What Do I Need To Start Fly Fishing? Tips from Jackson Hole’s Newest Female Angle

What Do I Need To Start Fly Fishing? Tips from Jackson Hole’s Newest Female Angle

Image Credit: Julia Bell
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In college, I spent a summer in a small fishing town outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The fishing was magical (and the men who visited to fish were addicted.) I did my best to learn, but didn’t see many women like me out there and never ended up investing in my own gear. I felt intimidated to ask questions, intimidated by the price tag of the gear, and intimidated to be the only woman in the space. But one of my best (yes, female) friends is a fishing guide, so as a champion of getting women into the outdoors, I had to ask: how did she do it? And perhaps more importantly—what did she buy?

When I sat down with Julia Bell (JB) – Jackson Hole’s newest female fishing guide – we chatted about everything from the ins and outs of being a leader in the industry to what brands are doing female gear right.

First, a little about the gal in question.

Introducing Julia Bell

JB first started fishing in North Carolina with her dad and cousins. Ever since she was little, fishing taught her how to slow down and absorb the beauty of wild places. Over time, she became motivated to move west to Jackson Hole to continue learning more about fly fishing and investigate how we can best preserve our river ecosystems.

As one of few female guides in all of Teton Valley and the greater mountain west, JB says she is selective with whom she spends her time fishing and surrounds herself with people who respect her: “If someone is weird about the fact I am a female angler, I don’t fish with them. I work at an amazing outfitter, Snake River Anglers (SRA), and there I’ve learned how to not take bullshit. It’s actually great how much that’s translated into other elements of my life, too. But it’s a balance. I still want to be myself – I still want to show up kind and open, even if I’ve had to develop thick skin and high standards. What’s crazy is my closest fishing buddies acknowledge and respect that for every fish they catch, I have to catch three.

JB is in training to work as a buyer for SRA one day, so she’s an absolute expert when it comes to outfitting yourself in the proper gear. According to her, many brands indulge in the “shrink it and pink it” method (translation: taking the male design, making it smaller, and slapping on the color pink) when it comes to making female gear. 

“I prioritize expressing my femininity and personal style with the little things,” she says. “I wear colorful hats, I paint my nails, and I don’t feel pressure to dress like anyone other than myself, even if the technical fishing gear is most often geared toward men and a more masculine style than what feels right for me.”

The Fly Fishing Starter Kit:

TFO NXT Black Label Combo fly rod and Reel Kit - now $174.99.

In terms of gear, JB’s suggestions are abundant but what it comes down to is investing in pieces that will last and keeping all the little parts organized so you don’t lose them. She suggests learning to fish in the summer so you won’t need waders (one of the more big ticket items) and can instead wear any basic old rain boot to stand on the river bank. 

First things first, you’re going to need a rod and reel. JB says that the TFO NXT Black Label Combo fly rod and Reel Kit is the way to go. TFO makes a commitment to not sacrificing form, functionality, or durability to make this setup affordable for new anglers.

There are a few elements of getting started that will require you to research the local region where you plan to fish and even identify a shop that you can call with questions, suggestions, and gear recommendations. A local shop can point you to the right fishing license, which you’ll need to fish legally, along with spots that are good to start. It also helps to talk in person about some of the specifics, including the different types of lines that make up what goes into your reel (backing, line, leder, and tippet) and what type of flies will work best. Once you know where you’re fishing, hop on the phone and ask questions, and if you can, visit the shop once you arrive.

Convertible Utility Pack - $172.

Backing, line, leder, tippet, and flies are all tiny! So let’s talk about organization. One of the main challenges of starting to fish according to JB is losing the little pieces. She says that having an un-engineered pack that you can grow into is one of the best investments that you can make right off the bat. Many fishing companies sell packs that have very specific compartments for pretty advanced gear but Colorado based brand Yakoda does it right with this versatile pack that leaves room for you to grow. 

What goes into the convertible utility pack? Well, in addition to any extra backing, line, leder, and tippet you’ve got, you’ll want to buy some nippers (which are basically fingernail clippers that help you cut things) and forceps (little pliers that help you get the fly out of a trout’s mouth). Orvis sells this combo kit that’s on my own fishing starter kit list (JB approved). 

And what about all those little flies? Pick out a fly box. Her rec is Fish Pond, which has great options for small boxes like this one. It’s important to note that in addition to keeping your flies organized, you need to keep them dry. JB says you never want to put a wet fly back into a box with dry flies, so the last little thing you’ll need is a fly patch where you can stick wet flies until they dry. 

Katin Mental Vacation - $29.

Now that you’re organized with the basics of the gear, let’s talk about the basics of what you wear! Solar hoodies and sun pants to keep yourself cool are best in hot environments, but really all you need need is a hat and polarized sunglasses. 

Having polarized sunglasses makes a world of difference in terms of seeing fish through the water. (I’m obsessed with Fifth and Ninth and these aviators would look so cool on the water. My favorite more active, affordable sunglasses brand is Knockaround and this style is so versatile.)

In terms of hats, out West, we love big trucker hats that keep the sun out of our eyes. I’m obsessed with Katin’s clever designs that come in unique colors to tie an outdoorsy outfit together. This “mental vacation” one fits the fishing vibe I’m going for in a gorgeous kelly green. The dawn hat is also a mellow design that’d look cute with a raincoat, solar hoodie, or a t-shirt too.

I’m stoked to make noise and space with JB and all the women who fish (and want to try). Here’s how to duplicate my process: 

Get started with the basics and build from there. Go to your local library and check out a book on fishing. Download this knot tying app, and call a fly shop. Get excited (!!) to learn something new and enjoy the journey of exploring new places in new ways. 

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