Fly fishing gear

Gear key for fly fishing experience

Fly fishing is our main topic this week as fly fishing usually involves wading through cold water.

In this heat, cool comfort is more important than catching fish, but there’s no conflict because our waterways are teeming with all the fish we love to catch. Our coldest streams are, of course, our headwaters below our large hydroelectric dams on the White and Little Red rivers. These, together with the downstream water of Lake Norfork, are some of the most famous trout waters in the world. Spring River, fed by Mammoth Spring at Mammoth Spring State Park, is an unsung favorite containing trout, walleye, smallmouth bass, Kentucky bass and largemouth bass.

You can also fly fish for bass and panfish on other streams like Kings River, Sylamore Creek, Saline River, Ouachita River, Caddo River, and Spring River.

Those are the playgrounds, but this article focuses on the tools you need to enjoy fly fishing in the state. Fly fishing is not as mysterious or as exclusive as it is made out to be. All you need is a rod, reel, line, leader and flies, and a sincere desire and willingness to learn and improve.


With the exception of striped bass, you can successfully catch all the fish we have in Arkansas with a 3 or 4 weight rod. You can start with the cheapest cane from a big box sporting goods store, but you will quickly outgrow that cane after handling better canes. Save money in the back by spending more up front for a better quality rod that will stay usable as your skills improve.

Distinguishing a good rod from a bad rod is subjective. The best advice is to handle a lot of rods before buying. Even a novice can tell the difference between a well-balanced, well-designed rod and a pool cue. A good cane feels alive in the hand. It flexes in all the right places, and it has muscle in the right places too. When you handle a good one, you’ll know it.

Save time by choosing a premium brand like Sage, G. Loomis, RL Winston, Orvis, Temple Fork Outfitters, and Redington.

For almost all of my fly fishing, I use a Reilly Rod Crafters 4-weight Kildare four-piece rod. Chris Reilly, owner of Reilly Rod Crafters, said the Kildare was his favorite from his extensive range. It’s definitely a purpose-driven instrument designed to do everything well. An afternoon on the Little Red River convinced me that the Kildare was my rod for life.

For larger missions I use a Cabelas RLS 6 weight outfit which feels and performs like it should cost a lot more than it does.

Before upgrading, I used an Abu-Gargia 5 weight outfit for decades with great success. I always carry it as a backup. It also feels and works like it should cost a lot more.

The key is to start with at least a medium quality rod. You will be much happier.


Traditionally, a fly reel was a glorified line storage system. If you were really good, you could handle a big fish using your palm as a drag. This has changed in recent years as advanced technology has made the reel an invaluable tool for tackling fish.

The evolution came in the early 1990s when fly reel manufacturers added adjustable disc drag systems to their reels. With a properly adjusted drag, you can use your reel to tame big fish. This reduces your reliance on your rod to neutralize a fish’s power, and it also reduces stress on your leader, decreasing the chances of it breaking.

Rusty Pruitt, my frequent fly fishing partner, uses Sage rods with Lamson reels. I use a Sage 2324 reel with my Reilly Kildare and a Cabelas RLS reel with my Cabelas rod. My Abu Garcia rig has an Abu Garcia reel. My next rod will be a Reilly 6-weight or maybe an 8-weight. It will carry an Allen coil. I also have some museum pieces made by Scientific Anglers and Martin. These are just solutions in search of a problem.


A forward weighted fly line covers about 95% of all your fly fishing presentations in Arkansas. A forward weight line is tapered so that it is heaviest towards the terminal end, providing the mass needed to propel something as light and tiny as a fishing fly.

There are many good brands. I use the Rio line on my Reilly Kildare rig. I use any pre-wound Cabelas on my Cabelas rig and have no complaints. I use the Scientific Anglers line on my Abu Garcia rig. I also used the Cortland line.

Since a good line is essential to a good cast, I recommend buying a high quality line from the start. The Rio line is expensive, but that’s really not the case when you amortize it over several years. Using a better line will help you accelerate your growth to become a better fly caster.


The leader attaches to the terminal end of your fly line. It has a thick butt which tapers to very thin at the terminal end. Many anglers tie their flies directly to the leader.

A leader must be flexible. More importantly, it must be balanced in scale with the fly line. If a leader is too heavy, the fly will not be able to stretch it to make a proper presentation. Instead, the fly and leader will rise and crumble into a heap that will make the fish laugh at you. Your BCD should always have two or three rigs packed.


The tip is a thin line that attaches to the end of your leader. He is often finer than the leader. A lot of fly fishermen don’t use tippets anymore, but I do. I tie it with a plain double knot, and consider it essential to the good presentation of the fly. Again, the tippet must be in balance with the leader and the fly. If you have too much tippet it will slow your fly and ruin your cast. It’s an exercise in trial and error, just like fly fishing in general.

Learning is a big part of the fun, but the journey starts with the right gear.