Fly Fishing Buyer’s Guide

November 19, 2019

by Active Junky
Fly Fishing Buyer’s Guide

Whether you’re new to fly fishing or a dedicated trout bum, there’s sure to be gear for you in this Active Junky Fly Fishing Buyer’s Guide. Our team of testers thrashed gear from top brands like Orvis, Sage, Rio, Loon, and more from Telluride, Colorado, to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. If you’re looking for a more accurate rod, dependable wading boots, or simply a way to save money on flies, you’re in the right spot. Read on, stock up, and we’ll see you on the river!

Why you should buy your fly fishing gear with Active Junky:

When you’re on the hunt for fly fishing gear, Active Junky is the best place to kick off your search. Every purchase you make on fly fishing gear—from rods and reels to flies and apparel—results in cashback, so you save money as you shop. Where that money goes to is up to you… a trip to Belize to chase bonefish, a new 3-weight to add to the quiver—the options are endless! Regardless of what you plan to do with your loot, remember: shop at Active Junky, save money—it’s as simple as that. 

Orvis Helios 3F

Orvis Helios 3F $835.14 - $912.00

You’ve likely already seen Orvis’ heavily hyped Helios gracing the covers of magazines, in the hands of talented anglers at your local river, and popping up all over your social media feeds. After a few months of testing a 6-weight around Colorado, we can attest that Helios hype is absolutely warranted. Orvis paid careful attention to all of the details: we love the feel of the premium cork handle, the security of the anodized aluminum reel seat, and the thin yet sturdy snake and stripping guides. While some will be put off by the conspicuous white section at the handle, we were too smitten with the no-glare matte finish—which encourages stealthy fishing—to care. While the softer-feeling Helios 3F is certainly powerful and capable of long-distance casts, we were most impressed at the pinpoint accuracy delivered at close and mid-range. Indeed, when roll casting substantial nymph rigs or streamers, the 6-weight delivered quickly and accurately like an Amazon Prime drone. Hands down, we undeniably caught more fish and cast more accurately with the 3F in hand.

Tester Comment: “Soon after rigging up the Helios, my jaw was on the riverbed. I was working my way up a section of technical water, hitting every pocket and seam, and pulling fish more often than not. The Helios deserves to be center stage in any quiver—it’s reliable, lightweight, and accurate to a point that’s nearly unfair.” 

Best for: Investing in accuracy.

Sage Trout LL

Sage Trout LL Fly Rod Starting at: $760.00

Sage’s Trout LL just won the International Fly Tackle Dealers show’s coveted Best Freshwater Fly Rod award, and we reckon it’s well-deserved. We sent a 5-weight on a tour of Colorado this summer and fall, and tester consensus was that the Trout LL is a dependable medium action rod with a delicate tip that allows you to drop dries with finesse. Indeed, the 5-weight offered deadly dry fly presentation cast after tight-looped cast and consistently found its mark from 15’ feet and up. For mid-sized dries and even chunkier terrestrials, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more precisely tuned tool. Sage bills the Trout LL as a dry fly specialist, but don’t worry—rig up a dropper and the rod continues to keep pace with the best of ‘em. Of no surprise, Sage’s thoughtful construction and simple aesthetics are nothing short of museum-worthy: from the deep brown blank and the varnished walnut insert to the bronze up-locking reel seat, ceramic stripper guides, and chromed snake guides, every detail is purposefully built and flawlessly executed. While the price tag is admittedly steep, with the Trout LL, you get what you pay for.

Tester Comment: “The softer, tapered tip allows for delicate dry fly presentation, but the stiffer lower section means there’s enough backbone to throw a nymph rig or even a streamer. I was truly impressed by the Trout’s ability to cast, mend, and drift with precision.” 

Best for: Bringing finesse to your dry fly fishing

Orvis Mirage LT

Orvis Mirage LT Starting at: $408.59

Usually, lower weight means a higher price. Not so for Orvis’ Mirage LT—it’s 30% lighter and 30% narrower than the original Mirage but available at a cheaper price point. The LT is designed to pair with lighter freshwater rods, and we tested the LT with the Orvis Helios, and the lightweight reel synced up perfectly with the Helios’ highly accurate build. The machined exoskeleton is built from a durable aluminum construction, while type II anodizing offers up several attractive colorways. We were impressed by the sealed carbon fiber and stainless steel disc drag system, which is adjustable on the fly and offers ample, fluid drag. While dubbed a “lightweight,” we never came close to maxing out drag while fishing for sizable hard-fighting rainbows and browns in Colorado. And when relying on lighter tippets and technical, tiny dry flies, minimal start-up inertia helped mitigate lost fish, busted tippets, and involuntary cursing. All told, the Mirage LT offers up the features of a much heavier reel in a compact yet stalwart package that freshwater fly fishermen will appreciate for years to come.

Tester Comment: “The Mirage LT is unnoticeable in the best way possible—it’s so light that you barely register it’s there, it never hiccups, and when a fish does take, you have the utmost faith in your equipment.”

Best for: Pairing seamlessly with lighter freshwater rods

Rio Technical Trout Line

Rio Technical Trout Line

It makes no sense to invest in a high-quality rod and then to thread its fine, pricey ferrules with a piece of cheap floss. Rio’s Technical Trout Line is no knock-off: the finely tapered floating line is smooth, slick, and resistant to dirt thanks to a MaxCast advanced hydrophobic coating. The tapered front end of the line is sky blue, while the running line segment is peach-colored—a distinction which helps anglers make quick guesses on cast distance. Looped ends enable quick rigging and make swapping leaders a simple task. Tech specs aside, the Technical Trout performs with precision in calmer conditions, turning over longer leaders and churning out tight-looped casts with the accuracy required to present flies to finicky, easily spooked fish.  

Tester Comment: “Brilliantly engineered and built to last, the Technical Trout is emblematic of what I expect from Rio when it comes to fly fishing tackle.”

Best for: Outfitting your rod with a line that’s worthy, making technical presentations to feeding fish

Orvis Pro Wading Boots

Orvis Pro Wading Boot $212.97 - $219.84

Orvis collaborated with Michelin (yes, as in Michelin Tires) on the outsoles of these boots, and the aggressive lugs and tacky rubber combat cobble-stoned river beds and algae-slick embankments. If the slope gets too slippery, you can always add studs, although we’ve yet to feel the need. We’re stoked on the slim, lace-up hiking boot styling—the narrow footprint is a blessing when trekking for long distances and/or down-climbing to overlooked honey holes. What’s more, the high-density build delivers unparalleled ankle support.

Tester Comment: “These boots almost seem more like hiking boots than fishing boots—they’re slim, stable, and stiff. While the Michelin grip is the most obvious plus, I gotta give it Orvis on the lateral support—I love wading without worrying that my ankle ligaments are going to blow up at any moment.”

Best for: wading from summer to winter and back again, long-distance hiking, aggressive scrambling

Loon Iconic Kit

Loon Iconic Tool Kit Starting at: $53.31

While many bigger brands only dabble in the accessory market, Loon Outdoors is exclusively dedicated to making better tools and accessories—and that dedication shows. This nipper and forceps combo is a prime example of why we turn to Loon time and time again: the nippers are sharp and bite through leader like a barracuda through fine tippet (plus, they have a built-in bottle opener). The forceps handle has a handy built-in carabiner, a coarse, secure-when-wet grip, and a versatile clamping design that can nip through line, crimp a barbed hook, and remove a reluctant fly. The included lanyard is incredibly durable—it looks like it’s more tuned for rock climbing than fly fishing—and after losing and breaking countless subpar accessories, durability gets us hyped.

Tester Comment: “The best nippers and forceps I’ve ever used. I love the grip on the forceps, as well as the built-in carabiner system. It makes it much easier to attach to your pack or vest.”

Best for: fly fishing, ‘Nuff said.

Orvis Pro Vest

Orvis Pro Vest $184.14 - $190.08

There are fly fishing vests, and then there are fly fishing vests. The Orvis Pro Vest is the latter. It’s crafted from DWR-treated nylon material, and despite the featherweight fabric, the Pro Vest remains comfortable when fully loaded. The pockets are plentiful (there are 18 in total!), with 10 exterior pockets, six interior pockets (ideal for zipping up your keys, phone, and other essentials), and two expansive rear pockets. Most notable are the two compression-molded pockets that are perfectly sized for the organization of fly boxes and other essentials. The Vest is chock-full of additional features like the velcro fly-drying patches (which actually conceal two nifty tool ports), elastic loops for tippet bars, and a tri-ring net holder. If you’re an angler who adheres to strict organizational systems, the Pro Vest will enable you to keep everything you possibly need within reach. 

Tester Comment: “Honestly, at first go, I was struggling to remember where I put what—there are just that many pockets on this vest. However, once I got my strategy dialed, this vest helped me to keep all of my essentials organized. And I didn’t miss having to sift through the messy main pocket of my hip pack.”

Best for: staying organized when you’re on the water. 

White River Hobbs Creek Rubber Bag Trout Net

White River Hobbs Creek Rubber Bag Trout Net Starting at: $22.00

Fly fishing is undeniably an expensive pastime, and sometimes, we just want to save money while still purchasing gear that gets the job done. This White River Net will help you do exactly that. The time-honored wooden design and rubber net aren’t remotely innovative, but rather affordable, simple, and effective. Cabela’s offers nets that range in size from compact small stream nets to long-handled nets that are best utilized on float trips. Furthermore, if you’re looking for a balance of affordability and performance, check out White River’s other fly fishing gear—they have everything from beginner fly rods and reels to hip packs, vests, wading boots, waders, and more. 

Tester Comment: “A standard option that nets fish without destroying your net worth—unlike some of the lighter, carbon-fiber products on the market.”

Best for: bargain-hunting anglers

Patagonia Tropic Comfort II Sun Shirt

Patagonia Tropic Comfort II Sun Shirt Starting at: $56.64

Keeping the sun off when you’re on the water is a constant concern—quit worrying with the Patagonia Tropic Comfort II Sun Shirt. A lightweight UPF 50+ fabric, imperceptible hood, and single button at the neck solidify this piece as a versatile essential, one that we don’t mind wearing from dawn ’til dusk. In fact, the Tropic Comfort II’s lightweight fabric is also equipped with an odor-obliterating treatment from HeiQ, so you won’t mind rocking this hoodie day-in, day-out, for days on end. What’s more, welcome thumbholes help keep the sleeves in place and protect the burn-prone backs of your hands. 

Tester Comment: “I’ve been wearing this while fly fishing—not to mention climbing, trail running, and camping—all summer and fall. It’s one of my favorite pieces of clothing, whether I’m on the river or hitting the ocean.”

Best for: Staving off skin cancer while pursuing fresh- and saltwater species. 

Additional essentials and accessories:


Looking for cheap flies? Try Cabela’s—not only do they allow you to buy classic flies in bulk, but you can also purchase fly assortments. Assortments range from 10-piece Baitfish Fly Assortments and 24-piece Midge Assortments all the way up to an 84-piece Trout Assortment. No matter what you’re looking for, this is a smart and cheap way to build out your fly box. 

Loon Outdoors Floatant, Dry Shake, and Line Up Kit 

As we mentioned earlier, Loon is our go-to for fly fishing tools and accessories. They also offer on-the-water essentials like Aquel Floatant and Easy Dry Shake—must-haves for keeping your flies on top of the water—as well as the Line Up Kit, which will extend the longevity of your fly line. 


Invite a Friend - You Both Get $5

Invite a friend to join Active Junky and both you and your friend earn an easy $5Send Invite
Earn Cash Back on Everything You ❤️
© 2024 AJ Media, LLC All rights reserved.Advertising Disclosure