition, a finely made drag system will engage smoothly without sticking. Any sort of hiccup with a hooked fish on your line can be enough to snap your tippet (the smallest portion of your leader) and break off your fly.
Which means you’ll lose the fish. And maybe lose the fish of a lifetime.
But don’t worry. You can catch huge fish with today’s entry-level reels. I’ve caught hard-fighting coho salmon on entry-level reels, and even brought in a 23-inch brown trout on a tiny entry-level reel rated for super-light 3-weight fly rods. Both were on inexpensive Cabela’s-branded combos. The key? Set your drag lightly, and if you hook into a big fish, gently apply pressure to the outside rim — the palming rim — of your reel during big runs where the fish takes off fast and hard. The technique is to not stop the reel from turning, just slow it down a bit and put more pressure on the fish without snapping your tippet.
It’s a technique, which is part of the challenge and joy of fly fishing in the first place.
What is the best fly line for beginners?
If you’re not getting a pre-packaged combo — or if your rod and reel combo doesn’t come with fly line included — you’ll need a fly line and backing. For most trout fishing, that means you’ll want a weight-forward floating fly line that matches the “weight” listed on the base section of your fly rod.
One of the higher-quality, better value fly lines is the Scientific Anglers Mastery MPX Taper Fly Line — it’s hard to go wrong with it, but if the price is out of your budget, pick up the Orvis Clearwater Fly Line or the Rio Mainstream Trout Freshwater Fly Line. The three options above are flexible, versatile lines that will pretty much handle whatever you need to do. What about the dozens of other options, many of which can ramp up well past $100? They’re not worth it for most beginning fly fishers on a budget. Seriously, wait until you’re a fanatic to worry about investing anything more than $40-75 in a fly line — or for that matter, investing in speciality rods that require special fly line tapers.
We don’t recommend that beginners start fly fishing with Euro rods unless they have an experienced buddy available to help them learn faster. Why? A Euro nymphing fly rod is a specialized fly rod designed for a specific kind of wet-fly trout stream fishing. Euro rods are very long and very thin with sensitive tips and lightweight fly line with extra long leaders. They don’t cast like traditional fly rods. The basic principle behind using a Euro or Czech nymphing setup is to use weighted nymph flies that you sort of flip or fling upstream and then follow downstream with your rod held high as you try to let your underwater flies move naturally along the bottom of a river.
Euro nymphing, sometimes called tactical nymphing, is a lot of fun and can be very effective — but it’s very different from traditional fly fishing and fly casting. Traditional fly rods are more versatile for beginners in more kinds of fishing situations, so we recommend that beginners start with traditional fly rod and reel outfits.