The sport of fly fishing grew immensely during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020 alone, participation increased by 11 percent, a giant leap over the prior 10 years. And the numbers keep rising. It makes perfect sense: few things are better salves for the soul than a fly rod, a pretty piece of water, and (hopefully) willing fish. Some of these anglers were returning to the sport after an absence. But a great many of them are beginners. And these new anglers face what is perhaps the biggest barrier to entry in fly fishing: getting the right gear.
Over the years, I’ve introduced my wife, my three kids, and a few friends to the sport of fly fishing. I’ve found that if real interest sparks, the best—and easiest—way to get someone started in the sport is for them to purchase a fly fishing combo kit. That is, a packaged outfit that comes with a rod, reel, and, most of the time, a fly line. Piecing together a fly fishing setup can be overwhelming, but the best fly fishing combos for beginners make it easy. All of the components are matched to each other, so you don’t have to worry about building one from the ground. And with the new materials used in fly fishing gear today, most combos perform well—but some rise above the rest.
How I Chose the Best Fly Fishing Combos for Beginners
I’ve been fly fishing for more than 40 years, and I‘ve tested or owned many fly fishing combos for myself or to help others get started in the sport. For this review, I considered quality as the most important metric when choosing the best fly fishing combos for beginners. To learn how to fish well, you need a quality rod and reel that balance with each other and perform well. You don’t want to start your fly fishing career with bad gear. Your gear should encourage, not deter you. I also considered price. A starter kit for fly fishing should, by definition, not break the bank (you can—and will—do that later if you dive head first into the sport). I also considered the reputation of the companies that make the combos and how responsive they are to customer questions. You’ll want all the knowledge you can get when you start your fly fishing career.
Best Fly Fishing Combos for Beginners: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Orvis Clearwater Boxed Fly Rod Outfit
- Includes four-piece rod, reel and line, and rod case
- Rod weight: 3 ounces (8 feet 6 inches, 5-weight)
- Large arbor reel with disc drag
- Slick, easy-to-cast line
- 25-year guarantee
- Rod is heavy for its class
- No hook-keeper
Though the Clearwater combo comes in a few different sizes, I like the 8-foot 6-inch 5-weight best. It’s the perfect rod size to learn the sport. The rod action is medium-fast, which is the best for learning how to feel the casting motion. This rod has all the versatility you need for casting dry flies, nymphs, and even streamers. The 25-year “no-questions-asked” guarantee can come in handy for the beginner.
Best for Kids: Echo Gecko Kit
- Comes with 4-piece rod, reel, line, and rod case
- 4-weight rod is 2.9 ounces and 7 feet 9 inches
- Medium-action great for little hands and arms
- Reel is easy to affix
- Only one size
- Reel is easily damaged
All you can ask for when getting little kids started in fly fishing is that they like it. The Gecko will help in this regard. The handle—colored in sort of a camo-flecked green—is designed to accommodate two-handed casts, which is sometimes easier for little arms. The rod is a bright, eye-catching yellow. This rod’s medium-fast action is very relaxed and forgiving, which means kids don’t have to work that hard to get it going.
Best Premium: Sage Foundation Outfit
- 4-piece, 9 foot, 5-weight rod (3 ounces)
- Includes reel, line, and nylon rod and reel case
- Large arbor, 4.8-ounce reel
- One of the best rod and reel combos for the price
- Rio Gold fly line is top-of-class
- No hook-keeper
- Fast action might be a bit much for beginners
The Sage Foundation Outfit has much of what Sage offers at its higher price points. The rod is quick and powerful, and casts well at all distances. Its fast action, however, might require practice from true novices. The reel has a durable exterior, and the disc-drag is sealed, so it’ll last a long time. The Rio line that comes with the outfit is smooth and slick, which makes it excellent for trout and other freshwater species.
Best Budget: Cabela’s Prestige Fly Outfit
- 4-piece rod
- Includes reel, line, fly box with 12 flies, nippers, forceps, and more
- Large arbor disc-drag reel
- Ready to fish
- Above average reel at its price point
- Freshwater use only
- Might be outgrown quickly
Cabela’s throws in everything but the kitchen sink with this outfit. Rod, reel, line, leader, nippers, forceps, gear pouch, fly box, and even flies come with the Prestige Fly Outfit, which means you’ll be ready to hit the water fast. The medium action of the rod is great for beginners, and the solid reel is a good bargain. This is a true beginner’s outfit, so those who quickly take to the sport may soon move to higher quality products.
Best for Trout: Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Boxed Outfit
- 4-piece rod
- Includes reel, line, leader, and carrying case
- Large arbor reel
- Rod casts very well
- Reasonable price point
- You don’t get Orvis’s 25-year guarantee
- Plastic reel isn’t as sturdy as others
I learned to trout fish on an 8 foot 6 inch Orvis rod, so I have a natural affinity for this one. The medium action is great for beginners, and it’s also arguably the best way to learn how to fish dry flies for trout. This also forces beginners—who might rush their casts by muscling the line out of the rod—to slow down and actually feel how the rod works and how it’s connected to your fly. The reel is plastic, rather than aluminum, so it’s not terribly durable. And you’ll need to rinse it well if you use it in saltwater.
Best Big Game: Hardy Zane Rod and Zane Carbon Reel
- 4-piece, 9-foot rod (11-weight)
- Disc drag reel (10000)
- Both rod and reel include cases
- 11-weight rod is great big-game
- Excellent drag on the reel
- Good for beginners or experts
- Have to buy rod and reel separately
- Line not included
Traditionally, most fly anglers start with trout, bass, or other smaller species. These days, some start by going big, with a trip to the Florida Keys or Mexico for tarpon. Those folks should take a good look at Hardy, which has long been a leader when it comes to fishing for the giants in the saltwater world, like tarpon, jacks, and giant trevally. This Hardy combo (an 11-weight rod with an 11-weight reel), which isn’t a true combo , is the best way to enter the big fish game. The fly rod is medium-fast, which helps punch out flies into the wind (which you are almost guaranteed to see on the ocean). The fly reel is made of bar stock aluminum, which means it’s tough and salt-safe, and the disc-drag is one of the best in its class at slowing down the biggest sea monsters.
The Hardy Zane Pro was one of the top performers in the Outdoor Life saltwater fly rod test. Read the full Best Saltwater Fly Rods review to learn more.
Best Looking: Redington Vice Combo
- 4-piece, 4-weight rod
- Includes reel, Rio line, and rod and reel case
- Redington lifetime warranty
- Looks great
- Lifetime warranty
- Rod is a bit stiff
- Reel runs heavy
The Vice Combo comes with a fetching bright green rod and a reel that leaves the drag side blank so you can customize it with your own decals. While the manufacturer says the action is “fast,” I felt it was more “medium-fast,” which is better for beginners. It throws medium-to-long casts well, but is a little less accurate on shorter ones. The Rio Mainstream line is well-suited for beginners, with a heavy front taper, which allows for easy loading of the rod and longer casts. It’s a great combo for the beginner who prizes fun and creativity.
Best for Two-handed Casting: LL Bean Streamlight Ultra II Switch Fly Rod Outfit
- 4-piece, 11-foot, 7-weight rod
- Includes reel, line, leader, and rod case.
- Large arbor reel with a sealed disc drag
- Reasonable price
- Rod casts with power and has a pleasant green finish
- Cork grip on the rod is not as durable as the other components
- Leader can slip into the reel
One of the fastest-growing techniques in the sport of fly fishing is two-handed casting, and it can actually be an easier way to learn how to fly fish (little kids sometimes have to do it out of necessity). The Streamlight Ultra II Switch is a great way to get into two-handed casting without breaking the bank. The “switch” part of the name means you can cast this rod with either one or two hands. On bigger rivers, you’ll appreciate the ability to do the latter. This medium-fast rod shoots line extremely well, especially when using a two-handed cast, and it doesn’t feel too heavy when using only one hand. The drag on the reel is of good quality, and the Rio Switch Chucker that comes with the outfit is top notch.
Best for Euro Nymphing: Greys Fin Euro Nymph Fly Combo
- 4-piece 10 or 11-foot rod
- Includes reel, line, and reel and rod case
- Enclosed-frame disc drag reel
- Already set up
- Rod tip is flexible and sensitive
- Stiff line can coil easily
Another fast-growing segment of the fly fishing world is Euro nymphing, which is sometimes known as “contact nymphing.” The idea behind the method—which employs long rods and smaller diameter lines—is to be able to get your nymphs deep and maintain contact with them so you can feel delicate bites. This fly combo, featuring a 3/4-weight rod, is designed by the Englishman, Howard Croston, who has won the World Fly Fishing title twice, thanks to his prowess as a contact nympher. This method can be a bit intimidating to dive into, but this outfit makes it a bit easier, matching the rod, reel, and line. The rod’s tip is sensitive enough to feel almost all takes, and the reel’s close frame will keep thinner lines—and your leader—out of the reel.
How to Choose a Fly Fishing Combo
There are a few things to consider when choosing the best fly fishing combo for beginners. Is this for a little kid or an adult? What type of water will you be fishing, and what type of species will you be targeting? Generally speaking, I like to fish 3-weights to 6-weights for trout. A 7-weight, for me, is an ideal largemouth bass rod. For inshore saltwater (bonefish, redfish, striped bass), 8-weights to 10-weights usually do the trick. And the big fish—tarpon, big jacks, sharks—require 11-weights and above. Though some people start their fly angling careers on big fish, I’ve always believed that the best rod for a beginner is a smaller one, maybe a 4-weight or 5-weight rod, that’s 8 feet 6 inches long (for kids, a 7-foot rod works well). These rods are versatile (they can catch bluegills and trout) and feel good in the hand. Larger rods take more getting used to when casting and can impede quick progress, especially for kids.
Q: Does the color of the fly line matter?
The color of fly line doesn’t matter much for beginners. A long enough leader (the clear piece of monofilament or fluorocarbon that you attach to your fly line) will “hide” brightly-colored fly lines that might spook fish. As a beginner gets more experience and tries his or her hand at spookier, more difficult fish (like bonefish on a clear-water flat), more subdued colors for fly lines should be used.
Q: Is fly fishing a good sport for beginners?
Fly fishing may seem like an intimidating sport at first, considering the gear, learning to cast, and all the knots you must use to attach a leader to the fly line and a fly to the leader. But like anything else, practice and/or instruction is the key to this sport. Have someone show you how to cast and how to tie a few knots, and then practice those things.
Q: What does the weight mean on a fly rod?
Fly rods come in different “weights,” which characterize the size and strength of a particular rod. Weights in a fly rod go from lightest to heaviest. In other words, a 5-weight rod might weigh about 3 ounces and would be great for trout. An 11-weight rod would be heavier (around 5 ounces) and would be strong enough to pull in a 150-pound tarpon.
Read Next: Best Fly Reels for Trout, Saltwater, Big Game, and More
Final Thoughts on the Best Fly Fishing Combos for Beginners
For the most part, cost is not something you really need to consider with these combos. Almost all combos for beginners are priced fairly. And though some of these combos are only sold online, my advice is to always try to put your hands on anything you might buy in the fly fishing world.