I recently received an email from a reader of my Fly Fishing for Catfish article. Within the message was the following request, “I can't see your rod, reel, line details from the pictures. I can shop at Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop or Sportsmen Ware house or even online if I can save some money. But I really could use your help itemizing everything I should buy.”
It always pleases me to hear from folks who enjoy reading my writings. It’s not uncommon for me to get asked what equipment folks should buy, and while I’m happy to respond, the answers tend to be generic.
First, there are dozens of rod, reel, and line manufacturers out there and most make very useable equipment. I, myself, own at least half-dozen brands, running from rather expensive to the more affordable. They all work. They all cast a line and I catch fish on all of them. The performance of the top dollar rods is better, but at twice the price, they do not cast twice as well. As to reels, I love top dollar reels for their smooth, trouble free operation. But in truth, I catch as many fish on my “cheap” reels as the top dollar units. Personally, I’ve never had much success with inexpensive fly lines. They don’t cast as well or hold up under heavy use.
My preferred rod for warmwater fishing is a 7 wt. rod, although a 8 wt. rod is good option. For northern pike and light duty saltwater I opt for a 9 wt. My preference leans to "fast" action rods as they handle larger, and often heavily weighted, flies used for warmwater species better, especially multiple flies. Plus, I can use heavier tippet without fear of breaking the rod. My rods are typically 9 ft., but anything in the 8-10 ft. length with do. Bear in mind that shorter rods cast easier in the wind.
When selecting a rod it should have the length of the rod, plus one in guides, not including the tiptop. Thus, a 9 ft. rod should have 10 guides plus the tiptop. Avoid rods that don't meet these criteria. When looking to save dollars, after the guide criteria is met, rods with aluminum or plastic reels seats, simple wrappings, less expensive guides, no rod bag or tube, will cut the cost without necessarily taking away from the rod’s ability to cast. Finally, either cast the rod yourself or have someone with casting skills do it for you to confirm the rod will be adequate for the job.
I suggest a single action, large arbor reel that has a smooth drag, and will hold at least 100 yds. of backing plus a 7 wt. floating fly line. Purchase a spare spool with the reel when you purchase it. Line capacity and a “palming” rim are the most important features for me. Smooth drag is second. The reality is some of my “cheap” reels work just as well as the expensive reels as long as I’m willing palm the rim for drag.
Don't scrimp on the fly line; stick with a top brand such as SA, Rio, or Cortland. The first line should be a floating weight forward line. If you get serious about warmwater fly fishing, a full sink weight forward type 3 should be the second line. I love my shooting heads for distance, but they are not recommended for beginners.
I use heavier leaders for warmwater fishing, 3X is the lightest and typically I fish 2X or 1X, essentially, 8-15 lb. test. For the floating line, use a tapered leader, 7.5 ft. is plenty, but 9 ft. works. The problem with 9 ft. leaders is they're harder to turn big flies over with. For the sinking line, straight leader material of 4-6 ft. is perfect.
I avoid kits as they typically “balance” them based on price, which means for the same money you can often get a better rod, and purchase a lower quality reel. You’ll be better off doing so as the rod casts the line, the reel is mostly a place to store the line. So put your money where it’ll do you the most good. My recommendation has always been, set a budget for a rod/reel/line. Subtract the cost of the cheapest reel and a decent line. Spend the rest on the best rod you can find, up to several hundred dollars. If you have money left over after purchasing the rod, apply it towards a “better” reel.
Point is, if any one brand of rod/reel/line was perfect for all then there would only be one available. All those companies remain in business because they sell gear that works. The kicker is figuring out what’s best for you. Set a budget, figure out what you can live with for a line and reel, and spend the rest on the rod. Reels and lines are easily replaced. A good rod becomes an extension of me when fishing, a joy to use and not something I care to replace very often.