The Reasonable Cost of Fly Fishing

Last week I stumbled onto an amazing bargain. I found a high-end St. Croix fly rod on sale for $1.60. Yes, you read that correctly—a dollar and sixty cents! The cost of fly fishing is amazing!

I also found high-quality flies on sale for 90 cents a dozen. However, it turns out that I’m 118 years too late. These deals appeared in a 1900 Sears catalog. I happened to see the catalog in a trendy coffee shop in Portland, Oregon.

Today’s Prices

This got me thinking about the cost of fly fishing today.

Even though a decent St. Croix fly rod will cost you a thousand times more ($160.00) today than it did in 1900, fly fishing is still a reasonably priced hobby. Sure, you can go crazy and burn through $3000.00 in a hurry to get set up if you insist on a top-of-the line products by Sage, Simms, Patagonia, Orvis, and Fishpond.

But you can fly fish on a tight budget, as Dave and I have had to do at times.

For the record, I own fly fishing gear manufactured by the afore-mentioned companies. I’m not knocking them, because their products are great. But the gear I’ve purchased from them was stretched over the last twenty-five years. I’m still wearing an Orvis fly vest that is over two decades old.

Recently, one of my sons purchased a “starter package” for his father-in-law. It cost $199. It included a decent fly rod, reel, line, a couple boxes of basic flies, and a few leaders. Throw in a pair of waders, wading boots, and a vest, and the total will still be between $400 and $500.

Starter Packages for Other Pursuits

If you’re tempted to complain about the price of fly fishing gear, consider what it costs to buy starter packages for other sports and hobbies.

A starter set of golf clubs will run about $200. Of course, you can spend that much on a driver. Don’t forget, too, about golf balls, and golf shoes. Oh yeah, add in green fees (which may run as much as a non-resident season fishing license in Montana).

Planning to hit the slopes?

A decent snowboard will cost between $300 and $400. Bindings and boots will set you back another $300 to $400. Lift tickets, like green fees, are not cheap either.

Big-game hunting is not cheap either. If you want a 30.06 or .270 caliber in a Ruger, Winchester, or Remington – expect to pay $450 or so for a basic quality rifle. Add another $200 for a decent scope. And that doesn’t include travel, lodging, and tags.

You get the idea. Fly fishing is a reasonably priced sport.

Why Cheaper is Better to Start

If you’re just getting started or buying for someone who is, I suggest starting with an affordable, modestly priced package. Here are three reasons why:

First, you don’t want to get stuck with expensive gear if you decide fly fishing is not for you.

Second, part of the fun is up-grading and saving for a high-end rod or waders.

If you start out with a Sage X or a Winston Boron IIIx, you won’t appreciate the high quality of these rods. Besides, you won’t be able to get anything better (even though you could spend more).

Third, you will have a better sense of what you want after you’ve fly fished awhile. A Sage X and a Winston Boron IIIx are comparable in price. But they act differently. The Sage X is more of a streamer rod and designed for distance. You’ll make a better choice as to which rod fits you after you’ve fly fished awhile.

If you plan to start fly fishing, you can be thankful that it’s a relatively affordable sport. But don’t expect to get a decent fly rod for less than two bucks unless you can travel back in time.

4 Replies to “The Reasonable Cost of Fly Fishing”

  1. What a lovely article.
    I dont own anything over $160 at time of purchase! having said that my favorite rod (now deceased ) was a $25 Cabalas eight foot two piece 5wt Three forks, not even made anymore.
    For some reason, it and I connected so well, then I stepped on it, and they replaced it, (thank you), with a four-piece 9ft that was all they had in stock.
    Going cheap doesn’t mean what you get won’t be enjoyable.
    I know I could fish with the cheapest gear made, and still have a great time. 🙂
    I’m glad you wrote this; not all of us can afford the higher end gear!
    We can still catch just as many fish, and have a good time doing it!

    1. I love this comment, Allen! You’re spot-on that you can still catch as many fish without higher end gear. Even though I splurged a few years ago on a Winston rod (and love it), I have to admit that as far as I know, it hasn’t resulted in me catching more fish. It has made casting easier, and it’s a delight to play fish. But I’ve done just as well with low-end rods. And yes, the two-piece rod seems like a thing of the past with technology allowing four-piece rods to perform as well.

  2. Great advice, that’s exactly the route I took. The fish don’t know what brand your using. If your just starting out, pick up gear that you can afford. Instead of buying top of the line gear right off I highly recommend getting casting lessons. Orvis provides fly fishing 101, 201 and 301 classes.
    When you are ready to upgrade your rod, go to the fly shop and ask them to cast a bunch of the ones your interested in. A good fly shop will let you cast what you want for as long you want.

  3. While it’s true that a $200 rod outfit will catch fish but if you become enveloped into this sport and your skills and understanding start to advance, you’ll eventually seek out better tools. I think $500 for your second rod is probably a decent average for someone that’s starting to figure out what actions are good for what purpose. I’m not saying that everyone needs a $500 fly rod but experienced fly anglers will pick up a $200 rod and instantly know that where the disadvantages are with that rod. Not to mention that those $200 rods are made in sweatshops in China. You’ll notice that the higher end rods are mostly made in America – Orvis Helios, Scott and Sage to name a few.

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