Essential Gear

fishing reels, fishing gear, fly fishing, fishing essentials
fishing rod, spin rod, fishing gear, fishing in Montana, fishing essentials

Essential Gear

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Tompkins, Josh

What you need to fish Montana

As outdoor enthusiasts in Montana, we’ve all considered exploring new activities—only to be thwarted by the time and financial commitment involved with doing it right. Worry not—you can get geared up for fishing southwest Montana without breaking the bank. As with any hobby, it’s easy to get carried away, but the following essential items will have you covered on the water whether you’re a fanatic or weekend warrior.

For fly fishing, look for a good 9-foot, 5-weight rod. Most modern fly rods have faster actions than they used to, making them easier to cast and able to handle a wider range of fishing situations—a modern, faster action 5-weight should handle everything from dries to nymphs and streamers. For conventional fishing, a 6-foot, 6-inch spinning rod is the most universal size to tackle a variety of species and settings. Medium-weight is the most universal, but you can dial the action up or down a notch depending on your target species. Trout anglers, for example, may be happier with a medium light.

Fly reels come matched in size to your rod, so you want a 5-weight. The arbor is the spool’s center where the line is attached, and many of today’s reels have mid-sized or large arbors which increase the line retrieval speed and typically help with consistent drag pressure and line handling. For spinning reels, the ideal universal size is a 25 (or 2500). If you can find a reel you like in that size, then look no further; but in many cases, you may have to choose between a 20 or 30. In that case, decide if you’re after a wider variety of species (go with the 30) or mainly just trout or panfish (20 will do fine). Look for a greater number of ball bearings, which will allow for smoother operation.

Most fly fishermen find weight-forward lines the most versatile. The front taper of a weight-forward fly line is larger in diameter, helping you to make a full range of casts with normal-sized flies. Fly line also comes sized, so go with a WF5 to match your rod. A 9-foot 5X leader will work for the majority of the scenarios you’ll encounter. 5X refers to the diameter at the small end of the leader, which is tapered for easier casting. You should also have tippet in 3X, 4X, and 5X with you at all times to add to your leader as it becomes shorter, or to tie flies together in tandem configurations. Grab some 6X as well, if you plan on throwing dry flies for selective fish in calm water. For your spin setup, 6 or 8-pound monofilament is the ticket. Spool your 25 or 30 reels with 8-pound test. If you go with a 20 for smaller species, 6-pound line will suffice.

It’s easy to get carried away here, so consider the most crucial items for your setup. You’ll need some kind of pack, vest, or tackle box for carrying your gear, along with a container or box to organize flies and other baits. There are tons of options, so just keep in mind that you still have to cast, and may have to log some miles. Make sure to find something that is comfortable and allows for good freedom of movement. For tools, pick up a set of pliers or forceps for hook removal or tackle modification, as well as a nipper for cutting line. In many cases this can be found in one universal piece of gear. A net is also helpful, but will more of a necessity if you are fishing out of a boat. Having strike indicators or bobbers and a dial box of various split shot are essential for subsurface fishing. One thing to consider when choosing your gear is a combo option. Nowadays, you can get quality gear at a reasonable price already assembled in a no-brainer setup including rod, reel, line, and more.

So if you’re on the fence about taking up fishing as a new hobby, it is time to jump off. Getting geared up has never been easier or more affordable, and there is no better way to relax and enjoy the landscape of southwest Montana than a day spent casting on the water.

Josh Tompkins is the fishing and watersports buyer for Bob Ward's.

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