The most cost-effective way for a beginner to get into fly fishing is to choose a decent fly rod and reel combo.

The Best Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combo for the Money

One of the hardest fly fishing choices for beginners is finding and choosing a good fly rod and reel combo. You probably understand that a good 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.

This fly fishing rod and reel combo image shows a fly fisher fishing on a mountain lake with a fly rod and reel combo.
The most cost-effective way for a beginner to get into fly fishing is to choose a decent fly rod and reel combo.

Don’t buy a cheap rod from a discount retail store. Instead, there are a handful of rods that are perfect for beginners — a blend of quality with a low investment that will help you learn without breaking the bank. Any of the rod and reel combinations noted below will be well worth the money for beginners, and they all make great gifts. Plus, for guys who already have a favorite rod, these combos give you a chance to pick up a backup rod (in case you break yours while fishing) or get a size and weight combination that you don’t have. For me personally — before I started testing and reviewing rods and combos for Man Makes Fire — I most often fished a 9-foot, 6-weight Sage that I received as a gift. 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.

How to Choose a Fly Fishing Rod

This best fly rod and reel combo photo shows the Cabela's Synch Fly Combo fly rod and reel on a rock near a river.
A fly fishing combo — like the new Cabela’s Synch Fly Combo — comes with a reel and fly line matched to fit the fly rod.

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 might be smart. 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 (see also, How to Choose the Best Fly Rod for Trout).

How to Choose a Fly Fishing Reel

orvis clearwater fly rod outfit
The Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit delivers a superb mix of quality for the price.

Reels have evolved into large arbor designs that let you reel your line over a big cylinder rather than a small axel. 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 cheaper reels these days 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 minute 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 — and any sort of hiccup 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.

Best Fly Fishing Rod and Reel Combos for Beginners

These outfits are solid performers, but if you fall and break your rod, the manufacturers typically won’t repair them for you without an extra charge. Still, at these prices, you can buy two without breaking the bank or save any extra budget for a set of waders.

Best Fly Fishing Combos for the Money

These fly fishing outfits offer an enviable blend of quality. If you can afford a bump to your budget, these combos will last years and feel great every time you pull them out.

  • Orvis Clearwater Fly Rod Outfit — You get a 25-year guarantee on the rod and an excellent price point for the quality. Also available directly from Orvis or from with free shipping on most orders.
  • Redington VICE Combo — You get a fast-action rod that casts above its price point — bundled with a solid reel. Remington created this new combo for existing fly fishers looking for an affordable upgrade from their previous entry-level systems. (We’re fans of the green, too.)
  • Cabela’s Rogue/WLx Combo — On its own, the Cabela’s Rogue is a great fast-action fly rod offered at a very competitive price point. The WLx reel is also surprisingly smooth and well-made for the price. The two together deliver a combo that’s competitive with higher-price rods and reels. (If you’re on the fence, consider saving a bit on the reel by choosing the Rogue/Prestige Premier Fly Combo, which is still pretty darn sweet.)
  • L.L.Bean Silver Ghost Fly Rod Outfit — Gotta love the craftsmanship at this price point, and if L.L.Bean is still sold out of this combo, you can get the rod and reel separately.
  • Sage Foundation Outfit — The Foundation Outfit pairs Sage’s “entry-level” rod and reel to create a midrange+ quality outfit that fishes above its price point (Sage is more typically known for its more high-end rods and reels). Beyond its sweet stealthy all-black design, the Foundation Rod is Made in the USA.

Drool-Worthy Fly Fishing Combos

The highest quality rods and reels almost never come in pre-packaged combos — and there are many great options from many manufacturers, and the competition and craftsmanship at this level means that most any $600-plus rod will fish well for most fishers. 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!

Fly Line Recommendation

Need a fly line recommendation? If you’re not getting a pre-packaged combo, you’ll need a fly line and backing.

One of the best fly lines is the Scientific Anglers Mastery MPX Taper Fly Line — 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 are much more costly? Not worth it for 95 percent of fly fishers unless you’re looking for a specific taper for a specific kind of fish or style. (Seriously, wait until you’re a fanatic to worry about investing anything more than $40-75 in a fly line.)

You’ll also want to nab some Scientific Anglers Fly Line Backing and it never hurts to start out with a 3-pack of Rio Powerflex leaders.

Disclosure: Reviews and Gear Links:

In addition to Man Makes Fire buying gear for reviews and guides, gear manufacturers occasionally ship review units to Man Makes Fire. If we like it, we spend some quality time with the gear and review it, noting if it was provided to Man Makes Fire. After the review, we return it, give it away, or work on longer-term review follow-ups when applicable to reader interest.

We do not accept any gear in exchange for coverage. If we do not truly appreciate the gear, we don't write about it at all -- bad gear will fade into obscurity on its own if everyone ignores it. In addition, we focus on gear from reputable companies, reputable brands, and reputable retailers that we trust.

The gear links on Man Makes Fire are focused on what we are willing to recommend to our own family and friends. Many of our specific gear links connect to industry-standard affiliate advertising programs that can result in a small percentage of resulting online sales paid to Man Makes Fire.

Basically, we deliver the advice and insight you need, you get the gear you want, and then everyone wins. Pretty straightforward.

  1. I am wanting to start fly fishing and I have asked around at a few places to learn what i can before I commit to buying a rod and reel combo and I want to get a non-salesman answer that might be less bias. I read this article which was quite helpful, but I have a few questions about what might be the best rod/reel combo for me.

    I want to fish for bass, panfish, and trout and I’ve been told that a 5 wt is perfect by one guy and a 6 wt is perfect by another. I also would like to know your preference of the four “budget” combos you mentioned. If you were to get one as a first combo that you plan on using for a long time and you are on e budget, which would you choose?

    1. It’s really hard to go wrong with a 5w or a 6w. If you’re not sure, go with a 5w weight if you expect to fish smaller waters. Go with a 6w if you’re going to fish larger waters. You’ll be able to cast farther with the 6w and cast larger flies easier. If the bass you plan to catch are nearing 2 or 3 pounds, I would error toward the 6w. Much larger, depending on the water and weeds, you might want a 7w or 8w.

      On the flip side, panfish are more fun on lighter rods.

      So which of the four would I recommend if you’re on a tight budget? The Cabela’s Three Forks Combo is hard to beat and it costs the least. I’ve fished four different Three Forks configurations and they’ve all performed surprisingly well — especially for the price.

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