on Buying Fly
This page covers the following frequently asked questions (FAQs)
We are often asked for advice on buying fly fishing
equipment. The best piece of advice we can offer beginners is to
see – and use - our equipment before making your purchase.
Time after time we see well-meaning parents, or keen beginners,
come to a lesson with totally unsuitable - and often very
expensive - tackle.
- What equipment
do I need for Westcountry fly fishing?
- What should I look for when buying
a fly rod?
weight of fly line
- Should I 'overline'
my fly rod
- What diameter /
breaking strain of tippet
- What flies
do you recommend?
- Can you recommend a book
- What type of waders
do you recommend ?
As fly fishing instructors we probably subject tackle to more use
in a month than the average angler does in a year. We have
experience of good and bad tackle: accessories that simply fall
apart; poorly constructed reels that can trap expensive fly lines
between cage and spool; waders and jackets with design problems
that will send you home shivering and wet, and rods that qualify
for the description "carpet beaters" as well as others
that merit the accolade "world beaters".
We would be happy to recommend complete outfits as well as single
pieces of equipment that in our experience are robust, backed up
by good after-sales service, and offer genuine value for
Equipment for Westcountry fly
When you purchase a set of
please ask the dealer to bear the following suggestions in mind:
- If you intend to fish mainly on small
Westcountry rivers for
wild brown trout we recommend a rod between 7 and 8 feet, AFTM
rated 3, 4 or 5. If you intend to fish mainly on small stocked
stillwaters or reservoirs, a 9 foot rod rated AFTM 5, 6 or 7 would be
- You will also need a suitable
forward (WF) or double taper (DT)
floating fly line, backing, braided loop and tapered leader(s).
Ask the dealer to load the reel with the backing and fly line,
and join the braided loop to the end of the fly line.
- You will also need some tippet material (e.g.
(or 7X) breaking strain for river work and at least 6lb b.s. for small
stillwaters), scissors or snips, a priest and net (if you do not
intend to ‘catch and release’), fly floatant, a fly
box and a few flies suitable for wild brown trout and stocked
- A pair of forceps is useful if you intend to
- You may want to buy a fly vest to keep all this
- We recommend you buy chest waders if you intend
to fish on a river
- Finally, and most importantly, wear some form
of eye protection
thoughts on buying a fly rod
If you are a beginner:
This paragraph - from the American rod maker Tom Morgan - sums up
what we look for in a fly fishing rod:
- don't buy a rod without trying it first
- try several rods before making your first purchase
- don't be tempted by low-budget beginners outfits;
learning to cast a fly is difficult enough without having to cope
with poor tackle
- beginners deserve the best rods; more experienced
often adapt their casting to cope with poor rods
- when testing a rod, don't just find out how far it
throw the fly line
- just because a rod can cast a fly line 'a country
mile' that doesn't mean it will be a useful fishing
- most of the fishing on small west country rivers
casts of 20 to 30 feet, therefore you should test how the rod
performs with less than 30 feet of fly line beyond the tip
"What makes a
rod? Most importantly, it has to become what I call a
"thought rod." When you are fishing with it, you almost
forget that you have a rod in your hand. It becomes an extension
of your physical body, and, almost always, you think where you
want the fly to go, and, as if by magic, the fly appears there.
This fluid action comes because the rod is wonderfully smooth,
bends sufficiently to communicate with the angler how it's
working, and has an inherent delicacy. And, it does this at the
normal distances that you fish for trout." Tom
to select an appropriate weight (i.e. AFTM number)
of fly line
Fly rods are designed to cast a particular weight of fly line.
The weight of a fly line is described by an AFTM number. This number is
printed on the rod just above the handle. The AFTM
number is based on the weight of the first 30 feet of the fly
line. These numbers range from #0 (the lightest line) to #13 the
- lighter lines (AFTM#2-5)are used to cast flies tied
on small hooks (sizes 14 to 23 - a tiny hook)
- heavier lines (AFTM#6-7 or 8) are used to cast larger
or heavier flies
I 'overline' my fly rod?
- On Westcountry rivers we use AFTM#4 or #5 weight fly
lines to cast flies tied on size 15 to 19 hooks
- On local reservoirs /still waters we use AFTM#6-7
weight lines to cast flies tied on larger hooks
Overlining means using a flyline that is
heavier (has a greater AFTM# rating) than that recommended by the
manufacturer. Do not use a flyline greater than one size above the
manufacturer's recommended line rating. It may damage the rod.
Fly rods are designed to cast a particular weight of fly line.
The rod loads or bends most effectively when used with this
weight of line. With experience you will 'feel' a
'sweet spot' when you are casting with an appropriate length of fly
outside the rod tip.
The weight of a fly line is described by an
AFTM number. The AFTM number is based on the weight (in grains )
of the first 30 feet of the
Consequently, if you know that you will be consistently making short
casts with less than 30 feet
of fly line outside the rod then it can help to overline the rod.
The shorter length of a heavier fly line compensates for the
loss of weight in the lighter fly line.
||Now for the "geeky" bit.
This table shows that there is not a
precise relationship between weight and a particular AFTM number.
For example, a line can be described as AFTM#5 if the the first
30 feet weighs between 134 and 146 grains (There are approximately 475
grains to the ounce).
Incidentally, this is
probably the source for the constant debate between anglers on
what brand of line works best on a particular model of fly
I am buying a fly line I check the lengths of the front taper and line
belly. The relative lengths of these parts of the line can affect their
casting characteristics especially when making short casts. Here is the
profile of a Snowbee XS Weight Forward Floating line.
What diameter /
breaking strain of tippet should I
This depends on the size, weight and
the fly tied on the end of your leader - the tippet
If you tie a big or heavy fly onto a thin tippet, it may break
off during casting.
- Small flies are tied onto thin tippets
- Large, heavy or bulky flies need thicker tippets
A thin tippet may not 'turn over' a bushy fly leading to
poor presentation - the fly lands in the middle of a heap of
It is difficult to pass a thick tippet through the eye of a small
fly, and a thick tippet may interfere with the behaviour of a
This is about to get very "geeky" so I might as well give you
the bottom line before your eyes begin to glaze over!
- For everyday river work I would use nylon
monofilament with a breaking strain of 3 to 4lb
- For day-to-day stillwater fishing I would use nylon
monofilament with a breaking strain of
6 to 7lb
|Now for another "geeky" bit - you
don't need to know this stuff
unless you intend to subject yourself to cross-examination as part of a
game angling instructors examination !
Tippet diameter is
often described by using the X rating
The X scale runs from 008X abbreviated to 8X (a very small
diameter tippet) to 000X abbreviated to 0X a much thicker tippet.
Matching tippet diameter to fly size is important for proper
presentation of the fly.
How to calculate
the size of tippet to use with a fly - the
"Rule of 3"
there is no standard way of representing hook size.
Sizes vary between hook manufacturers. )
- Divide the hook size by 3 to determine the
diameter on the X scale
- For example, use 6X tippet with a size 18 fly
Sometimes the X
value is not printed on a spool of tippet material.
In that case the diameter of the material will be printed on the spool.
Here is a way to
convert X to diameter in inches - the "Rule of
Here is how to
convert tippet diameter in inches into an X value:
- Subtract the X (000X) value from .011
- For example, 006X subtracted from .011 gives a
diameter of .005 inches
subtracted from .011 gives a diameter of .006 inches
- Remember that 006X is normally abbreviated to
005X is abbreviated to 5X
- A 3X (003X) leader has a
of .008 inches (i.e. 011-003=008)
How to calculate
breaking strain of X rated tippet - the
"Rule of 9":
- Subtract tippet diameter in inches from 0.011
- Thus tippet with diameter of .004
7X (i.e. 0.011-0.004= 0.007 or 7X)
Bear in mind that
putting a knot into nylon monofilament
reduces the breaking strain of the line. Therefore do not expect 3lb
test line to break at exactly 3lb.
- Subtract the X number from 9 to get the
- For example, a 5X leader has a breaking
strain of 4 pounds (9-5=4)
- 2X tippet has a breaking
strain of 7 pounds (9-2=7)
This table summarizes the relationship between hook size, tippet size
(X), tippet diameter, breaking strain and appropriate line weight
|Example of hook sizes:
Tiemco TMC103BL hooks sizes 11,13,15,17,19 and 21
(from the Tiemco catalog, available online)
||Appropriate tippet size
(Rule of 3)
(Rule of 11)
of nylon monofilament
in pounds (Rule of 9)
|Recommended fly line size AFTM#
(by Ally Gowans)
suggestions for suitable flies
We are often asked for advice on what flies to use on local
rivers. This is a perfectly understandable request. Even as
instructors we suffer agonies of uncertainty about what flies to
take when we go on holiday to unfamiliar rivers.
|If you tie your own flies, you
may find it useful
to get hold of a copy of Peter Gathercole's book "The
Fly Tying Bible".
Here is a list of flies from Gathercole's book that we find
useful on our local rivers:
- Elk Hair Emerger
- Polywinged Midge
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Balloon Caddis
- Sparkle Dun
- Hare's Ear Nymph
- Flashback Pheasant Tail Nymph
- Goldhead Bug
- Sparkle Pupa
- Soft Hackle - use pheasant tail or
hare's ear for
|Another useful book is Max
Complete Fisherman's Fly".
Here is a list of flies from Fielding's book that we use
on local rivers:
- Bead Sawyer Bug
- Endrick Spider (add a thorax to convert it to a
- Balloon Caddis
- Sparkle Dun
- Hawthorn Fly
- Elk Hair Sedge
- Sedgehog (used for sea trout as a wake
- Black and Peacock Spider
you recommend a book suitable for
This is one of the most difficult questions we
I guess it's because we will read anything about fly fishing
that we can get our hands on, and find some merit in nearly all
But here are three books that cover river fishing, fishing on
small stillwaters, and entomology (insects). Hopefully they will
serve as firm foundation for your exploration of the rich
literature which is a particular feature of fly fishing.
You can browse through more of this literature in our bookshop
What type of wader do you recommend?
The answers to this perennial question deserve a separate page, see here
Copyright Paul Kenyon 2014
- Tom Morgan "A Modern Fly Rod Legacy", article
published in 2002, available
- Tom Morgan advice on what to look for when buying a
rod, available online
- The relationship between tippet X size, diameter, and
size explained, available online
- How to Choose Fly Fishing Leaders & Tippets -
Kreh, available online
- How To Choose the Right Fly Line Weight by Lefty
- Choosing fishing flies, tippets and fly lines by Ally
- Tiemco hook catalog, available online